My relationship with the Mario franchise has been a rocky one. Early games like Super Mario Bros 1-3, Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 turned out to be some of the most troublesome games I’ve yet to own, with the latter two taking literally YEARS to beat, while the original trio has yet to be conquered and likely never will be. I have also found myself to be rather indifferent to the New Super Mario Bros games on the Wii and Wii U. I have a feeling my lukewarm attitude towards these games stemmed from the fact that I had been hurt by the famous mustachioed plumber just a few times too many. Continue reading Mario, I Forgive You
Today’s newest gaming topic is yet another one that requires me to post a picture, so I shall. Right now, I am playing two games. Mainly, I’ve been working on Final Fantasy XII on the PS2, though I’m not currently able to take any screenshots of PS2 games. The other game is one I’ve been playing quite sporadically, Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii.
The latter game is one I’ve been recording for our United We Game Youtube channel, and not only is it clearly on a recordable console (I’ve actually been playing it on the Wii U, which is HD-compatible, a requirement of my capture card), but I already have some screenshots available that I’m using for thumbnails. And since I don’t want this post to be too terribly short, I’ll post a couple screenshots rather than just one. Prepare for a sneak peek at some future videos, exclusively for you guys. I hope you feel very special.
Continue reading Day 15: A Screenshot of a Game You’re Playing Right Now
I’ve been hard at work on my third cosplay, and the next thing I completed was Rosalina’s star-shaped earrings. This was a rather difficult shape to make, so I first began practicing with paper. I found that I could cut out a four-pointed star, with some carefully-placed folds, for each side of each earring. I then ended up cutting out this shape four times out of foam, two for each earring. I quickly found, however, that the foam didn’t fold very well. It was just too thick, and if I folded it, it would merely flatten out again after a few seconds. Nay, that simply wouldn’t do, as I needed a 3D shape, not a goofy flat one. Nay, indeed! Continue reading Rosalina Cosplay: The Earrings
I had a super weird dream the night of 12/16/14. I remember myself and a friend (not a friend I actually knew, but one just from the dream) at this hotel. It seemed more like an apartment building, really, but I think it was a hotel because we were on vacation in this weird city. His room was several floors above mine, and I remember we had to travel back and forth between the two rooms a lot, and it took a while, and I was able to kind of make it speed up in the dream because it was boring.
We then decided to go to this mall. We thought it would be a lot of fun to walk around it, and so we headed down to the lobby of the hotel. I kind of sped up that part, too, and I also needed to return something to my room that I was holding, so I kind of had it teleport to my room through sheer willpower so I didn’t have to go all the way back up. On the way through the lobby, we had to walk down this hallway, and lining one wall were those weird machines where you try to pick up the stuffed animals with the claw that never grabs on, and the toys were pretty creepy in there. We then walked outside where it was kind of an empty field of dirt and a street, and we started walking to the mall. Continue reading The Duck Visits a Haunted Mall
Today’s topic for the 100 theme blog challenge is number 12, insanity. This sounds pretty easy. Insanity. I know just what that is. It’s when someone is…well, insane. Crazy. Bonkers. A nutter. But, the more I think about this topic, the more I think about how not-easy writing about it really is. It’s a single word, but there is so much that can be written on it, can’t it? And I’m certainly no expert on mental disorders, so I had to think of a different way to write about such a topic. And then I got it, in the form of a question. Why is insanity so appealing?
Don’t look at me like that. It is, in a way. I mean, they have an entire archetype commonly seen in stories that is related to insanity. The mad scientist. No, not angry scientists, though many of them do seem to have some bone to pick with society. Crazy scientists. Why was this stereotype even invented if insanity wasn’t in some way appealing or intriguing? And insanity, as you’d expect, whether they be mad scientist or not, is most often portrayed in villains. Because you really don’t see that many crazy good guys, do you? No, it’s the villains that think up all kinds of bizarre plots for such goals as world domination or other methods of obtaining unstoppable power (the terrible movie “The Blood Waters of Doctor Z” featured a mad scientist that turned himself into a fish in his plot for world domination; I have no idea how he thought that would work, however), while the poor good guy always has no choice but to go and stop it. Our hero very rarely is crazy. Maybe brave or foolhardy, but it is most often the villain who is deeply disturbed, which is all the more explanation for their wild plots.
And so, to kind of expand on that, when it comes to villains, what kinds does this Duck usually like the most? That’s right, you guessed it. The insane ones. In many stories, I typically like the villain the most. Or, at the very least, I often find them to be the most interesting, and I wonder why they do what they do. But, the villains that always interest me the most are the crazy ones. The weird, eccentric ones. Because, frankly, villains that got it together (bad grammar on purpose) are boring. It’s the crazy ones that are obviously in need of some therapy that always capture my attention most of all, and that is what I’m here to discuss, with as few tirades as I can manage.
