Super Mario 3D Land

Tonight, I finished up Super Mario 3D Land, which I didn’t just enjoy, I lovedIt’s a great Mario game and just an all-around great game. It plays well, feels rewarding, and has an amazingly surprising difficulty spike near the end that was really challenging to get through.

You can tell almost all that from this screenshot of my game file:

Super Mario 3D Land 100%

As you can see, I spent some time on this one, and managed a five-star file (which is the equivalent of a 100% completion to the game). To get that, you have to clear every stage in the game with both Mario and Luigi, hit the top of the flagpole at the end at least once for every level, and complete a crazy final level called 8-Crown.

(The life counter there reads 1,084, by the way. The maximum number of lives you can have in the game is 1,110.)

It makes great use of 3D (especially some worlds that are shown top-down), has the powerups you expect, and does some novel things with the design of the game once you clear the first set of eight worlds. When you do that, there’s a second set of eight more worlds that open up, using the same basic designs but throwing in changes that make them much more challenging, like restricting the timer for a level or dropping in Cosmic Mario to chase you.

Later worlds will even combine the two, creating a tense experience that’s more like finding an optimal racing line than playing a recent Mario game. It hits that classic “pattern recognition” part of your brain that got you through the NES Mario games and drives people to speedrun things today.

It’s a nice challenge, but it did get a bit frustrating at times, as my wife will tell you when she had to put up with some more colorful language from me on some occasions. (Usually on those Cosmic Mario levels. They’re evil.) Like many good games, when you lose a life, you know it was your fault. The game doesn’t pull any punches in those last worlds and it takes some skill to clear them and grab all the Star Medals.

According to Activity Log, it took me 16:36 to clear the whole game, which was time well-spent. If you like platformers or have been disappointed in recent Mario games, I would urge you to give this one a shot. You can grab it from Amazon here.

Turning the Real into the Unreal: Paper Mario Sticker Star

Jon Irwin’s review of Paper Mario: Sticker Star for Kill Screen:

As games’ fidelity continues its march toward photorealism, it’s gratifying to see developers resist the temptation to simply mimic, or mock, when they could invent.

One of the key mechanics in Sticker Star could be seen as poking fun of this attempt at “realistic” graphics. Amongst the pop-up book villages and origami dungeons you may stumble upon something that looks out of place—an everyday object, rendered not as a paper facsimile but a three-dimensional version of itself. So you find such compelling items as a roll of tape, or a space heater, or a faucet handle. Really dig and you may discover even more elusive treasures: a dented aluminum can, say, or a pile of shaved ice. These objects are necessary to moving through the game—many puzzles can’t be solved, or bosses can’t be defeated, without a specific item. But they are usable only if turned into a sticker. As real-world objects, they are labeled mere “things” and take up space. Once transmogrified into this abstract, flattened version of itself, the object can become something more than it once was: the Faucet Handle turns and fills a dried-up oasis; the Tape covers a vent of poison gas.

This sounds glorious, and the best reason yet for me to pick up a 3DS. I love it when Nintendo and its development teams do things that are even the tiniest bit subversive.

Speaking of Sweet Wallpapers

Illustrator Scott Balmer created this really awesome geometric-style design with the items from the Super Mario series of games:

It’s available in multiple sizes, as well as various resolutions for iOS devices, and even a set of icons for your desktop OS of choice.

If you like this one, he’s also created a set of the same for the Zelda series.

Video Game Things Your Kids Don’t Understand

This morning, for their allotted video game time, my two oldest children (9 and 8) decided to play the NES Super Mario Bros. (they have been enjoying New Super Mario Bros. on both the Wii and the DS recently). I wanted to be part of this, as I figured they might have some trouble with it—if you haven’t played it in a long time, as with many older games, it’s actually quite difficult.

What I was not ready for were the barrage of questions about very basic things, most of them related to changes in how games are designed and play between my childhood and theirs. I’m still watching them and other than an adventurous warp zone expedition to World 4-1 by my son (who had seen me do that the other day) only one of them has managed to make it past World 1-2 in the last 30 minutes.

