Marilink's Favorite Games, 60-51: Spinoff City

Updated: Jul 8, 2021


60. Wario Land II

If you can't tell by the above screenshot, I love Wario Land II so much that I decided to speedrun it. Thanks to the branching paths in the game, you can see credits in just a few levels, so I was able to do it in under 10 minutes. Pretty happy about that! Still good for the 13th fastest time on the leaderboards, although at one point it was top 5. Maybe I'll have to grind that down a bit more in the future.


While the first Wario Land was a pretty standard platformer, Wario Land II makes things much more interesting. Most importantly, there are no lives, because there is no death. There are no fail states in Wario Land II. Instead, everything that harms you does one of two things: You might be set back and have to spend more time and effort getting to where you want to go, OR it gives you a status condition that could be annoying but often useful. For instance, you might get flattened, which makes you slow (annoying), but it also makes you float over large gaps like a feather, making you able to reach a platform you couldn't get to before (useful).


Additionally, while WLII is organized in discrete levels, there is an exploratory level map, essentially an abstraction of a world map like Super Mario World's. Once you beat the game, you can backtrack and revisit levels to unlock new paths and, more interestingly, new endings. In fact, with its % completion rating, collectibles, and exploratory platformer, WLII is a borderline Metroidvania. No wonder I gravitate toward it!


59. Yoshi's Island

I'm not sure what my first video game was. I watched my brother play games from a very young age, and I'm not sure which game he passed me the controller for first. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it was Super Mario World. That said, Yoshi's Island is certainly one of the first games I mastered, because I have no memory of learning this game; I only remember knowing this game. (There are a couple others on this list like that, too--Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, and to a lesser extent OoT and Mario 64.)


In retrospect, having Yoshi's Island as one of my earliest games might have been a sort of trial by fire. This game is surprisingly complicated and difficult! The platforming is quite the challenge, and the egg throwing mechanic adds an entirely new dimension. The game doesn't often force you to platform and egg throw at the same time, so maybe when I was younger I took it slow and more carefully. Either way, I got quite good at it quite early on. The mechanics of this game are hard-wired into me now, along with the wonderful soundtrack.


One of the things that amazes me most about the SNES era is how they could get something so right on the first try. No other Yoshi-centric game would reach these heights again. This game is the complete package, and probably one of the best spin-offs of all time.


58. Fire Emblem Awakening

The year is 2013, and I'm boarding a plane to Sao Paolo, Brazil, en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I'm flying by myself to a brand new-to-me hemisphere for a 2-month Spanish immersion trip. I'm pretty freaked out. What keeps me company is my brand new 3DS XL, carrying within it the data from my launch model 3DS. Since I wanted to focus on the trip and less on games, I didn't bring any extra cartridges with me. The only games I have are those which I downloaded to the system directly, and the one game card inside: Fire Emblem: Awakening.


I'd never played a Fire Emblem game before, but everyone was telling me that now was the time to jump in. I'm so glad this was the game I chose to bring on that trip, because over the course of that international flight and 12-hour layover, I just absolutely devoured it. No, it's not particularly difficult. In fact, it's probably the one of the easiest TRPG's you can find, especially if you pair up your units and breed perfect children (if you don't know, don't ask). I didn't mind the low difficulty threshold, though, because I sorta sucked (and still sorta suck) at TRPG's, and this game allowed me to break its systems wide open, which is something I always enjoy doing in any RPG. Typically, I'd rather have an RPG be a power fantasy than a grind.


If that weren't enough, I also fell in love with the characters. I'm one of the few people to see so many of them in Smash Bros. now. Just waiting for Lon'Qu to show up in Smash and start deftly peeling some potatoes.


57. Banjo-Kazooie

There is something just so undeniably charming about Banjo-Kazooie. The world is colorful and imaginative. The characters are adorable and fun. The humor is irreverent in that cutesy British way (and not in the eventual Conker's Bad Fur Day way). The physics are a little slippery, but they're consistent and implemented well.


B-K had a pretty revolutionary structure that would be used and, unfortunately, abused by 3D platformers all over the industry. Whereas the seminal Mario 64 kicks you out of the level to reset things after every objective, B-K introduces the "Collect-a-thon," where you remain in the level until you're completely satisfied with what you've gathered or accomplished. So, naturally, there is a lot to collect. Each level has 100 music notes, 5 Jinjos, 1 honeycomb, and 10 Jiggies.


We talk about collect-a-thons derisively now, but I'm telling you, when the collecting is done well, it is so satisfying. The problem with collect-a-thons came more with the advent of Banjo-Tooie and DK64, where the collectibles just got bloated and cumbersome rather than enticing and exciting. Banjo-Kazooie didn't have that problem, though. The breadcrumb trail of collecting kept you interested the whole way along, and it still does when I go back to it for a re-play.


