Where are these Mushroom Kingdom Stadiums, and how much do they cost?

I love the Mario sports games. They’re insanely fun, infinitely replayable, and extremely rich in Mushroom Kingdom lore. In a passive, Dark Souls-ian way, of course. The RPGs are much more explicit in how they flesh out the Mushroom Kingdom which often leads to inconsistencies. Like Super Mario RPG suggests that Bowser’s Keep is a two-minute walk away from Mario’s house while Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam puts an entire desert between the two locations (I will say that, during cursory research of this joke, I found that the distance between Bowser’s Castle and Peach’s Castle is always really close in the Mario RPGs, and, when it isn’t (like in Paper Mario games), Bowser’s Castle can fly and thus instantly be two minutes away from anything).

The great thing about Mario sports games is that they are allowed to forget all pre-established norms of the Mushroom Kingdom, timespace included. I mean, they’re already letting Bowser play baseball with Princess Peach despite there being zero secret service agents anywhere, so who cares if the developers make up entire locations to put these random stadiums in? I do.

That’s why I’ll be looking at the stadiums in five different Mario sports games, and I’ll try to put them in geographical context and monetary context. Because, let me tell you, sports stadiums in the 2000s are more than just a giant, out-of-place eyesore in a cityscape, they’re also super expensive and usually the taxpayers in that cityscape are the ones paying for it. For the geographic context of a stadium, I’ll try to be as specific as possible by namedropping at least one actual location from a Mario game where the stadium could conceivably be. For the money, I’ll put it into total coin cost, where 1 coin equals $1, and I’ll also say who paid for the stadium to be built. Spoiler alert, it’s always Toads.

The five games we’ll be looking at are the ones with the most interesting set of stadiums in that they are all over the Mushroom Kingdom and they aren’t just patches of grass. Sorry Mario Tennis, every single tennis “dome” is in the Mushroom Kingdom’s equivalent of Wimbledon Tennis Club. And, sorry, Mario Golf, I know that Toadstool Tour has some interesting thought exercises, like who on earth is the groundskeeper maintaining Bowser’s Badlands’ hole 3 and what did they do to deserve that punishment, but you can find some rich oil-trading Toad behind every well-manicured piece of grass. That’s why we’ll be looking at the stadiums in Super Mario Strikers, Mario Strikers Charged, Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario Super Sluggers (but only briefly), and Mario Sports Mix.

I think doing the same set of thought exercises on Mario Kart tracks or Mario Party boards could be very interesting, and might do that later. But it’s these five games that I love and love to think about, so it’s what I’m starting with. And the first game we’ll look at is Super Mario Strikers for the Gamecube, the best game of all time.

The Palace - Super Mario Wiki, the Mario encyclopedia

Let’s start with The Palace. No, it is not a palace for ants. This is the largest picture of the field I could find. The Palace was once a royal family residence which means that Princess Peach or one of her ancestors gave the go-ahead to turn the place into a soccer field. Nice touch from the field designers to keep the iconic dome and towers. Considering The Palace’s past, the redesign from home into a stadium probably cost less than a typical stadium, and made the field fit in more with the surrounding landscape–like a Royal Fenway Park. I’ll say that The Palace is in the hills beyond Peach’s Castle as according to its Paper Mario 64 location, and the renovations cost some 30-40 million coins, based on the cost of renovations of Turner Field into a football stadium.


You really can’t tell, but Pipeline Central is several miles in the sky, and on top of a floating platform. That is insane. The actual act of constructing this place meant the developers skimped on the material and built a soccer “field” of concrete. Forget the fact that players in Super Mario Strikers already have to deal with electric fences that zap the heck out of them and that flying elbows are encouraged, there’s gotta be a billion skinned knees after any game here. Concrete for soccer. Who would do this?? And, again, this place was built miles into the sky. So the costs are literally… through the roof. You can vaguely make out a skyscraper in the backdrop, so I think it’s safe to assume that Pipeline Central “field” is in the middle of an extremely rich New York-esque town that loves weird extreme sport entertainment and is “on top of the world”. That means that Pipeline Central could only be in Glitzville from The Thousand Year Door. I don’t even want to try and estimate how much of the Glitz Pit budget went into this. Yikes!

File:Strikers The Underground Overhead.png

You thought concrete and a few miles above the sky was bad? The Underground is made out of metal AND below the surface. Wario and Waluigi privately funded this monstrosity. I know where Wario gets his money (the garlic stock market), but how on earth did Waluigi get the cash for this? Maybe he’s got a metal-salvaging shop and was the supplier of the field material which, by the way, is METAL. Who would agree to play on this? While I think my educated guess of Glitzville for Pipeline Central is a good one, The Underground is under “a certain city”, and MarioWiki says that city is Diamond City. Which is a location that’s only ever been in WarioWare, and not any RPG. So I can’t say that. Instead we’ll just say it’s underneath, uh, Rogueport from The Thousand Year Door. Those weirdos seem like they’d be into suffocating while watching illegal underground soccer.

File:Strikers Konga Coliseum Overhead.png

Konga Coliseum is made out of wood, which sounds great compared to METAL and CONCERETE, but also means there will be a billion splinters. Still better in comparison. Donkey Kong obviously funded this, hence the name, in an effort to boost tourism to his town of, uh, Donkey Kong Island I guess? They’ve never shown where DK Island is in comparison to the Mushroom Kingdom, but I’d bet it’s about as far off the mainland as Yoshi Island is. Pretty tame stadium from DK… but it still seems very against his nature aesthetic to even have.

File:Strikers Crater.png

Crater Field is set in a mountain range of active volcanoes on Yoshi’s Island and features those heat-proof egg-shaped stands for spectators to sit in for their protection. Of course… the players have zero protection from the heat. Or the meteor that’ll presumably crash down on them any minute since they’re playing in Crater Field. I feel like everyone would’ve loved the absolutely insane extremism of Strikers if the game came out in the 90s. This is just beyond the pale. But, hey, at least the field is made out of grass! Which somehow never catches on fire due to the heat! Even though this place is on Yoshi’s Island, and presumably in that mountain range in the exact middle of the island, I don’t think that dinosaur could afford building it. I’m sure it was commissioned by the well-meaning Mushroom Kingdom colonizers and Elon Musk.

The Battle Dome is objectively the coolest stadium in this list. Sorry, but it’s true. Set in Bowser’s Castle whenever he doesn’t have it set up for a go kart race, this place is great. Yes, the field is made of concrete, but look at the streetlights! And the design of the goals is epic, for the win. It also has the largest crowd capacity of any field on this list, seating 68,000 easily. Bowser is the only one in Strikers with some business sense. Just like the go kart tracks, he definitely privately funded this for some good Bowser army propaganda, and a lot of coin.

The last stadium in the original Strikers is Bowser Stadium. “But wait, Pungry, I thought The Battle Dome is in Bowser’s castle. Bowser Stadium does not look like it’s in Bowser’s castle. It looks… blue,” you say. And you’re right! Bowser Stadium is in space. Why? Who cares! Bowser’s castles always have flight capabilities, so you’re just going to question his 50,000 seating capacity spacecraft that contains a rubber field? Come on! This was clearly built for rich Neo Bowser City residents to show their wealth by taking potential business partners into the weird suites located in the orange “lenses” of the spacecraft. Bowser definitely got those idiots to front the cost of this, saying that the broadcasting rights to the Super Bowser Cup finals will make that cash back and way more even though illegal streaming is deeply cutting into Striker profits. Morons.

Super Mario Strikers was, in a lot of ways, a proof of concept for Mario Strikers Charged. The stadiums and general world-building are a great reflection of this. All of the old stadiums are back and relatively unchanged (though The Battle Dome looks like there’s soot falling from the stadium rafters, I think Bowser stopped maintaining the place), but there’s ten new ones and each is crazier than the last.

Before we get to the stadiums, I’d like to remind everyone the canonical way teams enter the “pitch” in Mario Strikers Charged. In the original, teams clearly come out of some tunnel in the stadium, like a normal soccer entrance. In Charged… the captains are first teleported from some locker room onto an airplane, and then they skydive WITHOUT A PARACHUTE and land on the midline, ready to play. Slamball was already too much for human ligaments. If Charged’s style of “soccer” became the norm, we’d know we were living in Brave New World or some other dystopian future. But I digress, let’s look at the kooky stadiums in Charged.

File:The Vice MSC.png

Right off the bat, The Vice looks normal, but something seems off. And I’ll tell you exactly what it is: these grandstands might be the worst thing we’ve seen yet. Not a single person is sitting, and I think it’s because there’s legitimately nowhere to sit. You don’t see it, but the camera zooms out and The Vice shows off its 300,000 seating capacity. No, that’s not a typo. 300,000 people all hemmed in with the world’s worst view of a 100’x75′ patch of terribly-maintained piece of grass. At least, I think it’s grass. I have no idea how the “cracks” in the grass happen, and I have no idea how anyone would sign off on this. The Vice’s enormous size and seating capacity and terribly-maintained faculties combine into something that I don’t think even Wario paid for. It was done cheaply for the masses, so I think some get-rich-quick scheming Toad from Toad Town put this all together and got his local politicians to make the taxypayers pay for this. I sincerely cannot imagine someone privately funding such an awful-looking stadium. You know what? If this is Toad Town from Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, the cracks came from the Shroobs destroying the city. There we go. Mystery solved. I would never go to a game here.

File:Thunder Island MSC.png

Like I said, every stadium gets crazier. This is Thunder Island. It has a “seating capacity” of 25,000. Where are those 25,000 people if this is the soccer field, you might ask? Oh, you can kind of see them in the top-left. The audience is the colored blobs all packed together on floating stands. We know the players skydive onto the field, but how on earth do the fans get there? Regardless, Thunder Island probably cost nothing to “make”. I think some insane cliff divers off the coast of Yoshi’s Island spotted the outcropping and quickly calculated that it was the perfect size for a soccer pitch so they decided to put in some cameras and lighting. Instead of putting in the standard electric fence, they hired some Lakitus to fish out anyone that falls off the edge and called it a day. Again, no one in the Mario universe that we know of seems insane enough to be behind this, so it was probably nameless thrill-seeking Toads that did this. Terrifying.

The Sand Tomb - Super Mario Wiki, the Mario encyclopedia

The Sand Tomb is the most sensible stadium yet. There are zero spectators allowed! Instead, there’s just a barebones camera crew with the electric fence technicians and some Thwomps that are at every game. I actually don’t think this field’s in the Mushroom Kingdom. The desert ruins make me think of Sarasaland, Daisy’s home kingdom. I think it’s the literal ruins of the once great nation of Sarasaland that Daisy decided to turn into a soccer field. But she only agreed to do it on the condition that no one is allowed to touch the actual ruins–hence no fans and the skydiving entrance. Yes, I’m aware the hieroglyphics of Mario and Donkey Kong on the columns kind of ruin this theory and put it in the Mushroom Kingdom–world 5 of Donkey Kong ’94, probably–but I like my theory way more.

File:MSC The Classroom.png

The Classroom seems more sensible than the Sand Tomb at first glance. But think about how players enter the field again. They don’t come through any door or tunnel into here. They sky-dive. And when they skydive into The Classroom, the sky is black above them. So there’s no actual roof above the Classroom, but the walls go all the way into the sky for seemingly no reason. It’s low-key insanely constructed. Also, no fans! Who built this? Well, I said that I want to keep most of these in the Mushroom Kingdom, but Beanbean Kingdom’s Woohoo Hooniversity got destroyed when Cackletta went through it, and there was no classroom remotely this size. I can only think some weird grant came in for Goom U, wherever the heck that is (it is NOT in Rogueport by the way), and they were like “well we got nothing else going”. If I toured a college campus with The Classroom in it, I would immediately leave and never apply. Great song, though.

File:MSC Lava Pit Overhead.png

What would you guess The Lava Pit’s seating capacity is? 0? Yeah, nah, you can’t see it, but a million miles away from the actual field is a set of grandstands that holds 31,360. I have no idea why anyone would want to go to The Lava Pit in person. What happened to the Crater Field heat-shielding technology? This is Bowser Jr.’s home field, so you can bet that he is responsible for the idea. “I wanna play soccer in a volcano! It’s gonna be epic, for the win!” is exactly the kind of thing a ten year old turtle-creature would think. Bowser got his best advisors to construct the place, but the turtle with the plan was Jr. And this vanity project probably came out of the funds that Bowser set aside for his Isle Delfino takeover, which is why the bathwater in that game is green. Anyway, don’t go to a field called The Lava Pit. Which I think is in Corona Mountain, but really could be anywhere. The MarioWiki says it’s in Dark Land, aka World 8 of Super Mario Bros 3, because you can see a rock formation of Bowser’s head somewhere.

File:MSC Wastelands Overhead.jpg

From the heat of the Lava Pit to the cold of… the Wastelands? The field of ice is my least favorite stadium in any Mario game. It sucks to play on because you go slipping all over the place. And I cannot imagine how awful it would be to go in person, but I guess Packers fans still go to Lambeau. After the previous three somewhat-professional stadiums, we’re back to the great design of “a terribly-maintained chunk of field in the middle of a billion people” that The Vice and Thunder Island had. The Wastelands makes me think of Fahr Outpost from The Thousand Year Door. Icy, cold, no one there, no reason to go there. I bet all those Russian bob-ombs paid for this slice of entertainment so that there’d be literally any tourism. And it very sadly worked as you can see from the 40,000 here.

File:Crystal Canyon.png

There’s probably people out there mad about Red Rocks being a music venue, and those same people are mad about Crystal Canyon being turned into a soccer field. Look at these insane rock formations that are now playing second-fiddle to a patch of dirt with an electric fence around it. Tragic! And look at how close some of the 24,000 fans are to the crystals! Someone’s going to break the crystal or try to steal it someday soon. This is Diddy Kong’s turf, but I really don’t see Diddy or Donkey Kong doing this perversion of nature. Crystals like these but much smaller are found all over a bunch of galaxies in Super Mario Galaxy, including the Mushroom Kingdom, as the crystals form when star bits make impact on a planet’s surface. So Crystal Canyon could be anywhere. I’ll just randomly choose a Donkey Kong canyon world. Alright, it’s in Bright Savannah, world 3 of DKCR: Tropical Freeze. But it was built by those crazy Toads.

File:MSC The Dump.jpg

The Wastelands turns out to not be the least appealing field in Charged. It’s The Dump. Yep. It’s a soccer field in the middle of a dump with a small drain in the center that sucks in all the mud. There is no explanation for this one. I can almost understand The Vice. The people making the stadium initially probably didn’t build it for 300,000 people. They probably expected it to be a minor success of a sport that would come and go, and when it became extremely popular, they just kept building up. This is a soccer stadium in a dump. No one of Mario’s friends is this heartless. So who built this, and why did they agree to play in it? The answer to the second question has to be money. The answer to the first… well, I think this stadium is specifically in the Mushroom Kingdom dump, which is located at the end of the Mushroom Kingdom sewers. Which, if you take Kero Sewers from Super Mario RPG as the true look of the Mushroom Kingdom, would put The Dump like a mile away from Peach’s Castle. This was not a well thought-out sewer system. Also, why would there ever be 43,000 people going to the Dump? Terrible field.

File:MSC Stormship Stadium.png

Stormship Stadium gets around every question about “where the heck is this stadium” by being a literal airship soccer stadium. The usual question of “who the heck would want to go to a game in this stadium” remains because the fans are on adjacent stormships and have the world’s shakiest view of the game. Petey Piranha calls this field home, which is very funny because Petey Piranha is a man-eating plant with the chillest reggae song for a theme song, so the incongruity of the stadium just kind of fits with the rest of his incongruences. That said, he got these ships from Bowser after Mario still managed to fight his way through them in Galaxy, and Bowser just wanted those bad memories gone with the wind. If only we could use real life military warcrafts in this way. Oh, wait…

Carrier Classic - Wikipedia
Carrier Classic

And after all the insanity of the Charged stadiums, we come to the simplest, most elegant stadium. Galactic Stadium.

File:Galactic Stadium.png

Galactic Stadium is exactly like Thunder Island. Only instead of being on an island surrounded by water, it’s on an island surrounded by outer space. This is the only field where it makes sense to do airdrops because how else do you get to outer space? I really wonder how it is financially viable for games to be played here since there’s no revenue generated by ticket sales in outer space, and launching people to outer space seems prohibitively expensive. But that’s why I’m not the Elon Musk of the Mushroom Kingdom, er, Muskroom Kingdom, and whoever decided to make the investment in Galactic Stadium is. Honestly, this seems like something Waluigi would do. It’s not as gaudy as some of his other handiwork like Waluigi Pinball (which we’ll talk about!), but it is the logical end of his extreme lonerism. “You don’t like me? Fine, I’ll take my ball and go home to my soccer field on a flying rock (which has i-beams sticking out of it, you guys see that?)”.

Mario Strikers Charged is a game that you cannot start to question because there really are no answers for a lot of it. Like the fact that high-voltage electric fences line each one of these fields is quaint in comparison to the literal field location and construction. I love the game, but I pray that it never becomes a reality. Let’s go from the super-extremism of Strikers to the far more grounded-in-reality Mario Superstar Baseball series.

I think the reason the baseball stadiums turned out more “normal” than the ones in Strikers is because of how regimented baseball is versus soccer. You can play soccer on any rectangular patch of land as long as you set up two goals. Baseball requires a diamond surrounded by an outfield and a bunch of walls. There is an innate order required to play the game. And while even the most basic of basic field in Strikers, The Palace, is pretty out there for a soccer field, Mario Stadium is an idyllic baseball field.

Retro Game Friday: Mario Superstar Baseball - Gameindustry.com

Set right next to a beach, Mario Stadium is as beautiful as PNC Park in Pittsburgh but nowhere near as cold because it’s on Delfino Isle. It would be a lovely place to take in a ballgame. According to the MarioWiki, the stands “hold around 300+ people” which I think is a hilarious understatement if freaking Pipeline Central holds 25,000. I’ve already said this place is on the Isle Delfino but it probably cost a pretty penny for such a nice stadium. If PNC Park cost $216 million to construct, I’ll say that Mario Stadium was around 175 million coins because they decided to just not construct anything in center field. I gotta wonder how much those houses on the beach with a view of the field have to cost because that’s where I want to live.

Peach Garden - Super Mario Wiki, the Mario encyclopedia

There are zero good pictures of Peach Garden on the internet. While Mario Stadium has literally nothing in centerfield, centerfield of Peach Garden is the literal entrance to Peach’s Castle with a huge door and always-one-hit-away-from-being-destroyed stained glass window just above it. There are no stands in the outfield–that’s where the castle wall is–but this must also be a great place to catch a ballgame from the infield. The Strikers stadiums are designed to be as extreme and uninviting as possible, and the baseball stadiums feel so cozy in comparison, and I love it. Look! There are beautifully maintained hedges and a lovely water feature right in the middle of play. Considering the Toads are already taxed to heck and back for regular castle maintenance, the only real costs to “making” Peach Garden are the grandstands and the random floating blocks. That’s just how the gardens normally look. No further questions about location considering it’s in one of a few places in the Mushroom Kingdom that you could call iconic.

File:Wario Palace.png

Wario Palace is the first deathpit of the Mario baseball series. First of all, it’s in a desert. Secondly, there are small patches in the field that start a tornado whenever anything enters the area. Thirdly, there are chain chomps that jump into play and bite anyone nearby. And it’s still tamer than literally anything we saw in Charged. Wario spent a bunch of money on making this place look good while trying to skimp as hard as possible on all costs, so it probably only cost 30 million coins. I mean, there aren’t even any stands for fans to sit in, just the creepy golden statue of Wario underneath the creepier golden head of Wario in centerfield. I, for one, do not believe for a second that Wario actually lives here. Love the pitching mound’s design. This place fits in with Scorching Sandpaper Desert’s vibe from Paper Mario: The Origami King. I could see people living in Toad City making the trip to catch a game at the Palace… if the place had freaking stands!

File:Yoshi Park.png

Yoshi Park is on Yoshi Island. Not only that, it’s two feet from Yoshi’s house, as you can see by the iconic Yoshi fireplace with an apple tree in the background. I don’t think any money was spent on this construction. They made the “dugout” and fences out of wood from freshly-chopped trees, took some patches of dirt, maybe hired a groundskeeper to cut the grass (but not the Piranha plants!) and make the cool Yoshi pattern. There’s very few jokes to make about this place because it is bland. Other than Piranha plants eating the ball and players, there’s nothing really going on at Yoshi Island’s scenic baseball field.

File:Donkey Kong Jungle 1.png

Donkey Kong Jungle put all of its money in the barrel cannon gimmick. So much money that they didn’t even bother trying to remove the river full of Klaptraps before putting in the baseball field. That river is going to eventually flood during a bad storm and destroy the field, I don’t care what those floodgates in left-center field are doing. Anyway, the barrel cannons are ridiculous things that fire huge barrels across the field that run over players. Each barrel probably costs 5000 coins to fire, and they fire every time the ball is in the outfield. This is why they really skimped costs on literally everything else in construction. No stands for fans. I do wonder if the field makers found this perfectly-shaped hole and decided to put a baseball field in or if they somehow made this crater without destroying the surrounding ecosystem. Let’s just say it’s in Forest Maze in Super Mario RPG and not think about this too hard.

File:Bowser Castle MSB.png

The last field is the iconic Bowser Castle. Just compare the construction of this place to The Lava Pit. You can just feel Bowser’s top priority was safety when it came to the open metal grates that let fireballs jump out burn opposing players because the rest of the lava pit is not open to fans to get burned with. Heck, there aren’t any stands for fans here either. It also has a huge centerfield with a cool centerpiece of Bowser looming over the batter. I’d be terrified if I was hitting here. Also, the Thwomps don’t squish players–they squish the ball since they’re outside the field of play. Bowser Castle really is downright humanitarian compared to Strikers. Anyway, this place is obviously in a random room of Bowser’s Castle and presumably cost little for Bowser to make. I bet the statue cost the most.

After all this try-hard writing, it’s nice to get an easy break. All 9 of Mario Super Sluggers’ baseball stadiums are on a man-made island called “Baseball Kingdom”. Princess Peach was behind the construction because she wanted all of her friends to play baseball together. She reportedly said “let’s play baseball every day, let’s play baseball every night, let’s play baseball all of the time”. As such, I literally don’t have to say a single thing about who paid for the construction of this place.

File:MSS Baseball Kingdom.jpg

HOWEVER! Wario City (the right-middle field south of the jungle) was built by Wario and the northernmost field(s) of Bowser Jr. Playground and Bowser Castle were built by Bowser. By the way, Bowser managed to build these stadiums on the top and bottom of a submarine that was used to transport the fields in secret in order to connect with baseball island. Perfectly, I might add. Like Peach expected it. During the day, the submarine flips to have Bowser Jr’s Playground up, and at night it has Bowser’s Castle. I would love it if someone, anyone could try and rationally explain how that works. Also, pretty messed up of Peach to build the Luigi’s Mansion field in the upper-left. And the person behind the construction of an entire island dedicated to baseball decided that her ballfield would be an ice rink. I really do not understand Peach’s thought process at all. I cannot imagine that the hard-working taxpaying Toads felt great about this investment from their royalty. Tickets to go to any game on the island cost five times as much due to the boat ride and construction, in addition to all the money paid in taxes. Awful luxury project that would get Peach voted out of public office but she’s luckily a royal. And not a Kansas City Royal. I could get in there and make fun of every stadium on the island, but I’ve said my piece. Let’s get to the last game with the most amount of stadiums: Mario Sports Mix!

There are 14 stadiums for the 4 sports in Mario Sports Mix. Some of these stadiums can host all 4 sports featured in the game, while others can only host 2 or 3. Those 4 sports, by the way, are basketball, dodgeball, volleyball, and, uh, hockey. Don’t worry, outside of one stadium, it’s roller hockey and not ice hockey. Before getting to the stadiums, I just want to say that, according to Mario Sports Mix, the Mushroom Kingdom had never heard of hockey, dodgeball, volleyball, or basketball until a giant meteor crashed into the place and the meteor split off into four crystals that each contained that sport’s ball/puck. Which is, frankly, hilarious world-building.

Mario Stadium (Mario Sports Mix) - Super Mario Wiki, the Mario encyclopedia

I’m starting to get the feeling that nobody cares about these games. Not even MarioWiki has good photos of these cool stadiums. This is Mario Stadium in its basketball form, but it’s a traditional multi-purpose arena like an NBA/NHL arena that can easily transition into hockey, dodgeball, or volleyball as needed. Looking at Climate Change Arena for the cost, Mario Stadium probably cost a cool 900 million coins, and is pricelessly soulless for it. I hate its aesthetics, especially compared to all the previous cool places we saw. I don’t care that it’s the best experience for fans! Mario Stadium could be located literally anywhere with how homogenized it is. It’s in the Mushroom Kingdom equivalent of Indianapolis. So, uh, congrats to Rose Town from Super Mario RPG for being the most generic town I could find in a Mario RPG. You’re the lucky winners of Mario Stadium.

Mario Sports Mix - Koopa Troopa Beach by Spongyoshi on SoundCloud - Hear  the world's sounds

Koopa Troopa Beach is probably the beach that Mario Stadium from Mario Superstar Baseball sits on top of. It definitely cost nothing for the “stadium owners” to put up the volleyball net, or set up the dodgeball arena, or even put up the basketball hoops. But it must’ve cost them a lot to find rollerblades for hockey that work ON SAND. I’m not going to think about that one too hard. This place is in Isle Delfino and is only notable for sand rollerblades, which I would love to have.


Peach’s Castle directly contradicts the lore established in Mario Superstar Baseball as the field is nowhere to be seen even though it should be right there directly in the background of this shot. MY CANON! I really love the water feature that cuts through Peach’s Castle in all four versions of this field. Beautifully elegant. And all 200 people that can attend games here must feel so refined to watch the best and brightest try and hit a volleyball through a water spout. I can only hope they’re out of the splash zone. This place is shockingly at Peach’s Castle and cost her very little, especially in comparison to Baseball Island.


I do not conceptually understand why anyone would make a stadium like DK Dock. It is obnoxious as heck. The gimmick is that the playing field is two loosely-connected rafts that pull apart from each other due to the current. Whenever the ball goes out of bounds or a player falls into the water, the rafts must be reset to their neutral position. That is just a pain. Awful stadium design. The game’s trying to blame DK for this terrible construction but I get the feeling Croco is behind this and made the dock’s starting location somewhere just outside the Kero Sewers. I’m onto you, you jerkish purple crocodile. As a quick sidenote, whoever took this screenshot is either using a Mii that looks like Rosalina or is playing a modded version that puts Rosalina in the game, and it’s really freaking weird!


