Series I Love – Super Mario Bros

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One cold, snowy day in 1992, my father decided to let me and my sister try out his NES. My mother had gotten the console as a first Christmas gift for my father and he liked to hide it away so we kids wouldn’t break it. Little did I realize, but his choice to let us touch that console would change my future.

I remember him going behind the television and fiddling with the coaxial cable. We had the RF/switch for our NES, so connecting it was as easy as pulling teeth (almost literally). After that, he switched the television to channel 4, dialed the nob and we were set.

Well, not just yet. The console didn’t display properly, so he had to remove the cartridge and blow into it. I never thought to question why at such a young age. I just took all of these steps as gospel. After “cleaning” the cartridge, my father put it back into the NES and we were golden.

He gave me the controller and tried to explain how Super Mario Bros. worked. I was 4 years old at the time, so needless to say, his words went completely over me. I saw the bright colors and a funny looking guy and proceeded to press some buttons. He walked to the right and the screen moved, so I just assumed that was it.

I walked into the first thing I saw. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but I clearly had no perception of what an enemy was. My father then took the controller away from me, assuming I was an idiot (not in reality, I just got sad). I cried a bit, but I didn’t give up. I was entranced with this game.

24 years later, I’m still fond of Super Mario Bros. The fat, little, Italian plumber and I have basically grown up together. I’ve played all of the main Mario titles and a majority of the spin-offs. Seeing his face and hearing his voice is like comfort food to me.

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Some of the happiest memories I have are from Super Mario Bros. 3.My sister and I would trade turns for hours on end. The game seemed so incredibly massive and creative. Each world had something different about its design and the ability to store power-ups made challenging areas less painful.

Not only was the design more refined than previous entries, but having Luigi tag along and help progress just felt right. The original game basically mimicked an arcade machine by having each player make individual progress. Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first time cooperation was put into a game.

A few years after first picking up a controller, the Nintendo 64 was unleashed on the world. Being 8 years old at the time, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that we were moving into the third dimension so fast.

Nintendo was always the king of promo videos (their adds for Donkey Kong Country and StarFox 64 are ingrained in my mind), so I remember watching the Toys’R’Us video for Super Mario 64 about 100 times. I hung on every word the developers were mentioning. Mario was becoming more like a stuntman and a fighter. His moveset was expanding.

Not only his repertoire of attacks, but the world he was traversing was growing. Levels were becoming more vertically inclined. Mario could wall jump, ground pound and long jump; he felt like the crazy kid that I was. I was always loaded with energy, so I used to pretend I was Mario and jump around my backyard.

The wait for Christmas in 1996 was excruciating. Since I already figured out Santa wasn’t real, I knew my mother had the console in her bedroom. She hid that thing better than a drug lord dumps a corpse. I never even caught a glimpse of the box, despite her concealing it for 3 months.

When I did eventually get my hands on Super Mario 64, I felt like my life had changed. I was mesmerized by what I was playing. I couldn’t get my head around how such a game was made, let alone conceived. It felt like my world and video games were becoming one.

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The last time I felt such a way about Mario was with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I wasn’t too big on Sunshine, but I played it and New Super Mario Bros. I had begun to gravitate more towards the spin-off games like Paper Mario and Mario Tennis, yet I had a feeling that Nintendo was slowly running out of ideas.

Super Mario Galaxy came out during my sophomore year of college. I went to school in Florida, away from my home in Connecticut and my Nintendo Wii, so I felt the sting of disappointment. I had to wait months to even try out the game, so I felt a bit empty. It didn’t help that my friends at school were jerks; I couldn’t seek comfort in the guy who had been with me my whole life.

There was a glimmer of hope, though! An online friend of mine who lived in Florida had just bought the game. He was willing to pick me up and have me stay the weekend. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my best friends, but I would finally get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy.

The opening cutscene that set up the story of Rosalina and the Lumas brought me to tears. It felt like Nintendo realized how cherished and special their mascot was. It was like they recognized the power this juggernaut of gaming had over the imagination.

The game was also thoroughly in love with Super Mario Bros. 3, something I attribute to Galaxy being the third 3D Mario game. I was sold; this felt like what I had been missing all those years. Platformers never really died down, but no one had made as creative and joyful a game as Nintendo did with Super Mario 64.

Galaxy pushed the limits of what could be done with 3D level design. It even utilized the Wii Remote in a method that didn’t feel so gimmicky. It had some challenge, an unlockable character (in the form of rising star, Luigi) and a truly incredible soundtrack.