So here’s the list of things your children won’t understand if you try to get them to play Super Mario Bros.:

  • Neither of them knew of two-player alternating as a concept. They certainly were unfamiliar with the alternation taking place when one player died rather than when one player cleared a level.
  • The idea that a game would not permit you to continue and would force you to start over if you lost all your lives was alien to them.
  • So was the idea that you couldn’t save your game and had to play through in one sitting.
  • They had never played a game where once you scrolled to the right you couldn’t go back to the left.
  • The stinginess of this game in handing out extra lives is shocking to them. Games from about Super Mario World on (maybe Mario 3) started handing out extra lives like candy.
  • Things Mario and Luigi can’t do compared to their experiences:
    • butt stomp
    • wall jump
    • slide (no slopes until Mario 3)
    • go from Fire to Super instead of small when getting hit
    • spin jump
    • pick up shells instead of kick them right away
  • They started whining and complaining in the way I am certain my brother did when I was a kid when I would just keep playing and playing and playing and he wouldn’t get to be Luigi for a pretty long time.

If you’ve done this with your kids or can think of any other likely things they don’t understand, post a comment and let me know. I doubt these two know anything of what a password is to continue a game, either.

On the other hand, there are some things that are still pretty masterful about this game and that play well. The jump “feel” is still awesome and they picked it up without too much trouble—I’m still watching them get a grasp on the acceleration and air control. They both knew about holding B to run and had a good understanding of the basic rules and physics of the game, and in that way I don’t think Mario has changed all that much (which is part of its appeal for me). They both knew 100 coins earns you another life.

What was most interesting to me was that other than the complaining about how they weren’t any good at it or that the other child was getting to play more—and both of them did this at different times—is that they had fun. As limited as the technology was at the time and as rough as the game looks compared to contemporary games, they still found aspects of it interesting and fun to discover. Joshua just warped to World 2 instead of World 4 just so he could see what it was like and how it’s different.

They’re even commenting on influences they see that went more or less directly into New Super Mario Bros. It’s interesting to think that in a small way the Mario series, with games separated by two decades, has provided us a shared language for games.

“There’s a Storm Coming.”

This is one of my favorite moments in all of video games as well. The sound of the SNES-noise-generated rain along with the thunder in the distance and the feeling of foreboding set an amazing tone.

From Magical Game Time.

“King Of Kings”

This is one in a series of images from Okami recently posted at Dead End Thrills.

Seeing games like Okami or Xenoblade Chronicles running in high-definition via Dolphin only reinforces to me that the Wii had some amazing art direction in its games lineup that was hampered by the low resolution of the system’s output.

Not upscaling when using backwards-compatibility on the upcoming Wii U further compounds the error. These games would look great with a little upscaling and full-scene effects love, but we’re not going to get to see it.

3DS, Vita, and Value Propositions

SlashGear in proclaiming the death of the 3DS:

Unlike its predecessors, the 3DS is facing a slew of issues. For one, the 3D effect falls short for many folks, and after a while, it becomes more like a gimmick than an integral part of the gaming experience. What’s more, the 3DS’ lack of compelling games (which Nintendo says, will be addressed by the end of this year, thanks to Super Mario 3D Land), is holding it back.

But I think it goes beyond that. The 3DS is failing right now, more than any other reason, because of smartphones and tablets offering compelling gaming experiences. And when the iPhone 5 launches in the next several weeks, you can expect it to officially kill off the 3DS.

This isn’t the only thing I’ve read discussing the quandary that Nintendo finds itself in. Example: Tycho in yesterday’s Penny Arcade post, discussing the battery life of the upcoming PlayStation Vita:

This isn’t just true of the Vita, of course, this battery stuff; if anyone actually played their 3DS for any length of time, I suspect they’d come away similarly despondent, pressing buttons which don’t do anything and looking at a screen which is connected to nothing.

