Mario & Luigi Paper Jam; A Good Game Let Down by a Terrible Difficulty Curve

So, it’s been officially a week since Mario & Luigi Paper Jam was released in the UK and Europe. It’s an interesting little Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario crossover with some new ideas, some interesting additional mechanics and other various extras.

But how is the game, you might be wondering? Is it anywhere near as bad as Sticker Star? Does it overuse tutorials as much as Dream Team? Are there any awkward bugs that the reviewers don’t talk about because most of them are complete idiots?

Well… no, in all three cases. Instead, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam is for the most part, a very good game. It’s got the classic Mario & Luigi series gameplay working down to a tee, with an even more advanced and impressive seeming battle system. It looks and sounds fantastic, with music at the same quality as that in the rest of the series and for the most part, it’s a fun experience.

But with that said, what is the game like on a more detailed level? Well, let’s find out, in the official Gaming Reinvented review for Mario & Luigi Paper Jam!

Graphics

Let’s start with the graphics first. Because for whatever else you may say about the game, there is absolutely no denying that this game looks fantastic, with extremely well animated character sprites and atmospheric, beautiful looking environments. Just look at it for yourself if you’re not convinced:

3DS_Mario_LuigiPaperJam_scrn10_E3 3DS_Mario_LuigiPaperJam_scrn03_E3 M&L_Paper_Jam_King_Boo Mario_&_Luigi_Paper_Jam_File_07 Mario_&_Luigi_Paper_Jam_Paper_Mario,_Mario_&_Luigi_X_Koopalings Mario_&_Luigi_Paper_Jam_King_Bob-omb_Boss_Battle

So on an aesthetic level, there really isn’t a whole lot to complain about. Mario & Luigi Paper Jam keeps up the graphics style from Dream Team and just looks amazing in the process.

Music

Onto the soundtrack next, and as is expected from a Mario & Luigi game, it is an incredible selection of songs that doesn’t ever really disappoint. For example, the boss themes are really well done in this title, and suit the battles they play in down to a tee:

But it’s not only boss songs that are fantastic here. The area songs are equally amazing, with Bowser’s Castle(s), Mt Brr and Sunbeam Plains being notable favourites:

That said, while the music is great overall, there are definitely a few tracks that aren’t up to par with the rest of the soundtrack. For example, the Toad Hunt theme, as catchy as it is the first time, gets extremely grating in very short order. Hear this?

Well, you’ll be hearing it for hours, especially if you get stuck finding that last pesky Toad or two. Perhaps it would have been better if they’d (mostly) stuck with the original area music for the Toad hunting missions instead, since they’re a lot less repetitive and offer a decent amount of variety.

There’s also the matter of the papercraft battle songs. Okay, they were never going to live up to the giant battle themes in terms of their epicness, since the very concept is less ‘epic’ by nature. But they just seem far, far too upbeat and cheery for such dramatic points in the game:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4mi5GwKFYA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YI8D6KJoZcA

But they’re not bad songs, just not that appropriate for the points of the game where they play. So in general, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam has a great soundtrack, with all the catchy songs you’d expect from a Mario RPG.

Gameplay

That said, neither the graphics nor soundtrack can save a poorly designed game. After all, look at Sticker Star; it sure looked incredible, and the soundtrack certainly had its fans too. But Mario & Luigi Paper Jam (mostly) shines here as well.

So what’s new and interesting? Well for the most part, Paper Mario is obviously the main addition. Joining the party in a way not too different from Bowser or the Baby Mario Bros, he adds new abilities on the overworld that are used to explore the different locations. Like a spinning drill move to go underground and up walls, a paper plane form to cross large gaps or a giant hand that can grab objects and press switches from the other side of the room. What makes this more impressive though is that these abilities are not wasted; you end up reusing them all throughout the adventure rather than just in the first area or two you learn them in. That’s a nice (and positive) change from the often lacklustre way the overworld abilities were implemented in Bowser’s Inside Story and Dream Team.

In battle on the other hand, Paper Mario acts as a sort of cross between Bowser from Bowser’s Inside Story and Dreamy Luigi from Dream Team. Like the former, he has his own abilities and attacks, like the ‘cloning’ one and the Trio Attacks he can pull off with help from the other Mario Bros. Like the latter, he attacks multiple enemies at once, with only one Trio Attack actually targeting a single opponent. Heck, even his basic hammer attack has his clones split off and attack the enemies at the same time!