Toad Park is the first truly original stadium in Sports Mix, and I like it a lot! The field is playable only for hockey and dodgeball, and the gimmick is that there are traffic cones blocking stuff. That’s just good. The field itself is set in the middle of a go-kart racetrack–and I personally think it’s the middle of Toad Circuit from Mario Kart 7. So by answering where this track is located, we can suss out where one Mario Kart track is. This is a working-class Toad stadium that honest workers can take their families to on the weekends, so it’s somewhere between downtown Toad Town and the suburbs on slightly cheaper property. It doesn’t look like the whole theme park cost too much to make because the clientele isn’t that rich, so we’ll say it’s some 150 million coins in expenses and be happy about it. Toad Park is praxis.


Luigi’s Mansion is only playable for volleyball and basketball, which is a shame because it’s got a fun “lights on, lights off” gimmick that would’ve worked well for hockey. Anyway, it’s Luigi’s Mansion. For all we know, Luigi’s Mansion has always been on Baseball Island, so its appearance here means the gang went back to the island to play. Or the ghastly house just teleports wherever the heck it feels like. Regardless, whoever built this mansion has been long dead, and was also a terrible electrician. Can the new owner of the house please put in some modern necessities?


I love Western Junction. Just like Toad Park, it adds some good environmental lore to the Mushroom Kingdom. Like there’s apparently a place where the gold rush continues to happen since Shy Guys on trains will just come through the play area with either actual gold or with a yellow item more valuable than gold: bananas. It’s just so funny to me that the Mario Sports Mix versions of people would choose this place to play. The Charged universe would deem it too boring, but a literal train crossing seems out of line compared with stuff like Mario Stadium and Toad Park. Just like Koopa Troopa Beach, most of the playing surface was here before anyone decided to turn it into a hockey rink/dodgeball arena/volleyball and basketball court, so it must’ve cost nothing to make. All the maintenance costs are probably paid for by the Excess Express Corporation as they take passengers from Rogueport to Poshley Heights via the Western Junction. Great work, Pennington.

File:MSM 2-3 Dodgeball.png

Daisy Garden is also good world-building. This level suggests that Daisy is slightly sadistic as she puts Petey Piranhas into her garden on purpose. You know, a man-eating plant? Seems dangerous! Also, it feels really weird that the garden has some strange metallic playing surface instead of a bed of grass or succulents. Like, come on, Daisy. That can’t be good for your plants. Not that having idiots stomp around and play roller hockey on it could be much better. Really, why did you offer your garden as a place to play sports? If every captain in Sports Mix needed to provide a place to play, there must’ve still been a better option than your greenhouse. Or maybe she just saw it as a convenient way to cut costs like every other stadium in this dang game. Only Mario actually offering up some money for a real stadium while all his “friends” suggest playing in their one-bedroom apartment. Oh, and Daisy Garden is clearly in Sarasaland.

File:MSM 2-2 Hockey.png

Come on! Did you not hear what I just said, Wario? Your factory is a place to make treasure chests that contain coins or bombs for Neon Heights, not a place to play hockey, dodgeball, basketball, or volleyball. Did literally everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom get hit by the 2008 US Recession? What happened to Wario Palace’s majesty? Or the extremely stupid expenditure for Wario City? Now all you have the money for is converting a small part of your factory into a sporting room? Come on. I know you want some ROI for taking Smithy’s old factory from Super Mario RPG and turning it into a better place, but this is awful.

File:MSM 3-1 Basketball.png

Bowser Jr. Boulevard is the best stage in Mario Sports Mix. With that out of the way, let’s focus on how the literal child is the only character connected to gambling/casinos/red light district. It’s pretty funny that Nintendo allowed such a strong connection between Jr. and a casino considering how strict they were and are about censoring games. Anyway, the basketball/volleyball court on Bowser Jr. Boulevard is actually on a raised platform above the titular boulevard which presumably has shops and roads for cars or something. Whatever the heck is on a boulevard. This is just the cool spot to be and hang out. You can’t really tell, but there’s a pool to the side of the court where many fine young escorts hang out while catching a game. Bowser Jr. Boulevard is clearly the Broadway of Neo Bowser City, and cost a ton of money to make. You see that floor? That’s not hardwood, that’s an LCD screen that is able to display stuff like the “spotlights” with numbers on them and the giant rainbow display at the end of halves. It’d be such a sick thing to do in real life if not for how fragile it’d actually be. God I love this place so much. Make it real!

File:MSM Bowserscastle Dodgeball.png

Bowser’s Castle is underwhelming in creativity compared to the Boulevard of Broken Bowser Jr.s (Jrs? J.rs? you decide). It’s basically the Lava Pit, only much smaller. Instead of being set on a floating platform in the middle of a lava ocean, this platform is supported by chains that allow the stage to tilt one way or the other while also in the middle of a lava ocean. But at least the chains are realistic, even if the lack of heat protection isn’t. Even Bowser himself wasn’t immune to the recession. I think the chains were a nice way of making the most out of a limited budget, because this whole place is underfurnished. All of the cool landmarks in the background were already built before this stadium was conceived. Maybe he spent all his money funding Bowser Jr.’s Boulevard. Regardless, it’s in Bowser’s Castle, which can be wherever the heck it wants to be.


I love Waluigi Pinball. Look to the left of that screenshot, and really take in the look of Waluigi’s robot. That thing rules. This place rules. Whoever originally came up with the concept in Mario Kart DS needs a raise. This place cost a ton to make for Waluigi, I’m sure. The robot alone with its pinball-wizardry probably cost as much as all the previous stadiums combined. Let alone the absolutely perfect theming and material used for the rest of this place. Look at the tunnel entrance in the background for the pinball! That is a beautiful touch. Maybe everyone was convinced by Waluigi to pitch in on this instead of making their own cool stadiums in some Mushroom Kingdom shark tank. It’s so good. I honestly have no idea what place in the Mushroom Kingdom deserves Waluigi Pinball, or had the space to let it be constructed there. Glitzville already has Pipeline Central, and it’s one of very few flashy-enough places for something like Waluigi Pinball. Ehh… I guess Flipside had the arcade. I’ll say it’s there, since Super Paper Mario doesn’t fit among the Paper Mario family, just like Waluigi.


Ghoulish Galleon is a weird ship that can host volleyball, dodgeball, basketball, or hockey at a moment’s notice, but has just a literal skeleton crew of Dry Bones and some empty boxes that get in the way. There is no explanation as to who decided this would be a good place to play sports at. If you subscribe to the theory that every Mushroom Kingdom character in Mario Sports Mix had to bring their place to play, this place belongs to either Diddy Kong or Yoshi. And it does not seem in line with either of their styles! The more I think about this place, the more out of place it feels. Like, Koopa Troopa Beach at least fits into Isle Delfino. There was a ghost ship level in Super Mario World but that was it, and this place doesn’t feel like that level at all. Considering how torn up the place is, it’s another stadium that pretends to be “just found” like some readymade art. Personally, I think Cortez finally got his ship out of Keelhaul Key and was just riding around when Mario remembered it existed and decided it’d be a good place to play sports at.


Last but not least, this Star Ship was meant to fly. Star Ship is just like Stormship Stadium in that it’s a mobile stadium that can go anywhere it wants to. I’d love to know how much it cost to convert the deck of an airship into a basketball court. Based on how expensive the hoops look, it probably cost relatively little, and they spent the excess budget on cool touches like that. Kind of sad I don’t have much to say about the final stadium, but it’s just a less extreme version of Stormship Stadium.

And with that, we’ve covered all of the stadiums in Super Mario Strikers, Mario Strikers Charged, Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario Super Sluggers, and Mario Sports Mix. I really enjoyed looking at each stadium and trying to figure out where it would be geographically. Even if some of the stadiums were in self-explanatory spaces, thinking about the logistics of the Mario Strikers Charged stadiums was great fun.

If I feel like it, I may write a sequel post that looks at the gimmick stadiums in Mario Power Tennis as well as the stadiums in Mario Hoops 3 on 3 and Mario Sports Superstars. Or maybe I’ll also do what I said and look at Mario Kart tracks and Mario Party boards. Or, what I’d really love to do, is analyze some new stadiums from a new Mario sports game. Please, Nintendo. Just give me another Strikers sequel. Don’t let Mario Tennis Aces kinda flopping ruin this for me.

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Flying Boss Breaks Floating Platform Hero is On

The Hero of Lemrule finally met his match in his quest to save the world. Flying terror Ashkasha, who ravaged the village of Kortiga last month in a one-man air raid, lured the hero into a dank dungeon just outside Kortiga, made the hero climb up a ladder to a floating platform that Ashkasha was on, and then sent the floating platform and the hero to the earth below once the ladder automatically fell off.

“I really love the One Time Ladder brand. So convenient for us floating bosses. You let the hero get up there and then they immediately break apart, or fall off, or disappear, depending on which version you get,” said Ashkasha. “Oh, and defeating the Hero of Lemrule was satisfying. Gonna be great sending Lemrule to the darkness forever! Still a little vague on what I get out of this whole deal, Ja’rgan’th said something about ‘you can rule the skies’ but they skies are going to be dark forever and I don’t have great night vision.”

The Hero survived the fall from the floating platform but is out of commission for at least a week, or until a fairy breaks free from one of his five glass bottles on him to heal him. Hard to believe those didn’t immediately shatter and further complicate his recovery. Hopefully he will still be on schedule in getting out of the hospital and into Ja’rgan’th’s castle at the very last moment before Ja’rgan’th banishes the light from Lemrule.

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Soccer Coach Uses LoL Tactics

High school junior, soccer team forward, and aspiring professional League of Legends gamer James Byrd recently became the coach of his younger brother’s middle-school soccer team. An opening appeared when the Bakersfield Bandits’ previous coach was disbarred from the league because he never provided the customary halftime orange slices. But Byrd had no intentions of filling in the role at first.

“Yeah, I told them I was too busy between my starting role on the high school team and my studying, but somehow my dad figured out how to look at my LoL playtime log. He threatened to take my computer privileges away after seeing that I had played over 30 hours during midterms last week. Didn’t have much of a choice, just like how JeremyDoe didn’t have much of a choice when being asked to dominate toprow with no support versus LmaoTsao last week,” said Byrd.

Byrd consulted with his informal high school team’s League of Legends coach, CouchPohTayToe, for some coaching advice. PohTayToe, whose real name is Taylor Toenoke, is a fifth-year high school senior at Bakersfield High School. Though he claims he stayed a fifth year by choice to make sure the school’s informal League team would be alright after he left, poor grades forced him to repeat a year.

“I told my good man, HighFlyingByrd, that to be a good coach, you need to empathize with your players. If you can’t feel how your bottom laners feel when the team’s jungler forgets to mantis kick and start a 3 on 2 doublekill situation, you can’t feel how to improve your teammates. No matter the sport nor the moment, you need empathy to be a good coach. And better players, of course,” said Toenoke.

Byrd’s first practice got off to a rocky start when he called together the team’s midfielders by calling them all “midlaners” and asked them to practice swarm offense to make sure the other team’s jungler and midlaner would both go down simultaneously.

“I was a little worried about big bro when he started with this swarm offense approach since you aren’t allowed to kill people in soccer,” said Byrd’s little brother, Lucas. “Unless the high school leagues are different.” When asked about the approach, Byrd replied “Look, our team sucks at feeding. There’s so little communication that it is impossible to let only one guy suck up the experience so he can sweep with ults, that’s why we need to swarm and cause havoc by pressuring one lane at a time so we can kill the dragon.” “That’s a metaphorical dragon, right?” asked Lucas. “No, I’m talking about crosstown rivals, Georgetown Dragons,” said Byrd. “Of course I mean the actual dragon on the field. We’re always playing on Summoner’s Rift in this league you moron.”

Talking about the first practice, Byrd said that he didn’t quite grasp PohTayToe’s words of wisdom until he remembered who he was as a middle schooler. “Back in middle school, I was also a complete loser who had no sense of tactics. I would just rush the enemy’s main gate without paying attention to my lane assignment, I chose my hero based on how cool they looked, and I stole my mom’s credit card to buy skins instead of access to coaching. In short, I sucked, just like every other middle schooler. Especially the kids on this team, yeesh” said Byrd. “They literally cannot understand what it means to jungle when it is so simple.”

Despite the comments, Byrd’s Bandits have been flying high in the Midwest Middle School Soccer League. Currently sitting with a record of 6-1-3 and at the top of the Uptown Division, the Bandits are poised to capture not just the division title, but also the enemy base. “League might be 5 vs 5, but, if you think about it, soccer’s 11 vs 11 is basically 2 simultaneous 5 vs 5s. Therefore, it only makes sense that tactics from League would carry over to soccer,” said Byrd. “I expect higher divisions in soccer, like the MLS, will pick up on the same strategies as League soon enough.”

When asked if that would be the case, long-time soccer coach Brian Schmetzer said “tell me when that guy can win in a league that requires more tactics than getting the best dribbler in the league to deke around everyone”.

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I’ve Played A Phone Game For Two Years Straight

The game released September 27th, 2018. There have been 731 days since then. I have played it for a minimum of a half-hour every day in those 731 days. Thankfully, my phone cannot track total play time, so I do not know how much exact time I’ve wasted playing it. But it’s gotta be over 1000 hours of my life spent doing this.

Some guy said it takes 10,000 hours to be great at something. Well, if I play this phone game at this pace, I’ll be great at it in 18 years. I’d argue I’m in the top 1% of players, though. Objectively, I am because I’ve cleared every single quest, even the newest, solo quests in a game based around co-op play. 95% of people who download the game don’t even beat the first level of endgame quests. So if you compare me to the majority of people who play, I’m great. But if you compare me to some Greek ideal of a player of this phone game, I might not be that Socrates.

Why haven’t I said the name of the game? Well, despite it taking up at least 1/48th of my life for the past two years, I don’t talk about it. I’m discrete about playing it. I play it just before I go to bed, when I wake up, and at a free time in the middle of the day. I base my life around it, yet don’t talk about it. If that sounds like a drug user, well, you’d know better than me because I’ve never used drugs. But, yes, this phone game is basically my drug. I could make a pun with this game’s title and the word drug. You shouldn’t need more hints to know what game I’m talking about at this point so I’ll continue without naming it.

So what is so appealing about this game? Well, the presentation. The game looks gorgeous. It has incredible music. The writing is genuinely good, and not just for a game. All of it combines into one amazing package that somehow fits on a phone. Albeit, “fits” at the size of like 10 gigabytes or something crazy high for a phone game. But that’s all to make the game so dang appealing on first glance.

The gameplay itself is a genre I’ve never played before. It’s an action RPG. I play turn-based RPGs normally. I had a small taste of action RPGs with the Mario and Luigi series, which is turn-based, but you can dodge enemies moves. Furthermore, it’s not just single-player, but multi-player co-op. I’ve never played a co-op game before other than Mario Kart Double Dash. I really only even tried this game due to who published it. And my trust was rewarded. The gameplay is super fun at its best, though majorly frustrating at its worst.

But the worst is rare. On average, it is fun to run around and whack your enemy with the 9 weapon types. I used to be most comfortable with the long-ranged attacks, but I’ve lately felt fine getting in an enemy’s face with the short-ranged stuff. I’ll be honest, I’m writing this because I like to publish one thing every month, and I haven’t had the energy or inspiration (that’s a game reference btw) this month. So I figured I’d just write about one of the things that’s taking up my entire life. I played this game for 6 hours on Saturday due to all the recent changes and had a real proud gamer moment when I cleared the current toughest quest in the game. On weekdays, I’m spending 5 hours daily learning how to code and have forgotten how to write. I’m doomed to become a tech bro with no creativity. I was a project manager last week and did nothing but use corporate speak and buzzwords in order to practice transitioning to a real job where I can do that again.

Where was I? I got a little lost. Oh yeah, I really enjoy this game because the fights are 5 minutes maximum, clearing one gives a rush of dopamine, and so I can get a lot of dopamine by winning a lot of fights. The game also gives out dopamine through gambling. Now, this game is free to play, and you genuinely never have to pay money to get to where I’m at, but I will admit that I’ve spent $40 on the game. Considering I spent $70 on Paper Mario: The Origami King for “just” 30 hours of entertainment, $40 for Literally Two Years is a fair deal. Although I started talking about how I paid money right after a sentence about gambling, the money I spent allowed me to skip past the gambling to get what I wanted, so it was very worth it. I got a lot of dopamine there.

It also gives me dopamine to re-read this stuff if it’s funny. This isn’t, but the 10,000 word mix CD review of my 13th mix will be. Just gotta get the motivation to write that. I’m too busy listening to the Creed singer singing about the Miami Marlins instead of listening to my dope mix CD. It’s my best one yet, as usual. I’m getting really off-topic. I’ll just close by saying I’m sorry to myself for re-reading this eventually because this’ll be private and never un-privated, like the rest of this website. Sigh.

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YOUR SLXXIX Mark Bellhorn Preview

Long-time owner, first-time writer for the Super League here. Frankly, I’m very bad at evaluating players in the Super League. Just look at my all-time winning percentage! But no one else wanted to do it, so I figured I should give back to the community after… oh god, 28 seasons of sitting around and reading everyone else’s posts? Surely, by this point, some knowledge and humor has had to have rubbed off on me.



The Bellhorn in SL XXVIII was convincingly won by the Akabira Killer Mikes, owned by tatankatonk. Thanks to the World Warriors losing on the final day of the season, the Mikes were the only team to win 100 games in the SL. They managed to do this despite never shifting Trevor Hoffman out of the closer spot when he came down with a season-ending injury after only pitching 17 innings. Just more evidence for the “no lineup change” strategy endorsed by Smasher. The Mikes made the SLCS only to fall to the eternal Eazy W’s in five games. The team made no reckless changes in response to this loss during the offseason which, considering what the Eazy W’s have done to some other owners, should be applauded. They appear to still be the best team in the division with the offseason well and over. The Killer Mikes play in a stadium that boosts left-handed power significantly with the right field walls only being 300 feet away. That said, the team won most of its games through its pitching staff and defense that managed to have an ERA of 4.01 while having to play a bunch of games in and against Mexico City.


The Hague Honkbalers, led by mks5000, finished second in the division in SL XXVIII. Even though they finished 13 games below the Mikes, they were one of five teams to finish above .500 in the Super League and thus clinched a wild card spot rather easily. In the playoffs, the team made some noise by knocking out the perennial contenders Portland Panderers in the wild card game. The next round put them up against the Mikes where the Honkbalers got swept in three games. The team made no major moves in the offseason, and looks set to challenge for the wildcard or better again. They play in a relatively normal stadium for the Super League, with the only real gimmick being a short left field fence that slightly boosts the team’s mostly right-handed lineup. I gotta wonder how filled the 48,500 seats are daily, though.


At the start of SL XXVIII, the Krakow Dragons came under new management of cbx and Edward Mass after the previous owner resigned from ownership. The tag-team finished in third place last year, just four games above fourth place to keep their spot in the Super League. In the offseason, Edward Mass took full control over the team’s operations and has rebranded the team as the Winnipeg Monarchs. In a classic Edward Mass move, the team made a big trade to land a high draft pick to get prime Barry Bonds in the offseason but gave up Honus Wagner and Eddie Matthews to do so. The team mostly looks the same otherwise and hopes to finally get back to the success the old Dragons had when they had New Hoss. These guys play in a very normal stadium, except for the name. Rogers and/or Bell Stadium at GS the Q Field?


The fourth and final team is no stranger to the Mark Bellhorn. Taking the place of the Mexico City Mexicutioners (now Machine Guns) are the Khartoum Doom, owned by McFreeze. They’ve won six division titles in the Bellhorn, though none of them since SL XX. The Doom’s brief visit in the sub-par saw them effortlessly win 100 games and their division. They made the finals easily but lost to the absolutely dominant Sebastian Thunderbuckets in five games. But Slug Lyfe is back in the Super League where they belong. Who knows if they can recapture the magic of old, but they’re always a fan favorite team. That’s because they hit a billion homeruns a year in their bandbox of a stadium. It’s got super short corners and a very deep centerfield designed to boost extra basehits. Except for doubles, somehow. I don’t understand how field effects work even after reading TheMcD’s post. Let’s just get into the player rankings.

[b]Starting Pitcher #1[/b]

For SP#1, we got three deadballers and a guy with deadballer-esque stats. Hilton Smith is consistently good in the SL. Other than SLXXV, he’s averaged around 135 ERA+ and 1.175 WHIP. That’s really good! Smokey Joe Wood walks a bunch of people but he can also strike some dudes out. Also, he’s pitched really well as a Honkbaler, so I think mks has figured out how to use him. Rube Waddell walks about as many people as Wood does, but also gives up around 1-1.5 H/9 more than Wood. Waddell at least does his deadballing job of giving up few home runs. Still, I think he’s better than Dazzy Vance. I’m pretty sure this Vance is the same one that pitched for me on the Seattle Suicides way back in SL VIII. That team was partially relegated because its pitching sucked. (I’m insulting Vance)

1.) 1932 Hilton Smith KLM
2.) 1913 Smokey Joe Wood HON
3.) 1906 Rube Waddell KHA
4.) 1918 Dazzy Vance WMN

[b]Starting Pitcher #2[/b]

Martin Dihigo has felt like the true ace of the Doom forever and I don’t remember when Waddell took his spot. I think he’s the best of this bunch. Jim Creighton is a super old diamond of a deadballer that kensei unearthed a while ago and I think he’s proven himself in his limited time in the SL as a solid if unspectacular #2 starter. Steve Carlton has been around forever and still is pretty unreliable because this is baseball; I still think he’s got gonna be better than baby Waddell who can’t keep his WHIP below 1.5.

1.) Martin Dihigo KHA
2.) Jim Creighton HON
3.) Steve Carlton KLM
4.) Rube Waddell WMN

[b]Starting Pitcher #3[/b]

Three pitchers I’m familiar with and “Old” Koufax (29 years old) comprise SP3. This is a pretty close group of pitchers in terms of overall performance. In all honesty, they are all pretty good SP3s. Ricky’s been the worst of the bunch most recently which is why he is ranked last, but he could bounce back pretty easily. I think it’s because of my love for Greg Maddux that I am forced to rank him relatively low here or look biased. Both Koufax and Bender have actually been super good on their respective teams, but Koufax gives up around 2 H/9 fewer than Bender at the cost of more walks and slightly more homeruns. Either one will probably be pretty good but I’ll go with Bender because he pitched well for the Seattle Homers and he won 21 games two years ago.

1.) 1913 Chief Bender HON
2.) 1965 Sandy Koufax KLM
3.) 1992 Greg Maddux KHA
4.) 1978 Rick Reuschel WMN

[b]Starting Pitcher #4[/b]

It gets harder to rank around SP4 because everyone brings just kinda middling guys. Babe Adams has the most upside, yet his best seasons came with the Monarchs back when they were called the Dragons. The Mikes hope Hamels, as a modern-day power lefty thrower, cuts down homeruns for opponents bringing their own lefties to tee off in the Mikes’ ballpark. It works well enough, I guess. 1905 Eddie Plank doesn’t have much burn at this age, but he can be alright. I don’t think he’ll ever be the same ace that he was in SL IV ever again, though. Carl Hubbell hasn’t had much of a sample size in the SL recently, though he could be the best pitcher of the group if those small sample size numbers translate to something greater this year.

1.) 1907 Babe Adams HON
2.) 2013 Cole Hamels KLM
3.) 1905 Eddie Plank KHA
4.) 1936 Carl Hubbell WMN

[b]Starting Pitcher #5[/b]

SP5 has some big names that feel out of place at #5, and also Roy Halladay. I know the Monarchs have to at least pretend to lean into the Canadian gimmick and that’s why he’s there, and that’s fine. Pete Alexander is old in 1925 but can be ace material if he doesn’t get injured. At least, that’s what I have to hope because he is my actual ace on the Deck Chairs. Baby Walter Johnson is sometimes pretty dang good and usually not terrible which is all you can ask for out of SP5. Don Drysdale is better than Roy Halladay.

1.) 1925 Pete Alexander HON
2.) 1907 Walter Johnson KHA
3.) 1963 Don Drysdale KLM
4.) 2003 Roy Halladay WMN


The Mikes win because they have two Trevor Hoffmans and the Honkbalers come second because they have two John Smoltzs. There’s nothing I love more than clones playing together. The Monarchs take third because they have a Smoltz and a Hoffman and also Walter Johnson who should actually be in the rotation, even if he’s a million years old. The Doom don’t have a terrible bullpen but it’s not as fun and so it finishes last. Don’t try to actually rate bullpens for longer than two minutes because they are extremely volatile.

1.) 1993 Trevor Hoffman/1987 Tom Henke/1999 Trevor Hoffman/2014 Jonathan Papelbon/1979 Pedro Borbon/1988 Dennis Eckersley/1905 George Mullin KLM
2.) 1995 John Smoltz/1995 John Smoltz/1905 Al Orth/1979 Gary Lavelle/2009 Mariano Rivera/1922 Red Faber HON
3.) 2006 Trevor Hoffman/2000 Joe Nathan/2002 John Smoltz/2013 Rafael Soriano/1983 Bruce Sutter/1922 Walter Johnson WMN
4.) 2010 Joakim Soria/1982 Tom Henkey/2014 Sean Doolittle/2012 Steve Cishek/1906 Nick Altrock/1962 Juan Marichal KHA


Onto the positional players where I will very much reveal myself as someone who can’t rate players in context. I just like to look at numbers instead of thinking about fit/defense. All of these catchers are great hitters. The Josh Gibson for New Hoss trade felt really wrong at the time because the Dragons were defined by New Hoss, and it still doesn’t sit right with me. That said, he’s still the best overall catcher. Or, at least, I can’t not vote him #1, even though he’s slowly been sliding down in effectiveness and it’s quite likely one of these other Cs will outhit him. But I still can’t not put Josh Gibson #1! Bill Dickey can hit but can’t throw guys out, and, as a lefty catcher with power, fits what the Killer Mikes are doing perfectly. That’s why I think the lone Dickey beats the Dickey/Ewing combo. I also think Cochrane/Lombardi will just barely outhit the Dickey/Ewing combo, but it’s pretty marginal. Really good group of catchers.