This is that “portability” thing when we talk about a “portable” gaming system.  Portability means more than the ability to carry something or stow it on your person.  Obviously, the word doesn’t mean that – it’s not bound up in the roots.  But the implication is that something may be carried and still retain its function.  Right?  Right.  This isn’t really a philosophical distinction, it’s not hair-splitting for dialectic giggles.  A portable without robust power storage is not.

Handheld gaming is facing tough challenges on multiple fronts at the moment. I’m increasingly finding myself choosing to play portable games on my iPhone or iPad. I’ll go so far as to know I’m going out somewhere where I will have time, look at my DS, pick it up, and then put it back down as I decide it’s not worth the time.

The PSP was arguably always a failure; it failed to capture a solid market and was a product that never seemed to find decent footing. But the DS was one of the most successful game consoles in history, with a ridiculous sell-through and a strong appeal to the casual market as well as great long-form experiences (it’s a great platform to find quality JRPG experiences and 2d platformers). Nintendo sold through no less than four revisions of basically the same hardware—which I believe is also contributing to the market resistance to the 3DS.

Satoru Iwata believes the 3DS has a future, at least officially in response to calls for Nintendo to embrace smartphone development:

“This is absolutely not under consideration,” he said. “If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Having a hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It’s the duty of management to make use of those strengths.

“It’s probably the correct decision in the sense that the moment we started to release games on smartphones we’d make profits. However, I believe my responsibility is not to short-term profits, but to Nintendo’s mid- and long-term competitive strength.”

Keep in mind that this is after the Nintendo showcase at TGS, traditionally their marquee event, caused a market reaction that sent Nintendo’s stock tumbling 5%.

For me, it boils down to the following: for $40, I can have this copy of a remake (a remake!) of perhaps the best game of all time:

For about 60 bucks (not counting buying things on sale), I can have this:

And I don’t have to go to a GameStop or similarly annoying store to buy them; I just load up the App Store, make the purchase, and download it. Some of the games on this list have provided me with longer experiences than many DS games, and certainly a better value proposition in the long-term.

This doesn’t even approach the added value of the iPad being my salvation from airplane movie selections (look; an entire TV season in my backpack!), or the fact that I do a majority of my web reading on this device (I found the articles linked in this post using various apps on my iPad). Or the fact that the same experiences are available on the phone I already have with me anyway, or that both devices have at least double the battery life (in the case of iPad, more like triple or better).

There’s a value train that left the station a while back, and Nintendo is not on board. I love Nintendo and the minds they have there designing interactive experiences. Their games were a special part of my childhood. I don’t want them to fail, and I don’t want to miss out on what they are doing (which will likely lead to my purchasing whatever the rev 2 hardware is for 3DS).

Sony finds themselves in a similar situation; an over-designed piece of hardware that will likely have compelling games but a like pricing structure and comparable challenges ahead. The Vita is sure to be impressive and looks good on paper.

But unfortunately for both those companies my money is better spent on iOS.

Nintendo Gives Up

Nathan Brown for Edge, on Nintendo’s recent statements that they won’t allow a race to the bottom for 3DS downloadables:

Nintendo’s Hideki Konno has renewed the firm’s attack on low-cost software, saying that neither hardware manufacturers nor software developers want to see 3DS games sold at smartphone prices.

“We don’t want content to be devalued,” Konno told Gamasutra ahead of 3DS’s launch this weekend. “Let’s say there’s a ton of other software out there that’s free, which forces you then to take your content which you want to sell for 10 dollars and you have to lower it down to one dollar to be competitive. It’s not a business model that’s going to make developers happy.”

I love and admire Nintendo, and they are the caretakers of a vast amount of IP and a number of franchises that I have enjoyed since my childhood.

But in my opinion, the Nintendo DS was the pinnacle of handheld development and existed in a pre-iPhone/iPod touch era. They are pricing and hardware-designing (look at the 3DS battery life!) themselves right out of competition. I’m sad that it’s going away and I unfortunately don’t believe the 3DS is going to be as successful.