But let’s move onto the Trio Attacks now. Requiring all three Mario bros to be active at once, these attacks tend to involve some sort of paper related gimmick that wipes out the entire battlefield in a single impressive attack. For example, Trio Racquet has them batting a ball back and forth onto the background, on which their enemies are stuck on as scraps of paper. Every enemy you hit damages that enemy, and doing it perfectly blasts away the whole wall and hurts every enemy at once.

These are extremely useful in battle, and for the most part, tend to get better and better as you progress. Trio Shuriken and Trio Meteor are especially impressive examples, which can easily be enough to wipe out a boss in a couple of hits.

That said, there are a few issues here. Namely, as fun as these attacks are… they just take too long to pull off. Trio Racquet and Shuriken are fairly quick (though perhaps still overkill for normal enemy battles), but the likes of Trio Whirligig and Trio Meteor take so damn long to use that you’d probably spend less time watching through the animations for Final Fantasy VII’s Supernova.

The Bros Attacks themselves are a mixed bag. Some are recycled from Dream Team, like Dropchopper, Red Shell and Bomb Derby. Some are new and work really, like Balloon Blast, Drill Shell or Rocket Blast. Some… not so much, like Toad Trail.

And then there’s Mega Thwonk, perhaps the best thing the game has to offer attack wise:

Another change comes in the running away sequences in battle. See, like in Dream Team, you’ll get chased in the foreground by certain bosses. But this time, Paper Mario joins in, either as a plane flying above, a boomerang your characters throw at the boss or a trampoline they hold. You have to use his abilities to deflect or dodge boss projectiles and take them down in a way which is interesting, albeit a tad more mentally demanding than the norm.

There’s also the addition of a cursor underneath your characters that lets you know who’s being targeted. It can be turned off (and is forcibly disabled in the Battle Ring), but it’s a nice bit of help for anyone who’s struggling to read enemy attack tells.

Other non battle additions are a bit of a mixed bag as well. Toad hunting is introduced here for instance, and basically replaces the Pi’illos from Dream Team. It’s usually fun due to the different types of challenges introduced (sometimes slow collectathon sections, sometimes basic puzzles or mini games), but it can also become rather irritating in cases where it doesn’t really work out as well, like the annoying stealth section one.

These sections also end up becoming mandatory before every papercraft battle (to give you Paper Toads to carry your papercraft around), which sometimes slows the game right down to a halt.

Talking of papercraft battles, those seem to be the other major addition this time around. Replacing the giant battles from the last two games, they involve Mario and co riding around on a giant paper version of themselves and smashing apart enemies and bosses in a 3D arena, kind of like a weird tank battle/beat em up hybrid. They’re extremely fun in general with some interesting ideas and mechanics, but unfortunately fall into the trap of being far too easy due to how easy it is to spam the same attacks over and over.

Above: These are fun, but they’re just too easy.

So for the for the most part, Paper Jam is a pretty fun game. But hang on, didn’t I mention something about the difficulty in the review title?

Yes. Yes I did. And that’s where the game… kind of falters a bit. You see, a normal game has a reasonable difficulty curve. Easy levels and enemies at the start, moderately difficult ones part way through and difficult ones in the endgame and postgame. Simple, isn’t it?

Paper Jam does not really have this. Instead, the difficulty is basically random, with certain bosses and sections simply being far too difficulty (or maybe even far too easy) for the point in the game in which they’re encountered.

And a good example is found in the Koopaling battles. See, these boss fights all have unique gimmicks (like the enemies using battle cards against you, or them attacking each other when they mess up a counter attack, or you having to defend against them before any chance to fight back), and they’re all pretty damn hard to complete.

Problem is, they’re just littered throughout the game at near random. Roy and Wendy you fight at the one third of the game mark, and are harder than the next few real bosses. Larry and Ludwig… well, you fight those at about halfway through, and they’re difficult enough than many players literally consider them the hardest boss fight in the game.

battlecards

Above: The scariest moment in the game. How come you guys get to use battle cards but we don’t?

Which Is pretty messed up, given that you’ve got about ten boss fights afterwards, and all are generally much easier. Heck, even the final boss can be easier!

