Mario, Minecraft, and More! | SLJ’s Video Game Reviews

This month’s video game roundup features sequels, new installments in enduring ­series, and games set in familiar realms that can help players build skills they can apply to navigating the real world.

This month’s video game roundup features sequels, new installments in enduring ­series, and games set in familiar worlds. Even though these take place in fantasy environments, they can still help players build skills that can be applied to navigating the real world. This assortment is even more fun when players work together, think about strategy, and use critical thinking skills.

Detective Pikachu Returns.Oct. 2023. Nintendo/The Pokémon Company. Nintendo Switch. Price $49.99
Rated E–Detective Pikachu recently starred in a hit 2019 movie, but he debuted on the Nintendo 3DS in 2016, although players do not need to have played or seen either title to enjoy this new outing. A recap of the 3DS game is provided, and a character in the new game wisecracks that movies always change the truth. But the concept remains the same: you are Tim Goodman, a young man looking for your lost father. Your only hope is your father’s detective partner Pikachu. Only Tim can understand Pikachu, but Pikachu understands other Pokémon. To solve a variety of mysteries, like a jewel theft, Tim must talk to the human witnesses while Pikachu translates what the Pokémon say. Voice ­acting is limited, so basic reading comprehension is required. Puzzles are simple and can often be solved through guessing. Occasional quick-time events require the player to press a button at a specific time or mash a button as fast as possible. These are forgiving and allow players to immediately retry if they fail. Pikachu splits up from Tim frequently in this installment and is often paired with other Pokémon that can see through walls, sniff out clues, or punch boulders. Supporting characters feature a variety of ages and skin tones. Rated E for mild fantasy violence, the game features occasional Pokémon combat—electric shocks, tackles, and the like; however, combat is not the focus of this story-driven narrative. The game does touch upon some mature themes, like parental divorce and bullying, and the abruptness of their introduction is jarring in what is otherwise a gentle fantasy game. VERDICT The equivalent of a cozy mystery for kids. Add it to your collection.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Oct. 2023. Nintendo. Nintendo Switch. Price $59.99.
Rated E–Mario is back for his first game since the smash success of his hit 2023 movie. This is his first new side-scrolling adventure since 2012’s New Super Mario Bros. U. Mario and pals must journey to the Flower Kingdom to rescue it from Mario’s eternal nemesis, Bowser. Ever since Super Mario World debuted on the Super Nintendo in 1990, side-scrolling Mario games have stuck to a basic formula: move from left to right, hop on enemies, grab some power-ups, find a few secrets, and repeat for a decade or two. Super Mario Bros. Wonder manages to adhere to this formula and blow it away through the addition of the Wonder Flower. For players who thought Mario’s mushrooms weren’t psychedelic enough, the Wonder Flower’s trippy effects will make heads spin when enemies start singing, the screen starts tilting, fireworks blast players into the sky, and more. The Wonder Flower never fails to surprise, serving up an unpredictable twist in every level. Playable characters include mainstays like Mario, Luigi, the Toads, Princess Peach, and Daisy, who all control identically. They can also utilize a variety of new power-ups, including the already iconic Elephant Fruit that transforms the player into a playful pachyderm. Individual levels are labeled with a difficulty rating, and players do not have to complete every level to enjoy the adventure. For those who want a more leisurely adventure, a variety of Yoshis and the rabbit bandit Nabbit provide an easy mode by not taking damage. Players can go solo or play with up to three in-person friends. But even solo players can also feel like part of a community with online features that allow them to see other players who are adventuring at the same time. They can cheer each other on with pre-set emojis and share items. Additionally, during every level, talking flowers sprout up to offer commentary, hints, and to keep Mario company. Their voice and text can be customized for a variety of languages, like English, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese. Players can even set the text to a different language than the audio. Mario is rated E for mild fantasy violence and features typical Mario hop ‘n’ bop action when combating enemies. The main story features no voice acting, so basic reading skills are required to enjoy it. VERDICT The perfect Mario game for veterans and newcomers alike.

Minecraft Legends. Apr. 2023. Xbox Game Studios/Mojang. Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S. Price $39.99.
Rated E+–Minecraft Legends puts a different spin on the Minecraft formula by putting players in charge of a blocky army to defend the world against evil piglins. The player is guided by three mythical figures named Action, Foresight, and Knowledge who aid in rising up and inspiring villagers to combat the invading swine. To do so, gamers must engage in typical Minecraft tasks—gathering, crafting, building—but with a twist; they have to help. Instead of mining and building block-by-block, players command little faerielike creatures called Allays to do it for them. The game’s goal isn’t construction but strategy. The player must figure out how to best their time, limited resources, and combat units against an ever-encroaching army. As a result, the gameplay feels similar to a more complex version of Pikmin (also reviewed in this issue), with each ally type being effective against different enemy units. However, Minecraft Legends allows for more nuanced strategy. There are more types of combat units to command, and each structure and upgrade requires specific amounts of resources, which must also be gathered and managed. With an online component, players can team up or engage in player v. player (PvP) combat. The companion book Minecraft Legends: A Hero’s Guide to Saving the Overworld is worth considering, as it serves as a hint guide and a manual for play, helping newcomers parse the more complex elements of strategy. Difficulty is highly customizable in-game, which allows those struggling to power through less resistance. A limited number of custom skins are available, such as a skeleton costume, a green sage’s robe, or a pink suit of armor. Rated E10+ for fantasy violence, the graphics are as far from realistic as a game can get. However, almost all in-game action is violent in nature, focused on building an army to eradicate a foreign, invading race. VERDICT As opposed to classic Minecraft, which has an infinite amount of content, Minecraft Legends takes about eight and a half hours to finish the main campaign, according to Patrons may be interested in trying it out as opposed to purchasing their own copy, making this a worthy addition to any console collection in which Minecraft is popular.