1.) 1933 Josh Gibson WMN
2.) 1938 Bill Dickey KLM
3.) 1933 Mickey Cochrane/1938 Ernie Lombardi HON
4.) 1936 Bill Dickey/1882 Buck Ewing KHA

[b]First Base[/b]

We’ve got a slightly underwhelming group of 1B after that great group of C. The Killer Mikes built their stadium around Stargell, and he delivers in that role. Hank Aaron at 1B is weird to see but his bat is good enough to play every day, and he fits here with the glut of outfielders. Speaking of gluts, there were four 1960 Hank Aarons in the SL in SL XXVII. Yet, I have to ask: is there any player more cloned than Jimmie Foxx? I’ll take the younger one as he’s had a slightly better track record. Hank Greenberg had limited playing time at 1B for the Dragons until last season where he OBAd .297 and hit 17 dingers. He’s alright but probably worse than both Foxxs. Foxxes? Whatever.

1.) 1965 Willie Stargell/1960 Hank Aaron KLM
2.) 1934 Jimmie Foxx HON
3.) 1942 Jimmie Foxx KHA
4.) 1934 Hank Greenberg WMN

[b]Second Base[/b]

After the New Hoss trade, I’d argue that Charlie Gehringer became the face of the Dragons because he’d been there forev—hang on, you’re telling me he got traded to the Killer Mikes? Seems like a perfect fit for their stadium which is why he’s #1. The next three groups are pretty close to even. Aesthetically, I think it is sinful that the Doom are running a pair of glove-first 2B, but I understand that they need to make up for their poor defensive core somewhere, and where better but with Joe Morgan and Jackie Robinson? I actually think Robinson Cano is solid as an everyday 2B, even though he strikes out too much. Whitaker and Molitor aren’t bad 2B either, but I don’t think either of them can produce on offense as well as the other groups, and their defense is comparable but not better.

1.) 1934 Charlie Gehringer KLM
2.) 1974 Joe Morgan/1951 Jackie Robinson KHA
3.) 2009 Robinson Cano WMN
4.) 1985 Lou Whitaker/1983 Paul Molitor

[b]Third Base[/b]

More clones here. I think the Brett/Foxx platoon takes first in the Boggs division. Neither are great fielders but they outhit their defensive struggles from what I can tell. Also, I feel bad about being the guy who took Ted Williams #2 overall after ManifunkDestiny took George Brett #1. Wade Boggs is consistently average to above-average at the dish and fields the ball fine. Both ’86 and ’94 Boggs will produce around the same amount and field equally well, but it’s harder to see ’94 Boggs finishing the season uninjured. In last comes the Jackie Robinson/Mike Schmidt platoon because Jackie Robinson is not a good fielding 3B and should not be playing there most days. Also, Mike Schmidt isn’t very good in Mogul, sadly.

1.) 1983 George Brett/1933 Jimmie Foxx HON
2.) 1986 Wade Boggs KLM
3.) 1994 Wade Boggs WMN
4.) 1951 Jackie Robinson/1974 Mike Schmidt KHA


In the battle of shortstops, as much as it pains me, I must put Ernie Banks above a copy of my own Arky Vaughan. Banks fields better than Vaughan and hits around 25 homeruns a year which I value more than Vaughan’s 175 hits a year. They’re both very good players, though. Vern Stephens has a bunch of bad to below-average hitting seasons and a few random really good years at the plate. For that reason, I put him above the heartwarming duo of Melissa Mayeux and Luke Appling. I love that Mayeux is finally getting consistent playing time. I just find it sad that the Doom aren’t allowed to combine Mayeux’s spirit and glove with Appling’s decentish bat to make a pretty good shortstop. Meluke Appleux.

1.) 1958 Ernie Banks HON
2.) 1940 Arky Vaughan KLM
3.) 1950 Vern Stephens WMN
4.) Melissa Mayeux/1939 Luke Appling KHA

[b]Left Field[/b]

Oh thank god I got to the outfield where I can stop pretending I know how to read defensive stats. It’s all about big offensive numbers here. I think the Monarchs’ big offseason splash should pay off, and Barry Bonds should be pretty good. Obviously, he’s got a huge chance of getting injured, but… come on. I rostered three Barry Bonds on a team once, of course he’s #1. Jesse Burkett is the most consistent producer out of the other three groups on this list. Yeah, it’s mostly singles when you want homeruns from this spot, but he hasn’t had many bad years recently. I’ll take the Hamilton/Riggs platoon over Frank Robinson for third. Riggs is pretty deadly playing as small spoon and Hamilton is a really fun speedy guy. Did you see that he was 8 for 50 on stolen base attempts in SL XXVI? That rules. Robinson isn’t bad, I just don’t fully trust him.

1.) 1997 Barry Bonds WMN
2.) 1895 Jesse Burkett KLM
3.) 1901 Billy Hamilton/1927 Riggs Stephenson KHA
4.) 1965 Frank Robinson

[b]Center Field[/b]

Oh, fine, I’ll care a little about defense for CF. All of these guys are really good centerfielders and all are worthy of being an everyday starter on an SL roster. Yes, even Griffey, though he’s the likeliest of the bunch to get injured or struggle at the plate, which is why he’s last. Mays is pretty consistent with his production and provides very good defense, but both Cobb and Speaker just get on base better. Neither can play that great of defense but boy can they hit. Prime Speaker is a little better than slightly-young Cobb, on the whole. But, again, all four of these guys are very good CF, and any of them could easily produce the best of this group.

1.) 1913 Tris Speaker HON
2.) 1909 Ty Cobb KLM
3.) 1957 Willie Mays KHA
4.) 1994 Ken Griffey, Jr. WMN

[b]Right Field[/b]

There are two 1918 Babe Ruths in this division. They automatically tie for first. That leaves the fight for third between prime Hank Aaron and just-past-his-prime Roberto Clemente. As much as I love Clemente the man, Hammerin’ Hank is just better. His bat and glove are just better than Clemente. Wow, that was the easiest ranking yet! Why can’t they all be this easy?

1.) 1918 Babe Ruth KLM/1918 Babe Ruth KHA
2.) 1960 Hank Aaron HON
3.) 1964 Roberto Clemente WMN

[b]Designated Hitter[/b]

We close out the everyday position players with the DHs. Young Ted Williams will rake and, more importantly, not get injured. Lou Gehrig will also rake and not get injured… probably. Really, it’s a tossup as to who will be better between these two. I just like Williams more. Volk Hammer probably won’t be as overtuned as he was in SL XXVII ever again, but, as a custom prize player, I expect him to be above average. Just not as good as Williams/Gehrig. Finally, Harry Heilmann rounds out the group. He brings doubles power to a homerun fight, and the Mikes’ stadium doesn’t help that too much. He’s not terrible but clearly the worst of the bunch.

1.) 1942 Ted Williams
2.) 1936 Lou Gehrig
3.) Volk Hammer HON
4.) 1921 Harry Heilmann

Lastly, we’ve got the bench. On one end of the spectrum, the Monarchs used zero platoons, and, on the other, the Doom platooned literally everybody they could. I really appreciate the latter approach, speaking as someone who wants all my Fire Emblem units to be the same level. I have no real opinions on the benches otherwise.

1.) Platoon only KHA
2.) Platoon/1991 Cal Ripken Jr/1950 Joe Dimaggio HON
3.) Platoon/1956 Jackie Robinson/1959 Smoky Burgess/1902 Joe Kelley KLM
4.) 1970 Joe Torre/1924 Charlie Gehringer/1993 Chipper Jones/1924 Heinie Manush/1931 Paul Waner WMN

If you were to add up all the predictions, I think the division standings shake out:

1.) Akabira Killer Mikes
2.) Khartoum Doom
3.) The Hague Honkbalers
4.) Winnipeg Monarchs

But baseball isn’t that simple. After all, the Doom got relegated just two seasons ago despite having largely the same fierce lineup. Any one of these teams could feasibly take the division; except I don’t have much faith in the Monarchs. Their best-case scenario looks like a wildcard. Sorry Edward Mass! By leaning into a stadium gimmick, the Killer Mikes are the best suited for the current SL meta and seem poised to repeat as division champs. Slug Lyfe look like a good wildcard/division contender, but you can’t count out the Honkbalers either. In conclusion, writing previews is hard.

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Local Man Angry That Somebody is Enjoying New Video Game

Local man Sicnarf Loopstok is reportedly angry that another local man is enjoying the new video game The Last of Paper Mario: Part II.

“I just can’t stand these goddanged sheeple that think UNintelligent [emphasis sic] Systems or Naughty-Good-Developer, Dog will ever make another good game. The Thousand Year Bandicoot’s greatness will never be matched as long as Amy Miyamoto is pulling the strings or blending the wumpa fruit or folding the origami, whatever metaphor you want to use,” said Loopstok.

When his friend, James Sullivan, pointed out that Miyamoto has not at all been involved in the creation of any of the games since Sticker Uncharted, Loopstok replied: “Well, see, that’s what they want you to think. Amy may have left officially but her presence continues to be felt on the series, like a Zess T. Mistake or Nitro crate. ‘Miya-money’ destroyed any creative freedom when she mandated that the team could no longer steal OCs clearly marked with ‘do not steal’ from the best DeviantArt minds of our generation. And that’s why The Last of Paper Mario: Part II has godawful characters like the Bob-omb named ‘Bob-omb’ and the human girl named ‘Ellie’. What kind of sicko would name their kid ‘Human’?” said the man named Sicnarf.

“Beyond the awfulness that is the character creation, weapon and guitar durability, while realistic, are garbage systems that shouldn’t have been implemented. When I’m using Sombrero Guy to take out some Infected, I don’t want to worry about my E-string breaking as I play Wonderwall. I can’t believe UNIntelligent [again, emphasis sic] Systems would dare deprive my one Oasis of comfort in this desert of a game. ‘Desert’ in this context means bad,” said Loopstok.

“And don’t even get me started on the story. The goddanged SJWs that flouted the rainbow pride in the prequel, Color Us, decided to take it one step further by populating the entire game with non-binary mushroom creatures. It’s very important to me what genitals the fungus have, and the game won’t answer that one question. Do not ask me why that’s my one question,” said Loopstok, who has been rambling for the past five minutes while I, enlightened and in my fedora, shut up and listen like a true man such as Tillman Fertitta, the owner of the Houston Rockets and all the worst fast food franchises. Oh, right, this column is about a dude yelling about a video game.

“Anyway, I just don’t understand why James has stooped so low to enjoying this piece of cold garbage,” said Loopstok. “Because I think it’s funny, poignant, and well-written?” said Sullivan. “Well, as I’m sure you remember about UNIntelligent Systems [for the last time, emphasis sic] back when they didn’t kowtow to the goddanged millenial SJWs, PEMN,” said Loopstok. “What?” said Sullivan.

“Personal. Experience. Means. Nothing,” said Loopstok.

“Yeah, that makes sense with evaluating characters in Fire Daxter where there’s some variance as to how good they’ll turn out and there’s an objective sort of truth as to what characters will turn out the best based on the raw numbers, but The Last of Paper Mario: Part II is meant to be evaluated on how it makes the player personally feel. And, let me tell you, I cried when Bob-omb sacrificed himself to take out a group of Infected to save Ellie and Olivia. Personal experience means everything. Also, why does it matter to you if someone else enjoys the game?” said Sullivan.

“Because I’m the all-powerful main character of the world, and if someone disagrees with me, that might indicate that I’m not that powerful. Thankfully, I can just be the main character in my own created world online where I get to pwn fake people with bad opinions that I made up to get mad about but then destroy with facts and logic,” said Loopstok.

“That’s sad. I hope I never do that,” said Pungry.

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Governor Pungry Goes into Phase 4 of Opening Boggly Woods Despite Outbreak of X-Nauts in Great Tree to Celebrate 10th Anniversary of Freedom from Lord Crump

This Friday marks the 10th anniversary of The Great Tree’s independence from the hostile takeover of Lord Crump. The heroic Mario Mario, of the famous Mario brothers, teamed up with Pungry to save the Punis as well as the rest of the Boggly Woods from the hands of Crump and the X-Nauts. And for those ten years, the Punis had been living peacefully and simply.

Until the X-Naut infection came back worldwide in a big way this last StarMoon.

The infection started on the moon before somehow teleporting into dirty Rogueport. Since Rogueport has no centralized government and is instead run by two literal mafias, the town had no chance against the infection. And it spread to Twilight Town, Poshley Heights, and even all the way to Fahr Outpost. Of course, Boggly Woods and The Great Tree were no exception, and X-Nauts ran amok in the close-knit Puni community. Infections spread quicker and quicker since the Punis only survived Lord Crump by physically uniting to defeat Jabbis and Piders.

But the Punis are great at following directions. Once the infection was understood to be happening, the Puni Elder decreed Puni Quarantine. In their homes, each Puni got a Puni Orb and a pedestal to place the orb on. Should the want ever come over a Puni to go see a relative or friend, they only had to look at the orb to calm themselves and stay in place. And it has worked great. Forget flattening the curve, the Punis were a shining example to the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom in how to make the numbers drop down to zero.

By mid-StarStarStar, the number of infected Punis was in the single digits while Glitzville was getting thousands of new cases a day. Everything seemed perfect. Until the Puni Elder and shop-owner-turned-governor Pungry announced that it was time to open up The Great Tree. Not just to Punis, but to all immigrants for the economy. It is a mystery (which is the #1 selling item from Pungry’s shop) why the Puni Elder agreed to this, but it is a reality we live in now.

Gone were the Puni Orbs from each house in phase 1. Gone were the adorable masks on the Punis for phase 2. Gone was social distancing, which for Punis was like ten Puni lengths apart in those 6 feet, in phase 3. And within a couple of weeks, X-Nauts came back. Some came from Excess Express passengers, some came from Petalburg, others from Keelhaul Key, and most from the Rogueport Sewers, the most direct route to Boggly Woods. X-Naut infection in CircleCircle went back to its StarMoon levels.

And what does Governor Pungry declare for the 10th anniversary of independence from Lord Crump? That the day of celebration won’t be interrupted by X-Nauts and for the Great Tree to go to phase 4 of re-opening starting today. All shops back to full capacity, not that Pungry’s shop ever stopped before this despite the risk. All restaurants and bars back to full seating. The godawful basketball league, BBA, that we all thought stalled ten years ago will come back to the Boggly Woods with the Rim Rattlers, and no restrictions on seating.

This day of independence will be spent with Punis enjoying their last bit of freedom before X-Nauts infect them all. It is shameful and a disgrace that money influenced leadership in The Great Tree of all places. Here, where the entire population lived in harmony within nature, greed still beats morals. Pungry’s bottom line will become great in the short-term. It’ll be the best numbers ever recorded by any shop in The Great Tree ever. But it won’t compare to Glitzville’s Juice Bar on its worse day. The amount of money Governor Pungry has sacrificed countless Puni lives for totals to less than what one trip on the Excess Express costs.

I hope deeply that most Punis make it out of this self-inflicted terror unscathed, but it goes to show that money has no place in politics. The Puni Elder was made the governing figure initially because the entirety of the Puni population rallied behind her. Now that she has betrayed the Puni trust, it is time to vote her out as soon as possible. Instead, please vote for me… Pungry.

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Nuclear Families in Video Games

Ah, the nuclear family. One major part of a balanced American dream. You have a husband, a wife, a son, and a daughter all living happily together in a nuclear family. It is the end goal of life, and a bunch of movies, TV shows, and books all reinforce the idea. But what about the newest form of media? How many nuclear families are there in video games, and how many stay together from start to finish? Now, actually researching every video game ever would take to long, but it just so happens that I have a list of every video game I’ve ever played, so I’ll just be going through that instead.

Before I start the list, I want to talk about some reasons that video games are less likely to have full families. One, from a pure content level, there are relatively few games that involve families–think about every sports game or Fortnite clone; none of them need families because none of them have any emphasis on character development. These are games for the sake of being a game, like a Monopoly piece. They have inherently no story and need none.

Two, a lot of other games with fleshed-out characters are fantasy characters. They’re made as purposeful escapes from real-world norms. Think Ori from Ori and the Blind Forest. That ball of light has no family because that’s not how the creators envisioned its race. It instead hooks up with a blind forest which is quite progressive of the developers.

Three, games with lots of NPCs can just have the whole family thing slip their mind or see it as too much work. To make a full nuclear family requires making four separate characters with separate art assets or models and that takes way too dang long to spend on Jim from Pallet Town who has one line about saving your game. Games can get around this by simply having the character allude to having a family, but, again, if the NPC is only there to have one line and never be spoken to again, why bother writing that line in such a weird way. Like imagine Jim saying “My father, mother, and sister all recommend to me to open up the menu and save my game constantly!” That’d be dumb.

Four and finally, for games that do care about character development and stories, broken families are way more interesting than nuclear families. Every other form of entertainment understands this super well. Batman’s parents are dead, The Godfather’s immediate family may or may not be as important as his communal mafia family, and my ex-wife keeps leaving me which keeps my dates very interested in who I am. You’ll come to see that, in this list, most of the families in games are extremely broken.

Now, we’ll be looking at every game on the list and assessing the families that show up. Are they full nuclear families? Is it the main character’s family? Does some random NPC have a full family? Is the family implied or very specifically shown to be a family? How long does the family last in the game? The whole game? Part of it? Is there bizarre time travel shenanigans in this family? Single father? Single mother? Only child or siblings? Orphaned but remembers their parents? God, broken families are really just way more interesting.

I’ll be grouping together entries in the same series if the sequels don’t add any nuclear families or families in general. Let’s begin with all the PC games I had because they remind me of my very lovely, unbroken childhood.

Backyard Sports Series (Baseball, Football, Soccer, Hockey, Basketball) – Every kid in the Backyard Sports series lives in a monkey’s paw universe. All the inhabitants of the games are children and professional athletes aged back into their child years. No adults to stop them from playing baseball all day, and no adults to properly guide Dante Robinson through his adult-onset diabetes, whenever that comes. No nuclear families.

Pajama Sam Series (No Need to Hide When It’s Dark Outside, Thunder and Lightning Aren’t So Frightening, You Are What You Eat from Your Head to Your Feet, Life is Rough When You Lose Your Stuff) – Pajama Sam is about a kid who puts on pajamas to confront tough psychological issues for eight-year olds, like being afraid of the dark and wanting to control weather. At the start of the games, Sam usually talks to his mother through his bedroom door before he goes confront the literal manifestation of his issue, but we never see his mom. Nor do we know if his dad is still around. Frankly, the fifth game of the series should’ve been about dealing with an absentee father. Unclear if nuclear family exists, but at least a single mom/only child.

Freddi Fish Series (Case of the Stolen Conch Shell, Case of the Hogfish Rustlers of Briny Gulch, Case of the Creature of Coral Cave) – I’ll be honest, I remember nothing about Freddi Fish 1 or 2 so I can’t fully tell you Freddi and Luther’s relationship. I’m pretty sure they’re cousins that like to hang out and solve mysteries. In the third game, you help Luther’s uncle out of jail, which, woah, this is a children’s game, guys. Don’t be teaching the wrong lessons. Anyway, none of the three Freddi Fish games I have show either main character have a nuclear family and that makes sense because everyone is a fish. I don’t think fish see the nuclear family as the point of life. No nuclear families.

Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo – There are other Putt-Putt games, but this was the only one I played and remember. Mostly for the sick hockey minigame. Putt-Putt is a sentient car living in a world with a bunch of other sentient cars. They put together their own society that looks a lot like a medium-sized town in America right down to having a zoo that you save, but, uh, this car society doesn’t prioritize the nuclear family. Putt-Putt owns a dog that he takes care of like family but is very much on his own in this crazy world despite coming off as a very young, innocent, naive car. Someone help this poor boy out. No nuclear families.

Spy Fox in Dry Cereal – Spy Fox is just a parody of James Bond who was notorious for never settling down. Now, Spy Fox is also a children’s games series, so he doesn’t tear through girlfriends in the same way James Bond does, but he also never wants to settle down either. His wisecracking lets him seem suave at the poker table but not with the ladies. Better luck next time, Spy Fox. No nuclear families.

I think that’s all the Humongous Entertainment titles I played and they were the only PC games I ever truly adored. So it’s onto the first console I owned: the PS1.

NBA Live 99, Backyard Soccer, Cool Boarders 4, Cool Boarders 3, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!,  Tiger Woods 99, Test Drive Off-Road, Woody Woodpecker Racing, Cool Boarders 2, World Cup Golf, Nascar 99, MLB 99, David Beckham’s Soccer – These are all sports games with digital athletes populating the world. Don’t try and convince me that one of those flat 2D textures masquerading as a fan in the bleachers is actually a nuclear family! No nuclear families.

The Land Before Time: Great Valley Racing Adventure – A quick Wikipedia search shows that the first movie in the Land Before Time series is about Littlefoot coping with his mother dying because of his own dang fault. He also did not know his father. Now that’s an interesting family dynamic! Shockingly, this racing spinoff of the Land Before Time franchise does not deal with Littlefoot’s survival guilt nor tell me if any of the other playable characters had nuclear families, but it did teach me what the word “traction” meant. No nuclear families.

Crash Bandicoot Series (2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Team Racing) – Crash Bandicoot is a lab animal created by mad scientist Dr. Neo Cortex to help him achieve world domination. Now some English majors may take a crazy close reading hot take on his backstory and say that Cortex only wanted a son and a normal family, but, uh, no. Crash has both a girlfriend and younger sister (somehow, even though she too must’ve been created in a lab) but no actual, biological parents nor his own wife and kids. And neither does Cortex. Sad, but despite the use of mad science, there is no nuclear science to be found. No nuclear families.

Spyro the Dragon Series (1, 2: Ripto’s Rage, Year of the Dragon) – The Spyro the Dragon universe is a mess, family-wise. There are zero female adult dragons in the games. The only child in the universe is Spyro. All the other dragons are different versions of your cool uncle that never settled down and like four grandpas. And no place in the Dragon Realms, nor Avalar, nor literal Other Side of the World has a single normal family, and I’m including all the NPCs Spyro hangs out with when accounting for this. In fact, the third game is all about rescuing dragon eggs but who birthed them if the only three prominent female characters are an evil rhynoc Sorceress, a bunny named Bianca, and a kangaroo named Sheila??? We’ll keep an eye on this series as it moves onto other consoles, but man. Just men. No nuclear families.

Up next is the Game Boy Advance. We’ll finally have a game that has a full nuclear family in this set of games, but the rest are just as lacking.

Pokemon Leaf Green – Your character was explicitly raised by a single mother. The rival character, the only other being in this game that had much thought put behind their backstory, has a sister and a grandfather. No town in the game has a full nuclear family. This game teaches you to care about pets more than about your family. Although you don’t use your family to battle with other people in these games–just your pets.

Mario GBA Games (Mario Pinball Land, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga) – I’m not going to riff much on Mario and Luigi’s parents being missing their whole lives. That sort of parental neglect will lead to risky behavior and early deaths. They’re fortunate to have so many extra lives. The crazy part is that the RPG of Superstar Saga features lots of NPCs with their own brothers and backstories, but not a single nuclear family. Prince Peasley was raised by a single mother, the queen. The Hammer Brothers are actual brothers! Heck, even the bad guys seem to want a family. How else can you explain Popple’s aggressive recruiting? Or Cackaletta and Fawful’s, uh, unique relationship? There’s a lot of souls yearning for family in Superstar Saga, and none of them have it. No nuclear families.

Kirby and the Amazing Mirror – The pink puff of power is split into four separate entities and tasked with repairing a broken mirror in order to come together again. This is very much a solo soul-searching affair. Though the split into four would suggest a want for a family of four, it’s more indicating a Kirby who feels broken into four personalities and beings. Each Kirby consumes in order to fill the open space in their heart only to find it just as empty as before. Truly a tragic, introspective game. Oh, and Kirby gets over it by killing a circular robot with one eye, so all those struggling with split personalities in the comments should try that. No nuclear families.

Spyro: Season of Ice and Spyro 2: Season of Flame – Not much has changed in the Spyro universe since the PS1 days. Bianca and Hunter are now fully in a stable relationship as indicated by the constant annoying things Hunter does with Bianca taking them in stride, but the cheetah and bunny are probably far away from having kids. These games have Spyro rescuing fairies and fireflies, and neither group have families, so guess what? These games have no nuclear families.

Backyard Hockey – On the tiny, pixelated screen, Achmed Khan and Amir Khan are even further away from their parents as their very representations are warped beyond human recognition to fit on the GBA’s 2″ by 3″ universe. Tragic. No nuclear families.

Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones – Ooh, this is the closest we’ve gotten to a nuclear family so far! The main characters are a pair of royal siblings (boy and girl! first time for two kids) that unfortunately have no mother, but had a loving father that raised them. Until he was mercilessly killed by a demon that took over their childhood friend who is also a royal who seemed to be raised by just one parent. Or at least killed his parents once taken over. Most of the main characters in this game are royalty and none of these royal families are a simple king and queen with children. And then there’s side characters that almost have nuclear families. Ross and his dad fight for your army! But they never mention his mother, nor a sibling, so it’s only halfway there. There might be a character with a family untouched by war, but basically everyone in Sacred Stones is fighting because they lost someone they loved. Meanwhile, I joined the army because I flunked out of community college. Video games are so unrealistic. Some families, none nuclear.

Mega Man Battle Network 1-6 – Finally, a game with a stable family. The main character, Lan Hikari, has a father and a mother who are very supportive of him. He also, uh, had a twin brother who died in childbirth (or very young, can’t quite remember) whose soul was then programmed into a computer for Lan to play with on the internet. How touching yet kinda creepy when written out. But there you go! Lan Hikari may be an only child if you only count alive humans, but his brother makes his presence felt constantly and they basically grew up together. The real problem with this nuclear family is how the father is more married to his work than his wife and thus doesn’t show up physically for much of Lan’s life, but at least he’s supportive when he’s there! The Hikaris are close to a nuclear family, but only have sons and one of the sons is a computer program.

Mother 3 – Lucas, Claus, Hinawa, and Flint start the game as a nuclear family, and, by the end of chapter 1, Hinawa’s dead, Claus goes missing, Flint spirals into depression, and Lucas tries to work through all of this change on his own as an eight year old. Other characters in this game have similar sob stories, and not a single family appears to be whole. Lots of single parents or dead children. Mother 3 is not a cheery game. But hoo boy is it worth playing. Nuclear family broken by the end of the game.

Super Monkey Ball Jr. – The Super Monkey Ball characters are four monkeys trapped in balls with no ability to move. They are instead moved by the abstract landscapes their balls land on. When they see each other, they fight with large punching gloves or compete in bowling and golf. There is no family in the stark Super Monkey Ball universe. No nuclear families.

ATV: Quad Power Racing – Sports game that I played for ten minutes, and then never again. Someone in the comments can tell me if one of the motorcycle rider jpgs has a backstory with a family. Thanks in advance. No nuclear families.