Let’s take Bowser, for example. A lot of people know about him, no? He’s the main villain of the “Mario” series and an experienced princess-napper. And I don’t think anyone would consider him insane. Nope, he’s a huge jerk, but he’s not crazy. He doesn’t like his rival, Mario, which is understandable, as the ‘stached plumber constantly puts a stop to Bowser’s plans. He also seems to have a thing for Peach, especially in “Paper Mario”, but hey, you can’t really blame him. And you don’t need to be a villain to understand his desire to rule the Mushroom Kingdom. I mean, who doesn’t want to rule the world or a kingdom of ‘shrooms? Antagonist or protagonist, world domination is pretty appealing. And so, while Bowser is quite the creep, I don’t find him to be that interesting. His plans are uninspired, but I don’t get the crazy vibe from him. And that just won’t do. You’re too sane for my tastes, Bowser.
And then I come to the villains that are nuttier than those bags of peanuts that you get on airplanes. These disturbed villains can be many things. They are usually interesting. They are most often rather…unique individuals. And they typically range between comical or downright disturbing. I may like a villain in a more lighthearted series because I think they are hilarious in a way that only someone nuts can be. On the other end of the spectrum, some crazy villains are scary because of their insanity, and that’s why I find them to be particularly…villainous. Because they manage to truly frighten me, while at the same time making me curious about them all the more.
Let’s take two examples of some of my favorite villains. These two are insane by every definition of the word, and they are Dr. Nefarious of the “Ratchet and Clank” series and Lord Ghirahim of “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword”. Now, this post is in no way intended to just talk about how great I think these villains are, even though I certainly do. It’s intended to explain my point on insanity. And explain it, I shall.
Dr. Nefarious is insane in a way that is on the lighter end of the insanity spectrum. This robotic villain is not someone to take lightly, as his plots have involved trying to turn all organic life into robots and trying to turn back time in order to undo all the times in the past that the good guys have prevailed over evil, which he is more than capable of doing because he’s also a genius (we got a mad scientist here, folks). And no one can disagree with me that this guy is crazy, from his bizarre plans to his maniacal ranting and screaming. And I will never fully understand why he hates organic life when he used to be one himself (and don’t ask me how that happened because I’m still not sure). All I do know is that Nefarious is a nut and seriously needs to be put into an insane asylum. But, his bizarre behavior is what makes me like him so much, as he is quite an entertaining character in an already rather hilarious group of games. Few can deny that his cut scenes are some of the best scenes in the series. And if Nefarious wasn’t insane, he wouldn’t be nearly as great.
And then I come to Lord Ghirahim, another character that is positively crazy. This guy is just weird. I don’t know. Nefarious, I kind of get. A little. But, this guy is, well, a lunatic. Ghirahim is rather flamboyant and, like pretty much all villains, quite enamored with himself. He can be pretty darn feminine and is known by all to make some pretty strange comments that can make you laugh (probably one of his most memorable lines is, “This news has just filled my heart with rainbows.”), but that doesn’t make him any less scary. That’s right, this guy is frightening. Rainbow-filled heart or not, Ghirahim is a terrifying dude in the way he can start off all calm and composed one moment and then threaten to do all kinds of unspeakable things to Link the next. And seeing as he starts off so much more powerful than our hero at the beginning of the game, this makes his threats all the more frightening because he is more than capable of carrying them out.
Ghirahim is evil and sadistic, and even though he can say some pretty corny things, he is not as laughable as you may think. He will stop at nothing to achieve his goals, and you know what, he actually does. Oftentimes heroes stop the villains, but unfortunately, Ghirahim manages to be a bit more competent than Link even is. You may be able to laugh at Ghirahim’s strange dialogue and his goofy victory dance, but it’s his insanity, the same thing that makes him behave this way, that makes him so much scarier than he would have been without it. I have to give Nintendo credit for managing to create a villain that can say goofy things, and yet we still can take him seriously. Not everyone can do that, and that’s why Ghirahim is another one of my favorite villains, as he is by far one of the most complex characters I have ever known.