And this issue continues with the Toad hunting sections and various mini games. For example, various points have stealth sections where you have to avoid being spotted by a mini army of monsters patrolling around. Unfortunately, they’re difficult as all hell, and one actually comes RIGHT between a fun part of the game and a fun (and much easier) boss fight.   Other good sections include certain fake ‘battles’ on the overworld that end up being closer to mini games (the one with Morton firing cannonballs at Mario and co is getting infamous for its difficulty level) and a few Toad hunting sections which are just ridiculously hard to figure out. The worst of these is the village one on Mt Brr, since the Toads are hidden all around the village in often difficult to figure out locations. But do you know what’s the real kicker?

liars

Above: Oh shut up you lying pricks.

It’s actually semi random where they’re hidden. But the game doesn’t seem to realise it’s semi random. So you get five NPCs who are meant to give you hints to the Toad locations… which are telling you complete and utter crap nine times out of ten because their hints only apply to one possible setup out of maybe a hundred. It’s like a modern version of Castlevania 2, with the NPCs giving you useless and completely wrong ‘hints’.

Add a few difficult puzzles and platforming sections, and you’ve got a game which really, really needed to be rebalanced a bit more before being released. It’s not as bad as Dream Team in some sense (because the controls aren’t a broken mess at any point), but it’s shockingly bad for a difficulty curve in a Nintendo title.

That said, there is one nice helpful addition that does kind of lessen up the problems with the above. Basically, in addition to an ‘easy mode’ which makes you massively overpowered in exchange for not being able to complete the bonus challenges/achievements, there’s a very welcome option to ‘skip this section and continue on with the story’. So if you feel like you don’t have a hope in hell of getting past something and just want it over and done with, there is at least the option to say ‘screw this crap’ and move onto something that’s more enjoyable in the game. Maybe more games should have that option…

There’s also battle cards, which act as a replacement for badges. They let you do things like heal in battle, damage enemies, boost exp, defend from attacks completely without having to counter anything and reduce enemy stats significantly. They’re more balanced than Dream Team’s (no time freezing abilities here, at least from what I’ve seen), but also a tad annoying in how random they are (you have to shuffle the deck to get the cards you want in battle). And as mentioned above, one boss uses them against you as well, which is kind of terrifying.

The other issue is padding. Basically, you know how Dream Team padded out the gameplay with pointless mini games, quests and other random chores? Well this game does likewise, and to an unfortunately often greater degree than Dream Team. For example, the boss battle before the final boss is literally a seven or so stage fight with no save point between, the first three or four parts of which are just fighting random hordes of enemies (and the last three difficult fights against the Koopalings). The last papercraft battle is similar, you have to fight EVERYONE you’ve encountered to that point, as well as at least two bosses you haven’t. In a row, with no checkpoints.

And let’s not even get into the Toad hunt stuff. Basically, every time a papercraft battle comes out, you need extra Paper Toads to carry the papercraft. Problem is, that basically means your adventure has to stop dead in its tracks so you can run around completing irrelevant minigames. It’s not the worst thing ever (they’re still fun), but it’s really bad for the game’s pacing in general.

It’s a good game, but it’s let down in this respect by an extremely badly balanced difficulty curve,

Replay Value

But for replay value, Paper Jam is a great game. Indeed, this is one of the key things that the game does significantly better than Dream Team.

For starters, the boss rush mode has been expanded, with both the normal battles and papercraft battles have ranking systems that give you rewards for doing nearly perfect. Kind of like the item mini games in the last game.

In addition to that, the Toad Hunt mini games and other challenges were made replayable as well. This was a significant improvement to Dream Team and prior games, where most ‘gimmick’ parts of the game were impossible to return to after the first time you completed them. So it was nice to be able to redo the stealth sections, the Koopaling ‘mini battles’, the Boo avoiding challenges, etc, complete with an extra ‘hard mode’ for even better rewards.

There’s also a challenges system, which is far improved from the one in Dream Team. For example, now beating the bosses in the boss ring gets you an in game ‘achievement’, as does getting a perfect S ranking on each of them. Other challenges are now everything from ‘use every item type in the game’ to ‘battle x number of times without getting hit’ to ‘get excellent with a certain attack five times in a row’. It’s certainly something that’ll keep you playing an extremely long time, especially given the high difficulty level of much of the rest of the game.