Pikmin 4. July. 2023. Nintendo. Nintendo Switch. Price $59.99.
Rated E10+–The first Pikmin debuted on the Nintendo GameCube in 2001 and focused on Captain Olimar, a tiny little space cadet who crashed on an Earthlike planet and searched the dangerous landscape for the scattered pieces of his spaceship. Pikmin 4 is the latest entry in the sporadic series, and the strongest one yet. In this installment, Olimar has gone missing and needs saving! Like Olimar, players are assisted by the Pikmin—little plantlike creatures plucked from the ground who dutifully follow the controlled character. This time, an adorable doglike creature named Oatchi also tags along and aids in commanding the little vegetable troops to gather materials, find treasure, and combat enemies. Strategy is key. So key, in fact, that the game gives it a name: Dandori. Think KonMari, but instead of organizing living spaces, gamers are organizing their life. Some challenges require gathering all the treasures in an area as efficiently as possible. These challenges reward strong prioritization skills. Night-time missions are a Pikmin first: Assisted by Glow Pikmin, perhaps the ghosts of perished Pikmin, players must engage in a tower defense game, protecting their home base from encroaching hordes of enemies. Increasingly tricky challenges are unlocked after the main campaign, making this a game to return to again and again. Pikmin 4 can be played alone, with a friend, or in competitive Dandori challenges. There is no voice acting, so basic reading skills are required to play. Unlockable diary text frequently features the characters longing for their family, praising themselves and others for their small victories, and persevering through adversity. The goofy alien scientists give treasures humorous names, like a wedding ring called an “Unbreakable Promise” and a framed picture of a dog called a “Buddy Display.” Another Pikmin first: players get to design their own characters. A multitude of skin tones, body types, and hair colors are available, bringing lots of diversity to the series. According to the Pikmin fandom page, there are almost 70,000 different possible combinations. Characters are not gendered. Non-playable characters in positions of power, like the captain and the pilot, are dark-skinned. Although the game is rated E10+ for fantasy violence, the cruelty of the natural world can be scary. Most enemies resemble some sort of natural creature, like a bug or bird, and all are hungry for Pikmin. It is always devastating to lose a Pikmin. They perish with a little screech and leave only a ghostlike cloud of dust hovering in the air, and other characters will express remorse over the loss of Pikmin. Unlike real life, however, should their losses be too much to bear, the player can rewind time and try again. VERDICT A must-have. If this title is popular, try also adding the first three to your collection, all of which are available on the Nintendo Switch.

Hogwarts Legacy. Feb. 2023. Warner Bros./Portkey. Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Windows 10, Windows 11, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S. Price $69.99.
Rated T–Hogwarts Legacy is a new story, but one that closely resembles Harry Potter’s own: Swept from the Muggle world into a wizarding realm beyond belief, the main character learns magic, gets sorted into a house, makes new friends, chooses a wand, explores the sprawling grounds of Hogwarts, and more. What differs is that now the player is the star of the story—and might even be a “chosen one.” Gameplay mirrors that of other exploration-based games, such as the Assassin’s Creed series. With the aid of a map bejeweled with dozens of flashing icons, players find and complete various quests, solve riddles, help classmates, and progress through a story about dark magic forces simmering under the surface. The game offers myriad options to customize character stats and combat styles through the acquisition of experience points and detailed skill trees. Furthermore, the game features a plethora of accessibility options. For those needing visual assistance, there is a colorblind mode as well as the ability to change text size and increase contrast. Scared of spiders? Turn on arachnophobia mode to replace the creepy critters with cartoonish equivalents. The character creator mode is robust, allowing custom avatar creation from dozens of face shapes, skin tones, scars, and—of course—glasses. Players choose “witch” or “wizard” as their identifier and may assign them any vocal tone and pitch. However, there is only one slim body type. Dialogue is voice-acted, and the performances are strong. A piece of Harry Potter content released in 2023 must contend with the legacy of its creator. As such, the Hogwarts Legacy website states, “J.K. Rowling was not involved in the creation of the game, but as creator of the wizarding world and one of the world’s greatest storytellers, her extraordinary body of writing is the foundation of all projects in the Wizarding World. This is not a new story from J.K. Rowling, however we have collaborated closely with her team on all aspects of the game to ensure it remains in line with the magical experiences fans expect.” Like the source material, some supporting characters border on ethnic stereotypes. Rated T for fantasy violence, mild language, and blood, the game is surprisingly violent from the start. Players begin Hogwarts as a fifth-year, bringing the tone of the game closer to the somber one found in The Order of the Phoenix. Whereas Harry didn’t see Thestrals for his first four years at Hogwarts, the main character gains the ability to see them in one of the opening scenes. VERDICT Potter-heads unconcerned with or unaware of Rowling’s viewpoints will relish this immersive journey to Hogwarts. Also consider adding the companion book The Art and Making of Hogwarts Legacy: Exploring the Unwritten Wizarding World to enrich the experience.

Chance Lee Joyner, Tyngsborough P.L., MA

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