Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Megadrive/Genesis

Developed by Sega and released for the Megadrive/Genesis in 1990, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a masterpiece platform game that has stood the test of time extremely well.

The game itself is pretty simple: running, jumping, climbing, and swimming, with Mickey on a quest to save Minnie Mouse from the evil witch Mizrabel.

Mickey’s main weapon is his bounce, which he can perform while jumping and which helps him defeat enemies. He can also pick up items, such as apples and marbles, to use as projectiles to throw at enemies.

To defeat Mizrabel, Mickey must find the “Seven Gems of the Rainbow”, each of which can found behind a door, in a different realm, protected by one of Mizrabel’s henchmen. There are six different – graphically distinct – stages (The Enchanted Forest, Toyland, The Storm, Dessert Factory, The Library, and The Castle), with a boss battle at the end of each.

Castle of Illusion still looks and plays great to this day. If I had any complaint it would be that the Megadrive doesn’t have transparent pixels (like the SNES does), which means that the designers had to make do with using ‘stippling’ in the water sections (which is ugly and makes the game look dated). Otherwise: it’s marvellous (still).

A remake of Castle of Illusion was made by Sega Studios Australia in 2013 and is currently available on Steam.

More: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse on Wikipedia

Three Weeks in Paradise, ZX Spectrum

The fifth and final Wally Week game, Three Weeks in Paradise was published by Mikro-Gen in 1986, for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.

As the title suggests: this time there are three members of the Week family on this particular graphic adventure – specifically: Wally, Wilma and Herbert, trapped on a tropical island inhabited by cannibals.

Unfortunately Chris Hinsley – the guy who wrote this (and all the previous Wally Week games – except Herbert’s Dummy Run) – decided that only Wally would be playable. Wilma and Herbert remain only as motivation – you don’t get to play as them.

Three Weeks in Paradise plays similarly to Pyjamarama in that you can only carry two items at once, and that certain items do specific things (the bow and arrows let you fire an arrow, for example), which means having to think quite hard about what to carry and to where.

The tune that plays during the main game is quite jolly – a blatant rip-off of the theme from The Addams Family. And when the game slows down (which is quite often) the tune also slows down, which makes it sound unintentionally funny. Thankfully it can be switched on/off with a press of the ‘5’ key.

Something else that can be switched on or off is Wally’s infamous colour clash. The yellow attribute box that used to follow him around can now be switched off by pressing ‘3’. Funny that this feature would come at the end of the series. Oh well.

There were 48K and 128K versions of Three Weeks in Paradise made available. The 128K version had a small number of extra screens and an extra AY chip tune on the title screen. These grabs are from the 128K version.

The Wally Week series:
Automania (1984)
Pyjamarama (1984)
Everyone’s A Wally (1985)
Herbert’s Dummy Run (1985)
Three Weeks in Paradise (1986)

More: Three Weeks in Paradise on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 3, NES

Of the three Super Mario Bros. games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, this 1988 release must surely rate as the best.

Directed by Takashi Tezuka and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. 3 really takes the Mario series to a whole new level, with new techniques, gimmicks, and secrets, as well as the usual high standard of finesse and charm.

Super Mario Bros. 3 forgets that Super Mario Bros. 2 ever existed and instead goes back to what made Super Mario Bros. so enjoyable to play. And that is: challenging, left to right-scrolling levels, and precise control over Mario (or Luigi – the two-player mode came back). In this game Mario could (for the first time) slide down slopes; pick up and throw special blocks; freely climb vines, and also fly, float, swim faster, and throw hammers (!) using collectable power-ups.

Individual levels form part of eight themed ‘worlds’, and a map allows you to choose which level to take on next (another new feature at the time), and although the game is still relatively linear it does at least give you the occasional alternative route. Plus: you can now see secret areas opening up on the main map, which is quite exciting (and something that we later saw expanded in the phenomenal Super Nintendo sequel to this, Super Mario World).

Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduces bonus mini-games into the mix and these allow the player to win extra lives or power-ups which can be used later during a level.

Playing it now, there is no doubting that Super Mario Bros. 3 is an amazing game that has stood the test of time well. In some respects it plays a bit like a prototype of the peerless Super Mario World, which indeed it is – a prototype of that game, albeit one that sold almost 20 million physical copies worldwide!

More: Super Mario Bros. 3 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, NES

The North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was controversial because it was not the same Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in Japan – it was a re-skinned game; made into a Mario game, because the Nintendo bigwigs thought the original was too difficult for western gamers.

And the result is the game you see here. It looks like Mario from a distance, but when you drill down to it, there are quite a few differences. In this there is no two-player option. Players can instead choose to play each stage as one of four different characters – Mario (of course), Luigi, Toad (the mushroom), and Princess Peach. Each character can run and jump, and climb, and do all the usual Mario-style actions, but they also each have a unique ability. Mario can jump the farthest; Luigi – the highest; Peach can float, and Toad can pick up items quickly.

Also unlike the previous game: the player can explore both left and right – as well as vertically – rather than being forced to always move left to right. Enemies are no longer beaten by jumping on them. Instead: they can be ridden on by jumping on them. And if you do want/need to beat them up you have to throw objects at them instead.