With all that said, there are some issues here. For one thing, Hard Mode from Dream Team is gone in Paper Jam. You can’t replay the whole game again at a higher difficulty level for a better ending or other extras, which is a bit of a shame.

And there’s the problem I mentioned earlier about padding. Put simply, it’s padded to all hell, and without all the filler content, would actually be shorter than Bowser’s Inside Story. So there’s a significant feeling throughout that the game is just trying to waste your time and delay progress as much as possible.

Story, Characters and Humour

Yeah, an odd thing to mention this one. But given that the Mario RPGs are well known for hilarious, well written scripts with plenty of memorable characters and moments, it only seems right to judge this game by the same standards.

So is it funny? Are the characters as memorable as before?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, there are literally ZERO new characters in Paper Jam. None whatsoever. If you’ve played a Mario game in the last five years or so, you probably know EVERYONE who plays a part in this game.

That’s really disappointing, especially given how previous games have introduced funny, amusing individuals like Fawful, Popple, the Massif Bros, the 1337 Hammer Bros, Midbus, etc. Without anyone like that, the game does kind of feel a bit empty and lacking in personality.

It’s also disappointing that for much of a degree, the game never really does a whole lot with the Paper Mario characters or world. Oh sure, Paper Mario appears, and paper versions of Peach, Bowser, Bowser Jr and Kamek make notable appearances in the game, but what about all the older favourites? Why not have Kamek meet Kammy Koopa instead, given her major role to play in the original and Thousand Year Door? That would have been a lot more amusing.

PaperMarioTTYD

Above: Some characters who are not in this game (bar Mario, Peach and Bowser)

And without characters like Goombario and Goombella and Vivian and Bobbery and Doopliss and Dimentio and Count Bleck and Lord Crump… well, the game doesn’t feel as much of a tribute to Paper Mario as it really should have been. Paper Mario and normal Mario versions of characters meeting is interesting, but the more original ones meeting the more original Mario & Luigi cast is what the game should have focused on, but didn’t.

But there are some good things in the game’s story and characterisation. For example, the Koopalings now actually have personalities, and help each other in battle with all kinds of neat tricks and traps. Like Larry and Ludwig using battle cards against the main characters, or Morton/Iggy/Lemmy using each other attacks in their own elaborate attack sequences.

Other highlights are the two Kameks (who literally bicker right up the very end, even during their supposedly ‘heart-warming’ death scene), Big Bob-omb (who goes from a forgettable first boss to a stern and serious leader on Mt Brr) and King Boo, who’s just as nasty and selfish in this game as he was in Dark Moon (he actually holds Paper Mario in a hostage situation and threatens to beat him up if Mario and Luigi attack him). But there are two sets of characters that really took the limelight here.

First, the two Bowser Jrs. Unlike the other guys, these two actually got along really well with each other, and became best friends throughout the storyline. They fight you in an amusing battle with a paper plane flight contest, troll you by taking Peach away at the last second, try and get rid of the book so the paper one doesn’t have to return to the other world… and then, their defeat scene. Oh god:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Af7ukG6kAs&feature=youtu.be&t=24m30s

They pretty much nearly die there and then, complete with a sad montage and both Bowsers holding their dying children and threatening to kill Mario and co in revenge. It’s quite the moment for a Mario title…

Then, there are both Bowsers in this game. Remember how Bowser’s Inside Story made Bowser into a badass? Or how Dream Team showed he could be a competent villain?

Yeah, this game continues with it, and hammers it home big time. Bowser is not a joke any more, and damn well he means business. He enslaves Toads to mine ore for Neo Bowser Castle’s rocket engines, literally blows Peach’s Castle to smithereens with a giant cannon (nearly killing Peach in the process), burns the old papercrafts you made to a crisp to show how much better his own one is, becomes a nigh godly being in the final battle and actually plans to trap Mario and friends inside the Paper Mario book so he can burn it to cinders with them still trapped inside. Bowser in the early Mario RPGs was comic relief. Bowser in this game makes everyone bar the Shroobs look like amateurs. That’s impressive.

So it’s disappointing that there’s a lack of new characters, but nice that they really fleshed out and improved upon the personalities of the existing ones.

Conclusion

All in all, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam is a pretty good game. It’s got some lovely graphics and music, some interesting gameplay mechanics and boss battles, and in a certain few ways, significantly improves upon Dream Team by forsaking the broken motion controls and overabundance of tutorials that bogged the game down significantly.