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Since that day, Mario has been in some mediocre games and a few truly amazing ones. Nintendo just loves banking on nostalgia, a design philosophy that may potentially hold them back. When Nintendo EAD Tokyo is given the reigns, Mario is unlike anything else. The other teams kind of phone it in.

If the Mario series truly were to end, I wouldn’t mind capping it off with Super Mario Maker. Having the tools to create a brand new Mario adventure in my hands is something my younger self would have killed for. To have the kind of vibrancy and joy that my 8 year old self had would be overwhelming.

I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years, but Mario has always been there to bring the happiness back. He still has a zest for jumping and bouncing, even if his “love”, Princess Peach, is an airhead. How many times can one person really be captured?

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t going to let their mascot bow out. I won’t turn away from him, either. Until I can no longer physically hold a controller, Mario will always be a part of my life. To remove him would be like asking me to kill my childhood.

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Here’s to another 30 years!

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Games As a Service

Man, Street Fighter V is certainly great. It’s got ranked matches and player matches and…replays and…some short story bits and…um…not a whole lot else. I mean, comparatively speaking, this isn’t much different than Super Street Fighter II on SNES, but that also released in 1994.

A lot of developers like to look at their games as “services”. When DLC is factored into the development cycle, one is constantly thinking about what is coming next. Does the base game end at going gold, or do you continue to release things steadily throughout the year?

Most of us gamers grew up in an era where ceasing development was the end point of any changes to the game. There are always going to be last minute changes, but for the most part, calling a project finished meant just that.

More recently, however, games have continued to grow and expand. Killer Instinct launched on Xbox One as a free-to-play game with multiple seasons. Hell, that game is prepping for a third season and PC release; it is far from being finished.

Not finished? The hell, you say?

For that matter, Sony has molded Driveclub into a pretty respectable racing sim. That game launched with a laundry list of issues, but those barely remain. The constant stream of extra campaigns and new courses has also kept the game from becoming stale.

If you look at the history of Street Fighter, you almost see the same thing. Capcom had listened to fan feedback and kept tweaking the foundation that Street Fighter II was built on. When the game’s initial run was complete, we ended up having six official versions of it; if you want to count the HD Remix, that makes seven.

For that matter, both Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter III saw three different versions (and Alpha had some console ports with different things). Capcom has never been one to release a fighter and call it a day. Their previous efforts without the internet lead them to creating multiple SKUs.

Street Fighter V is just the natural progression of their developmental mindset. They are no longer shackled to brick and mortar releases or physical distribution. The internet has changed the way which they can tweak their titles.

That doesn’t excuse the lack of features in the current version. For $60, it is insane to expect people to be okay with waiting for content that is available in other games. A story mode is coming, but what is included just seems insultingly bare.

And this is insultingly not bare (in the final game).

For that matter, why are most of the online features not present? You would think with all of the work done onStreet Fighter IV that Capcom would have some grasp of what their community wants. Basic multiplayer lobbies and better replay features should be present.

This is all putting aside the fact that Capcom rushed the game out for tournament players. The deadlines for making EVO qualification were at the end of February, so Capcom needed this released to allow hardcore players to get in the competition.

That doesn’t do much for the more casual gamer. I’m of the mind that a company as big as Capcom could have spent more resources to finish all of the features for launch. There is no compelling reason that anything should be absent, apart from planned DLC.

If EVO were such a big concern, why not release a cheaper, digital only release with an upgrade option? We do live in the age of the internet, which is something Capcom is clearly banking on. My main concern becomes when any kind of server support for Street Fighter V is ceased; people will have a game on disc that is basically nothing.

Then again, we are in the year 2016 and there are still Street Fighter II tournaments being held. Capcom has created a legacy with this series that will not burn out. Even if the genre of games saw a hiatus between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV, the rise of social media and blogging has given niches a voice.

I know, Ryu; it is really stupid.

Those voices wanted a return to the glory days of 16-bit fighters. Since 2009, I can’t even recall the amount of fighting games that have appeared. BlazBlue, Mortal Kombat, Persona 4: Arena, Guilty Gear Xrd; I could be here for a while mentioning them all. There was always an audience for this genre, but developers just assumed no one wanted to play them.

As it stands, though, Street Fighter V is a bit disappointing. The game may be solid and have legs, but the amount of content present is unjustifiable. Anyone whom drops $60 on that and is happy is either blinded with nostalgia or just plain easy-going.