Now that we’re past these old, old games and on to the very recent Gamecube era. Wait, the Gamecube came out 19 years ago? God, if the Gamecube was my son, he’d be able to vote. Too bad I have no clue what my actual son is doing right now.

Super Monkey Ball – I just went over this series. If the game with “Jr.” in its title didn’t have a nuclear family, how could the “Sr.” game have a family? No nuclear families.

NFL Blitz 2003 and MLB Slugfest 2003 – Sports games. Each of them have a gimmick that make their sports more dangerous versions of games that already carry the risk of giving anyone playing a concussion, so of course neither of these games have a loving family anywhere on the disc. No nuclear families, but a nuclear baseball or two.

Mario Series (Mario Superstar Baseball, Super Mario Strikers, Mario Party 5, Mario Party 6, Mario Party 7, Mario Kart Double Dash, Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix, Mario Golf Toadstool Tour, Luigi’s Mansion) – Most Mario games don’t involve a family in any shape or form. These are no exceptions. Special shoutout to the anti-family crossover of the Mario sports games. Sure, Bowser Jr. is Bowser’s canonical son, but Bowser is very much a single father. And the Baby Mario and Baby Luigi stuff just doesn’t make sense, so don’t think about it. We’ll discuss that more later. Luigi does show up to be a good brother in Luigi’s Mansion by rescuing Mario, but that’s about it. If only the parents showed Mario more love he wouldn’t have been trapped in a haunted mansion. Tragic. A friend did tell me that there is a loving ghost family that had kids who now stalk the mansion as a family, but all the kids are boys and all of them are dead so it doesn’t count. No nuclear families.

Kirby Air Ride – Out of every game not based in real life (i.e., not a sports game), Kirby Air Ride has the least amount of backstory of any game on this list. There is no explanation why Kirby has once again split into a bunch of copies of himself and started riding around on Warp Stars. There is no explanation how the Kirbies get to the stages they race on. There is no explanation of who lives in the city or who would want to when every 200 City Trials there’s a meteor strike. Kirby Air Ride is inexplicable, and I love it. No nuclear families.

Spyro Series (Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning and Spyro A Hero’s Tail) – Once again, zero families in either game. But in A Hero’s Tail we do get to see a prominent female dragon! She’s the head of the Dragon Nursery. Most other dragons are old dudes that wear sunglasses that wrap around their heads and complain on Twitter about having to wear masks. There are also two small dragon friends introduced in A Hero’s Tail to show Spyro has friends his age. But still no family. The Legend of Spyro is a ripoff of Lord of the Rings, right down to the main character being voiced by Elijah Wood. So Spyro shows up one day in Sparx’s life and actually is raised by his dragonfly family. This is so close to a nuclear family with Sparx’s dad, mother, Sparx, and Spyro all growing up and living together peacefully before the game starts. But then they’re torn apart by circumstance and never see each other again in the entire trilogy, so even though there was a nuclear family in Legend of Spyro, it does not get restored. Nor does Spyro make a new one by the end of the trilogy (unless you wrote fanfiction about Spyro and Cinder and who can blame you). One nuclear family broken.

Mega Man Network Transmission – This is a spinoff of the Megaman Battle Network games. The Hikaris are still thriving as a family, even though the mother continues to let in shady people to work on her ovens. That’s as far as I can get because this game is very difficult and makes no sense to me, gameplay-wise. I should’ve just put this under the earlier Megaman Battle Network entries but this game is different on many levels. Still the same nuclear family.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – I separated this Mario game from the other ones because there’s a lot more world-building and characters here compared to other Mario games. Too bad that the world Mario finds himself in is called Rogueport and filled with shady criminals and broken families. Just take Koops’ family–raised by a single father, he is a broken shell of a man when Mario first meets him. Or the Shadow Siren sisters? There’s a lot of sibling abuse there. At least all three dragon siblings seem to like and support each other. And yet there are few parents in any family to overlook their progeny. The Punis kinda make a family in their tree, but, it’s just siblings and an elder. You can only imagine Mario’s parents smiling down from Glitzville on his son as he re-seals the Thousand Year Door. Or maybe they voted for the Shadow Queen. No nuclear families.

Robots – The licensed game of the Disney or Pixar movie was something I put in my Gamecube once, played for ten minutes, then never touched again. Once again, someone down in the comments can tell me about this one. Also, all the characters are robots so it doesn’t count!!!! No human families.

Crash Tag Team Racing – New characters were made for this Crash Bandicoot spinoff and there’s even a small, weird family introduced! Somehow or another, Pasadena O. Possum (a possum) is related to Ebeneezer Von Clutch (a weird German cyborg). And Dr. Cortex’s niece, Nina, also shows up. But there are absolutely no families in this game that takes place in a giant theme park. Von Clutch really needs to do a better job marketing to the nuclear family demographic. No nuclear families.

Pokemon Series (Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness and Pokemon Coliseum) – These very mature and edgy Pokemon games purposely leave out the main character’s family to make them seem even more like young adult fictio–oh, I’m being told that not having a full family is just normal for Pokemon main characters. Regardless, none of the NPCs are explicitly nuclear families despite the high likelihood the main antagonist was secretly the sibling of one of your close friends or something like that. I don’t remember these games well. No nuclear families.

Super Smash Bros. Melee – This is basically a sports game, and very close to Kirby Air Ride in how little backstory or reason the game gives for the events occurring. But I am perfectly alright with there being zero depictions of family in a game where every character is tasked with beating someone else up. That’d be awful parenting. No nuclear families.

Donkey Kong Jungle Beat – I don’t think any of the playable Kongs in Donkey Kong Country make up a direct, intimate, nuclear family, so I definitely don’t think any of the Kongs DK beats up in this game are related to him. Or, I hope not. They’re all evil! DK’s family reunions would be so awkward after this game since he beat everyone else in the family up. Really, Kong is probably a super common name in the DK universe. Just like “Johnson”. But Donkey Johnson: Jungle Beat wouldn’t have been a good name. No nuclear families.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures – Imagine I copypasted what I wrote about Kirby and the Amazing Mirror and replaced “Kirby” with “Link”. Including the part where I called Kirby the “pink puff of power” or whatever. None of the Links in Four Swords are pink, but it still works. This is about one man learning to work with all his different selves, just like Amazing Mirror. No nuclear families.

Phew! Four game systems down, five to go. Only problem is that I have way more games for these five systems than the previous four. Starting with the GBA’s successor, the DS! This system has a bunch more story-driven games so we’ll see a lot more families in general. But you’ll be shocked to know that, of these families, there are very, very few nuclear ones. Let’s dive in!

Guitar Hero On Tour Decades – Hopefully the last game on this list that I played for five minutes before never touching again. My extensive research tells me that there are zero families in the Guitar Hero universe. No nuclear families.

Chrono Trigger – Every one of the main character trios in this game has a somewhat broken family. Your boy Crono just has a single mom. Princess Marle’s mom got killed but you rescue her through time travel and the family is together and happy again; just, uh, only one kid there so not full nuke. Lucca’s mom lost her legs in an accident but you also fix that through time travel and restore the family, or screw it up anyway, or just not know about the sidequest. Still, just one kid, so not full nuke. Magus has a sister! But only a single mom. And his sister also fuses with the thing that’s trying to destroy the world. Whoops. Ayla’s prehistoric values mean she has no concept of the nuclear family so she’s out. Robo and Frog have no family and it’s very mean of you to bring that up. No nuclear families, but four families that are kinda close.

Professor Layton Series (Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box & Professor Layton and the Unwound Future) – No, I didn’t play the Curious Village nor the Last Spectre, stop asking in the comments. There’s a very wealthy family at the center of Diabolical Box that started the whole “if you open this box, you’ll die” creepypasta that is the main mystery of the game. But it’s one dad with three sons all fighting over inheritance, and the middle son is abandoned by his wife before their kid is born. No nuclear families here. Unwound Future is the only time Professor Layton seems interested in starting a family–a bunch of flashbacks involve him going out with his first love, Claire. Too bad she died in an explosion. Oh, sorry. Spoilers. For the best sentimental moment in the Professor Layton series. Anyway, a lot of the game involves dealing with The Family, but they’re literal mobsters. Nothing close to a nuclear family here, either. Luke Triton’s family is revealed to be quite normal in Last Spectre but guess what? I haven’t played it so it doesn’t exist. No nuclear families.

Mario Series (Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, Super Mario 64 DS, Super Princess Peach, Mario Hoops 3 on 3, Mario Party DS, Mario Kart DS, Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games, New Super Mario Bros) – Another set of Mario games with zero nuclear families. Sad. Partners in Time gets close since Mario and Luigi act as great parents for Baby Mario and Baby Luigi but it’s just weird. They got the number right, but, um, it’s kinda cheating if the parents are also the babies. There might be implied families in Bowser’s Inside Story but no dialogue confirms the opening Toad house that sees the first cases of blorbs is a family house. I really don’t think I need to point out the rest of the list, though I do think that Mario and Sonic would make fine parents. No nuclear families.

Pokemon Series (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team, Pokemon Soul Silver, Pokemon White, Pokemon Black 2, Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon Platinum) – It kind of is baffling that there’s just one generation of Pokemon games where the playable character is raised in a two-parent household. It is also baffling how few NPCs are even part of a family, let alone a nuclear family. Mostly because Pokemon NPCs are there to tell the player information more than to world-build. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon transforms the player into a Pokemon, and, since Pokemon are just animals with no human concept of family, your character gives up any hope of settling down and starting a family in order to become the top explorer. Also, I guess the main character does kind of join a communal family with Treasure Town, but that’s not nuclear at all! No nuclear families, just five separate games with single-mother households.

Kirby Series (Kirby Super Star Ultra, Kirby Squeak Squad) – What powers do you think Kirby would have if he had the ability to eat and copy abstract concepts? Like, imagine Kirby eating the concept of “nuclear family”. Would he split into four like in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror, or would he try to find a wife and start the family from scratch? I think Kirby has immense potential for some psychological soul-searching types of games if only Nintendo would read my fanfiction. Anyway, Dyna Bird may be trying to protect her eggs and the Squeak Squad are a mafia-esque “family”, but nothing close to a nuclear family in these games. No nuclear families.

Scribblenauts Series (Scribblenauts, Super Scribblenauts) – The gimmick of Scribblenauts is that the player can use the in-game keyboard to write any noun they can think of, and the game will generate that item in-game. Typing “family” spawns a terrier, a girl, a father, a mother, a teenager, a boy, and a baby. Typing “nuclear family” in Super Scribblenauts, where adjectives are allowed, turns all these fools sickly-green. However, this is cheating. I should’ve stipulated at the start that what I’m looking for is when game makers create families, and Maxwell does not have a family in the first two Scribblenauts games. He’s the only “character” in the games and he’s got NO ONE. He can create anything he wants with his notebook, but he can’t create… his own family. Truly, the Pygmalion of our times. No nuclear families, cheaters.

Legend of Zelda Series (Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass, Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks) – Unlike Princess Peach, Princess Zelda sometimes has a father. But, just like Princess Peach, we never meet her mother. Neither DS game gives Zelda any family, though. She’s just got a Chancellor that’s actually a demon (that’s what we call biting political commentary) and a pirate crew that she considers her family in these games. Link has even less family. His fairy protector Tael kinda acts as his annoying sister and Alonzo and Linebeck are basically his father figure, but there is nothing near a real complete family here. And none of the NPCs really have full families either. There’s some family intrigue with the Gorons in Phantom Hourglass, the mermaids are also all sisters, and there might be implied families in Castle Town in Spirit Tracks, but no nuclear families. Which is a shame since nuclear powered trains and ships just seem like great ideas, why has no one done that yet? No nuclear families.

Warioware DIY – Warioware is a series of games that are each collections of microgames that Wario and his company made to get rich quick. Wario’s family is comprised of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and the other faces on bills and coins that I learned in fifth grade and don’t care to remember because it’s all about chips and cards, baby. In these games, a mad scientist has a daughter, and that’s about the extent of familial relationships around here. Shocking that a game all about indulging in some greed would forsake family. This must be the first piece of media to ever show the moral horrors of greed. No nuclear families.

Ninjatown – You know how I said I hoped Guitar Hero was the last game I played only for ten minutes on this list? Well, good news: I never played Ninjatown after buying it. I have no clue what’s in this game. The “town” part implies there’s gotta be a nuclear family or two rolling around, but the “ninja” part makes it seem less likely. Someone in the comments can sound off on this one. No nuclear families. Probably.

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride – This is the cutest family in all the games I’ve played, and it’s the first true nuclear family! Your male playable character picks a wife at the climax of the first half of the game (and if you don’t pick Bianca, by the way, you’re just wrong). Then, immediately after you get married, you’re turned to stone by the big bad demon and your wife gets away for long enough to give birth to twins, a boy and a girl, but is also captured. Your kids then free you from your stone prison after ten or so years pass, then you three all free your wife, and your entire family takes down the big demon together! It’s very, very cute. And since every winning family will be comprised of the father, mother, son, and daughter, it’s a true nuclear family! You may not fully fulfill the American dream without your white picket fence or steady job, but you have the perfect family. First nuclear family!

Henry Hatsworth’s Puzzling Adventure – Henry Hatsworth is basically a good-natured Wario. He’s trying to collect all the pieces of the ultimate gentleman’s outfit so he can be the finest gentleman in the land. I think his nephew helps him, but Hatsworth himself is pretty selfish. He has no immediate family since he focused too hard on being a wealthy genteel. Sad! He may seem jolly, but is he truly happy? Hard to say. No nuclear families.

Ace Attorney Series (Ace Attorney Investigations 1, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Ace Attorney Investigations 2) – I’ve experienced every AA game–the original trilogy was a foundational experience for me–but I actually watched other people play through those games rather than play them for myself. I can tell you that no matter what AA game you play, there is not a normal family. Lots of single parents. Or, in Apollo Justice’s case, a half-sister he still doesn’t know about along with a mother and father he never knew, but the mother knows him very well. Phoenix’s parents are never brought up. The Feys ran away from their maternal society and also never met their father. Trucy Wright did know her mother and father, but her father was killed and her mother lost her memories. Miles Edgeworth’s dad was killed and he doesn’t bring up his mother. And these are just the tip of the iceberg! There’s a lot of families in these games, and a lot of twists are finding out whom is related to whom. Usually, it’s a sibling bond that’s cared about far more than a parental bond. Like the Gavin brothers, or the Meeni sisters, or Acro and Bat. The parents are usually absentee or single or dead. Pretty bleak stuff, but what do you expect out of a game series that’s just one big courtroom soap opera? No nuclear families, but a heavy interest in the concept of family and a bunch of broken families.

That’s done with the DS games. Onto the Wii. I think the Wii brought the most families together out of every video game console out there, yet there are very few families in any of the games I played. Let alone nuclear families.

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People Series – The world of Homestar Runner is a bunch of twenty-somethings hanging around. The Strong brothers are, well, brothers, but there are no parents nor children. Just a bunch of friends hanging around. The SBCG4AP games keep that continuity and don’t try to make any new families, though some weird family plot twist would’ve made sense in Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective. Real funny games that people probably overlooked or don’t remember, give them a try! No nuclear families.

Mega Man 10 – Dr. Light is the truest of nerds. He made his own robot family instead of trying to go out with any humans. Mega Man and Roll are basically adopted children. And he did a good job raising them to be good people… other than constantly getting his son to fight Dr. Wily for the sake of the world. Putting his son in a lot of danger, there. All in all, it’s a nice single-parent household. With robot kids. Can’t stress that enough. No nuclear families.

Paper Mario – Talking about the N64 game here. I played it on the Wii’s virtual console. The original Paper Mario was a lot fuzzier and nicer in tone than The Thousand Year Door. There’s even a full nuclear family here! The first party member Mario gets is a Goomba named Goombario. He has a sister, Goombaria, a father, Goompapa, and mother, Goomama. He even has a grandpa, Goompa, and grandma, Gooma! It’s a full 3 generation nuclear family! He leaves the house to travel with Mario for the game, but it is implied he comes back home to the lovely nuclear family, complete with the white picket fence and well-mowed lawn! It’s a very cute family that seemed to achieve the American Dream in the crazy Mushroom Kingdom. I’d say the Goomba Family is the most shining example of the ideal nuclear family of any family in any game I’ve played. Gotta love it. One nuclear family.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – This was originally released on the SNES, and I also played it on the Wii’s Virtual Console. There is a family in SMRPG, putting it apart from most Mario games. When Mario first meets the puffball Mallow, he says he was raised by frogs, and doesn’t know his real parents. Eventually, the party makes their way to Nimbus, where the King and Queen recognize Mallow as their son, grown up. Just like Goombario, Mallow stays with Mario to finish the quest, but it is implied he goes back home to his royal family afterwards. Mallow is an only child, but it’s pretty close to a normal family–outside of the whole “parents left their baby in a wicker basket so frogs could find and raise it”. Mallow doesn’t look a thing like Jesus, nor does he talk like a gentleman, but he’s more than you’ll ever know. There are no other confirmed families in SMRPG, though there are a few houses with Toads that imply family. Also, Geno is still single for all you ladies out there. Stable only-child family.

Kirby & Crystal Shards – This is the last of the virtual console games I got on the Wii. Crystal Shards is a beloved Kirby game where he can combine two copy abilities into one radical fusion ability. Sometimes, it’s sweet, like the lightsaber that comes from shock and cutter. Other times, it sucks, like the fire and ice combination that does basically nothing. But Kirby cannot combine himself with another being to make a family in this game. The best he can do is shoot a crystal shard gun at a one-eyed demon’s heart. No nuclear families.

Mario Series (Mario Kart Wii, Mario Party 8, Mario Strikers Charged, Mario Super Sluggers, New Super Mario Bros Wii, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, Mario and Sonic at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Mario Sports Mix) – Yeah, uh, the closest any of these games get to family is in Super Mario Galaxy’s storybook segments. In them, you see how Rosalina got abandoned by her parents and became the Queen of the Cosmos when Lumas adopted her. Meanwhile, New Super Mario Bros. Wii lets a nuclear family of four play cooperative 2D Mario so everyone can get mad at each other, but I would not say Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad, and Blue Toad make up a true family. Everything else is a Mario sports game which is aggressively anti-family in terms of backstory.

Wario Series (WarioWare Smooth Moves, Wario Land: Shake It!) – The haters out there would have me lump these two games in with the Mario series paragraph, and the haters may have a point. Wario Land ends with Wario saving a princess and getting the chance to, like, kiss her or something, and he instead takes her infinite bag of money and dips. This guy is so committed to capitalism he won’t even take a trophy wife. Most of the characters in the WarioWare universe are similarly unmotivated by family or even linked by family, other than Penny and Dr. Cryborg. WarioWare really holds up a mirror to capitalist society, and the view isn’t pretty. No nuclear families.

Rayman Raving Rabbids Series (Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Rabbids Go Home) – As much as I’d love to just not tell anyone I ever played these games, we’ll just go through them quickly. All 3 of these games are minigame collections starring demented looking bunnies that scream and throw plungers. That’s the entirety of their backstory until Rabbids Go Home. The goal of that game is to build a tower of trash to the moon where the Rabbids apparently came from. These screaming bunnies have no concept of family, just destruction. They must be stopped. Except for that plan to go to the moon. Help them out with that. No nuclear families.

Sonic Series (Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic Unleashed) – The secret ring is not a wedding ring. I think Sonic Team learned after Sonic ’06’s Trial of Love what a nightmare it would be for Sonic the Hedgehog to marry anything. Sonic Unleashed does not refer to Sonic trying to get a divorce or him getting disowned, either. The only family Sonic has at the end of the games is his speed. There is a princess and a king in Sonic and the Secret Rings but it’s not like a big deal that they’re family. There’s no crazy plot twist there. Both games are pretty up front about every character’s agenda and the fact that they aren’t related. Lame! No nuclear families.

The Simpsons Game – Boo! Hiss! This is also cheating! I didn’t bring this up with the Robots game because I knew nothing about it, but licensed games in general go against the spirit of this exercise. Just like with health insurance, pre-existing nuclear families don’t count as nuclear families in video games. Unless the game makers made their own original nuclear family. The Simpsons are obviously modern America’s nuclear family circa 1990s-2000s. But I see no new characters in this game let alone new nuclear families so I’m gonna take a stand and say: No nuclear families.

Donkey Kong Country Returns – The Kongs are still not a nuclear family. Seriously, who gave birth to Donkey Kong if Cranky Kong is actually his father? And why’d they get a divorce? Diddy is still Donkey’s nephew, and Dixie is still Diddy’s cousin, so the Kong family tree continues to make no sense. Very nice of Retro Studios to keep confusing continuity like this for the reboot. No nuclear families.

Sports Games (Sega Superstars Tennis, Punch-Out!!, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Fortune Street, NHL 2K10, Madden 10, Wii Sports) – NHL, Madden, and Wii Sports are all self-explanatory as to why there are no nuclear families there. Before anyone asks, no, playing Wii Sports’ tennis with Miis of your own nuclear family doesn’t count as an in-game nuclear family because you created them. Game makers have to be the ones to have made them. Brawl, Superstars Tennis, and Fortune Street are all massive crossover games of a bunch of mascots who have their personalities showing the tiniest sliver possible. There is no character development in these games nor is there a nuclear family. And if there were it’d be cheating the same way The Simpsons Game cheated because no new nuclear families would have been made for the specific game, they were just there by consequence of the characters chosen. Finally, there might be a nuclear family watching from the stands Little Mac fight in Punch-Out!!, but all the characters we know anything about are very much single. Including that sexy hunk of a man, Super Macho Man. No nuclear families.

Super Paper Mario – There’s a billion original characters in Super Paper Mario, and all of them look like squares stacked on squares and aren’t related. Despite this, there are five notable families in the game. Squirps, an alien, is the last remaining member of a royal lineage, and nobly leads Mario to a Pure Heart after eating some chocolate. The fortune tellers are all related but basically the same age–no parents there. Luvbi is the adopted daughter of the leaders of the Overthere and Underwhere (think Heaven and, uh, the other place), and her family is probably the best example of any family in the game. Until it’s revealed Luvbi wasn’t actually “alive”, she was just a Pure Heart protecting itself by taking the shape of an angel. So she has no chance to go back to her parents after the game is over, sadly. Finally, Count Bleck and Tippi had a Romeo and Juliet romance before the game started that is told via black screen and text in a visual medium. Count Bleck’s father, who I think was single???, disapproved of it, and led Count Bleck to trying to elope. However, Count Bleck’s dad banished Tippi to the nether realm which led Bleck into despair and, instead of killing himself like in Romeo and Juliet, he decides to follow a prophecy that’ll destroy the world instead. Said prophecy starts with him trying to marry off Bowser and Peach together, which is the fifth noteworthy family. Man, Super Paper Mario was weird. No nuclear families, just a lot of weird ones.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – I only rented this game once and made it through the Forest Temple in that time. Kakariko Village has plenty of families, and even one or two nuclear ones. Of course, my memory is so foggy of this game I literally could not remember so I had to look it up. But then all the websites that laid out the characters was too obtuse and it took too much time and I don’t really have that much of a connection to Twilight Princess. I’m pretty sure most of the families are either single-parent or single-child. Like Link and Ilia don’t have a mother, Colin doesn’t have a father, but I guess we got a nuclear family with Malo, Talo, Pergie, and Jaggle. My god are those names terrible. So there you go. At least one nuclear family, probably more with how many goddanged NPCs have backstories in this game.

And, with that, we made it through the Wii era. Lots of great games that I’ve spent so many hours on with that system. Mostly though, I just use the Wii to play Super Mario Strikers, not to closely examine video games’ world-building. Except for the world-building in Super Mario Strikers. Just how did Bowser build The Battle Dome? That’ll be for a different thinkpiece. Onto the 3DS, Nintendo’s finest handheld console.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology – This game is a big JRPG soap opera, right down to the exciting reveal that the Princess of the “evil kingdom” and the main character you’ve been playing as are brother and sister. Obviously, they’ve been split since forever ago, and neither of them knew that they were related until some third party told them, so that’s not a great nuclear family. Other than that big twist, which, uh, spoilers, whoops, there isn’t a lot of interest in family ties in Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology. When I type in “Radiant Historia family”, I just get results for the game being family-friendly, which, uh, I don’t think so. Lot of political and religious corruption going on here. Although it is very good at showing the potential effects of climate change. Nevermind, get every kid a copy so they can learn how important it is to stop climate change before it’s too late. No nuclear families.

Mario Series (Mario Sports Superstars, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga+Bowser’s Minions, Mario Golf: World Tour) – Yep, nothing on the family front here. There are some NPCs that mention they’re honeymooning in Dream Team, but they don’t have kids with them. Paper Jam aggressively avoids adding new characters, though the Toads make up a considerable hivemind. And Superstar Saga+ is just a remake of an old game on this list without a family with a mobile game added on. The other games are all sports spinoffs or 3D Land which is a mainline Mario game and thus has no family development. Shocking, I know, that there is again zero nuclear families in so many Mario games. No nuclear families.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse – Shantae is a genie that calls the old dude that released her “uncle” but she isn’t actually related to anyone. All of the Shantae characters are pretty unrelated, blood-wise. The game just isn’t about the characters, and it’s “about” the plot very loosely as well. It feels like it has a plot just because it has to have a plot to move the player forward. It also feels like it has scantily clad women because it has to move the player into WayForward’s tastes. Sorry, buddy, I’m only attracted to nuclear families, and I don’t see a single one here. No nuclear families.

Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure – This is my pick for most-overlooked game on this list. I love this dumb half visual novel, half rhythm minigame piece of work. Family is important in Rhythm Thief. The main character was abandoned by his dad (and I don’t think knows his mom) and is searching for him by stealing a bunch of highly-priced art pieces. Don’t ask me how that’s supposed to help. The main female lead is an orphan who is led to her true mother during the course of the game, but that mom doesn’t accept her until the credits roll and says that their bloodline is that of France’s and Babylon’s. Don’t ask me how that makes sense, either. All you need to know is that you have three separate dance-offs with the resurrected corpse of Napoleon Bonaparte. This game rules and I am very sad it never got a sequel. No nuclear families.