It just needs to reign in the difficulty curve to something reasonable, remove some of the obvious filler content and to introduce some more new characters to the world to make it as good as it could ever be. So, a nice solid 8/10 seems a decent score for it.

Super Mario Maker; A Good, if Limited Level Editor

Well, after many level playthroughs, a good few weeks messing with the level editor and all manner of testing, we’ve finally completed Super Mario Maker enough for a review!  Okay, it’s a game that pretty much everyone was going to buy anyone (it’s a Mario level editor, how can any Nintendo fan not care for this title?), but either way, you might still want to read our review to find out what we think of this game.  Does it live up to the hype?  Does the level editor stack up to the hundreds of free equivalents you can find online after a ten minute search?  Let’s find out, in the official Gaming Reinvented Super Mario Maker review!

Graphics

Can I even give this part of the game a rating?  The graphics are mostly from existing Mario titles, so I’m not sure what exactly I’d be rating.  Maybe the quality of the new sprite graphics used for certain enemies, or the menu UI?

Really though, it looks like Super Mario Bros 1, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros U.  If you liked the graphics in those games (and I see no reason that anyone wouldn’t), then you’ll like this one.  If you didn’t like them (because you’re not a Mario fan for instance), then there’s pretty much no chance in hell that this game will change your mind about that.

There are a few dozen new character sprites for the SMB 1 style, to go with the new ‘costume Mario’ gimmick; more on that later.

And the UI?

It looks how it should do.  You’ve got the usual tiles and sprites displayed next to the options to use said tiles and sprites.  You’ve got a few pleasant backgrounds for the menu screens to keep your attention focused on the preview window rather than the background and a bunch of random characters join you on the side-lines simply to look cool, like the budgies on the level select screen or the dog that acts as an undo button.

MarioMakerEditor

Above: The level editor looks clean and functional.

Either way, it looks respectable.  Like what a level editor should look like.

Music

Again, mostly taken from the older Mario games that it’s based off of, with a few additions where original music didn’t cover that theme (ghost houses for SMB 1 and SMB 3, airships for SMB 1 and SMW).  That said, the new music does sound really, really good:

There’s also some really nice music used when editing levels.  The castle remixes are especially nice here, with the New Super Mario Bros castle editing theme drawing special attention because of its high quality:

So that’s the music.  It’s mostly from the original games Super Mario Maker is based on, with a few great new songs mixed in and Smash Bros quality remixes for the level editor view.

Gameplay

But this is always the most important part of any game, and nowhere is it more the case than with a level editing tool.  After all, no one wants to make games for a broken and mostly unusable engine, do they?

Fortunately though, Super Mario Maker works fantastically in this respect.  The engine is solid and works well, the physics mostly adapt to the style of the game they’re based on with a few (generous) exceptions (like spin jumping on enemies in NSMBU style) and for the most part, everyone works how it should do.

Continue Reading…

Luigi’s Mansion; An Underrated Mario Classic

With Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon being so popular and the possibility of a Luigi’s Mansion 3 always being around the corner, it’s best not to forget about the title where it all started.  Released for the Gamecube in about 2001, Luigi’s Mansion was a comedy survival horror game set in the Mario universe, where Luigi had to clear out his new mansion of all the ghosts and monsters that he found there.

So here’s a short review of said game, for all those people wanting to remember the original even after playing the fantastic sequel…

Graphically the game is amazing. Really, of all the games Nintendo was showing off to illustrate the technical power of the Gamecube, this was the one that made me think that I needed the console immediately. Every texture and object looks superb and full of detail to a level not even matched by the Super Mario Galaxy games in some cases, and the effects used for lighting and shadows are some of the best on the entire console.

The trailers for the game show off how great it looks even more so:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32ktIWrdWio

When you compare it to the kind of graphics us Nintendo fans were used to on the Gamecube (like Big Boo’s Haunt from Super Mario 64), or even the graphics quality used in most Playstation games, it looked absolutely outstanding in comparison. It’s the most realistic haunted house in the entire Mario series that mansion and to some potentially even the best looking area period.

Music wise, some reviewers on IGN and Gamespot complain it’s not varied enough, but it’s still got an amazing soundtrack regardless.