Hopefully Capcom doesn’t go back on their word. They stated that Street Fighter IV would be a service, yet we’ve seen four different retail releases of the game. For what is planned, I have hopes for Street Fighter V. I like that playing the game will earn me new characters, which just plain makes sense.

It’s almost like an old-school game; almost.

Series I Love – The Legend of Zelda

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When I was younger, picking which games I wanted to play was simple. I was a pretty damn spoiled kid, so I usually saw something in the store and my mother bought it. While she objected to some things, she typically got me anything my heart desired.

Walking into our local Toys’R’Us one evening in 1998, I happened upon a flyer for an upcoming game called Zelda. My reading comprehension wasn’t as astute as now, so I didn’t even catch the subtitle underneath. To me, the golden sheen and shield crest were enough to hook my interest.

Over the next few months, I played my N64 as usual and kept my obsession with Goldeneye 007 going. At such a tender age, nearly any game would get its hooks into me and engulf my imagination. I kept thinking back to that sword and shield and wondering what dangers awaited me.

As the release date drew closer, Nintendo began their marketing campaign on TV and in movie theaters. I distinctly remember sitting in the theaters and seeing the “WHILST THOU SUCK?” advertisement. It put a fire in my eyes and made me determined to prove those ads wrong.

A night or two before the games release, I heard from a GameStop employee that the cartridge for Ocarina of Time was going to be gold. My little mind was blown. I couldn’t let this thing escape me. I needed to have this game in my collection. It felt like a rite of passage.

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After getting home with the game, I couldn’t wait to play it. I nearly ripped the box apart with excitement, but I saved my enthusiasm for the journey. I didn’t want to sully the experience by destroying its case.

As soon as the first chords of the theme played, I was in love. The game felt legendary even without its namesake. For 10 year old me, this was the most important game of my life. It was almost as if I became an adult as I stepped in Link’s boots and set off to save the land of Hyrule.

I had never played anything like it at that point in my life. My childhood was full of video games, but the 90’s were dominated by platformers and beat-em-ups. Fighting games were a big deal after Street Fighter, but not many besides that and Mortal Kombat stuck around.

Something like Zelda encompassed all of the exploration I loved from Mario with puzzle solving and dungeon diving. It was literally being placed into darkness with some tools and being told to figure it out. You had no guide and your worth was measured in accomplishing the mind benders in front of you.

I don’t remember how long it took my younger self to finish the N64 classic; I do know that I nearly missed the bus ride to school one morning since I was nearing the end and refused to skip the cutscene. My mother also nearly fell asleep listening to Zelda’s lullaby after a long night at work.

That same year, Nintendo had a double whammy for young me. A colorized version of the first portable Zelda title, Link’s Awakening, was released for the Gameboy Color. I always brought the device with me to school for recess and the bus rides, so clearly I had to have this other Zelda title.

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When I’d leave home for the bus stop, I’d pack Link’s Awakening with me. From one to the other, my adventures with Link never ended. I’d sketch doodles of Link tackling foes, exploring ruins and finding treasure. I would fantasize about being in those dank caverns and surmounting the colossal beasts.

Since those games, The Legend of Zelda has become my favorite series. I’ve beaten each game in the series more than once (save for a couple of them) and I even get excited hearing about re-releases of past games. It’s strange to be excited for an HD version of a game you’ve finished 3 times and still own.

Even the dreaded Zelda 2 I’ve managed to complete twice. When playing it, I find the game amazing. For that matter, during any of the Zelda games, I’m awestruck. How Nintendo manages to craft such a varied world with intricate puzzles and hidden treasures is just awesome to me.

The mixture of thought provoking puzzle design and grandiose combat scenarios with a classic tale of good versus evil just keeps me coming back. I dig all of the variations the series has seen. Wind Waker is my favorite and I love bringing a friend along in Four Swords Adventures. The more recent Triforce Heroes is a solid co-op puzzle game and Skyward Sword made me a believer of motion controls.

Honestly, there isn’t a title in the series I truly dislike. I may complain about the issues that Twilight Princess has wit pacing or how superfluous most of Skyward Sword is, but I can’t get enough of those worlds. They are filled to the brim with interesting content.

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More importantly, they make me feel like my actions matter. I know that gaming has always placed your character as a hero, but those exploits weren’t as personal until The Legend of Zelda came along. With Zelda 2, Link was now directly helping people with their requests.