Ace Attorney Series (Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies) – The Ace Attorney series stays true-to-form on the 3DS with a bunch of plot twists centered around family. Newcomer Athena Cykes has to personally grapple with her belief that she killed her own mom in Dual Destinies; her mom who raised her all by herself. Meanwhile, Apollo learns his real dad’s identity (but also sees him die with his own eyes) and meets his step-brother, or something like that. And Rayfa is in the middle of a tumultuous coup of her own royal family that got decimated and split, just like the Feys. And that’s just the main characters introduced in these two games! Basically every case has another set of NPCs involved that are siblings or somehow otherwise related. Closest thing we got to a nuclear family is that the parents of Hugh O’Conner have been paying the Themis Legal Academy staff to give him 100% on every test. Now that’s a loving only-child family. No nuclear families, but a whole bunch of messy families.

The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds – Combining Hyrule and Lorule makes weird parallel dimension families if you were to assume both the Hyrule version of people and Lorule version of people would get along. Hey, it works in Super Paper Mario with Flipside and Flopside residents. Regardless, there is at least one single child family that requires no parallel world residents. Link’s childhood friend, Gulley, lives with his smithy dad and mom. They are basically a nuclear family with Link as a second brother since Link was abandoned or something like that when he was young and Gulley’s family essentially adopted him. The rest of the characters in Link Between Worlds are NPCs that don’t really have families. Two princesses and yet zero royal families. And most of these NPCs don’t even have names beyond “Housekeeper”, “Item Seller”, and, my favorite, “Bee Guy”. You think “Dampe?” has a family? A dude with a question mark in his name? No way. No nuclear families, but one cute single-child family that gets broken up when the son is a sage.

Super Smash Bros 3DS – I really should’ve just put this with the other Mario games. There are still no nuclear families in Smash Bros. Crazy Hand and Master Hand aren’t “related”, they’re the same dang person. And Master Core is just some malevolent energy; there’s no way it could have a family. It’s kinda sad that Smash Bros may be a real family game but there’s no family representation in the games. No nuclear families.

Pokemon Series (Pokemon Moon, Pokemon Alpha Sapphire) – Alpha Sapphire has one stable, single-child families. The main character has a father that isn’t often home because they’re a gym leader, and the mother mainly raises your character. It took three generations, but finally a Pokemon main character has a stable family. Too bad that Pokemon Moon’s main character just has a single mom, and the main plot of the game is about a formerly-nuclear family getting torn apart due to money. Just like real life. There’s a few characters in both games that explicitly have flavor text about their families, but none of them show up as one whole family so I can’t call them a true nuclear family. Especially when all there is is slight flavor text. No nuclear families.

Kirby: Planet Robobot – Kirby takes control of an invading robot to take the place of his family. Alright, I just made that up. What is Kirby’s end goal if not a family? In all the games, he’s a childlike figure. Only in Squeak Squad does he do something that he actively wants, which was to get a piece of cake. Planet Robobot has Kirby saving Popstar from invading robots… but it’s like he’s a white blood cell more than a willing force. He does it because he was born to do it. Also, there is a family in Robobot. The leader of the invading force is President Haltmann. He had a daughter named Susie who he believed died during an accident while trying to build a wish-granting supercomputer, though she was just sent to a different dimension. He then refocuses all his efforts on rebuilding that thing to wish her back but loses his memories of her in the process and becomes a twisted conqueror. Susie manages to come back and is hired as an executive assistant, but her dad still doesn’t recognize her. Kirby fights back but accidentally gives the supercomputer full power after defeating Haltmann because the computer somehow uses his soul to power up. And then the computer realizes that it didn’t need it and deletes Haltmann’s data. Just before the deletion is through, Haltmann remembers his true wish was to see his daughter again, and is deleted before he realizes Susie was his daughter all along. Yeah, maybe I cried a little at that scene. The Kirbyverse is a sad, lonely place! No nuclear families, just a dad who forgot his daughter…

Metroid: Samus Returns – Samus has no family other than her adopted bird family. Hopefully the reaction to Other M made it clear to the writers that the whole “mother to Metroids” thing was really freaking weird and we’ll never see it again. The whole point of the good Metroids is exploring a desolate place by yourself. Having a family would go against the point. This remake of Metroid 2 keeps the original’s themes by not introducing any new characters and especially no families. No nuclear families.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – You never cared who I was before I put on the Miracle Mask – Professor Layton. I love this game so much. But, I’ll save that for the next video essay. We got two single-child families in this one. First off is Layton’s family. We finally get to meet his mom and dad during the flashback scenes, and they’re adorable. Second is Randall Ascot’s family, Professor Layton’s old friend. He was born to wealthy parents who loved him but wanted him to stop going on dangerous adventures. It is presumed the other members of this friend group also had good parents (except for Henry who explicitly was adopted by the Ascot family as their butler when he had nowhere else to go) but we aren’t told for certain like we are with Layton’s and Randall’s family. As for the present day city of Monte D’Or the game mostly takes place in, there are no families because it is fake Las Vegas. And nobody has family in Vegas. No nuclear families, two single-child families.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy – Azran Legacy does something no other game on this list does. It is the final game in the Professor Layton series starring Herschel Layton himself, and so it needs to wrap a bunch of plot threads up. And one of those is the fact that Herschel’s parents, who were introduced so lovingly in Miracle Mask, were not Layton’s biological parents. No, Herschel’s father was actually the bad guy mastermind all along and his biological brother was another very bad guy. But, despite these reveals, Layton says to his biological father that Roland and Lucille Layton were his parents, and he basically disowns his blood-related dad and brother. Pretty incredible, to be honest. This is the only game on this list where a family is retroactively shown not to be a “real family”. Gotta respect Layton for disowning the father that abandoned him, though. No nuclear families.

Layton’s Mystery Journey: The Millionaires’ Conspiracy – So, the hook of Layton’s Mystery Journey is that it stars Katrielle Layton, Professor Layton’s daughter. Her goal throughout the game is to find her father who has gone missing for some unexplained reason. She goes into detective work to do so, and picks up an assistant, Ernest Green. The final case in the game drops two bombshells. One, Ernest Green was all along the heir to a huge family fortune that he thought was stolen from him when his parents died in an accident and he went missing. No stable family there, anymore. Two, Kat says that she’s cracked the final riddle from her father, and says “I’m not really your daughter, am I?”. And then the credits roll. What, thought you’d get closure? Nope! Just more questions! And no families either. No nuclear families.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright – If you’d read my last diatribe of 6000 words, you’d know that nobody in this game is winning a “Father of the Year” award anytime soon. The Storyteller builds an elaborate fake city so neither he nor his daughter have to confront the truth that Espella might have killed her mother/his wife. And Eve Darklaw’s dad commits suicide after living this lie for like 10 years but also doesn’t tell his daughter any part of the truth, either. Who knows what happened to his wife, but man these guys suck as dads. The other NPCs in this game are brainwashed ex-criminals that came to get a fresh start in life. This game is weird. No nuclear families.

Fire Emblem: Awakening – Fire Emblem is a series about royal families enlisting their teenage children to fight in wars against demons. Awakening takes that concept further. The first royal family your main character wakes up in isn’t quite a nuclear family–the siblings are all real close, but their parents died young. And most of the people that your team recruits are orphans of war. But halfway through this game, something crazy happens. A character named Lucina comes from the future to fight with and warn your group of the catastrophic future that will come to be if this demon king won’t be killed. After some more plot, it’s revealed she’s Chrom’s daughter. Now, if the character you created is a woman who marries Chrom, that means she’s also your character’s daughter. And then your son, Morgan, also comes through a time portal a few chapters later, and your perfect nuclear family of Chrom, yourself, Lucina, and Morgan all come together to fight the demon lord. It’s a lot like Dragon Quest V’s nuclear family in that regard. This family isn’t quite as loving as DQV’s but I’ll forgive it. Nuclear family via time travel.

Fire Emblem: Fates  Fates was the next Fire Emblem after Awakening. Although it doesn’t follow the plot from Awakening, it does do the same “make your own character, marry anyone, and your kids will fight with you” thing. This time, the kids magically age up in realms where time passes way quicker rather than having them travel back in time from the future. I don’t know if that’s more or less ridiculous. Anyway, the main character will always have a son if they are a woman or a daughter if they are a man, so the only requirement to get a nuclear family is for your main character to marry someone that will always have a kid of the main character’s gender, regardless of whom that character marries. Man, having kids is so easy when you can look up exactly who gets born and with what traits. Oh, and Fates also has a bunch of uncomfortable almost incest stuff that always gets explained away as “not actually incest” unless you marry Azura in which case the ending is “surprise, incest!”. If you want to play Fates, just don’t read any text. One nuclear family brought together by magical time realms.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – This is a remake of an old NES game, before game makers knew how to appeal to the lowest common denominator with character creation and marriage. So there is none of that stuff here that was in Awakening or Fates. As such, the royal families sending their kids to war always have at least one relative dying so there’s no perfect nuclear family. I’m sure Alm and Cellica will eventually have kids but thankfully they don’t have them in this game to fight as time-travelling soldiers. No nuclear families.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward – This game makes zero sense once completed, but the journey to completion is fascinating. I’ll be honest, one of the nine individuals in this game may have mentioned having a full family (Clover at least has a brother that we know of), but this game is so obtuse in explaining literally anything that it was probably buried in an optional conversation or document. Do not ask me anything about what happened in this game because I remember none of it. No nuclear families.

Zero Time Dilemma – You thought the way nuclear families came together in Fire Emblem was ridiculous? Buddy, this game has the craziest nuclear family in all of video games. And I’m not talking about Carlos’ family growing up, which was a stable nuclear family of father, mother, sister, daughter before an arsonist set ablaze his house, killing his parents. I’m talking about Sigma and Diana’s family. They romantically come together in a parallel timeline/bad ending where they get trapped in the doomsday shelter section of the nuclear bunker the game is set in. They spend literal years together in this shelter because it has all the necessities to keep them alive before Sigma gets Diana pregnant. They eventually figure out that how to work the literal time travel machine in their doomsday shelter and send the kids back in the past. The kids, named Phi and Delta, grow up in the “past” and just so coincidentally make it to the exact nuclear bunker Sigma and Diana do at the start of the game. There’s a touching scene where Phi realizes that they’re her parents and then a few scenes later it is revealed Delta was the masked dude forcing all the people in Zero Time Dilemma to do absolutely insane things in this nuclear bunker or else the apocalypse will happen (the Zero Escape series makes zero sense). So by the end of the game the whole family is together in one stable timeline. But probably not the stablest of nuclear families. Except for the fact that the true end jumps back in time to just before all of them go into the nuclear bunker and thus the family is somehow aware they’re all family but no longer as willing to be connected or something like that. I’m still counting it because this treatment of family is so weird and a driving reason I wanted to examine all families in all the games I’ve played. Two nuclear families, only one that comes together and “stays” together by the end.

That was the last of the 3DS games. I did forget one PC game earlier on the list, so I’ll discuss that now.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Time Harmony – Some of the 16 main (and only) characters in Danganronpa V3 have families. But if you read my last post, you’ll know that the ones they think they remember in the course of this game are all fake families from fake memories. They all had their true personalities erased and replaced with fictitious ones, and the survivors are no closer to remembering their biological families when they’re released from their reality TV show prison. So, just like with Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, I can’t for sure say any of these guys grew up in a nuclear family or not. And, no, Monokuma and the Monokubs are not a nuclear family–they’re robot bears. No nuclear families.

Just a quick detour for two mobile games here:

Dragalia Lost – This game’s story hasn’t finished and new characters keep getting introduced because it’s a mobile gacha game, so there’s plenty of time for at least one character to be born in a nuclear family. But, uh, between the some-odd 150+ playable characters and the 100+ NPCs, there is nothing resembling a normal family anywhere. Especially the main character’s family. This guy has like eight siblings but his mom died young and his dad died right in front of him and one of them got possessed by the ancient demon and the other six are varying shades of actively unhelpful or un-family-like. And the only times family is brought up during character stories is usually to mention “oh, a member of my family died because of the demons or the civil war”. Just like Fire Emblem, the soldiers on your team have all been touched by the war. No nuclear families.

Florence – This is a 30-minute mobile game that tells the tale of the titular Florence as she goes through a rollercoaster of a romantic relationship. It ends poorly, but it does inspire her to be better with her mother! She does not speak with her father at any point so we have no clue if she was in a stable single-child family or if she was brought up by only her mother. Also, we never meet the guy’s family. And those are the only two characters. No nuclear families.

And, finally, we come to the most recent console generation with the three Switch games I’ve played to close out this entire thing.

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy – This is a remake of the original Spyro trilogy. It is extremely faithful at remaking the original, so no new characters or families. Bartholomew and Bentley remain yeti brothers with no parents to speak of. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a depiction of Bigfoot with family nor a full supernatural being family. We just assume they’re all lonely individuals. Well, except for the designers behind these brothers. No nuclear families.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Breath of the Wild is set in a post-apocalyptic society 100 years after the apocalypse. And again Zelda only has a father (who is dead) and no mother or family. Link is similarly without family or even memory. Now, there are families of NPCs that are pretty close to nuclear or maybe even are nuclear, but there’s too many of them and the family relationships aren’t ever fully explicit. Like, some families have had loss, such as Prince Sidon’s family losing Mipha, his brother. And some families look fully nuclear, like a Rito family appears to have a father, mother, and a bunch of daughters. But I am too lazy to track down all this info because there are simply too many NPCs in this game. You’d think I wouldn’t be lazy since I’ve spent… 10+ hours or so just thinking about and writing this whole thing, but I’m tired and the point of Breath of the Wild isn’t for Link to marry Zelda and start a nuclear family anyway. It’s to climb mountains. Probably a nuclear family somewhere around there but I can’t be bothered.

Super Mario Odyssey – The original Odyssey by Homer involved lots of love and lover’s revenge but the Mario adaptation of the classic goes out of its way to shoot down any romance. Peach is being forced to marry Bowser (again!) when she doesn’t want to, and then when she’s rescued by Mario she explicitly turns him down too. So there are no good examples of human families in Super Mario Odyssey. However, Cappy and his sister Tiara are half a nuclear family despite being sentient ghost hat creatures, so there’s that. Most other NPCs in Super Mario Odyssey get barely one line of dialogue that is never used to describe their family situation. Which is to my chagrin because I want to know who the dang purple dragon is related to. Maybe it was Spyro all along? No nuclear families.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – And we end this long freaking list with one last Mario game for the road… literally! Get it? Because it’s Mario Kart? Sigh. You already know that the existence of Baby Rosalina in this game doesn’t mean there’s a fully-formed nuclear family in the Mario universe. We know from Super Mario Galaxy that she doesn’t have a family to raise her! And Pink Gold Peach would be an awful mother, anyway. I’d much rather be raised by Waluigi, to be honest. No nuclear families.

So there you have it. Every game I’ve ever played and a “close” examination at the families that make each of them up. Now, I’ll admit it; there are a lot of video games I haven’t played that care about the concept of family. I have massive blind spots when it comes to the games I consume. Yet it does feel shocking to put up this entire list of over 125 games and have fewer than 10 nuclear families. There was a time when every piece of English fiction had a happy ending with a wedding and two kids. Now, granted, that time was somewhere in the 1700-1800s, but it is clear that the modern day art form of video games (and other media probably) are not as interested in that same happy ending. Usually, the happy ending in games is saving the world, or, failing that, a person. The once-universal appeal of marriage and children is no longer a stranglehold on fiction. Perhaps the literal content of video game stories is the main reason birth rate is dow-hahahah I can’t even finish that thought with a straight face.

Thanks for reading. If I missed any important nuclear families in any of these games or if there’s a prominent nuclear family in another game that I missed, please let me know in the comments.

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DRV3 vs PL vs. PW: AA

Danganronpa V3 and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney are both video games. I start my essay with the simplest of truths because that was one of the ways middle school English claimed was best for hooks, but I don’t think that is the most captivating first line. But, I’d argue, both Danganronpa V3 (DRV3) and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (PLxAA) are captivating video games. Each of them take the player and its characters on a series of twists and turns before coming to a divisive ending that attempts to explain every crazy thing that’s happened before.

I think DRV3 sticks the landing extremely well in how it explains everything and executes its moral message, but that belief is hotly debated. There is probably a 50/50 split of people who loved or hated the ending of DRV3 because of how wild the twist is. However, to illustrate why I think DRV3’s ending was great, it would help to compare the ending to another game with a very similar structure and themes that very much did NOT stick the landing. It is wrong to call the ending of PLxAA “divisive” in the sense of people being divided on whether it was bad or good; rather, people are divided on whether the explanation is SO bad that it’s funny enough to make up for its ludicrousness, or not. But for this comparison of the differences between the games’ endings to work, I have to get you to agree that the games are similar enough to warrant this comparison. As such, let’s run through the important similarities between DRV3 and PLxAA.

Of course, to even discuss the similarities of the endings, I need to give a basic overview of each game’s ending which requires going through each game’s basic plot. DRV3 is the story of 16 high schoolers forced to play a killing game in their closed-off-to-the-outside-world high school. To win this game, a character must kill another person and then be found not guilty of the crime by a jury of their peers. Due to the threat of violence from a robotic bear, the 16 high schoolers play the game. After five rounds of the survivors figuring out each killer, the remaining five survivors figure out why they were forced into the game in the first place. It turns out that the game they’ve been playing is a reality TV show that is broadcast to the world 24/7. The remaining five are then told that everyone who played this game was a willing participant who had their memories and personalities erased and replaced. Outraged beyond belief, the remaining five make a plea to the watching world that, though their past selves were willing participants, their current selves are very unwilling after seeing 11 of their friends killed for the sake of entertaining the masses. Even though the show is the only form of violent entertainment left in the Utopian society that is the “real world” of the Danganronpa universe, the masses watching the killing game agree with the survivors and vote that the show be discontinued forever.

There is so much to unpack from DRV3’s wild ending, but we’ll get there later; now, it’s onto PLxAA’s plot. Professor Layton and his assistant Luke Triton receive a letter from one of the Professor’s old students. In this letter, the student claims that he is trying to save a girl from a gaggle of witches, and has sent the woman, Espella Cantabella, to the Professor so he can help keep her safe. The witches end up finding the Professor, Luke,  and Espella in their home city of London, and the trio run away. Eventually, they come to a ship that they attempt to stowaway on, but Espella is found and Luke and Layton are “sucked into” her magical book. The lawyer Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey are called to defend Espella in court after she has been charged with trespass and assault on a ship, and the duo clear her name in the British court. However, they too get sucked into Espella’s magic book to the land of Labryinthia.

Layton, Luke, Phoenix, Maya, and Espella all somehow meet up in the weird medieval town of Labrynthia. Here, the worst crime is to be a witch that can use magic, because magic is real in Labrynthia. Espella has long been suspected as having been a witch by the residents within Labrynthia, and the four characters continue to try and protect her innocence in witch trials. Eventually, the four characters investigate Labrynthia enough to sniff out the mastermind behind the world, and have him explain what the deal with the town was. It turns out that Labrynthia is a research facility to test the limits of a mind-altering substance that’s in the groundwater of the town. The inhabitants are people who willingly signed up to be brainwashed into having a new, peaceful life as a member of a fake society, and the witch business… well, I’ll talk about PLxAA’s “explanation” of magic later. In short, the mastermind set up Labrynthia as such in order to help his daughter, Espella, cope with the trauma of her mother dying in a fire due to her own fault.

If you read those past two paragraphs and started laughing at the absurdity of PLxAA, I don’t blame you. Especially in comparison to how nice and compact the entire plot of DRV3 can be summarized. But it really helps to have a baseline understanding of the two games’ endings before I get into how they are similar, and how they differ. Even if the baseline summary of both leave out so much of what makes these games special. I probably should’ve put a spoiler warning in the title of this, but I still think the journey through each game is worth it–even knowing the endings.

So, you probably already picked out some similarities, but I want to start with basic, fundamental similarities in gameplay itself. Both DRV3 and PLxAA are visual novels. You spend most of each game pressing the same button to advance textboxes. The gameplay in each is centered around “trials” in the legal sense. In the world of Labrynthia, Espella is put on trial 4 dang times, 3 of which are literal witch trials where if she’s found guilty of being a witch, she’ll be burned at a stake. As for DRV3, the trial is one among peers only. The group discusses and determines who committed the murder that started the trial with the stakes being, if the group gets it wrong, everyone but the killer dies; if they get it right, the killer is executed. Both games have extreme, life-or-death stakes in these trials, and the way the trials ebb and flow make the games exciting.

Furthermore, both games are about the central truth of the world. The classmates (wrong term since they weren’t actually classmates prior to the game, but still) in DRV3 are trying to figure out what exactly happened to their families, to their friends, and to their world. Meanwhile, the group in PLxAA are trying to understand how magic in Labrynthia works, who the Storyteller is, and how all the strange pieces fit together. Both of these worlds have been expertly faked by a central figure or authority with a major financial backing. And, in one of the strangest shared details, both authority figures have managed to secure a large group of willing participants to not only join their fake world but also have their memories replaced with fake ones. Fake people for fake worlds. Of course, there is a slight difference here; the citizens of Labrynthia besides the Storyteller’s direct family are comprised of former criminals or poor people looking for a fresh start. The kids in DRV3’s classroom are made of young adults who were rabid fans of the TV show Danganronpa that wanted to be there, rather than it being a last resort. Still, it’s quite intriguing to me how both games have a vast majority of the cast being willfully brainwashed.

Another interesting piece of similarity is in the games’ execution. I mentioned earlier that the games are centered on trials, especially in gameplay. So it only makes sense that both games have the central figure flushed out and confess the truth of the world in the middle of a trial. Now, the two games differ greatly on how… “good” this confession is, but both games do the same thing! Furthermore, the central figure behind the shadows in DRV3 and PLxAA is always shrouded, but always hinted at. The Storyteller is fishy from the moment you step into Labrynthia since he has large parades in which he throws paper into the air that predicts exactly what happens next. The central cast member behind DRV3’s set-up is a mystery from the start–the first murder happens because one of the cast members is convinced another is the central mastermind, and pretty much each murder after has a similar motive.

But, not only is the truth of the central figure always foreshadowed in DRV3 and PLxAA, the truth of the world is constantly teased at. There is a mural in Labrynthia’s library that teaches the main cast the “mythical history” of the city, and cryptic hints come from other characters about the truth. DRV3 has a bunch of small scenes during the investigations and between murders that provide its own foreshadowing of the truth of the world. For both worlds, all this foreshadowing ends up being red herrings. There isn’t a single piece of history in Labrynthia that even HINTS at the truth of magic or the world, and each crazy reveal about the outside world in DRV3 is faker than the last. No one even thinks or speculates that the high school is simply the setting of a TV show, despite everyone noticing the amount of cameras around the school.

The last similarity between the two is another rather surface-level similarity, but provides a good jumping off point to talking more heavily about the differences between the games. Each game is a sequel in its respective series. DRV3 is the final game in the Danganronpa trilogy. Well, okay, there was an anime that was the “true” finale of the original trilogy along with a weird third-person survival horror shooter spinoff game between DR2 and the anime, and DRV3 is more the end to Danganronpa, the concept, than the series, BUT STILL. Point is, DRV3 was the much-anticipated closer after both the spinoff shooter and the anime left a sour taste in the mouth of most fans. PLxAA, on the other hand, is a spinoff crossover sequel between two extremely established franchises. It is here where we can finally start sorting out the differences between the effectiveness of each ending.

As I just said, PLxAA is the crossover spinoff of two franchises. This immediately puts real-world constraints on the game’s plot. First of all, nothing of major consequence can happen to the main cast. Imagine if Luke died in a spinoff crossover game–fans would be furious that something that big happened in such a way. Secondly, the game had real-world constraints put on its plot that went far beyond this basic constraint. At first, as the name would imply, PLxAA was originally planned to be a full-length battle of wits between Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright. But as the writing process went on, neither main character writer for either series could agree as to how this battle of wits would go on without making either Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright look dumb. Each writer had such a strong tie to their created character that they couldn’t bear to write them as a loser. Thus, PLxAA’s plot is at an immediate disadvantage for being unable to have an ending with meaningful consequences for either half of the main cast. The ending must wrap up the entire story with all characters unscathed, looking smart, and full freedom to go anywhere from there.

On the other side, though DRV3 was a highly-hyped sequel in an established series, the main cast of DRV3 can be messed around with much more easily. After DR1, DR2 had a full turnover of the main cast, aside from two stragglers. The games already told fans that they shouldn’t get too attached to any characters since they probably won’t be back again. Furthermore, the series’ hook of solving murders necessitates dire consequences for the main cast, so anything goes as for plot purposes. Thus, DRV3’s writing staff had a lot more ability to do whatever they felt when it came to writing an ending. This isn’t to say the writers had no pressure–I think that both PLxAA and DRV3 are very comparable in terms of the amount of pressure placed on the writing staffs since all three series have rabid fanbases and equally rabid haters that’ll be immensely disappointed with any sort of weakness (just look at how people trash DR’s anime or case 3 in Justice For All)–but the DRV3 writers had so much more freedom.

I already said that PLxAA suffered from having to use pre-established characters that couldn’t suffer real consequences. Another major issue with the game using pre-established characters is a far more meta problem: a player cannot identify themselves as Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright. These characters have personalities and appearances that are well-established by the point of this game. Unlike in, say, Skyrim, where a player can customize their character’s appearance and govern their personality, players more guide Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright through their obstacles. A player cannot even speak for Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright the same way a player might think of their own comebacks when playing as a silent protagonist. This fundamental problem of being unable to identify with the main character (unless the player is an archaeology professor that solves puzzles or a defense attorney that always believes in their clients) is a hindrance for many players in emotionally attaching themselves to said character. I’m not saying it is impossible to be wrapped up in a video game character’s life, otherwise I would have never enjoyed the Ace Attorney or Professor Layton series, but it is much harder to convince a player to care as much if their character has their own personality.

On the other end of things, the main character of DRV3 (who will go nameless for the fact that though I’m spoiling this ending I think the ride to get there is absolutely worth playing the game for) is easier to identify with. They are introduced at the start of the game rather than existing as a character that players are already familiar with. They have amnesia, a common trope that hooks players because the character knows as little as they do. This character is also the only character you play as in DRV3; in PLxAA, the perspective switches between Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright from time to time. There is a longer time to establish a connection between the character and player. Furthermore, this character feels like they discover and unravel the truth at the same time as the player. Much more so than the characters in PLxAA. Especially when, at the end of chapter 9, Professor Layton takes one look through the Storyteller’s home and decides he’s figured it all out while the player gets no clues.

I will say that the main character of DRV3 also has their own voice and personality. They make decisions that the player might necessarily not. They voice things the player might not say. They might be dumber or smarter, but the journey to the truth taken by the main character in DRV3 is much easier to empathize with than the journey taken by the PLxAA cast. This character also does something far more shocking than any character in PLxAA does: they convince the outside world that they are human.

