You don't need me to tell you that Donut County is cool. The Looney Toons gameplay of using a hole in the ground to swallow stuff is so much fun, and the dialogue is funny (and, when it needs to be, earnest) in a way LOL internet speak itself rarely gets. (There are also plenty of clever turns of phrase and good comic timing. I like the catalog of absurdist jokes about a raccoon trying to describe human objects he doesn't understand.) The cartoony pastel Animal Crossing U.S. Southwest aesthetic is distinctive, charming, and blissed-out all at once, and the chunky, cel-shaded visual style represents both funky dollhouse charm and the overexposed sunlight of the setting smashingly. The story and characters are sweet and goofy but rad, light as cotton candy in the best way - in the manner of good comedy, where it looks effortless but is actually tough as nails to pull off. The only drawbacks: a couple of the final items are finicky, and it goes on for a touch too long. Otherwise, this is a funny and welcome couple hours. Don't sleep on this like I did.
Super Mario Land won my heart over its 52 minutes by being weird. It's in some ways the most primitive Mario - it certainly has the stiffest turning and floatiest jumps outside emulated Special - but there's always something interesting to pique your attention. The superballs are cool, first of all. So are the parts where you throw them into twisty passages to collect a lot of points. Though I understand why they did it, it's weird getting hearts for 1-ups out of blocks. Koopa Troopas turning into bombs when you step on them is weird, though it does add a well-though-irritatingly-used "get outta there" time-pressure mechanic. A lot of the enemies are weird, and I admire the willingness to go Out There with Sarasaland's bestiary, even if it certainly is alarming at points (aggressively-strutting/power-walking Maui men). I knew about the shoot-'em-up stages, but Mario piloting Gradius "escape the exploding core" turny passages is weird. The use of public domain music like L'Orfeo and "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" and the Oriental riff is weird. Mario beaming down from a UFO at the start of World 2 is mega-weird. It's an unusually stressful game, for all the weirdness.
On top of that weirdness, though, it also has really friendly, lovely original music and some truly strong ideas: puzzle coin rooms; the real-world level inspirations (Egypt, the South Pacific, Easter Island volcanism, China); the superball mechanics, which deserve a larger game. The core gameplay isn't that different, but it *feels* new because of these choices. It all reminds me of how few risks they've taken with the Mario aesthetic over all these years. I wish they'd make a new game in Super Mario Land's vein.
Back in 1995 might be the worst game I've played in recent memory. An alleged recreation of the tank-controlled horror games of 32-bit yore, the date in the title squares its sights on the likes of Overblood and Doctor Hauzer, but with its not-health drinks and color-coded levels of health and "melee hardware, then pistol, then shotgun" weapon progression, it's clearly going for the first Silent Hill and Resident Evil, too. In order, though, to make its warning about the dangers of nostalgia - that thing you love was actually horrible; I am a serious artist - it exaggerates the limitations of these titles past any point of accuracy, parody, or playability. Your character spins in tank-control place and swings his weapon in a parody of slow motion. The camera is so inept, zooming in on floors and random points on the wall, that the mere act of ascertaining your surroundings is often impossible, and I was frequently motion-sick. The story doesn't even attempt to make a narrative. The textures are so ha-ha-remember-PS1 smeared that you'll think your display is losing its horizontal sync. The main enemies are potatoes with arms. No, literally.
It's also ugly as sin - perhaps the ugliest game I've ever played. (I felt for the artist when the below pixel portrait, with a plaque giving proper attribution, appeared out of nowhere - "look! Look! I'm just taking orders from art direction! I am competent! It's not me!!!") The dev thinks he's making a devastating critique of nostalgia glasses, but it just turns out that if you make a bad game, the resultant product will be unenjoyable. Thank you for this blindingly original insight.
(Also, thank you to lassco for the potato pic, who wisely captioned it with 本当になんだよ—"Seriously, what the hell?")