56. Tetris 99

I think Battle Royales are cool. Being the latest and greatest fad, they are certainly easy to clown on (Fortnite bad, pls give likes and retweets), but the loop of a Battle Royale is inherently interesting and draws you in. Thing is, I'm just not very good at most of them, because I'm not very good at shooters in general. I had fun with Fortnite (I've got 2 solo wins under my belt!), but I'd be lying if I said I had any sort of skill. Battle Royales are mostly something for me to appreciate from afar.


Along comes Tetris 99. Finally, the Battle Royale that is made for me. 100 Tetriminoes jump out of a plane. Where we dropping, boys?


55. Donkey Kong Country

The background of DKC is pretty fascinating. Its release in 1994 put it right in the middle of the SEGA Genesis console war and the mud-slinging, cringey-at-the-time-and-even-more-cringey-now "Play It Loud" ad campaign. In addition, 3D gaming was dawning. The SEGA 32X was already out, the Saturn was set to release, and Nintendo already ruined its relationship with Sony, indirectly leading to the development of the PlayStation that would release the following year. Nintendo needed to come out with a game that could prove it was still on top visually, 3D rendering be damned. They put their eggs into Rare's basket. A promotional VHS tape was sent all over the country to show just how amazing DKC's faux-3D style looked.


But all of that happened when I was 2 years old. I didn't know about any of it, nor did I care. What I played as a kid was a game that let you barrel through enemies, jump after you rolled off a ledge, and explore every inch of every level to find secrets and bonus rooms. What I saw and heard was a good-looking game with music that was out of this world. I didn't learn about the smear campaigns or the questionable propping up of the "3D" look until much, much later. That stuff has colored a lot of people's opinions about the game. That sucks! Because if that's all they see, they are missing out on some of the purest platforming goodness around.


As mentioned above, DKC is a game I don't remember learning, and I only remember knowing. That's surely because I shared this game not only with my brother (which was a given), but also with both of my sisters (which was less common). Over the years among the four of us, we almost certainly played 2-Player Co-Op in every sibling permutation that we could, often completing right up to the fabled 101%. The sequel is better in probably every way, but no other game will touch the nostalgia and memories that I built with my family in Donkey Kong Country.


54. Mole Mania

"OK, this is a prank, right? You're going to put a random GameBoy puzzle game that no one has ever heard of in the mid-50's on your list? Come on." -You, maybe.


Not so fast, there, buckaroo--Mole Mania absolutely earns its spot on this list, and it is in no way "random." Listen to some of these names in the credits: Hiroshi Yamauchi, Noki Watanabe, Eiko Takahashi, Tatsuya Hishida, Shigeru Miyamoto. That's right, this top-down puzzle game starring a mole with sunglasses isn't some random shovelware; it's a near-pristine product developed by Nintendo EAD and featuring some of its brightest stars.


If you've never heard of this game, I don't blame you. It never got a sequel, and its representation in Nintendo history is sadly minimal (though Muddy Mole does appear in Smash Ultimate as a Spirit Battle). There is some alternate reality where Muddle Mole gets a Smash roster spot instead of the Ice Climbers or something. I want to live in that timeline.


The gameplay is top-down, with a similar feel and perspective as Link's Awakening. Each screen presents you with a discrete challenge that you tackle from both above and beneath. Make your way through the level and rescue your family, all to the tune of Taro Bando's delightful and surprisingly moody compositions. This game is available on the 3DS E-Shop and I'd encourage everyone to buy it and play it, if not only for a few minutes. It deserves more love!


53. Luigi's Mansion

The GameCube's launch was pretty bad. It was the first Nintendo console to launch without a true Mario game, which was shocking and disappointing to many. Instead, we got some arcade ports, some sports games, an underwhelming Wave Race sequel, and this weird Luigi Ghostbusters spin-off thing. Thankfully, although the launch wasn't wonderful for Nintendo overall, it did specifically set up Luigi's Mansion for success. Without a Mario platformer, LM was the only way to get into the Mushroom Kingdom on next gen, so basically everyone who bought the system ended up with it. And to just about everyone's surprise, it ended up being great!


I've used the word "charming" quite a bit in this list, but it's obviously a quality that I love in games, and I'll keep calling it out. In particular, Luigi's Mansion is dripping with it. The whole concept of the game is bonkers and fun. The boss ghosts are all fun and inventive. The mechanics are intuitive and engaging. The mansion is well-designed and makes for player-friendly exploration and backtracking. The background music is memorable and dynamic, changing mood and instrumentation (including Luigi's whistling) depending on the situation at hand. There is even a dedicated button to call for Mario--mechanically useless, but delightful all the same.