Super Mario Bros. 2 contains twenty different levels in total, spread over seven themed worlds. Each world has different enemies, plus a boss battle at the end.

Although this version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has since gone on to be regarded as a bit of a retro-gaming classic, it is easy to see why it garnered some criticism at the time. It does deviate from many of the Mario conventions we’ve come to recognise, although it does retain the precise controls, cute graphics, and charm of the Mario series as a whole, so is well worth a play.

More: Super Mario Bros. 2 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros., NES

The successor to the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. was released in Japan and North America in 1985, although it wasn’t released in Europe until 1987.

It is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest video games of all time, and I wouldn’t want to dispute that assessment.

Super Mario Bros. was a gigantic leap ahead for Nintendo at the time, and it expanded massively on the ideas and themes of the original Mario Bros. (which was – let’s face it – quite a limited game overall). In this game Mario (or Luigi – if playing two-player) must make his way across a series of scrolling, platform-based levels; bouncing on the heads of enemies; collecting coins; picking up power-ups (such as mushrooms, which make you bigger; essentially giving you an extra life); and eventually sliding down a flag pole at the end of a level (the higher you slide down it, the more bonus points you are awarded). Occasionally you’ll get to fight a mini boss battle; or slide down a pipe into a secret area; or pick up a ‘Fire Flower’ (which allows you to shoot at enemies).

While none of that might sound very exciting by today’s standards, back in 1985 Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary. It revolutionised platform gaming with its precise controls and brilliantly-designed levels. It raised the bar in the entire video-gaming industry in 1985 – everyone who saw it and played it knew that it was something special. Something better than most leading arcade games could offer at the time… And it remains that to this day: a game marking the transition from the old style of archaic video games, and the new style of console games that were extremely high quality.

The original NES version of Super Mario Bros. sold over 40 million physical copies worldwide during its first run (29 million in North America alone), although many of these were ‘pack-in’ titles sold with a new console. Those sales still count, though, which made it THE best-selling video game of all time until it was usurped by (sigh) Wii Sports (and other games later on).

More: Super Mario Bros. on Wikipedia

Fallout 4, PC

The fourth Fallout was released by Bethesda in 2015, some seven years after Fallout 3, and five years after Fallout: New Vegas. In fact: I would call this the fifth Fallout game, because Fallout: New Vegas was more than just game number 3.5, in my humble opinion – it was the best game in the entire series. But anyway… What do I know?

What Fallout 4 retains from the previous games it benefits from (like lockpicking, hacking, and companions, which are essentially the same), and what Fallout 4 loses from the previous games it also benefits from too. Excepting for maybe the Perk Chart, which I found to be a big step backwards, usability-wise, in Fallout 4.

That ‘blip’ aside, I love the sparse and refined interface of Fallout 4; the story and conversations are simpler and more realistic; and ‘crafting’ has taken on a whole new meaning this time around. New additions to the gameplay, such as building and defending settlements, the use of power armour, and manufacturing helper robots, I think are all excellent. Although base-building in Fallout 4 is not perfect (trying to get fencing to connect up is a bitch), the fundamentals behind it work very well and add another dimension to the Fallout experience.

Of course, Fallout 4 is all about chasing quests, gaining and using experience points, playing politics with different factions, and hoarding every piece of tech and weaponry you can get your hands on. Exploring the crumbling, post-apocalyptic Boston, Massachusetts yields many surprising moments.

What I love most about Fallout 4 is the world itself. And the atmospherics. The effort Bethesda has made to create a believable, destroyed world is remarkable. The use of light/dark; coloured lighting; weather effects; music and sound effects all combine to make something really worth experiencing. On normal difficulty Fallout 4 is a challenging game – that I like too. At times the enemies in the game can be utterly ruthless and punishing (try meeting an Assaultron Demon and its friends when you’re lower levelled and see what you think of that experience…), and there are many unique monsters in the game that are way beyond your initial capabilities and who will mince you for dinner without warning if you make a mis-step. Which is all part of the Fallout RPG experience – fear, followed by eventual domination (when you go back to get your revenge later). And – there being no real level cap this time – you could in theory just keep on surviving indefinitely.

At times Fallout 4 can be frustrating. A game this big and complex is going to have some bugs, and I did experience a couple that broke my game (which I had to use to the console to fix), which nobody wants to do, but at least a fix was available, saving hours of gameplay that I’d otherwise have to re-do. I also think that the item management is still not quite as good as I’ve seen in other games. Organising items can be quite tiring in Fallout 4 and a few tweaks to the menu system might have made it a lot easier. But overall: I don’t want to complain about it too much, because I really enjoyed playing Fallout 4.

Where would I put Fallout 4 in my list of best Fallout games? Is it better than Fallout: New Vegas? Mmm. I would probably put it joint top with Fallout: New Vegas. In some respects, Fallout 4 is better, but in other respects: not. The story/characterisation and world-building in Fallout 4 are outstanding. There’s no doubting that.

More: Fallout 4 on Wikipedia
Steam: Fallout 4 on Steam