What might surprise people though is how different the soundtrack is from the style used in any of the other Mario games or spinoffs. Whereas the mainstream Mario series uses somewhat upbeat, happy music for the ghost house areas (like in Super Mario Galaxy and 3D Land) or stereotypical ‘haunted house cartoon’ music (such as the soundtrack in Wario Land Shake It), Luigi’s Mansion’s music has a very much more ambient style to it. It doesn’t stand out as much as say Super Mario Bros 1’s overworld theme does but it doesn’t need too, the music enhances the atmosphere greatly and always keeps you on edge throughout. That dark rooms theme posted above for instance really does make you fear some kind of horrible ghost or monster is going to attack any minute now, and the outside theme is almost touching and solemn:

The graphics and music really do help with the eerie tone present throughout the adventure in a way that the somewhat boring music and graphics style used in many a normal Mario ghost house doesn’t. Compare it to this:

Or this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shH-6N_W3w0

And you can see how different the atmosphere conveyed by the soundtrack in Luigi’s Mansion is even if it isn’t so varied.

Gameplay is good too, although arguably of comparatively lesser quality than the graphics or music. In fact, let me get one thing straight to anyone wanting to try Luigi’s Mansion:

It’s not a Mario game. It’s not a platformer and you cannot jump.

What you have instead is an action adventure game built around puzzles and parodying the survival horror genre. It’s very different from the likes of Super Mario Sunshine or Galaxy in that you can’t physically bypass puzzles via your acrobatic skills (partly because the mansion almost always has a ceiling) and Luigi cannot physically beat up the ghosts like Mario can in his adventures. Instead he comes armed with a modified vacuum cleaner called the Poltergust 3000 (another one of Professor E Gadd’s multitude of inventions) that’s used to suck up ghosts, shoot out fire/water/ice and generally navigate the mansion. This item is controlled pretty much the same as FLUDD’s default water squirting function in Mario Sunshine (aka by using the C Stick) and works perfectly.

Continue Reading…

Super Mario 64; A Classic that Defined 3D Platforming

With how 3D platformers and games in general have improved in the past few years, it’s very easy to think Super Mario 64 has gotten a bit dated. Heck, after the likes of the Banjo Kazooie series and Super Mario 64’s very own sequels, the original must really seem a bit archaic to gamers who didn’t grow up with it.

But Super Mario 64 is still a classic. It may not have aged quite as well as the 2D games did (3D games tend to age poorly due to how 3D graphics work), but there is something amazing about this one game that no sequel or imitator has ever quite recaptured. And that’s what this review is going to discover or explain.

Graphically, Super Mario 64 is a bit dated. The levels and objects look blocky, Mario looks less like Mario and more like a Lego equivalent (there’s a reason Super Mario Sunshine was seen as such a massive leap forward technically) and some things just look primitive to say the least.

But there are still a lot of reasons to like this game’s style. For one thing, the amount of charm in the whole thing is immense, you can tell Nintendo has lovingly crafted each and every corner of every level to make it interesting and unique. The levels looked amazing back in the 90s and they still look pretty nice today, despite their somewhat blocky appearance. It’s hard to explain, but there’s just something so amazing when you first step out into Bob-omb Battlefield and see the whole level in front of you, a land filled with possibiities of all varieties.

Above: This is probably giving Nintendo 64 era kids a lot of nostalgic flashbacks about now…

Stylistically, there’s also a more ‘industrial’ look to Mario 64 as a game that stands out. It’s still very Mario inspired, but the levels often don’t tend to look overly cartoony like the ones in Mario 3D Land and other such games, they have an appearance which makes them feel almost like real places.

Sound wise, the game is very different from any game since. The music just feels more ambient, almost like background sound rather than the striking, stand out style used in Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. This means while the music is often not quite as memorable and will come across as a bit ‘plain’ when you’re merely listening to it on Youtube or other sites, it just fits the level so well. Just listening to the music from the water levels is so soothing, while the haunted house and cave music always has you on edge and the standard grass theme suits the feel of the levels its played in equally well. Just listen for a bit:

It’s also quite clever how Nintendo only used a very limited soundtrack, yet managed to make the music fit every level so perfectly. You never feel the music is inappropriate, despite the fact the EXACT same theme is used for a desert and a fiery hellscape:

Gameplay however is where it shines. Indeed, this was for its time the ‘sand box’ game of the moment. Go anywhere in any levels you unlocked, complete any missions in any order. Play around in levels for the fun of it. That’s so unfortunately lacking in recent Mario platformers.