Running menial tasks shouldn’t be that gratifying, but I’ve always been drawn to the side quests in Zelda. Fishing for hours to get a stupid scale or holding onto a chicken and floating down to Earth is utterly captivating to me. That each activity rewards the player with something useful also makes those tasks feel less tedious.

I also just plain love exploring. Hyrule has had such a rich landscape, but even the extra worlds of Termina and Koholint are filled with nooks and crannies to delve into. As much as I may associate puzzles with Zelda, spelunking is a big part of the formula.

I’m not opposed to change and I do wish that some of the tropes would be put to rest, but I’m always eager and ready for a new Zelda title. Each one is like stepping into an actual legend. That I get to be the hero who overcomes adverse odds is just icing on the cake.

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Here’s to the future of Zelda.

Disappoint ≠ Bad

Destiny is the greatest version of “Follow the Dot” I’ve ever played. You sure do a lot of looking at your radar, running straight towards the objective and forgetting exactly where you are. Don’t get me wrong; the graphics are nice and all, but the level design doesn’t matter.

I can’t recall half of the missions I’ve even done in Destiny. I do side missions in the same area and I don’t even realize it. When I log on to help my friend, I can’t even guide him through an area I’ve previously completed. I end up relying on the dot and everything else is blank.

On the other end of the spectrum, I recently played through Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. I wasn’t enthralled with the original, but I honestly forgot how lackluster the level design is. It may not be “Follow the Dot,” but the interconnectivity makes no sense.

You’ll go from a woodland setting, up an elevator and enter some lava pit. How is lava existing above a forest and not seeping down? For that matter, why is warping at bonfires such a prominent feature? I can’t remember where I’ve been and what bosses I’ve finished, despite being level 240.

Oh no…Not you two again…

The pedigree that each developer had before making these games makes them all the more disappointing. How do you go from Demon’s Souls and end up with Dark Souls 2? Where does the idea of Halo becoming an MMO go wrong?

Is either game bad, though? Honestly, no. I’ve managed to beat Dark Souls 2 four times and I’m currently still playing Destiny. I didn’t even want to give Destiny a shot, but my friend persuaded me into it. Logging around 24 hours is pretty good for being indifferent.

Even if most of the package is lackluster, both Destiny and Dark Souls 2 get their core mechanics right. It’s fun to pick up a gun and shoot in Destiny, while Dark Souls 2 makes the act of timing your attacks, item usage and defensive tactics engaging.

Dark Souls 2 may lack the art direction, world design and enemy design of it’s predecessors, but fighting is incredibly awesome. There are new moves, a slightly faster speed and an extensive amount of weapons (though some are basically copies of each other).

Destiny has horrendous level design, a pretty garbage story and a lack of enemy diversity, but the speed, weight and feel of firing your weapon keeps you coming back for more. The loot system is captivating, the quests are quick and plentiful and the PvP harkens back to what Bungie did with Halo‘s multiplayer.

YES! ACTUAL GAMEPLAY!

The small hub areas are pretty pointless and all the “emotes” are regrettably locked behind a microtransaction system, but finding friends and embarking on a short quest is fun. It feels different to experience the typical MMO mold from a first-person viewpoint.

I can’t disagree with any of the haters of either game; they make a lot of valid points. Both titles feel like they are resting on the laurels of their creators. Even more, both games kind of reverse the mentality that was set up with their predecessors.

Demon’s Souls was all about making the world feel oppressive and deadly. You died quickly to make a point; death matters. In a world where dying throws you back around 5 seconds, Demon’s Souls would cause you to lose your experience if you died. That heightened the tension as you now needed to really pay attention to everything.

Halo was about adapting an old-school FPS design into a console format. Due to limited buttons, you were given two weapons. Since split-screen was such a big feature of consoles, co-op was added to the campaign in a way similar to Doom. Multiplayer was based more on skill than any kind of level system or perks.

Dark Souls 2 feels like it is making concessions to get more people interested in the series. Hardcore fans will breeze through the game while newcomers won’t understand what the fuss was about.

Doesn’t look all that appealing.

Destiny is basically Bungie’s take on Borderlands. It also reeks of forced online connectivity. There is no reason why the game could not be made offline and with split-screen. Those were core features of the Halo games that helped foster the community that exists today.

What hurts the most is that both of these games could be better. I hate enjoying them as much as I do, but their foundations are so sound. If industry trends hadn’t become so prevalent, I feel like Dark Souls 2 and Destiny could have been so much more.

Either way, these two games prove that being disappointing doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is bad. It could even be quite awesome.