The ending of DRV3 pits the member of the main cast who was all along a member of the TV show’s writing staff versus the main character. The writer makes the claim that the people of Danganronpa’s universe need the show to have such high stakes and to continue until there is only one survivor because it is the only violent outlet left for the Danganronpa world, regardless of the actual humanity of the members of the show. It’s a similar argument to what a reality TV show executive would say in defense of their “art”.

When the main character begs the writer to let them and the rest of the surviving cast to be freed from the show, the writer shows the cast a live feed of the worldwide audience cheering for the show to continue, for everyone to die until there is a winner of Danganronpa. Because the twisted thing about DRV3 is that it isn’t actually the third time the Danganronpa show has been recorded and broadcasted–it’s the 53rd time. As I know all too well, the Roman numeral “V” stands for 5. Danganronpa, the TV show, is a heavily ingrained part of the worldwide culture in Danganronpa’s, the game, universe. It is the last form of violent entertainment left for the masses consumption as the rest of the world has reached a seeming utopia in the brief glimpses DRV3 affords.

Despite seeing the massive audience calling for their and all of their friends’ heads, the main character of the game that you, the player, have been playing as comes out with an impassioned speech in defense of him and his friends as humans that deserve to live and respect. They may not be the same people they were when they willingly signed up and had their personalities altered, but the main character argues that the people they have become over the course of the game are just as human as anyone watching. Really, the plea from DRV3’s main character is the most convinced I’ve been of a video game character’s sentience–apart from perhaps Monika from Doki Doki Literature Club. The voice actor absolutely nails the delivery of the lines. I truly think that the execution of this scene makes DRV3’s ending incredible on its own. But let’s compare the execution of the main characters pleading for their very lives in DRV3 to the mirrored ending scene in PLxAA.

I’ve already said that, fundamentally, there is much lower stakes possible for the cast of PLxAA than in DRV3. However, the game does try to up the stakes by introducing and using side characters as the lives on the line. Espella Cantabella is put in direct harm’s way for being burned at the stake for being a witch 4 times. Eve Darklaw is revealed to be the dangerous leader of the shadowy figures that chased Professor Layton’s assistant in the wilderness. The Storyteller’s best friend and father of Eve commits suicide before the final act. They are not the characters the player will spend a majority of time with, nor are they characters that the player ever gets to control, so there is a lesser connection between player and characters.

Furthermore, the stakes of the main characters in PLxAA are quite low. Yes, they are unable to find an exit from Labrynthia once coming in, and, yes, all four characters in the main cast want to find out the truth about the world, but these are simply smaller goals in terms of scope than DRV3’s characters putting their lives on the line. I’ll also admit that there are times in the game that the stakes are raised for Professor Layton and Maya to the point that their lives are on the line, yet the game quickly lowers those stakes within a few hours after raising them. I won’t reveal what I mean just to keep the journey interesting, should someone decide to play these games after seeing this.

Meanwhile, as said before, the side characters of PLxAA are the ones with skin in the game. Yet we never see them suffer in-game. All the suffering is off-screen. The Storyteller saw his wife burn to death because of Eve’s actions as a child well before Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright come into his life. Espella is already under fire for being suspected a witch by Labrynthia’s citizens prior to her escaping, coming into contact with Professor Layton, and returning to Labrynthia. Eve’s father commits suicide during the events of PLxAA, but the player doesn’t meet him before or see him kill himself. Not only does PLxAA fail to make the main characters meaningfully involved in the plot, the game neglects to show why the events happening matter to the side characters. The game instead tells the player why those characters care, and we all know the famous “show, don’t tell” advice is true for a reason.

DRV3, on the other hand, has taken the player first-hand through the main cast’s journey. The player has seen for themselves people they’ve grown attached to murder and be murdered in pursuit of escaping the horrendous prison they’ve found themselves in. DRV3 truly shows rather than tells the player why these characters care and makes a much better appeal for the character to care. The player sees the direct consequences of the DRV3’s cast of characters rather than getting told about it.

But not only does the player see the direct consequences for the characters in DRV3’s ending, the player can come away with a change on their real-world perspective. I said earlier that the main character of DRV3 sounds human in their impassioned speech to the audience. The in-game audience is convinced of their humanity, but I think so too is the player convinced of the main character’s humanity. This has far-reaching implications beyond DRV3. I believe that a player that becomes sympathetic to the main cast’s pleas for freedom from their torture may start to look at other fictional characters in a far more sympathetic light. Specifically, a player may become more sympathetic to what they force other characters in other video games to go through, and to consider them as people. I’m not saying that DRV3 makes someone try to play Master Chief as a pacifist or give Mario a chance to catch his breath rather than run at a sprint the whole time, I’m simply saying that DRV3 makes a very convincing argument that characters in video games deserve more respect than they are traditionally given.

There is nothing for the player to take away from PLxAA. Other than another reason to distrust rich pharmaceutical CEOs like The Storyteller. In all honesty, what separates this man from Martin Shkreli? PLxAA does try to leave the moral that it’s important to tell the truth instead of creating elaborate lies that require far more effort to keep up. But, come on, what crazy person would play this game and come away thinking The Storyteller is a role model for coping with tragedy? Instead of telling his six-year old daughter and her friend that they may have started a fire that caused the death of his wife, this guy made up a story that put the blame on a “Great Witch Bezella”, used his vast resources to create a fantasy land where magic is real, and then proceeded to recruit people to live in this land and brainwashed them. Like, I get that you don’t want to tell her she caused it at that age since she might not be able to handle it, but you could’ve made up literally any other explanation at the time and not have to jump through all these hoops. DRV3 may have convinced me of the potential of a video game character having sentience, but PLxAA has a bunch of idiots that arbitrarily decide things that make them far less convincing as human. Or, maybe because the characters in PLxAA have no rationality they are actually closer to human than the very rational, very emotional DRV3 cast… hmm.


Let’s keep talking about the fundamental believability of both endings. I think this is primarily the reason why people find PLxAA very hard to take seriously. Let me just add one more very glaring reason I’m sure many people have been screaming at me in the comments to mention earlier: the truth behind magic in Labrynthia. This is, without a doubt, the worst explanation for magic in any universe ever. So I’ve said before that Labrynthia is an enclosed area owned by The Storyteller who made all his money as a CEO of a pharmaceutical company. Now, the reason he bought all this land is because it has very strange groundwater. See, some weird mineral that is only found in this land causes a person who has ingested said mineral to fall unconscious or wake back up whenever they hear a silver bell ring. So! Whenever someone in Labrynthia wanted to cast a spell, they would say the spell’s name while having a magic book open to the page with the spell on it, and an “invisible” person in a cloak would immediately ring a silver bell within earshot of all nearby parties to knock them unconscious, set up the scene to make it look like the magic spell happened, and then ring the bell again to wake everyone up.

I am 100% serious that this is the canonical explanation for “magic” in the PLxAA universe. So the true explanation for the fire that killed The Storyteller’s wife is that he had already bought all the land Labrynthia would be built upon and even put in a nice silver bell on the top of his clock tower to commemorate the land. Espella and Eve were playing on the top of the clock tower when they accidentally bumped into the bell, thus causing it to ring and knocking everyone in the town who had already drunk the groundwater unconscious. Somehow or another, there was a previously controlled fire burning before the bell got rung that then got taken by the wind and set the town ablaze, killing The Storyteller’s wife and injuring others. Frankly, this truth is also godawful because it also hinges on the really dumb explanation of hearing a silver bell causing knockouts. But, like, man. That is just really dumb. The Storyteller really should have just told Espella and Eve that it was a complete accident, which is what it turned out to be anyway. The Storyteller thought that the two young girls had purposely rung the bells because he found them unconscious in the belltower and neither of them had memory of what had happened. But that’s not reasonable!

The Storyteller’s deal in general is extremely unreasonable for doing basically anything. He states that starting Labrynthia is a science experiment for the effects of the groundwater on humans who consume it, as well as an experiment on what would happen if humans lived in a magical society, I guess. But he spurs his citizens into action by having weekly parades where he tosses a bunch of sheets in the air that “predict” the future. Due to the “Barnham” effect (yes I know it’s Barnum but the prosecutor in Labrynthia is “Barnham” so it’s a funny pun), these predictions get fulfilled one way or another. But they’re written to predict stuff like his daughter getting tried for being a witch, and if he made Labrynthia to protect Espella from the guilt of killing her mother, why the heck is he making sure she gets psychologically tormented anyway? And why does he pretend to not be her father the entire time since founding Labrynthia? He could have actually protected her and whoops I’m getting off-track. The point is that the characters in PLxAA are forced into action from their relatively-peaceful lives for no good reason—there is no incentive to the citizens of Labrynthia to follow The Storyteller’s fortune cookies, it only sends the rank and file into fear while also putting the actual group of uncontrolled witches on watch. It’s so dumb! Just let these people live their weird fantasy lives they all signed up for when they got brainwashed! And protect your daughter for god’s sake!

Any comparison to PLxAA at this point would make said thing getting compared look like Citizen Kane. But I want to be clear that DRV3 goes above and beyond in general in making the central instigator’s actions look sensible. To remind you, everything up to the ending of DRV3 has been livestreamed to a global audience, 24/7, just like in The Truman Show. Unlike The Truman Show, the audience, or, really, the TV producers, has a little less patience for everyday life. In order to keep good ratings, the writing team behind season V3 of Danganronpa understands very well that there needs to be action. As such, the writing team introduces a sadistic, robotic bear named Monokuma to act as their mouthpiece to get the main cast of characters to start actually killing each other. Without consistent prodding or incentives to kill beyond “get out of here”, the classmates could actually live together without conflict, in theory. That’s why it makes sense that Monokuma constantly BEARates the cast of characters to kill each other.

Before I just gloss over this, it also makes sense that DRV3’s high school setting is simply the setting for a TV show. Especially a TV show that rakes in that much money with that large an audience. Yes, there are parts on the site that seem outlandish to build from a cost standpoint (like the section with the rocket or, really, the incredible VR system in case 4), but from a writer’s perspective, they make sense. They’re just very well-made sets for a TV show that makes enough money to justify the realism. They make so much more sense than Labrynthia getting built from the ground up so that Espella would never think that she had been lied to her whole life about the Great Witch Bezella and magic actually existing. How on earth has The Storyteller’s pharmaceutical company not fired him from the CEO position yet?

Finally, I just have one last point of perspective about these settings. The player has no idea until the ending of DRV3 that they have been on a TV show’s set. Rather, there’s so many crazier theories about the truth of the outside world that the game does a great job of trying to convince both the in-game characters and the player of being true. I won’t say what they are because the journey to the center of the DRV3 world is super enjoyable. Meanwhile, there is extreme dramatic irony with Labrynthia. Each of the main cast knows that Labrynthia isn’t the only place in the world, and so does the player. The cast and player all travel to Labrynthia and want to eventually figure out its deal, but it’s not as interesting a journey to the truth because the player knows in the back of their head that Labrynthia and all of its magic is fake. I believe that this small barrier of foreknowledge prevents Labrynthia’s truth from being anywhere near as interesting for the player, and another reason that PLxAA’s ending falters. Perhaps if all of the main cast simply woke up in Labrynthia with no memories and eventually worked out how Labrynthia functioned and came to be rather than knowing it to be a false town would have helped make the explanation for magic easier to swallow. I mean, the explanation would still sound insane, but it’d be more forgivable since finding the truth of Labrynthia would have been a far more immediate and central question. I fear that the central hook of the game of putting Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright together meant that such “abuse” of their characters was impossible from the start.

So, there you have it. A comparison between DRV3 and PLxAA’s endings, why I believe the games are similar enough to compare, and why I think DRV3’s ending is much more effective. I think some people might still say that there is no comparison because of how fundamentally poor the PLxAA explanation for everything is, but I believe the comparison is a worthy one due to how weirdly similar the games turned out to be. Plus, I wanted to put in context why I think DRV3’s ending is worth an extreme amount of praise; it’s nowhere near the first piece of literature to try and make its characters “human”, but it’s one of the best because it takes full advantage of a video game’s ability to make a player empathetic or, failing that, a sympathetic accomplice with its characters. Amnesia in games is complained about as a schlocky, overdone trope, but it is used to extremely good effect with the cast’s journey to understanding the world they were “born” into in DRV3. PLxAA had fundamental problems with its conception that prevented it from taking its players on that same sort of gripping journey. I think it manages to make really well with the hand it was dealt until the ending which is about as bungled as it gets.

I hope that reading this won’t dissuade those on the fence from playing it because I really think PLxAA is a great game. There are many moments along the way to that bombshell of a reveal and nonsensical explanations that are immensely entertaining. I also hope that those who read this without having played DRV3 will play through that game regardless of knowing the ending. The journey to the truth of DRV3 along with the truth of each and every murder is absolutely fantastic. It is probably the second-best visual novel I’ve played, with the title of “best” going to either Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations or Phoenix Wright: Spirit of Justice. The very first murder might be the best written section of any visual novel out there. It is 100% worth playing even if you’ve not played 1, 2, the spinoff, or watched the anime. I cannot recommend it enough. But if you don’t feel you have the time for a 40 hour visual novel yet are interested in the genre, Doki Doki Literature Club (DDLC) is only 5 hours and is nearly as shockingly interesting in the same meta way DRV3 ends. I said earlier that perhaps Monika from DDLC is the only match for the main character of DRV3 in terms of extremely human video game characters.

I really appreciate anyone who read any word of this. Or listened to it, if I did turn this into a video essay. My sister recently said to me that words on the internet don’t go into a void, even if we might think they do; they do reach somewhere. Maybe not the place you expected—perhaps Labrynthia will introduce the internet into their medieval society and the baker that took in Phoenix and Maya will read this—but they do reach someone eventually and the ones writing those words should care. Whomever that is, thank you.

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Spyro: A Hero’s Tail – The Future of Spyro

Spyro: A Hero’s Tail was dead on arrival. It was the direct sequel to 2002’s Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly. Purposely rushed to be released before holiday season, Enter the Dragonfly fulfilled the business part of video games by selling better than any of the first three, critically-acclaimed Spyro the Dragon games on the Playstation 1. Unfortunately for the quality side of games, Enter the Dragonfly was absolutely horrendous, and destroyed any trust consumers had of the Spyro brand. Yet, because of the amazing sales, the businessmen at Vivendi Universal put together another Spyro game just in time for the 2004 holiday season: Spyro: A Hero’s Tail.

The dialogue in A Hero’s Tail shows a lot of self-awareness. The first villain of the franchise, Gnasty Gnorc, is brought back as the opening boss, and he makes multiple amusing, self-deprecating comments about how he’s been defeated before. The Professor, another returning character, explains to Spyro that he needs to collect 8 things to power his latest invention, and arbitrarily settles on the purposely abstract McGuffins of Light Gems after rattling off other possible collectibles like “red coins”. The “true” 100% ending features the Dragon Elders talking over the credits and making fun of people who made the game. Considering that there is not a single reference to Enter the Dragonfly in A Hero’s Tail while there are references to the golden age of PS1 Spyro games, it seems clear that the makers sufficiently understood how much of a tragedy Enter the Dragonfly was.

Though the game understands its place in the world based on its past and present, one has to wonder if the game makers were self-aware enough to understand that Spyro’s future would not be A Hero’s Tail. I have to imagine they were, and, in that context, A Hero’s Tail has the personality of a prince to a doomed kingdom; he sees his father make mistakes that’ll leave his country in ruins, but, until that point, he tries to be as cheery as possible. Too bad the guillotines came for Spyro after A Hero’s Tail, and the two new kings that came after (A New Beginning and Skylanders) were just as horrible to the character as Enter the Dragonfly was. Okay, maybe they weren’t THAT bad.

Regardless, all of this is to give context to you that A Hero’s Tail had absolutely no chance at being well-received or well-sold after Enter the Dragonfly sufficiently poisoned the well. And that meant that A Hero’s Tail is often forgotten and overlooked since it rests cozily between two nadirs of Spyro’s history. But I’m here to talk about how A Hero’s Tail laid the groundwork for so many possible directions the Spyro franchise could go, and how it should be studied by Toys For Bob as an outline for what future traditional Spyro games could look like now that Spyro: Reignited Trilogy set the franchise ablaze again.

For those who don’t know, a traditional Spyro game stars the titular Spyro the Dragon. He’s a small purple dragon who can glide, charge, and breathe fire… and that’s about it for major abilities. He uses these abilities to traverse levels and collect whatever the latest plot-important item is, which has ranged from dragons, to orbs, and to dragon eggs. There were three PS1 Spyro the Dragon games developed by Insomniac Games, makers of 2019’s Spiderman among other critically-beloved titles, and it was their first flagship series. They were not as popular as the Crash Bandicoot series, the other major PS1 mascot, but they had a pretty decent following. However, it was clear that Insomniac had run out of ideas by the third game, when they introduced five other playable characters to take some pressure off designing even more stuff for Spyro to do, so they sold the license to Universal Interactive and went on to develop Ratchet and Clank for the PS2. I do not need to remind you what happened with Universal’s first attempt with the Spyro license.

Spyro: A Hero’s Tail continues in this lineage of traditional Spyro games. You primarily glide, charge, and breathe fire while trying to collect Light Gems and destroying Dark Gems. But A Hero’s Tail makes some smart updates to Spyro’s core moveset to open up design space. The biggest update is the double jump. There was a glitch in Spyro: Ripto’s Rage that allowed Spyro to effectively double jump. Now, the developers clearly did not intend for that, and it let the player jump out of bounds and all over the scenery in ridiculous ways. This time around, Vivendi Universal puts the mechanic in on purpose, and… there are still plenty of ways to glitch out of bounds despite the game being built around it. Ultimately, though, it is a great addition that allows for increased mobility and therefore more interesting platforming. In theory.

I’m getting ahead of myself a little. I already briefly mentioned how the game’s plot is self-aware, but that’s more in execution than actual plot. A Hero’s Tail rushes quickly into the action. A formerly exiled dragon elder named Red has recruited two powerful minions and built an army to siege the Dragon Realms. For god knows what reason, he decides to simultaneously take over the realms and plant Dark Gems that sap the land’s energy. If he thought this through at all, Red would realize that he’s destroying the very land he’s trying to take over but who cares this is a plot for eight year olds let’s roll with it.

As always, it falls to Spyro to save the Realms. In the first three Spyro games, there was an explanation that justified why the tiny purple dragon had to save the Realm. In the original, the other adult dragons were all turned to stone. In Ripto’s Rage, he was intercepted while alone on his way to the beach. In Year of the Dragon, the holes that led to the other side of the world where the Sorceress was hatching her plot were too small for any dragon but Spyro to fit through. In A Hero’s Tail? No such justification. The other Dragon Elders are straight-up too lazy to deal with it. Heck, even though it’s their realms, no dragon tells Spyro to do it. The Professor, who is a MOLE that lives in AVALAR and not the Dragon Realms and this is completely against the canon and oh no one cares, just tells him exactly what I said in the last paragraph and tells Spyro to go see Moneybags.

Now, that name may sound innocuous enough, but Moneybags is the most nefarious villain in the original trilogy. In those games, he arbitrarily gates off parts of levels and moves for Spyro in exchange for… ahem, a small fee. How on earth could The Professor’s first piece of advice be “go see Moneybags”? Imagine if someone was trying to motivate you to ___ and told you to see ___. How demotivating!

But Moneybags’ introduction does introduce the player to the most important collectible in every Spyro game: gems. In the past, there were a limited number of gems per level that were required to collect to reach 100%. In A Hero’s Tail, because the levels are bigger, the developers made the extremely wise choice to make gems simply currency and not a gating collectible to reaching 100%. It would have been terrible to comb the larger levels for every single gem. This change plus the addition of the double jump are two extremely good, fundamental changes to Spyro’s traditional formula that Toys for Bob should consider bringing back if they feel like making larger levels for a sequel. The only reason collecting every gem in the original trilogy didn’t feel like a chore (usually) was because the levels were small enough and had a built-in gem-finding mechanic to sniff out the last few gems.

Gems are still important in A Hero’s Tail for paying Moneybags. Here, he’s a lot more tolerable since he never actively gates off moves or portions of the level. Except for this first time, because you need to collect enough gems to purchase a lockpick to get through the opening gate. Lockpicks are fine since they always make gems relevant to pick up–there’s around 3 or 4 locked chests in each level that contain either light gems, dragon eggs, gems, or, if you got truly japed, breath ammo. The annoying thing about them is that you can only carry one of them at a time unless you buy an upgrade that’ll let you carry three. It should be the first upgrade you buy, by the way.

The other things Moneybags sells aren’t as useful. The majority of items available are breath ammo. What is breath ammo? Well, Spyro eventually is able to breathe four types of elements: fire, electricity, water, and ice. Each breath has its own special bomb breath that does larger AoE and remote damage than normal breaths. The added range is the main benefit since all vulnerable enemies die to one regular fire breath anyway. Since combat in Spyro has never been the focus (except for A New Beginning but again that’s a video essay for another time) they are completely useless.

Moneybags sells full heals, and an extra hit point for Sparx, your friendly animal buddy that protects you. That’s a good upgrade. But the shockwave upgrade that boosts the range of your headbash’s shockwave? That’s useless, because it takes so long to start a headbash that it’ll never be good in a combat situation. And the double value gems is a temporary upgrade that, well, doubles gem values, and that’s not useful because you never need to grind gems if you loot most of the chests that you come across. But that’s fine, because nothing should be gated by grinding gems; that’d be dumb. The last item Moneybags sells is a cheap ticket to teleport between his shops in a level which is GREAT. It saves so much time.

So those items are all what gems are used for. To reiterate, the change to make them limitless as well as unimportant for 100% was a great one that showed a great understanding of the implications of making Spyro levels larger. The only three items you need to collect in A Hero’s Tail for 100% are the 80 dragon eggs and 100 light gems, and “collect” 40 dark gems by destroying them. The dark gems are the main point of the game. You can’t actually beat the game without smashing all 40 because smashing all of them not only opens each boss door but also opens parts of the environment directly around the dark gem. I like this mechanic because it shows the world healing from the dark gem corruption and helps illustrate the player’s incentive to destroy the gems; namely, destroying them will save the planet. So, basically I’m saying we can solve climate change by destroying the dark gems placed over the Earth that’s causing it.

The light gems and dragon eggs are scattered around the levels. Each minigame awards one of each collectible and is the most reliable way you’ll get these things. They’re also just… out in the open, or hidden in the world. These are nice. For example, one of the light gems in the Crocoville Swamp requires the player to notice a brick that’s sticking out of a temple hallway and knock it back in place, thus revealing a hidden passage to the gem. The gems and eggs make relatively loud “shining” noises when the player is nearby them, so listening for that tell can tip you off to these hidden goodies. Which is another great mechanic that future platformers put in place; Super Mario Galaxy does the same thing.

On the other hand, the minigames in A Hero’s Tail are a mixed bag. Which is a kind way of putting it. Continuing in the tradition of Year of the Dragon, you can play as more characters than Spyro. Sgt. Byrd and Sparx each make their returns as playable characters. Sgt. Byrd ends up taking over the speedway role rather than having Spyro be the one flying around as in the original trilogy. These are alright. Byrd feels a little too floaty and not as fluid in his aerial controls compared to how Spyro worked while in the speedway. And none of the four courses designed for him are particularly interesting in look or play. They all overstay their welcome because you have to run each twice and the second run barely changes the first by mostly lowering the time you can complete the speedway and light differences in target placement. Sgt. Byrd himself, a talking flying penguin, is still the best character in the Spyro series.

Sparx’s minigames in Year of the Dragon were all top-down shooters. In A Hero’s Tail, he’s now an on-rails SHMUP. These aren’t as interesting a spectacle as they could be, but the gameplay is interesting enough that I actually enjoy the 3 Sparx courses in the game.

There are two other playable characters in A Hero’s Tail. The first is another returning character: the competitive and widely disrespected cheetah Hunter. His sections are real interesting. He feels like a fully-fleshed out character in gamestyle. He has a higher jump than Spyro, climbs on walls to get around instead of gliding, and attacks with both his fits and his bow and arrow. He’s also the focal point of the most memorable part of the game, but more on that later.

The second new playable character is a new character entirely: Blinx the Mole. Personality-wise, he’s a mole that hates being underground, which is the explanation he gives you when you release him from a cage that’s on soft dirt which he could’ve easily dug through. It’s a weird, flimsy excuse. His levels are not flimsy. They’re rather involved affairs where you’re tasked to blow up 8 dark shards that are all around relatively open caverns. There was clearly a lot of effort put into Blink’s moveset and character, but his levels just aren’t that fun to go through. It is way safer to take these sections slow and snipe the enemies rather than get any sort of uptempo flow through the levels. Plus, they’re all far too long for their own good. Each takes around 15-20 minutes to complete and detract from the overall experience. I like the concept, just poor execution.

There are also technically two other playable characters. Ember and Flame are new characters that are randomly in the first level, Dragon Village. Both are dragons around Spyro’s age and finally show that Spyro isn’t the only teenage dragon alive in his godforsaken realm. It’s still very weird there are only 3 dragons that age considering there’s around 50 adult ones that you save in the original Spyro the Dragon. Regardless, getting all the eggs in Ember and Flame’s sets unlocks their models as playable “costumes” for Spyro.

Ember is the girl dragon and therefore HAS to be the pink one; she also has an unrequited crush on Spyro that she lays on thick in the two lines of dialogue she has in the game. One of which is skippable. Flame is a guy dragon and comes with a manly red-orange color. He was trapped in the cave that Gnasty Gnorc shuts himself in with the power of the dark gems (for… reasons. really unclear why the bosses put themselves in these sealed-off places). Once free, he says his one line of dialogue and… also goes away forever just like Ember. I like that these characters exist to give Spyro different looks and that they fulfill a gaping character hole, but they’re good examples of missed potential. Why don’t they do anything other than say two lines? And why can’t I get the way Ember says “because you like me” out of my head? And who is Spyro’s true waifu? Ember or Cynder? I know the popular answer but Ember has a cute personality from the start unlike that ungrateful–I’m getting off topic.

Now that I’ve thoroughly detoured from the level design to talk about everything but the levels, let’s get back to it. Joseph Anderson makes the best video essays, and each one of them features a beat-by-beat walkthrough of what happens in the game, so I should do the same.

The game goes pretty fast into getting you playing. The cutscene where Red comes out of the shadows to plant dark gems in the Dragon Realms is about 45 seconds. Then the Professor says “That’s Red. You must’ve heard all about him” to Spyro, who swiftly (and rightly) says “No, not really”. It’s a funny introduction that makes clear that this game is not taking its plot seriously, so neither should the player. And since the plot takes around 5-10 minutes of unskippable cutscenes and another 5-10 minutes of unskippable, voice-acted dialogues, the plot is unobtrusive.