It’s actually depressing to look back on the game now, since it’s almost an artifact of a forgotten time where 3D was used to make games fun rather than just send players from cut scene to cut scene. The times where developers would make the levels huge open style worlds where you could do whatever at any time. Some current games still sort of feature this, but I’d say the biggest mistake in gaming was when platformers stopped giving you choices and started being all about being ‘cinematic’ or like some movie.

fpsdesign

Above: Sadly not limited to First Person Shooters

Adding to the enjoyment of exploring the different worlds and being able to do anything are the power ups. Now, they’re timed rather than being permanent like in 3D Land or the classic 2D games, but all in all they do make the game much more fun. The Wing Cap lets you fly around at will for a while, the Metal Cap lets you be mostly invincible and walk underwater and the Vanish Cap lets you turn translucent and go right through wire fences and enemies. Oh, and the awesome Koopa Shell you can ride across lava, quicksand and water. That’s always been a fun addition that has sadly never returned since.

But really, there’s nothing more amazing than flying around Bob-omb Battlefield for the very first time, having the freedom to take to the skies at any time and to go wherever you wanted. It’s the type of freedom so sorely missing in Mario games since, what with Sunshine, 3D Land and Galaxy 2 lacking such powerful flight options and Galaxy 1 limiting the red star to the two most boring areas of the game.

Super Mario 64 introduced a lot of great gameplay innovations to the series too. Like the ability to go to any level you unlocked and take on any mission you felt like trying. The whole plot point of collecting stars to unlock levels and reach the final boss. Heck, it was basically the start of the 3D collectathon genre that Banjo Kazooie and others like it perfected, and it always has a place in my heart because of this.

This is also the Mario game where that structure works best. Don’t like a mission? Skip it and do something else. Much better than in Sunshine where you had to at least play the first SEVEN levels in each area, or Galaxy 1 and 2 where you near enough had to play most of the levels just to move on. Or Mario 3D Land where you near enough had to play every level, even the ones you found annoying as hell.

It does also help that the level design is amazing and that each area is filled with charm and bursting with secrets to find. Not just the six stars either, there’s also the inevitable 100 coin star, various passages to secret levels, 1-up Mushrooms hidden in numerous devious locations and random teleports with no explanation for their existance. Of all the games in the series, there are so many little random touches and secrets that you really get to feel like Nintendo’s staff had a lot of fun making the game. You feel like each of the levels is a unique world with its own atmosphere and numerous minor elements that just make it feel right.

Why do butterflies turn into bombs and chase you down when you punch them?

Why does Dire Dire Docks lead to the castle pond if you exit past the metal barrier which had Bowser’s face on it?

Why can you teleport between flowerbeds in Bob-omb Battlefield?

None of this stuff is in the manual. It’s like the game’s designers intended you to just mess around and see what you could find. And that’s something so many later games completely missed out on.

Continue Reading…

Super Mario 3D Land; A Good Game, but not Galaxy Caliber

Super Mario 3D Land is an unusual game. On the one hand, it’s technically a 3D game made by the same people behind Super Mario Galaxy, and hence has all of the tricks and game mechanics found in those titles, while on the other it’s about as close to classic 2D Mario as you can get, with one hundred percent of the levels revolving around platforming rather than cheap gimmicks. No, it has as little to do with Super Mario Land the Game Boy series as Wario Land 1 did.

As far as the core gameplay goes, this game is great. Ignore the morons complaining about ‘bad’ controls or what not, the controls work perfectly fine. Indeed, if you’ve ever played Super Mario 64 DS in any capacity, you should find the control scheme here about the same, and as much as some big media sites like to complain, it’s not a bad control scheme to use. So how does it work? Well, controls wise, much like Super Mario Galaxy with exactly two exceptions:

1. You have a run button which you must hold to make Mario dash.

2. Underwater controls work like the 2D games (press A/B to make you go up, let go to make Mario sink down). It’s a different experience, but it’s fairly easy to get used to and is arguably a tad more precise than the awkward swimming mechanics found in the Super Mario Galaxy titles.

