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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The Necessary Evil

Creative geniuses won’t strike gold each time. When you’re at the top of your game, you sometimes just mess up. Even Miyamoto recently admitted that, yet his works are still looked at with awe. Gamers don’t hold a grudge against him.

I attended the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention this past weekend and got a chance to ask the guys from Acclaim Entertainment about their past. I didn’t expect to get such a lively response, but I walked up and questioned, “Are there any games that you guys regret making?”

During their explanations, I began to understand a bit more about why publishers will license specific games. Ever wonder why so many sports games exist? Well, over half of Acclaim’s revenue came from its NFL Quarterback Club titles. Without those, we would have never seen Turok.

This just got me thinking about something like Call of Duty. In the hands of a better publisher, we would be seeing more creative titles coming from Activision instead of retreads or iterations of the same ideas. In a better industry, giants like EA and Ubisoft would be producing a more diverse range of titles.

Even so, something like Madden and Call of Duty are a necessary evil in the games industry. Without any money flowing in, how would we continue to play games? PC gaming is an exception, not a rule. For consoles, if we didn’t have cash cows to move hardware and fund publishers, we probably wouldn’t be getting anything.

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Even Nintendo is guilty of this. Mario has slowly become an annual franchise. Just last year, we were graced with two Mario titles, even if they were basically the same game. Nintendo uses the ludicrous sales from Mario to fund its other games and online services.

A Nintendo without Mario or Zelda to fall back on means a games industry without nostalgic games, platformers or local multiplayer. Ever ponder why Rayman: Origins had 4-player co-op? If Nintendo didn’t even attempt it with Mario, Ubisoft would have never thought of including it.

Gamers bemoan iterative and annual franchises, but we really should be thankful for their existence. We never have to purchase them and if there needs to be a change, we can clearly voice an opinion. Still, ridding the world of these titles would only lead to bad things.

I’d definitely like for more creativity in the industry, but we should never be so naïve as to think that Call of Duty is ruining gaming. The only thing that is hurting developers’ creativity is how bloated console game prices have become.

As MatPat from The Game Theorists put it, “Don’t buy a game if you don’t like it. Don’t like the new Call of Duty? Don’t like the new Battlefield? Don’t like the new Mario? Then don’t buy them.” Taking that advice to heart, we shouldn’t be angry about people who do.

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Everyone likes something for some reason or another. We may have grown tired of the repeated tricks and boring tropes of these games, but they serve a purpose. That purpose is to get new ideas and hardware rolling.

With the next-generation looming, I hope Call of Duty has enough steam to keep going. If Microsoft and Sony fail to keep their hardware moving, we really will be looking at another industry crash.

If that happens, we might not have anything new again.

Technical Difficulties: Adapt to This!

Difficulty is a very subjective topic. Many gamers are going to write about specific games they found too hard or easy and they’ll get plenty of responses saying they’re wrong. While there technically is no right and wrong answer, I honestly cannot think of a game that really drives me mad with difficulty.

To further elaborate, I’m a fairly hardcore gamer. I play nearly every type of genre and I try to play them at the highest possible setting available from default. RTS and Racing games I draw the line (as I’m next to awful at them), but I typically will go for Veteran/Legendary/Realistic, etc.

To say the least, my view of difficulty is skewed. Miyamoto was claiming that “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Super Mario Galaxy 2” would be difficult games and I did not find that to be true at all. It has to be my previous experience (something like 18 years) with the genre, but who am I to say?

What I would like to talk about, though, is Adaptive Difficulty. This is still a fairly new thing in video games, but it’s something that intrigues me. The prospect of doing well in a game and the game calculating your skill and increasing difficulty is something that should be ironed out in gaming.


We adapt to your skill…but really can’t calculate that because the game uses autosaves.

The first time I saw this feature was in “Far Cry” on PC back in 2004. The developers claimed they made a system where the A.I. (already fairly intelligent) would be able to distinguish your ownage from your suckage and react accordingly. That was a total farce.

I believe the LEGO series of games uses this technology, as well. I cannot tell you how much of a joke that is as the game doesn’t even allow you to die. I will say more enemies appeared in my playthrough of “LEGO Star Wars II,” but I also rarely died anyway.

“Left 4 Dead” administers this technology and it mostly gets it right. As you do better, sometimes random zombie hordes will ambush you or you’ll be facing off against a few tanks. The game even changes the layout of items based on your prowess. But sometimes you get nothing even after failing multiple times.

My question is, why does Adaptive Difficulty not work? From all the applications I’ve seen of this new feature, I’ve never once felt like the developers knew how to program it. Either the game is pathetically easy or it’s ridiculously difficult. I know “Far Cry” failed as the game used a checkpoint system, so it never really dropped from the initial difficulty you selected.

Like I said with the LEGO games, you cannot die. So, changing enemy layout isn’t going to suddenly have an impact on your experience, unless you’re an 8 year old and don’t truly grasp game mechanics.

My research into the topic only brings up “Halo: Reach” and how the A.I. will compensate for more or less partners in a Co-op match. That isn’t a true Adaptive Difficulty, though, as the game is just compensating for more people. The enemies won’t get easier if you all die.


We’ll “Adapt” to how many are here. Get it?…C’mon guys, it’s funny!

I’m not sure how to even offer a solution to this problem. What I have in mind is something along the lines of taking the stat tracking from a Halo or Call of Duty game and using that to calculate the perfect opponent. Bungie has some truly incredible stat tracking systems and I’m sure there has to be some way to sync those with A.I.

BioWare even has some kind of stat tracking for their single player games. If you can tell me exactly how many players per platform picked a Female Shepard, you should also be able to read and calculate my accuracy rating and my amount of kills. Use that information to suit the A.I. to my playstyle.

I do have faith in the term. I truly think that the perfect game could be achieved if the A.I. were able to track everything. It would be awesome if the game progressively got more challenging instead of developers just making the game harder purposely.

Until that day, though, I’ll be chugging through my games on the hardest settings possible. I live for challenge and it’s great to overcome extreme odds. Maybe I shouldn’t look for something to ease up on me, but I think it would sell games to a broader audience. That could only mean good things for our future.