Spyro is booted out of the Professor’s lab and, as stated earlier, sent to hit up Moneybags for a lockpick. The player is put into a safe, basic field and asked to collect 500 gems to buy that lockpick. It’s here that the game does basic, unobtrusive tutorials that state the controls in a dialogue box when the player is near something new to interact with. This does happen every time anything new shows up, even after the initial tutorial area, but that’s perfectly alright. It’s still unobtrusive.

Anyway, you meet Moneybags, and purchase the lockpick from the most frictionless store possible. Why can’t I go to a grocery store, stand on a pad, and select holograms of items to purchase today? Amazon, please read this (I’m sure you own WordPress). Going through the locked gate lets you meet Ember, who quickly makes her grand entrance and exit; she dies as she lived, shot down by Spyro. You then head through another cave to meet Elder Tomas. He gives you the ability to double jump, headbash, and listen to exposition. He’s one of the main elder dragons that decided to banish Red. But since Red’s come back with such strength and magic, Tomas doesn’t stand a chance. Or something. I’m not sure why Spyro specifically is a better fit for this job because he clearly doesn’t have the size that Tomas or the other elders have but whatever they’re too old and that’s the excuse given.

Tomas tasks Spyro with destroying the corrupting dark gems, and you get to smash your first one to progress through the level. The rumble feedback you get from headbashing these things is immensely satisfying, and is another serotonin hit combined with the obvious excitement with de-corrupting sections of the level. Follow the path opened by the dark gem being destroyed, and you reach everyone’s least favorite cat: Hunter. It is baffling that Hunter consistently gets chosen for re-use by game makers. Even though most players who beat Ripto’s Rage 100% hated him, he shows up in the direct sequel Year of the Dragon, he shows up in the completely unrelated reboot Dawn of the Dragon, he shows up in the weird spinoff Spyro: Shadow Legacy, and he even shows up as a playable character in Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled. Why on earth does he have the second-most appearances of any Spyro character that isn’t Spyro or Sparx? He actively hinders the player in the first five games he shows up in because he withholds at least multiple main collectibles from Spyro! It’s not until A Hero’s Tail when he actually helps.

Strangely enough, though he’s playable in this game, this isn’t the first time you play as him. He just shoots a target to open the door when you prove your gliding skills for god knows what reason. At least he didn’t hold onto a dragon egg or firefly until you did this. Through the door is a hologrammed Professor who then gives you the arbitrary directive to start collecting light gems since they power his inventions. Past that is another dark gem to smash, and the first Sgt. Byrd speedway is uncovered thanks to this. I’ve already said my piece on him. A cracked wall leads to the path with the level’s third and final dark gem to smash, which also repairs the broken bridge between your initial starting area and the entrance to the second level. It’s a nice piece of ourobouros level design. Even though the levels all have teleporters to get around quickly, they also tend to loop back on themselves. This isn’t even the only looparound in this opening level. The obvious path past the cracked wall eventually leads back to the Professor’s lab which then spits you back to the opening part. It’s good design!

Alright, that’s a bit exhausting and not interesting in text form. For a video, where the consumer has something bright and appealing to look at while someone else monotones boring facts, that style works fine. Here… not so much. Instead, it would be better to go through the levels and just pick out highlights rather than every little thing. I do think the first level is naturally inundated in things to talk about, though. That said, though the game does a lot to introduce concepts and get the player familiar with the controls, it also does indicate a fundamental problem with the game: the levels are too large and too uninteresting in design (visually and, uh, gamely? I don’t know the word to describe it) to warrant that largeness. I’ll talk more about this later, but the game tends to switch gameplay styles often in order to hide the relatively bland core gamefeel of traversing Spyro through these levels.

Crocovile Swamp is a good example of the slightly off gamefeel. There are a couple of Indiana Jones-esque sequences in which you have to guide Spyro through a collapsing temple, but the floaty movement of Spyro makes it far more difficult than it should be to make it through safely. Platforming safely around the aforementioned swamp is similarly too hard, and it’s easy to drown Spyro in mud over and over. There’s unlimited lives and plenty of checkpoints, so it’s not too much an inconvenience, but it still breaks any rhythm the game was building when you die. As cool as the look of the swamp’s treehouses and temples can be (and the main temple setpiece that you climb is real cool), the swamp makes a real bad impression as the first “main” level of A Hero’s Tail. Its saving grace other than the somewhat interesting visual design is the move you get from the dragon elder here that lets Spyro flip on poles with his tail. No, not like a stripper. It’s a neat platforming move that opens up some more interesting platforming, even if the justification for the existence of these tail-flipping poles at, say, the bottom of the ocean doesn’t exist.

I really think the first go through of Crocovile Swamp makes for a bad first impression. It’s dark, you might not have a complete feel for Spyro’s controls, and it’s hard to understand where you’re going. The larger levels in A Hero’s Tail offers more non-linearity than basically any Spyro level in the original trilogy, but a player expecting level design similar to old Spyro may quickly find themselves overwhelmed and lost in the murky swamp. On second or third playthroughs, it’s easy to efficiently pathfind through Crocovile, and it’s not nearly as bad. But that first playthrough, where you feel beset on all sides by never-ending spider spawns, can’t find the path to the elder’s house, and get your first not-too-bad-but-pretty-bad taste of Blink’s levels? Not great.

Anyway, Crocovile Swamp also does a nice job looping back to its entrance so that you can get back to the “hub” world of Dragon Village. In the first four Spyro games, the levels were marked off via portals in a hub world. Entering one would send Spyro into a loading screen as he slowly glided towards the level. In A Hero’s Tail, Universal tries to connect the levels so that the individual hub worlds feel like one large connected world rather than disparate, strewn-about parts. I can say that this would work better if the ways you traveled to the other levels weren’t just loading screens in disguise. For instance, getting to and from Crocovile Swamp requires Spyro to stand on a floating platform in a cave for about 30 seconds. It’s still obviously a loading screen, even if the game doesn’t want to admit it. The concept is good but the optimization is lacking.

To get to the third and final level in this part of the game, you need to go see the Professor again. You need 8 light gems to power his transportation system there, which is a decent enough way of roadblocking players. You can’t get the necessary 8 without going to Crocovile Swamp. Older Spyro games also did this, so it has precedence. The transportation system to Dragonfly Falls is more involved than, say, a bus. It’s a hamster wheel that you charge around in. Super goofy. Has no real in-game justification from a plot perspective. I kind of love it, but it also only appears three times in the game, so it’s a weird use of resources on the developer’s part.

Dragonfly Falls is a lush jungle that hides a bunch of collectibles behind breakable walls, waterfalls, and flora. It is the most interesting level design in this first world because it plays with verticality far more than the prior two levels (though the temple set piece in Crocovile Swamp is quite good). This works out to its benefit when Spyro is in relatively small rooms, such as the hidden locked chest in an alcove directly above the entrance that Spyro can glide to from the top of ladders nearby, but the lack of defined boundaries in Dragonfly Falls’ largest open space makes it extremely difficult to tell where Spyro can and cannot reach without further movement abilities. There’s a particular moving platform that can let the player partially sequence break if they do the right jump off it, but finding the right path off it is required to find all four dark gems in the level. It’s a surprisingly frustrating bit of freedom.

Other parts of the Falls are better. You get your first Hunter section during this time. Like any other sidekick level, it’s optional. However, the length of this section should foreshadow to the player that Hunter will not be optional in the future. And it’s a fine introduction. The section is designed around giving Hunter plenty of opportunities to snipe, climb, and scour the area. There’s a surprising amount of care put into his level design–almost more so than Spyro–but it helps that the level designers don’t have to worry about Hunter gliding to places he really shouldn’t be.

There are only two other parts about Dragonfly Falls that ever really stood out to me. The first is a door locked behind having 75 or so light gems. It always ignited my curiosity to know what was behind it, and it was a bit of a let down to only find a dragon egg in the small platforming section behind it. I understand now that such a reward was the only thing the game could reasonably have for a player, but it was slightly underwhelming. The other thing that stands out is the amount of wall jump walls in the level. I get that the game is teasing the player that they’ll be able to do it eventually, but nowhere in Dragon Village nor Crocovile Swamp really does this without providing the way to unlock those moves. Crocovile Swamp does have a supercharge powerup that the player can’t use at first, but the explanation given is that the Professor needs 40 light gems, and that’s understandable. Here, the player simply sees a weird mineshaft column at the bottom of a ledge, and is told they might one day learn how to get up the shafts. It’s irritating.

Dragonfly Falls is definitely the best of the three levels in this first world, and has cool sequences with the terrain coming back to life or rebuilding itself as you smash dark gems. I think it does a great job of giving the player a decent bit more freedom to explore while still having a relatively linear, understandable path through to destroy the dark gems. And now that all ten are gone, the path to Gnasty Gnorc is open. Taking the hamster wheel back to Dragon Village makes me wish that you could bring the thing into the boss arena.

It would’ve made the fight a lot more interesting. As it stands, the Gnasty Gnorc fight is pretty generic. He uses his electric rod to smash the ground and try to hit Spyro with a never-ending series of rocks from the ceiling. I don’t know how the cavern doesn’t collapse halfway through the fight. To beat Gnasty, you just have to wait out his combos and charge or flame his heart-underwear-wearing butt when its exposed. The fight requires the player to learn how to control Spyro’s jumping height as different shockwaves and patterns come out. Gnasty takes 9 hits, but after every 3 a new phase comes and the fight is checkpointed. It’s a good system that all the bosses use as a template. It’s just that Spyro fights have never been very interesting because the games should never be about combat (looking at you, A New Beginning trilogy). There’s also some funny bits of dialogue that indicate that A Hero’s Tail could benefit from more NPCs to just talk to. A shame that every piece of writing had to be voice-acted as that was also tradition. Probably prevented some good dialogue.

Beating Gnasty frees a fairy that has the power of electricity. She passes the power onto Spyro, letting him use electricity breath. It isn’t used very creatively in this game, mostly as a key that activates certain switches, though the elemental breath idea has potential to do much more if the developers leaned into it. I’ll talk more about what they could do later, but just know that using any breath other than fire breath makes killing enemies take longer and isn’t worth it. It pierces armor but then takes three seconds to kill the enemy. Just charge and flame instead. Not worth it.

Once Gnasty has been kicked out, it’s onto the next hub world. In this game, moving across the land is justified because the other parts of the world that are corrupted by dark gems are physically closer to the dark gem mine. Dragon Village is the far end of corruption, and each major teleport closer brings you to a relatively safe hub world nearer to the mine. This teleport takes Spyro to the lovely yet melancholy beach hub world of Coastal Remains. I understand why Moneybags set up a shop there for game reasons, but it makes no sense in story reasons. There is just one NPC on the island that could potentially buy anything from Moneybags, other than Spyro, and it’s a surfboard otter dude who sounds stoned all the time. Now, in the past games, Moneybags has been explicitly evil. He locks up your allies, sells parts of the level that should be owned by the locals to you, and even mentally blocks you from doing basic stuff like swimming until you pay him. This game, he’s shown to be more benign as a simple shopkeeper. He doesn’t block anything off, but that just means his shop outposts in unpopulated areas like Coastal Remains or the Dark Gem Mines make no sense. There’s no one there to buy his crap nor is he there helping out Red. But I’m overthinking this, as you might expect from over 5000 words about a very forgettable game.

Speaking of forgettable, Coastal Remains is, well, forgettable. The first two homeworlds just aren’t very interesting. The second half of the game is far more intriguing in design and structure. But, for now, Coastal Remains is a standard hub world. It’s mostly corridors. Sometimes, these lead to gloomy beaches; despite the sun being out, I think the brightness in these sections is weirdly dark and adds that melancholy mood I first mentions to this level. Other times, they lead to further corridors that may test your tail swinging abilities or your conch-shell dodging. Ineptune, basically Ursula from The Little Mermaid, introduces herself, and hides herself in a cave, requiring another 10 dark gems to be shattered to unlock.

As stated earlier, this level is mostly corridors to relatively more open rooms that have relatively interesting set pieces. There’s one section where you glide around to a central island so you can shoot parts of the wall down with a cannon. There’s another section where you meet the surfer otter and fix a bunch of broken waterwheels to bring the water back to his surfing hole. There are small islands on the beaches that lead to caches of gems and some light gems. And there’s a Blink level near the edge of the level. Each of them are fine enough set pieces, and there’s some stuff I even neglected to mention. It’s just the rhythm is slightly broken up by having to travel via corridor, and Spyro’s movement across the world isn’t inherently interesting. I’ll talk more about this later, but the biggest failure of Spyro: A Hero’s Tail is that the level design doesn’t mesh with Spyro’s moveset for the game. Regardless, Coastal Remains is a nice enough level with interesting things going on, even if it also has weird and off-putting tiny Tiki people.

Coastal Remains is the hub world for the three levels in this section of the game titled “Lost Cities”. Though you’re far freer to do either of the other two in either order compared to the first world, it is recommended you take the propeller platform up to the skies where a dragon elder is waiting with a new move in Cloudy Domain. I think this level is the nadir of the game. The look of Cloudy Domain is unpleasant, the level is broken up into a series of floating islands with few landmarks to allow the player to know where they are, and it is extremely unclear to know where you can go without opening the map every couple of minutes. It doesn’t help that the move you learn, the wing shield, is almost entirely useless; it simply beats certain enemies, and is never used for minigames or platforming like the other moves.

Certain parts of Cloudy Domain are alright. I like how the houses look, the hamster wheel challenge where you have to speed down a hill in less then 45 seconds is a fun piece of gameplay, and seeing Sgt. Byrd is always fun. But then you come to the set piece where you have to hop across a giant gap using two rotating platforms to travel, and everything crashes to a halt. It’s simply not fun. And I need to stress how hard it is to figure out where to go when the stormclouds are purposely masking the crappy draw distance and the map doesn’t show anywhere you haven’t been. I like the gimmick of smashing the dark gems to turn on propellers and allow Spyro to go up, but it’s not used well here.

It’s funny that Cloudy Domain is the nadir of the game because the third level in the Lost Cities realm, Sunken Ruins, is the physical nadir of A Hero’s Tail, and also the area most of my early playthroughs of the game would end. It’s a water level, and my younger, dumber self could not navigate through it. It’s dark and has a similar sight problem to Cloudy Domain. However, because Sunken Ruins is a water level and not an air level, you can actually travel to most places you see. You just need to look around. And I couldn’t do that! I usually got stuck on the first swimming section, even though it has helpful guiding gems to tell you where to go to progress. I’d wind up meeting the mermaid in a dead end and then make my way back to the start on accident.

Heck, I even got stuck trying to find Sunken Ruins on a bunch of playthroughs. The elevator down is hidden underneath a breakable glass ceiling–all the women out there should thank Spyro btw–at the top of a lighthouse. Even though it has a target painted on it like all other things you can headbash, it’s not immediately obvious that the ceiling is breakable. Especially because a similar lighthouse model is used in another beach section of Coastal Ruins that doesn’t break when headbashed. I like the concept as the transition is naturally integrated into the world but it’s still hard to find it.

Once in the Sunken Ruins, the place is a mess. In a good way! It feels like Atlantis post-destruction. Most of the machinery is turned off until Spyro provides power back to it, and the machinery itself suggests a relatively advanced society lived down there, just like the myth of the “real” Atlantis. Also, other than the very out of place mermaid at the end of a dead end, there are no friendly NPCs for Spyro to talk to, further giving a spooky atmosphere. The level is also pretty straightforward, which is good because the dark and same-y looking corridors are hard to differentiate from one another.

The main memorable set piece in this level is when you reach the bottom of the Ruins and come to a flooded-with-poison circular room. As you headbash targets and a Dark Gem, the poison begins to drain and turn back into water as the queen-looking fish sculpture in the middle is repaired. I think the game implies this statue is Ineptune or at least some race of fish people Ineptune is related to. It’s not perfectly done because I get the feeling this game was slightly rushed and those small details are the last to get completed, usually. Though Sunken Ruins was the worst part of this game for younger me, it’s details like this and the well-done atmosphere that make it the highlight of this world.

Ineptune herself is a pretty lackluster fight. Her fish lasers are her most dangerous attack which does not fit with her theming as Ursula. Plus, her fight has the same fundamental problem every fight where the main character is on platforms in the middle of a pool of liquid that only the boss can attack in: why doesn’t Ineptune just destroy the platforms? Spyro can only charge underwater, and Ineptune obviously has the advantage down there because she survives the poison. Just break Spyro’s platforms!

She also has the other dumb boss problem like Gnasty Gnorc where she’s vulnerable only after a specific attack. This one is a breath attack that leaves her, well, out of breath once done. It doesn’t have great range or tracking ability so… just don’t use it, Ineptune. She really lives up to her name. 9 charges into her belly later, Ineptune dies, and Spyro gets the water breath ability. This is the only breath that can’t do damage, so its water bombs are even more useless than the other breaths’ by orders of magnitude. Water breath does get a chance to do damage in the last section of the game, but even those enemies can be killed by other breaths that it’s pointless to switch to unless you need to unlock doors by turning waterwheels. Which is the strangest unlocking system I’ve ever heard of. Imagine needing to fetch pails of water every time you wanted to get into your house. Unless you’re Jack or Jill, it’s not viable.

Once done with Ineptune, Spyro can just teleport to the next realm with no story explanation tipping you off about this. Which is strange because it’s easy to forget that you came to Coastal Remains via the large teleporter. Regardless, the next world is the Ice World. And I think it’s the strongest part of A Hero’s Tail. Both world three, the Icy Wilderness, and world four are singularly-themed. Unlike the first two worlds that have 3 distinct themed areas each, world three and world four focus only on ice and fire respectively. And each world does a great job of exploring this element theme.

The opening area, the Icy Wilderness, is a decently open and non-linear starting level. You’re put into the center of the world and have four different routes to go in search of five Dark Gems. Before this, the most dark gems a world had was 4; here, the game is telling the player to just go wherever they feel like in order to smash all 5 to get to Red, now that he’s out of minions. And it’s because the game sets up the player for all this freedom that makes world 3 both frustrating and brilliant.

You can’t smash all 5 dark gems in the area your first visit. Even with the help of a penguin couple (the best NPCs in the game), Spyro will come across a bunch of areas he can’t access. Most of them are at the top of cliffs that have shafts similar to those found in Dragonfly Falls. So the player knows they have to find the dragon elder to learn the wall jump that’ll get Spyro up the shaft, but finding the dragon elder is impossible as well. Three of the corners end up being dead ends with some loot and perchance a dark gem or two, but no dragon elder to make it up to a cannon to blast down a wall that may have another dark gem nor up other shafts. Despite the freedom seemingly allowed, the game still has a primary path and isn’t as non-linear as it wishes it could be.

That primary path will take Spyro to a clearing with a Wooly mammoth hanging out. In the cutscene that played before Spyro teleported to the Icy Wilderness, Red gives this mammoth orders to destroy Spyro when he comes through or else the rest of his kind will be exterminated. Red puts the mammoth there because that path is the way to the Icy Citadel, the place Spyro is told the dragon elder should be. For the first time in the game, we’re setting up a miniboss.

And so the player walks Spyro into the clearing, which seems like a decent arena for a fight, with the ability to clearly see this mammoth before the cutscene trigger is activated. Then the cutscene plays and Spyro appears to get ambushed by the ginormous mammoth. Somehow. Even though you can see him very easily before stepping into the cutscene. But that’s not a big deal, it’s time to have an epic fight with a mammoth! Well… not quite. The mammoth steps on Spyro, instantly incapacitating the dragon. Sparx manages to get away through the mammoth’s nose which makes zero sense on a whole bunch of levels, but whatever. The mammoth thinks his job is done and then somehow throws Spyro into a cage on the far edge of Icy Citadel. Instead of, you know, killing him. Which he could have. By stepping on Spyro more.

Unwinnable fights in video games always feel unpleasant to play since video games give the impression that you, the player, do have a say in what happens. Especially in action games where you have the ability to fight back in real-time. This “fight” is stupid, but it’s forgivable because it leads to the most interesting section of A Hero’s Tail. Sparx managed to reach Hunter after escaping the mammoth’s nose and gets him to save Spyro. In another Spyro game, this would’ve been a cutscene as well. In this game, you play as Hunter as he works his way through a cave to the Icy Citadel so he can free Spyro.

I’ll be very, very clear: I hated this section every time I played the game until exactly the last two times I went through it. And I got to this section at least five times prior. Hunter’s gameplay is very different. He’s a bow sniper. Instead of rushing in to use your close-combat breaths like as Spyro, you need to be patient and shoot down your enemies to make a path. Hunter has a punch-dash but it has a long windup and there’s a lot of small floating platforms with enemies on them in this section that make it difficult to punch while staying on the platform. Speaking of, the platforming as Hunter is also quite different. He has the double jump, but can’t glide. There’s not as much a safety net as there is with Spyro. He also can climb on walls to get around and up if need be, unlike Spyro who can travel very far horizontally but not so vertically.

And the level designers do great work with all these slight differences in gameplay to make the Hunter section extremely memorable. I said I hated this section at first, and I absolutely did. But I 100% remembered it after playing it the first time, and it always stuck in my head. The section opens with a cute little cameo. Hunter makes his way through the opening cave that reminds players how to control him or teaches them if they skipped his Dragonfly Falls section and comes across a locked door.

The only one who can open it is Bentley the friendly and well-versed Yeti from Year of the Dragon. But, alas! His home in the Icy Wilderness (a second outpost, I presume) has been ransacked by other Yetis, jealous of his home. So Hunter has to go over there and kill them all and it’s a neat little sequence where the game makes an icy mountain home a mini-dungeon. Hmm, wonder what level designers might’ve been inspired by this very dungeon? *stares at Twilight Princess*

Though it’s never made clear how Bentley got to his home at the top of a cliff which Hunter can only reach by climbing walls, Bentley still unlocks the way forward once the evil Yetis are gone and gives Hunter a light gem to boot. What a nice guy. Pretty soon after this comes the spookiest, most terrifying section in a video game. Or, it was for me, anyway.

3 invincible necromancers come from the ground and lock Hunter into a small combat arena. They each take turns summoning skeletons and Hunter has to go around and kill ten of them before all the buried bodies in the area are, uh, too busted to revive, I guess. I really, really hated and still actively dislike this section. In the past, it’s because the necromancers’ design unnerved me and actually scared me. Nowadays, it’s because you have to punch each skeleton since they’re invulnerable to arrows, and their attacks come out faster than your punch. You only have 4 hits before death, or 5 if you buy the health upgrade, and it’s very easy to lose the war of attrition before you kill all 10 skeletons.

The setup goes completely against Hunter’s gameplay. He’s a sniper, not a puncher (and definitely not a lover–there’s a reason why Bianca isn’t in this game). There’s also no chance to use Hunter’s upward mobility to get a good vantage point or even a way to use his best tools to fight the necromancers. It’s a really bad section that already has the potential of annoying players by forcing control away from Spyro, the character they bought the game to play as, and it comes early enough in the section to leave a lasting, poor first impression.

It’s also very strange because, though those skeletons do appear later in Hunter’s section, there’s no other time where it’s necessary to kill them. It has no later payoff. I guess it’s part of the tutorial for people who skipped Hunter’s earlier stuff, but it’s poorly balanced and unfun.

Most of the rest of the combat encounters let Hunter either snipe from a distance or press on with the risk of getting hit. Usually these involve bats circling around the ceiling that swoop down when Hunter gets close. So it can be tough hitting these guys before trying to cross over collapsing skeletons. But at least you have the option to make it easier on yourself or take less time. And the platforming is decently balanced around Hunter’s floatier jumping. There’s some setups with small floating platforms and some tightropes that Hunter is agile enough to hotfoot across or balanced enough to stand and snipe from.

After making it through one more set of collapsing platforms, complete with bear traps for Red knows what reason, Hunter will make it to Spyro’s cage. It’s held up by a rope that Hunter easily shoots down that sends the cage and Spyro crashing down hundreds of feet to Spyro’s death. Nah, just kidding about that last part, but it was super dangerous for Hunter to do that. Still, this is a kid’s game, so Spyro brushes himself off and delivers some snark before starting his exploration of the Ice Citadel. For contrived reasons, the cage was placed over an entrance to the Citadel but it was just a window in the ceiling that Spyro can’t jump to so he has to go through the entire mazelike Citadel to get out and no of course you can’t just go backwards through Hunter’s section as Spyro.

It’s not well-explained, but it’s forgiven. I guess. The Ice Citadel itself starts with a Moneybags’ shop which means you can immediately teleport away. Which is lame. This Citadel is Spyro’s prison! There’s an implied explanation for Moneybags’ presence here, but it still feels weird. The Citadel also has 5 dark gems to make up all 10 in the world since Hunter can’t destroy dark gems despite his own version of the horn bash that ends in a stomp. Which means that Red could’ve placed one dark gem in that hidden tunnel and would’ve won. Or at least had corrupted the Icy Wilderness’ hidden tunnel, and isn’t that a win?

Within the Ice Citadel is that all-important dragon elder that teaches Spyro wall-kicking. Since there are only very specific walls you can use it to get up from, the move isn’t as useful as Mario’s wall-kicks. But wall-kicks will work to get you out of the extremely large trap hole you got yourself into destroying the dark gem that led to the dragon elder. Convenient! By the way, just a refresher: have you used the wing shield since the floating level? Yeah, me neither.

The Ice Citadel has a really cool design once you’re outside. Spyro gets to climb over a castle like all the cool, taller dragons get to in fantasy novels, though he definitely can’t intimidate kings and queens like, say, Eragon could. Or, excuse me, Eragon’s dragon. The inner workings of the Citadel aren’t quite as interesting–it only has got curb appeal. The floors were never finished in the Ice Citadel. They’re all the same color of dirt brown that either implies there is literally no floor or they just carpeted everything with the ugliest color possible.

The only other decorations indoor in the majority of the Citadel are actually important. They’re boilers that Spyro can light. Sometimes light gems will just come out of the furnaces which raises a lot of questions that I, an English major and not an engineering major, cannot answer. Not only will lighting them as you get to them bring rewards now, the Ice Princess will reward you for lighting all of them. Now, most of the friendly NPCs in this game are slightly inexplicable. From the friendly, southern crocodiles in Crocovile Swamp to the random surfing otter in Coastal Remains to the amazingly dressed penguin couple in Frostbite Village to the out-of-nowhere flirty mermaid in Sunken Ruins, the friendly NPCs are a mixed bag in terms of how they fit in to the level.