So I was right, after all, wasn’t I? Insanity is indeed appealing. At least, it can make certain characters more interesting or entertaining, because it often makes them either funny, frightening, or a combination of the two. When I try to look for any correlation between the characters I like and those that I don’t, often times it is the weirdos I find the most intriguing. And most of the time, it’s the villains that are the nutty ones, and that may be one reason why the villains are usually my favorite characters in a story. Insanity is interesting. Insanity can make certain characters stand out from all the rest. The mad scientist archetype is proof enough of that, with such examples as Dr. Eggman, Dr. Nefarious, and Professor Hojo, not to mention the most famous of all, Dr. Frankenstein. If insanity wasn’t intriguing, then who knows if these characters would even exist.
Not an Insane Duck
United We Game’s February community posts continue, with today being the day the Duck will present you all with my entry on the topic of levels in the “Mario” series. Gamer or not, pretty much everyone’s heard of Mario, and there’s a reason this squat plumber is so popular even after people have been playing his games for over three decades. Because the games have something in them for everyone. They have good, old platforming goodness through a wide variety of environments, an innocent charm that people of all ages can enjoy, challenge (and boy, can they be challenging), not to mention princesses to save and big Koopa Kings to toss. There are so many “Mario” levels out there, and yet they still manage to find ways to do something new with each one and make them stand out from the rest. So I decided for my post that I would list my top five “Mario” levels, and to make it fair, I am going to list my top level from each of my five main “Mario” games in order from least favorite to top favorite. The games I considered for this post span 1991-2010, “Super Mario World”, “Super Mario 64”, “Super Mario Sunshine”, and the two “Super Mario Galaxy” games.
5. Okay, this first one is not strictly my favorite level from a particular game. I chose it more because I have some good memories associated with this level that I can’t really claim to have with the others. This level is Stand Tall on the 4 Pillars, which is found in Shifting Sand Land from “Super Mario 64”. In this level, you go into the pyramid and fight the boss, called the Eyerock (consisting of two hands with an eye on each palm, a surprisingly common boss in games), for a star. As I hinted at before, the level itself is not that exciting, but the last time I played this game was the very first time in about 10 years of owning it that I finally got 100%. And this particular playthrough consisted of my very first time through this level. Ever. So, for one thing, getting to play an entirely new level in a game I had been trying to beat for a decade was pretty exciting, which is one cause for my fond memories of it. The other reason is what took place while I was playing it.
I remember I was relaxing in my most comfortable chair one afternoon playing this game. It was quite a peaceful time, and for some inexplicable reason, my cat, Alex, decided to jump onto the chair with me, which he had never done before and never did ever again. The chair was much too small for the two of us, so he had to settle with largely laying on my lap, making it that much more fun to play the game. And this happened to be during this very level, which was also a surprise, considering it was my first time through it and my first time ever seeing this boss. And so I will forever have pleasant memories of playing this level one lazy afternoon with a comfy chair and a cat on my lap.
Video from Youtube user: MrGamingZone
4. My next favorite level comes from “Super Mario Galaxy”. This level, despite not being a fan of the fiendish creature called the bee one bit, is Bee Mario Takes Flight, a level in the HoneyHive Galaxy. And I just love it, for many reasons. To start, it’s just such a cute level. It’s so bright and colorful, with cute, cheery music. And then there’s the bees. Not just Bee Mario, but the regular bees in the level. While most bees are terrifying and evil, these bees are just so darn adorable! I’m not kidding you! They are so cute! They are plump and fluffy, and they make adorable sounds when you go up to them. Honestly, it’s mainly the adorable bees that make me love this level, not just Bee Mario, even though he can be pretty useful, the way he can fly and climb around on certain surfaces. But, I guess in the end, it’s really the adorable bees that make this level great. This level and the bees that populate it are the bee’s knees.
Video from Youtube user: Overhazard
3. My next favorite level kind of bends the rules a bit. This one comes from “Super Mario Galaxy 2”, and my favorite level from this game is, without a doubt, Return of the Whomp King from the Throwback Galaxy. I’m kind of cheating here because, oh, my gosh, this is actually a level from “Super Mario 64”! A bit ironic, as I honestly was not a huge fan of “Super Mario 64” (it was so darn hard, and that’s why it took me a decade or so to beat!), but this level was just so great because of the pure nostalgia. This level is a replica of the second world from “Super Mario 64”, complete with the same delightful music and everything. And it makes me happy because it was a world I actually liked from “Super Mario 64” (because, unlike most of the game, it was much easier). Then, you get to fight some Whomps. I like Whomps. They look goofy. (Even though we all know Thwomps are better.)