I enjoy Luigi's Mansion 2 and 3, but the first game hits such a perfect sweet spot. It's akin to a well written "bottle episode" of a TV show. Wikipedia says that bottle episodes are often written and produced for budgetary reasons (which may have been true of Luigi's Mansion), but that bottle episodes "have also been used for dramatic effect, with the limited setting and cast allowing for a slower pace and deeper exploration of character traits and motives." Luigi isn't a very deep character, but this game allows you to explore a space and a person more than any Mario game ever had before, and that's worth celebrating.


52. Stardew Valley

I completely missed the Harvest Moon train. I didn't think that a farming game would be for me. I want to jump! I want to explore! I want to fight! I want to experience a world!


Being detached from the Harvest Moon universe, I don't know what aspects of Stardew are directly ripped from Harvest Moon or to what extent Stardew pushed this style of game forward. All I know is that when I picked up Stardew, I got hooked on every aspect of it. I loved planning my farm, getting to know the community, romancing Emily, exploring the mines, and participating in the festivals. I was afraid that farming games would feel aimless and endless, but Stardew offered me a tangible goal in the form of the community center, which I restored to its full potential.


I've considered buying Stardew on Switch and starting a new farm. It has been 4 years since I "beat" it, and I could probably come back with fresh eyes and experience some content that has been added since then. I held off on that inclination in anticipation of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but now that I'm satisfied with my ACNH experience, I think the time might be right for me to jump into another Slice of Life game again.


51. Paper Mario

I won't lie, I was disappointed in Paper Mario at first. I was a Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars superfan (and still am). I wanted a direct sequel. I wanted Geno and Mallow. I wanted to play as Peach and Bowser. I wanted Star Road and Smithy, or some direct connection to the previous conflict. Instead, what I got was...Paper?


Thankfully, I got over my initial disappointment pretty quickly. It did not take me long to start appreciating Paper Mario for what it was instead of what it wasn't. And what is it? It's one of the most joyful and amusing RPG's ever made, that's what it is! The partner characters may not have been familiar to me, but how could I not fall in love with their unique designs and personalities? The combat may not have been as deep or systems-focused as SMRPG, but it maintained the Timed Hits mechanic and introduced its own excitement besides. The story may not have continued the Star Road conflict and returned to Bowser Kidnaps Peach, but how could I not love the chapter book I was playing and the interstitial Peach scenes that got sprinkled in?


I still hope for a true SMRPG sequel someday, but I've gotten over my imposition of that desire on Paper Mario. This game is a treasure.


Next ten!

#ML100 Recap:

100. Goof Troop (SNES, 1993)

99. Mass Effect 3 (XBox 360, 2012)

98. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Switch, 2019)

97. Yoku's Island Express (Switch, 2018)

96. Slay the Spire (Switch, 2017)

95. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES, 1987)

94. Mega Man 11 (Switch, 2018)

93. Baba is You (Switch, 2019)

92. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii, 2006)

91. Tetris & Dr. Mario (SNES, 1994)

90. Crypt of the NecroDancer (PC, 2015)

89. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES, 1989)

88. Mega Man 3 (NES, 1990)

87. Mighty Switch Force (3DS, 2011)

86. Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, 2015)

85. WarioWare Gold (3DS, 2018)

84. Mega Man X3 (SNES, 1995)

83. The Legend of Zelda: Oracles of Ages and Seasons (GBC, 2001)

82. Gris (Switch, 2018)

81. Sonic Mania (Switch, 2017)

80. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS, 2005)

79. AM2R: Another Metroid 2 Remake (PC, 2016)

78. SteamWorld: Dig (3DS, 2013)

77. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ (GBA, 2003)

76. Rayman Legends (Wii U, 2013)

75. Mega Man X2 (SNES, 1994)

74. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow (Game Boy, 1998)

73. F-Zero GX (GameCube, 2003)

72. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GameCube, 2003)

71. Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES, 1996)

70. Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure (3DS, 2015)

69. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (GameCube, 2004)

68. Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Project M (Wii, 2008)

67. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)

66. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle (GameCube, 2001)

65. Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen (GBA, 2004)

64. Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

63. Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald (GBA, 2002)

62. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (Wii U, 2014)

61. Super Meat Boy (PC, 2010)

60. Wario Land II (GBC, 1998)

59. Yoshi's Island (SNES, 1995)

58. Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS, 2012)

57. Banjo-Kazooie (N64, 1998)

56. Tetris 99 (Switch, 2019)

55. Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1994)

54. Mole Mania (Game Boy, 1996)

53. Luigi's Mansion (GameCube, 2001)

52. Stardew Valley (PC, 2016)

51. Paper Mario (N64, 2000)

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