The Ice Princess makes complete sense as a character in her world’s context. What doesn’t make sense is that her throne room you meet her in is super far into the level and the task she gives you is something you should be doing from room 1 in the Citadel. Her dialogue of Red’s army coming in, placing dark gems, and freezing the joint up gives added significance to this level. Now you, the player, are even more motivated than you were to drive Red away–look at how they treated the poor Ice Princess! She’s freezing!

And yet it’s super easy to miss this character. She’s hanging out in a side room from Spyro’s path that takes some puzzle-solving and tough platforming to get to. Next time, it’d be a lot better if the throne room was the second room Spyro gets to after being freed from the cage so that he can learn about what Red’s done to the poor Ice Princess’ kingdom and Citadel. Ripto’s Rage and Year of the Dragon always opened their levels with a friendly NPC giving Spyro the local rundown of what the bad guys are doing and how he could help, and it’s an effective motivator.

I’d also like to add that the fellows who put together Eleum Loyce for the Dark Souls 2 DLC were 100% influenced by Ice Citadel’s design and setting. So, uh, Spyro is Dark Souls and should be universally loved. I will say that a few of my rare runs that made it this far got wiped out in Ice Citadel against my will. I haven’t talked about it before, but A Hero’s Tail’s biggest problem has nothing to do with level design. It has to do with autosave.

Autosave is another piece of Dark Souls that should immediately endear any fan of Dark Souls to A Hero’s Tail, but this autosave is just bad. There’s a small flashing square that’ll show onscreen in the upper left corner when it’s autosaving, and it’s hard to notice. Which should be good! Unobtrusive UI is something most designers strive for. But the problem is that turning off your console during autosave will 100% corrupt your savefile. These autosaves happen whenever you get zapped by Zoe, teleport, or collect a light gem or dragon egg or destroy a dark gem. I corrupted probably 8 or so save files of this game and figured it had the same disc problems as my Year of the Dragon disk before figuring this problem out.

I’d say at least 3 of those files went down during a particular point of Ice Citadel. In one of the open areas outside the Citadel, you can find Sgt. Byrd near Zoe. So I’d do the Sgt. Byrd speedway segment, have the game save me winning the light gem from his section, wait for the autosave that comes post-conversation to end, then simultaneously get zapped by Zoe as I turned off the console. When I’d turn the game back on, it’d tell me the file was corrupted and it was back to square one. This is about 10-12 hours into the game and it happened multiple times, including on a run when I very much knew about the autosave. It’s super disheartening to lose all this progress. I know it was always my fault when it happened (another thing Dark Souls fans love), but it still sucks. I guess what I’m saying is if you read none of the other 10,000+ words here, you should know to never turn the game off during autosave.

All that aside, I think Ice Citadel’s level design makes it the best in the game. Though the insides are bland-looking, the enemy encounters are varied and interesting, the inner platforming on floating platforms is well-done, and the exploration feels exciting–especially when you find the throne room. Outside of and around the Citadel, Spyro dashes through sewers, jumps up snow banks, walks on drawbridges, and climbs on the Citadel itself to find all five dark gems and the other light gems and dragon eggs. And it’s just really well-done. Ice Citadel was probably the blueprint for the rest of the game’s levels, but none of them do it as well. Its sections are distinct and memorable compared to the rest of the outdoor-heavy levels. I think putting Spyro in traditional Middle Age fantasy levels like Spyro 1 started doing and Ice Citadel would do a lot to make Spyro stand out. In fact, just end the charade and make Spyro platform through Dark Souls levels.

With the wall kick in hand, Spyro can clean up Ice Citadel’s secrets right away. Near the end of the level is a re-entry to Frostbite Village that leads right back to the major teleporter you took to get here. It’s a great piece of world design that lets it wrap around. Now, with that wall-kick, you can get the other couple of dark gems hidden in the Icy Wilderness to break the wall down to Red’s lair. I truly think the entire game post-wall kick is super well done. There are no more movement barriers preventing Spyro getting anywhere, and the level design is just far better when all the moves are available. They shouldn’t have been locked from the start. Plus, as stated earlier, the actual levels in world 3 and 4 are just far better designed than the others.

The re-exploration of Icy Wilderness is nice, even though you’re not allowed to re-explore Hunter’s area as Spyro. You can still re-access it if you missed a light gem or egg in his area, but you can’t glide around. There’s not much to say about Icy Wilderness. It doesn’t have too many set pieces or a big central piece like Ice Citadel. It’s mostly a mix of tight, obstacle-filled corridors and open areas with goblin snipers and falling icicles. I think it’s quite pretty and a great take on the ice world concept, but it’s a little same-y. A Hero’s Tail does a great job providing bleak atmospheres after the first world. The three worlds in Coastal Remains are each broken down, and Icy Wilderness/Citadel is inhospitable AND broken down. The environment does a great job enforcing the narrative that Red is corrupting these once-beautiful places; I just wish some NPCs might be there too to comment.

Red’s fight is weird. You make your way through the cavern that was once protected by the dark gems (which still doesn’t make sense; how could dark gem energy be localized like that and if it can why isn’t it being used for better reasons than sealing in a major commander in Red’s army gah) to the freezing bottom where Red is waiting for Spyro in the middle of an ice-covered platform which is itself is a raised island in the center of a bunch of spikes. If Spyro slips too far, he’ll fall off and be impaled. Have you noticed a pattern with these bosses yet? The developers really struggle coming up with fights that don’t restrict your movement with the threat of violence. It’s a good thing their day jobs aren’t for interior design.

Red has a magic wand just like all the other friendlier dragon elders, and I do like that consistency. What I don’t like is how Red uses it to either fire an ice beam or conjures up TNT crates. Which Spyro can ignite and send his way to damage him. The boss makers really struggle with designing bosses that don’t hand you the keys to defeating them as well. It’s a good thing they aren’t behavioral therapists, either, because I have to imagine they’d design an automatic rehabilitation system for drug addicts that 25% of the time decides to just relapse the patient.

Also, Red could just use his magic wand to do pretty much anything besides those two things. Unless that’s all his magic can do. In which case, what kinda niche wand store did this moron get his wand at? In what world do you ever need a dual-purpose device that can both shoot ice and conjure up TNT crates? I guess it’s meant for a really bad birthday party clown. Enough riffing on this fight. It’s adequate, I guess. Harder to actually hit Red than the previous two bosses so getting the 9 hits to take him down may take longer, and the icy controls pile further difficulty on top. It’s the most interesting boss fight but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

As you might expect from Red’s attacks, beating him unlocks the ice breath, the best and most underused breath in the game. I love ice breaths in Spyro games. Frozen Altars in Year of the Dragon is one of my favorite levels. He can only breathe ice at the start of the confusingly titled Spyro 2: Season of Flame GBA game. And Spyro’s ice breath is key to his usefulness in my middle school fantasy shonen anime that starred King Dedede, Kirby, Bowser Jr., Spyro, and a Penguin named Freezeflame that had the power of ice and fire. I never wrote a script for it but believe me it was hype as heck.

The ice breath in A Hero’s Tail isn’t used for much. Breath of the Wild stole its main purpose of freezing water spouts coming out of walls that Spyro can then use to platform around. When an enemy is hit by it, they are frozen and Spyro can just charge to kill them, making it far more effective than electricity’s “shoot for five seconds to kill” and water’s inability to kill, yet still way weaker than fire breath’s “hit them once and they’re dead”. I also have never used Ice Breath’s ammo shot and cannot comment on it but I can’t imagine it being useful. Regardless, ice breath got done dirty because it showed up so late, and even its effectiveness against enemies in the final world doesn’t make up for it! The developers just should’ve allowed Spyro all four breaths at the start.

Spyro is onto the fourth and final world after defeating Red… wait, why do we need to continue this quest if we just blew Red up with a whole bunch of TNT? Well, Red just flies away after the fight. Spyro sends him off with a quip before making his way out thanks to the ice breath. And then Spyro takes a teleporter to Red’s base of operations in the Volcanic Isles. Just as you teleport in, a short cutscene of Red flying into the volcano plays. Which raises two questions: 1. how the heck did flying Red beat you when you literally teleported there? 2. how can Red still fly?

Regardless, the Volcanic Isles are the second-best part of the game. And it starts with the first level. Stormy Beach is basically Lost Fleet from Year of the Dragon. There’s a central wrecked ship on land, a cannon to shoot at crap, and some crazy NPC telling you to blow stuff up. Before I traded this game in, the furthest I ever got was up to this level before my save file was corrupted yet again due to turning the power off during autosave. That was definitely the last straw for me. I couldn’t break the final ten dark gems that corrupted my save files.

The Volcanic Isles are interesting because it’s four short levels and one long final level that wraps it up. The atmosphere of even the first level screams “final world”. It’s a dark, stormy beach that you yourself storm. My god… storming a dark beach to launch a frontal assault on the big bad guys? This level is D-Day! The “d” stands for “dragon”, in this realm.

I’ll be honest, I’ve only gotten through this part of the game twice, so I remember pretty little about the short levels. And that’s a good thing. They flow well into each other. There’s some weird magic carpet floating platform that bridges the gap between the ship and the small crack that leads further into the Volcanic Isles. Or maybe it doesn’t exist. I dunno guys my handle on this is as loose as Red’s grip on the Dragon Realms. What’s his plan retreating back to his home base, and what’s our plan following him there? Have we become that invading force which we hated so much? Pssh, of course not–we’re the good guys! Here to reclaim the uninhabitable Volcanic Isles. Okay, I guess Moneybags can stay after we’ve liberated it (I don’t know why anyone would want to live here).

At some point through a cavern or up a hill or however the heck you get there, you’ll pass from Stormy Beach into Molten Mount. I’ve noticed a trend with video game active volcano naming conventions. They are always named after the fact that they are active. Video game environment namers get away with their laziness because there is only one active volcano per game, but think about the ramifications if every real-life active volcano was named something like “Fire Mountain” or “Active Volcano” or “Molten Mount”. There’d be a lot of stupidly-named hikes.

Magma Mount is a relatively large area for this world and comes with three dark gems, a couple of shops, and an NPC Hyena who only just before you got there had her house burned down by rock monsters. I have 3 questions: 1. why is a Hyena living on top of flowing lava? 2. how did it take this long for her house to burn down? 3. how on earth did rock monsters burn it down before the, you know, open lava and heat and just seriously how did it last this long? What is Teena the Hyena hiding from us? And why is she literally the only friendly NPC here in the Isles? Are we saving the Isles specifically for her? Does she pay taxes to the Dragon Realms? Why is she here? Alright, that was more than 3 questions but this NPC raises so many of them.

Somewhere around Teena’s home, also on top of platforms floating on lava, is the last speedway for Sgt. Byrd. That’s right, your boy the flying penguin is here for one last time… in an extremely hot place. Look, most people don’t know that penguins live all over the southern hemisphere, and up to the equator (hello Galapagos Penguins in the audience). But they still would not find an active volcano hospitable. Get my Byrd out of there. But alas his speedway is mainly flying through lava rings, not away from the volcano and into safety. Though I guess he did have a section in Molten Crater in Year of the Dragon. Ooh, check that creative naming! Phew, hope that distracted the readers.

Back to Molten Mount, which would be a terrible horse mount, Spyro presses on fighting against “fire cowboys”. That’s what the best GameFAQs guide calls these flaming enemies, and who am I to judge? Move over Dallas, the best descriptor of cowboys is now “fire”. I haven’t talked a lot about enemy design in this game because Spyro’s combat has always felt tacked on. The very first game’s enemies were just jewels turned into monsters (and also put inside pots, see Dry Canyon), and these baddies don’t even have that excuse for being lame. To kill some of the flaming enemies, you have to use your water breath. Or you can use your ice breath. Or you can ignore them. Except for snipers, there is no minion threatening enough in A Hero’s Tail that you HAVE to engage. And the snipers in this last world are really annoying because their lasers have AoE damage for god knows what reason. It doesn’t count as a snipe if a bullet’s shockwave is what hits me and not the bullet itself!

Back to the level, it’s an enjoyable enough jaunt through the mountain. It’s very linear with only one or two side paths for gems, which are very, very worthless at this point. The light gems and dragon eggs are obvious, and each section has a dark gem to smash at the end. Eventually, you’ll get to Magma Falls. God, would it have killed these namers to be any less descriptive? Astute gamers will notice that they start on “Magma Falls – Top” when they first arrive. These same savvy gamers will be able to predict you wind up going to “Magma Falls – Bottom”, but what about “Magma Falls – Middle”?

You do indeed travel through the middle of the falls rather than, well, fall all the way down. But instead of taking some lame switchbacks like a hipster hiker, Spyro travels down via hamster ball. Yep, just like Hunter’s extended gameplay bit let him shine, this is the time for the hamster ball’s big moment. It’s basically a rollercoaster with a bunch of different paths, some of which have light gems. You can’t get everything the first ride down, which is a little annoying, but I think it’s fine to give this a little replay value since the hamster ball gets so little play. It also has some fun spectacle with Red’s minions attacking you in the ball, but this might give Spyro veterans flashbacks to “trouble with the trolley” so it’s your call if the PTSD was worth it.

The bottom of Magma Falls holds the eventual entrance to the Dark Mine. This is the place where Red’s been mining all the dark gems in case you couldn’t have figured that out from the clever name. I really don’t mean to harp on this naming so much, but this world has really bad names. What’s strange about this place is that, despite being able to see dark gems naturally forming all over, there are still two to destroy that will open up further passage when destroyed. 1. Why wouldn’t we just destroy every dark gem here? 2. Why aren’t the other “natural” dark gems corrupting the path all over the place rather in these two instances? 3. Why does Moneybags have shops in the dark mine? I can accept reasonable answers to two of these questions, but not all three. Your call.

The Dark Mine is kind of neat since it brings back the swimming in a poisonous maze gimmick from Lost Fleet, only I think it does it a little better here. It’s not as maze-y because the map helps a great deal in figuring out correct passage. I want to say the level opens up with a bunch of mining machinery in place, because the laser-wielding gnorcs do not seem like great miners. But, then again, the best gemcutters of Glimmer were mice, so maybe the gnorcs are good enough. Make your way through the level and you’ll eventually come to the representative of the best race for mining, Blink the Mole.

This Blink section takes 20 minutes to do and it suuuuuuuuucks. It also has very difficult platforming with moving platforms and that’s not the point of Blink’s character. But this is his last mission, so it’s just giving him a nice sendoff. The strange thing about Blink is that none of his sections are necessary to beat the game. Even rolling around in a hamster ball has plot relevance, yet Blink could have just not shown up and Spyro would’ve missed out on 4 light gems and 4 dragon eggs. I think there might’ve been cut content where Blink has to do part of the rescue Spyro mission that Hunter ended up doing. Still, it’s not like Blink was alone–Sgt. Byrd, bless his heart, never needs to be talked to, nor does any of Sparx’s shoot-em-ups need to be shot. Only Hunter is necessary, which is TERRIBLE. I don’t want to be indebted to a guy that places plot-relevant items in his flippers.

I learned during this Blink segment that my Gamecube controller’s joystick was broken, and it couldn’t “go forward” as far as it should. It made jumping on the moving lava platforms way harder than it should be. My original Wii lost its ability to read discs around this time, too. The fourth world of A Hero’s Tail has hurt me three separate times in three very distinct ways. I wouldn’t be shocked if I suffered a heart attack the next time I got to this segment. The dark gems’ corruption reaches further than even Red expected, clearly. Yet after making it through the Dark Mine, you come to Red’s Laboratory. He’s putting his electronics right next to the dark gems and they aren’t doing a goddanged thing to them!

The Laboratory is a real nice last level. There’s three (or four? can’t remember) distinct sections to it that all end with destroying a dark gem, and each one tasks your mastery of a different part of Spyro’s movement. One makes you glide, one makes you tail spin, and one makes you charge the wrong way down a conveyor belt. Once you’ve smashed the 40th and final dark gem, you break the barrier in the lab leading to Red. This is the only barrier that makes any sense. It’s also nice that you don’t have to travel back to the starting area of the world like the other worlds made you, but you can if you want because… Moneybags has a shop. In Red’s lab. Which he called “Mechanical Mishaps”. Moneybags was painted as explicitly good in this game, but his loyalties remain in question as ever.

There’s also a robot NPC in the central part of the lab that talks to Spyro. I just wanted to point him out because it was a very strange decision to even include a friendly NPC here. I’m really not sure the point. Or the point of this whole thought piece. Hey-o! Hey, if you’ve ever read anything by me, you had to know the self-deprecation had to come sooner or later.

By the time you get to Red, you’ve definitely gotten enough light gems to unlock all the locked areas in the previous worlds if you cared about that sort of thing. None of those hidden areas actually have anything interesting beyond more light gems and dragon eggs. Which is fine. I just kind of wish there were some interesting hidden in the places beyond the eggs. Like a set piece. Or another boss. Or some friends. That seems like a reasonable reward for the hard work to unlock them.

Getting through the dark gem barrier brings you to the innermost part of Red’s Lab. Where it is revealed that he somehow kidnapped the Professor to make him do further research to power Red up to beat Spyro. By the way, if you were to visit the Professor’s Lab after unlocking Red’s Lab all the way back in the Dragon Realm, he’d still be there. This is a HUGE plot hole–how could the Professor have been kidnapped in the time that it took to teleport back to Red??? I’m am ANGRY about this plot hole. Furious! Incensed! Worst part of the game!

Anyway, back to the whole final boss thing. The Professor does not look very coerced into doing Red’s bidding (he is VERY safe in his overlook over the arena). There isn’t a single Gnorc holding him to laserpoint. And yet, he manages to fumble around and “accidentally” push the button that blasts Red with a beam that powers him up into a cyborg dragon. Moneybags was questionable enough, but the Professor also being on Red’s side? Spyro really has no allies. The most devious part is that after defeating Red Spyro still accepts the Professor as a lovable goof. He doesn’t suspect a thing.

Red the cyborg dragon looks kinda cool and is the most interesting boss, but that’s not saying much. The Professor managed to screw up his transformation slightly by making him too big and therefore immobile. He just shoots eye beams and tail missiles at Spyro instead of trying to crush him. Red’s not making the most of his new arsenal. Which makes sense since you fight him 30 seconds after he becomes a cyborg. He barely knew how to use his wand before becoming a cyborg anyway, and he must’ve had that thing for years. I’m really not sure how Red got an army to back him since he has a large hat and no cattle when it comes to combat might. Charisma, I guess? Or maybe dark gems sell for a lot of “real gems”.

Just like all the other bosses in this game, you can only hurt Red when he gets tired. Here, though, the Professor actually helps out by pushing buttons to make rockets come out of the ground. His nefarious double-agent act continues to escalate. You have to ignite them with your flame breath and not your water breath because I cannot stress enough how useless the water breath is and then the rockets hit Red and do damage. What kind of wack robot armor can’t protect you from some fireworks? Cyborg Red kinda sucks.

After avoiding the next wave of attacks, you have to use your electricity breath and NOT YOUR WATER OR ICE BREATH to activate devices that’ll damage Red. Then you use your tailspin or head slam or headbash, that’s the one, to hit some targets on the ground to activate the last set of damaging devices. Zero fights required half of the breaths and that is lame. Like I said, the final boss is still the best fight in the game–but it really isn’t saying much. It’s slightly challenging in a fair way where it’s your fault if you get hit or can’t execute the damage sequence well. But it also feels like wasted potential. Why couldn’t Spyro have been hit by the beam too and we’d get a cyborg dragon on cyborg dragon fight? Or why couldn’t using the water breath short circuit Red’s armor??? Just make the water breath important next time.

The post-fight resolution is pretty quick. The Professor “figures out the machine” which he presumably helped build and shrinks Red even smaller than Spyro. The Professor then manages to get out of his overlook and into the arena. He then traps Red in a butterfly jar. Then the game ends. It’s up to you, the player, to imagine what happened next. I personally think the Professor somehow uses Red’s innate magical talent to take over the world, but I could see the entire Dragon Realms go through a sort of apocalyptic climate change due to the dark gems. Regardless, it’s a very rushed ending that was a little disappointing after finally beating the game after 10 years or however long it was since I got the game, sold it, and rebought it. But you don’t play A Hero’s Tail for the story. Hopefully. Now… the Spyro: A New Beginning games… those are games you have to play for the story.

But I’ve gone over 13,000 words before getting to the main point of this whole thing, which is to talk about how A Hero’s Tail could be the blueprint for a future Spyro game. The game waffles between four distinct gameplay styles that it needed to pick rather than not committing to any. In no particular order, Spyro: A Hero’s Tail is caught between being similar to Super Mario Odyssey, Metroidvanias, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and a traditional Spyro the Dragon game.

When I played Super Mario Odyssey, I found it to be the best collect-a-thon ever to be made. It has a huge variety of levels with a huge variety of ways to collect the same thing. Your only goal in that game (aside from saving Peach from Bowser, but you knew that) is collecting Power Moons. Every level is densely packed with these things. You can literally kick a rock and find a Power Moon underneath. What makes Super Mario Odyssey great is that the variety of ways to find each Moon comes at little cost to the originality behind each moon. Yes, it is a little tedious that there is a Moon in each world you collect by simply talking to an NPC or by spending 100 coins in each shop, but of the 880 unique Moons to collect, a good 500+ are genuinely fun to collect.

Spyro: A Hero’s Tail only has 100 light gems and 80 dragon eggs. That is not enough collectibles to make the levels dense and thick with things to collect. As such, there are too many open spaces and lulls in collecting that halts the flow of dopamine jolts from collecting a light gem. Yet there is simultaneously too many light gems and dragon eggs to collect to pass them off as mere baubles. The game somehow manages to over-value and under-value its collectibles. You only need 40 light gems to activate the Professor’s final invention which is the last plot-relevant lock, but you need 95 light gems to get into the final locked door in Frostbite Village. They should either have raised the importance of collecting the light gems for plot relevancy by increasing the final required total to, say, 75 or simply not have had them at all.

And the dragon eggs simply unlock extras. I’m perfectly fine with them being superfluous. But if they did want to go the Super Mario Odyssey route, they could’ve just made all of them light gems and had each set of ten light gems unlock bonuses. The way dragon eggs work in sets is arbitrary–yeah, you get half the Sgt. Byrd eggs in Sgt. Byrd games, but the other half just kinda… are found.

Finally, I said this earlier, but Spyro’s moveset isn’t diverse enough in A Hero’s Tail to make collecting as interesting as it is in Odyssey. There is so much freedom of movement in Odyssey compared to Spyro. Mario can horizontally and vertically travel on his own two feet and cap much quicker than Spyro, and he can simply do more things because of the hat capture gimmick. Beyond doing more with the elemental breaths which were underused, Spyro games that want to ape Super Mario Odyssey will have to add more mobility options. Which is very difficult conceptually for the dragon specifically. The double jump, tail spin, and wall jump were good additions to Spyro’s base moveset, but it’s so hard to find further innovations there. Which is why Spyro’s version of Super Mario Odyssey would have a tough time building levels that make collecting noticeably different across worlds. It’s a great option for a game since I believe Super Mario Odyssey is the best any collect-a-thon game gets, but maybe not for Spyro.

The next game A Hero’s Tail tries to emulate is the Metroidvania. Now, the implementation in A Hero’s Tail is pretty small. It just boils down to there being one or two doors locked in earlier levels that you can unlock with moves or breaths found later. But the roots of a solid enough Metroidvania are there. If the next Spyro game is built like Metroid Prime, there is enough of a foundation in A Hero’s Tail to base it off of. Make backtracking more important, increase the uses of the breaths to make them as used as the different beams in Metroid Prime, and put in more secrets like the hidden light gem in Crocovile Swamp. Now, there would have to be way fewer collectibles to make the exploration important, and the atmosphere of the game would have to be a lot lonelier if the next Spyro game went this route. Metroidvanias are about exploring a world, not about exploring a culture. I think this would be a fine option, and Spyro: Shadow Legacy kind of did this in a crossover game no one asked for.

Similar to Metroidvania, the next Spyro game could ape The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Instead of forcing backtracking like Metroidvanias, simply have Spyro unlock all of his breaths at the start of the game. Put him on his own Great Plateau (which is essentially the Dragon Village in this game) until he learns to glide, and you sincerely have the start of a really interesting open world game. As far as I know, there have been no open world games in which you play as a dragon. It would require way better world design than what is shown in A Hero’s Tail, but there is a start towards the idea. Worlds 3 and 4 are very interconnected and flow super well and the level transitions in world 2 try to give the sense of everything being connected, but loading screens and teleportation limits that feeling of connection greatly. Of course, some of that were restrictions due to old hardware limitations which can be easily fixed with current gen power.

I really think a Spyro game that puts as much time and effort into world design as Breath of the Wild could be really good. The one caveat is that Spyro’s moveset needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to make controlling him for 100 hours interesting. Spyro 1 could do it with the base moveset for 20 hours. By Spyro 2, the developers had to put in minigames, and the future Spyro games continued to increase the amount of time spent playing as not-normal-Spyro. This is the biggest problem a theoretical open world Spyro game has, because the Dragon Realms are an inherently interesting world to explore and the character already has a bunch of built-in “runes”. I truly believe that the next Spyro game could and perhaps should be open world.

Of course, the final game that A Hero’s Tail tries to be is a traditional Spyro game. The main characters are all the same, the plot is pretty much the same, and the gameplay loop of exploring to collect is the same. And the next Spyro game could very much be a traditional Spyro game, and A Hero’s Tail is a great example of what can be done when the core gameplay of Spyro is put into the next generation. The game takes some risks in level design by making the levels larger and devaluing gems, but there are a lot of smarts shown in just those two decisions alone. Replaying the Spyro games in the Reignited Trilogy showed how tiny the levels in the original Spyro games were, and I think Toys For Bob (the owners of the Spyro license as of writing) could learn a lot from how the levels in A Hero’s Tail tried to balance the increase in console power for larger levels with the traditional collect-it-all gameplay of old Spyro games.

I want to close these 14,000+ words by reiterating that Spyro: A Hero’s Tail isn’t a hidden gem, but probably equivalent in value to a blue gem from Year of the Dragon. It tried to resuscitate Spyro’s name after Enter the Dragonfly, and it never really got a chance. With Spyro getting a fourth chance (if you include his second chance as the star of A New Beginning’s awful trilogy and his third chance as the “star” of Skylanders) after the Reignited Trilogy’s success, Toys For Bob could learn much from how the team at Universal Vivendi innovated on Spyro’s formula in A Hero’s Tail should they make their own original sequel. Thanks for reading.

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