Video from Youtube user: omegaevolution
2. My second favorite level comes from “Super Mario World”, the Donut Ghost House. I always liked the ghost houses. They were creepy, with the spooky music and the dark interiors, not to mention all the ghosts (the big ones were so freaky!), and they were confusing, with all the doors and the strange order in which you had to go through them in order to escape, but that was what made them fun. And I just love those old-fashioned Boos. Adorable. Except the ones that follow you when you look away. That’s rather scary. And so, since these levels were my favorites from the game, I just chose this one because it’s the first and because it’s the easiest. Easy is good.
Video from Youtube user: BURTTtv
1. And my favorite “Mario” level, as you’d expect, comes from my favorite “Mario” game, “Super Mario Sunshine”, despite this one being the most different, but maybe that’s why I liked it. I love this game, and I always loved Noki Bay most of all, a rather beautiful place with peaceful music and towering cliffs (which are, oh, so fun to climb), and I actually found the water to be even prettier when it was purple and polluted. This level was so lovely and had such fun platforming that I always loved visiting it. And as odd as it is, my favorite level in this place was Eely-Mouth’s Dentist, where you go underwater and clean the teeth of this giant eel. The boss music in this game is quite awesome and epic (even when you’re playing dentist), and I just found it so darn satisfying cleaning up all those filthy teeth (except it was gross when some of them came out). Maybe I’m a weirdo for getting such a rush from cleaning eel teeth, but I did, and that’s why I found this level to be awesome.
Video from Youtube user: Anon7906
Duck, Dentist of Eel Teeth
My childhood was dominated by Nintendo, it’s fearless red plumber and his crew. My first exposure to the world of video games came when I was very young with the Nintendo Entertainment System and of course, Super Mario Bros. It’s safe to say, I was hooked for life after pushing the jump button on the controller for the very first time. I’ve gone on countless adventures with Mario from his 8 bit days, all the way to modern times so there’s a lot of material to draw from when thinking about what aspects of a franchise you love. Have you ever stopped to think about why the Mario franchise continues to be a force after all these years?
As any person who is invested in games can tell you, the levels themselves are what make these platformer games great. I mean, think about it for a moment. Pretty much 100% of your time is spent running and jumping through them so if the levels are boring or poorly made, the game as a whole will suffer. That’s the key to understanding why Mario is consistently great. It’s the level design that shines through.
The tricky part then becomes trying to narrow down a gigantic list of Mario levels into just a handful of favorites. It’s almost like trying to pick a favorite child, pretty much impossible. So instead, I’m going to look back at some incredible innovations and trends that Mario has started by highlighting some of his bigger moments and legacy. The really interesting aspect here is that for decades, Mario has led the platforming charge. Typically, Mario innovates and others work to catch up.
Lets begin with the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the iconic title, Super Mario Bros. I think we can all agree that prior to this landmark title, the platform genre was incredibly different from what we know. Just booting up the game for the first time, you’re pretty much sent right along without any real instruction. Instinctively, you just know to run to the right and avoid enemies. As the NES ventured on we were also given Super Mario Bros 2 and 3 both of which were extremely different from one another in terms of gameplay and graphics. Each game added additional elements such as new power ups, new enemies, and more diverse bosses. For me, Super Mario Bros 3 still stands as one of the best platformers ever made. Running through those airships and defeating the boss characters for the first time was exhilarating and extremely exciting. I don’t think I’ll ever look at the sun the same way after the second world’s desert and that stupid grinning sun trying to side swipe you.
The Super Nintendo was next and with it came Super Mario World and it’s sequel Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Yoshi’s Island to this day remains in my top 5 games I’ve played, ever. While Super Mario World really opened the door in terms of advancing the genre with it’s colorful graphics, tight controls, and engaging worlds, Yoshi’s Island took things a step further with a superior presentation on top of already addicting platforming. For one, the game looks like it was made from crayons and felt pens, giving it a unique and memorable look. What’s interesting in this game is that Mario is no longer the star as he’s pretty much rendered helpless as a baby being transported by a horde of Yoshis. As such, the controls are a bit different with Yoshi’s being able to shoot eggs and flutter jump. I can remember bosses in this game being supersized versions of more traditional creatures such as Raphael the Raven. The objective here was to run around on a rotating sphere and ground pound these pegs so they’d hit Raphael on the other side. It was as unique and different a boss battle as I’ve experienced in a platformer. It’s also the first gameplay moment that comes to mind when I’m thinking about Yoshi’s Island.
