Games that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside.

So as of writing this I fell down a Pokemon rabbit hole and with Valentine’s Day on the horizon I thought: what games fill the hearts of the VGU staff with that of joy like the game I am going to mention so here we go.

Allan Muir – Site Admin/Co-EiC/Xbox Stalwart

Pokemon: Yellow (Gameboy Color)

Credit: Nintendo

Back in October of 1999, I was five years old and was already obsessed with Pokemon. The show had just started, and Yellow had just released. My memory is a little hazy from the specifics of the release as I was literally a child but I played the hell out of the game. I do remember getting it at the now defunct KayBee Toys store. Pour one out for KB Toys.

For the rare minority of those out there who have no idea what Pokemon Yellow is, it’s basically an updated improvement over the prior games Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. The biggest improvement was a more expanded color palette. In Red and Blue the main colors used were literally Red or Blue. Every new location you explored brought a color change. While it is nothing new these days, at the time in ’99 and 2000, it was a BIG deal. Just look at the main menu for the three games.

Credit: The-Arcade

When I mentioned the Pokemon television series it was a bit of foreshadowing as the game is heavily influenced by the show. As the games that came before were released prior to the shows debut. So the player character is Ash, Pikachu follows you, and Jesse and James appear throughout the game. Not only does the game take me back to my childhood, it brings back memories of times that for a long while I never thought I’d remember. That alone makes Pokemon Yellow a game that fills my heart with joy.

Josh Miller – Staff Writer

Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)

Credit: Game-Art-HQ

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can paint terribly out-of-date things better than they really were or get someone invested in something they haven’t really cared about in years. It also does what Super Mario World does to me: happy to hop in randomly each year and always with a smile on my face.

First off, even to this day, it’s my favorite (mainline) Mario game to date. Everything from how the colors pop, the enemies, the music, sound effects, and yes…even Yoshi; everything is as wonderful to me now as it did when I was a child. It is probably the game I’ve played more than any other in my life because of everything I just mentioned plus one more thing – it still holds up incredibly well even by today’s standards.

Credit: USGamer

Super Mario World was a game I chipped away at every morning before school at a neighbors house. We took turns playing Mario and Luigi, sharing lives, and discovering the secrets of the game such as the entrances to Star Road. Now I can share those same feelings with my kids, and what was just a smile on my face, can now be a smile on theirs.

Graydon Webb – Contrarian American

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Nintendo Wii/Xbox 360/PlayStation 4)

Growing up a massive fan of Spider-Man and any media surrounding the character, how was I to pass up a video game with the guy plastered on the front of the box? How Ultimate Alliance came into my life will forever be a mystery. I can’t recall exactly if it was a Christmas gift or a separate purchase shortly after receiving my Wii in 2006, but it quickly became a favorite of mine.

So much so, that Ultimate Alliance has been heralded ever since as my favorite game of all time. This wasn’t my first foray into top-down RPG’s, as I had been playing games like Champions of Norrath with my dad from an early age. But something about experiencing a game through the eyes of my favorite Marvel characters, using their own super powers, upgrading their attacks and their costumes, and fighting their respective arch-nemeses made for one of the coolest games I had ever gotten my hands on.

To this day, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is one of those games I find myself coming back to for more. In high school, I recorded a let’s play series with some friends on the Xbox 360 version, and before diving into the recently-released third installment this past year, I replayed the original game with the help of the PS4 remaster. The game is just so jam-packed full of content, and it’s truly a Marvel fan’s wet dream. Or perhaps one could say: their Valentine.

Raul Alfonso Contreras – The Rookie

Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island (Game Boy Advance)

Credit: Amazon

There are about a dozen games I could list off the top of my head as being my favorites of all time. Each one comes with a variety of reasons and justifications, from the quality of their stories and writing, to the worlds and characters they create, as well the gameplay and systems they created. But a lot of those games I’m also drawn to because of their heavier, emotional moments that, while incredible in their own right, don’t exactly bring joy. Games like Mass Effect and Ace Attorney aren’t exactly devoid of joy, but they’re also notable for the many times they touch upon some pretty heavy subjects. You’re not exactly smiling when you’re facing the end of the galaxy or confronting corruption and evil head on in the courtroom. You know what does have me smiling through and through? Yoshi’s fucking Island.

Credit: Nintendo Life

More specifically, Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island. This is the game I eventually fell in love with as a kid. It’s a port of Yoshi’s Island for the Game Boy Advance, part of the Super Mario Advance series of GBA ports, and despite some minor changes it’s the same exact game as the original SNES version. For those not familiar, Yoshi’s Island is about a group of Yoshis traveling with a baby version of Mario to save a baby version of Luigi after the two brothers were separated in a botched kidnapping attempt by the Koopalings. It’s a side-scroller where you play as one of the many multi-colored Yoshis transporting Mario on their back and protecting him from the various enemies they counter.

Credit: Nintendo Life

There’s a lot to like about Yoshi’s Island. It’s a side-scrolling platformer typical of the genre at the time, but it also manages to differentiate itself from the other entries in the Mario franchise. That franchise is no secret to colorful pallets and music, and Yoshi’s Island definitely has that in spades. What makes Yoshi’s Island different though is that it has a very distinct aesthetic. The music is very reminiscent of lullabies and jingles. The art and levels all look and feel like they’ve been drawn with crayons. Even the enemies all have a charmingly infantile quality that vibes wonderfully with the rest of the game. That’s where the joy comes in for me. It’s a game that feels especially innocent and care free in a franchise already famous for those qualities. It’s not an especially difficult game to play compared to some of the other entries in the Mario franchise, and it has some surprisingly fun and quirky mechanics. Watching Yoshi turn into a helicopter to fly through some obstacles or into a bulldozer to shovel some sand out of the way might sound weird on paper, even for a Mario game.

But in practice it’s just one of the many things that add to this game’s overall charm. There’s a comfort to this game that I rarely find even among some of Nintendo’s best, and it’s a comfort that has survived to this day. Some of the following entries in the Yoshi centered line of games have been hit or miss, but even the best of them don’t hold a candle to this first game. It’s a hidden gem among a sea of diamonds, and I dare anyone to watch the opening cinematic and not smile once.

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