The gameplay in general is much like Super Mario Galaxy 2, with fairly linear courses that you have to traverse towards a goal flag. It’s always fun, each level introduces a new mechanic of some kind, and none of these take away from the gameplay. For example, one level will introduce swimming mechanics, another a new kind of enemy or two and another platforms that change/flip when Mario jumps. I kind of like this, it’s how a 3D Mario game should be designed, with a bunch of interesting levels (take note New Super Mario Bros series) that don’t stray too far from the core platforming gameplay (see, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2’s pointless gimmicks).

Mario 3D Land 1

Above: All levels in the game all platforming based, hence there’s no infuriating gimmicks or mini games.

What’s more, I like how this game actually brings some classic Mario level archtypes and does them properly in 3D for once. For example, there are now actual ghost houses with puzzles, mazes and well, ghosts. These feel much more like the Super Mario World/New Super Mario Bros school of design rather than the 64/Sunshine/Galaxy one, and are much better for it. Similarly, actual castle levels are in this (see above screenshot), which is rather refreshing considering how they got rarer and rarer ever since the series went 3D.

The game also comes with a bunch of power ups you can achieve, and thankfully, they work well. For one thing, they’re not timed this time around (and you can carry them between levels, which is a huge relief), and they work pretty well. The Tanooki Suit is the main new addition, allowing Mario to whip enemies with his tail, float down slowly to cross large gaps and… oh wait, it doesn’t have flying abilities. Bit lacking in that sense, but it’s understandable regardless, just being able to ‘glide’ breaks about half the game’s levels and actual flight would probably let you reach the end in well under half a minute. There’s also a Boomerang Suit, letting Mario throw boomerangs at enemies, but it’s not quite as useful due to the one boomerang on screen limit. Does let you pick up star medals and collectibles though, which is good.

Boomerang Mario

Above: The Boomerang Flower/Suit is a nice power when you have it, but a bit limited and less useful in platforming heavy stages.

The best power up however is none of those, but the special Tanooki Suit you get in the bonus levels. Why? Statue Mario. Damn that’s the most useful power in the game, seeing as becoming a statue literally turns you into a stone wall. Anything that could normally harm you ignores you or does nothing (even the giant spike pillars in the later airships get stopped dead by this power!), and if any poor creature happens to be underneath you at the time, it gets smashed to pulp. Traps become scrap metal, Thwomps turned to gravel and even giant creatures like the eels die instantly. It’s a very useful power, and you should easily guess why the game never gives you it for the first eight worlds.

That’s the other new thing in this game, you now have far more than the boring eight world ‘standard’ Super Mario Bros 3 introduced. Instead, when you beat Bowser in the final castle for the first time, you unlock another eight worlds on top of that, with new power ups, a new boss (Dry Bowser), new levels and new enemies and obstacles (such as Cosmic Clones). It’s a very nice addition, seeing as so many recent Mario games just stick with the standard eight.

dry bowser

Above: Changing Bowser to Dry Bowser for the special worlds was a nice touch. Said worlds double the games length.

However, there’s a bit of a problem here. The secret levels, while good, are often just rehashed versions of the normal ones. Sometimes this is barely noticeable, or a significant portion has been edited (the elevator clock tower and the green platform levels are entirely new), but other times it’s literally just adding a timer or Cosmic Clones to an already short and easy level. Notable poor examples include the level with timed blocks (the same layout is reused twice, just with different enemies), and the underground levels. However, keep in mind this is a whole new eight worlds you’re getting, and well, that’s a lot better than the poor job Galaxy 2 did with the secret levels (just about ten, more than half of which are reused content from past games)

Technically, the game is decent. It won’t quite blow you away like the Super Mario Galaxy games did (the graphics are fairly standard for a Mario game, and there’s rarely cases of beautiful scenery or the like), but it’s just good all round. Music? Excellent as usual, and always fits the theme perfectly. Could possibly be a bit louder in some cases though, the castle themes seem a bit subdued for the kinds of levels you’re ignoring. If it was more like this:

Or this:

Either would fit perfectly in the castles where you’re chased by Cosmic Clones or on a constant twenty second timer, and the New Super Mario Bros one would do great in the final level if I say so myself. The current castle theme is great in itself, just would work better in the slower paced castles. Other level themes work fine in all instances, the airship music is still great, the haunted house music generally fits the mood of the levels it’s in and the main theme is as upbeat as it needs to be, and extremely catchy to boot.

Continue Reading…