If you want innovation, look no further than Super Mario 64. It’s amazing to think where we’d be without this title. Mario 64 pretty much kicked off the 3D platformer generation, as other titles worked to try and capture that magic which Mario had unlocked on the Nintendo 64. Seriously, without this game where would Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Bajo-Kazooie, Rayman and others have gone in this era? It’s a hard thing to imagine. Using Princess Peach’s castle as a hub world, collecting starts to unlock new sections, and jumping into and out of paintings to access new levels was pretty much genius. Obviously, Bob-omb’s Battlefield, the first “level” you’re given access to, stands out because it really marks the first time you’re allowed to experience Mario in a 3D world. I can still remember grabbing the wings which let you fly around the level. For a person growing up in the 2D space with Mario, this moment really blew me away. The genre of “platformer” really evolved after this title.
I’m going to jump ahead next right to the Nintendo Wii as Nintendo delivered one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever played when they released the Super Mario Galaxy games. As usual, Nintendo used Mario to once again push the boundries on what people though were possible with platformers. The twist with “Galaxy” is that Mario is now in space and could visit all of these different galaxies each with their own unique themes. Some were more traditional platform style worlds while others could have Mario running around on a true 3 dimensional shapes. Better yet, Galaxy tapped into a completely new physics system which allowed each celestial object to have it’s own gravitational force letting the player walk sideways, on the ceiling, or run completely around the object. The Honey-Hive Galaxy still stands out not only for the introduction of the bee suit, but because it was the first galaxy to really remind me of a traditional 3D Mario world in this title. It was a nice break from all the planet hoping at that time.
To me, Mario remains timeless because of the thoughtfulness put into each one of his levels. If you’re someone who has played at least one Mario game in your life, I’m sure you can pick out one or two levels that really stuck with you. That’s some incredible magic and a rare quality that Nintendo is able to tap into game after game. Mario has given us some amazing adventures and memories through the years and here’s to many more to come!
He’s probably the most iconic video games character of all time, having now appeared in over 200 games, and sold over 240 million copies in his time, Mario is a plumber that hasn’t done too bad for himself! This week the United We Game bloggers are going to each be discussing the levels behind the legend, what makes them so good, standout levels and how an Italian plumber, ran, jumped and dropped in their favourite games.
My experiences with Mario started at a young age, i was bought a Nintendo 64 for Christmas and fell in love with Super Mario 64 and MarioKart, in my mind still 2 of the finest games he has appeared in to date, but to be honest, since those days i’ve not played many more, when i started playing Playstation and Xbox i never really looked back, but this doesn’t mean i’ve not played any of the more recent titles, i think Super Mario Galaxy was a great game and on the DS Super Mario World is always a great play.
I figured that the best way for me to do this would be to whittle down all the maps and levels on Mario games and come up with my favourite 3.
The first area on my list is going to be Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64, i’m sure many of you are reading that and saying “THAT DOESN’T COUNT IT’S NOT A LEVEL!” And although that is kind of true i still had to put it in here. It was the first Mario game that i’d played and the whole area just seemed so huge to me, the castle had so many possibilities, i remember when i first found out you could get on the roof, but wasn’t sure how. I proceeded to spend days trying to figure it out, and although the fact it took me so long is just a little bit embarrassing, i still felt triumphant! For some reason the “Never ending stairs” are something that i always remember about the castle, i’m not entirely sure why, they were just stairs, but it was that kind of thing that made the castle great, all the details, the little quirky bits, things like the pictures on the walls of Peach, it all added to the castles feel and authenticity. Whenever i go back and play it now it all seems so simple, but as a child i could get lost so easily, i’d spend hours just getting lost and messing around. I think that’s part of what makes every Mario game so good though, they’re generally all pretty simple, and they have a lot of replayability, particularly from a nostalgia point of view, and in this particular games case, It achieves something that very few games do, and that is this, if i was to go home and play Super Mario 64 right now i’d load it up, and when the castle appears it wouldn’t seem old, i’d feel like a kid again, i could easily spend hours on that game, to me at least it’s timeless, a classic.
(How to get on the roof of the castle WITHOUT the cannon)
Video from Youtube User: Nin10Guy
My second choice is the opening level of Super Mario Galaxy, this may not be the longest, the most difficult, or the most replayable level in Mario history, but this was the first new Mario game i’d played in years, and i just loved the concept. Super Mario Galaxy stands alone, there are no other titles like it, not that i’ve played anyway. I thought the way it was animated was fantastic, they kept all the charm of classic Mario and sharpened him up, it looked great, and the way you flew from one planet to another was fantastic. It still had all the classic Mario quirks, the Venus Fly Trap that must have been in as many Mario titles as Mario himself, and the ever rewarding simple boss. Now i say this because when i think of Mario bosses early in the game, they tend to be balanced fantastically, you feel good for defeating them, but they’re not too difficult, they ease you into the game, this is a big part of what makes Mario games so easy to just pick up and play. I think back to the Whomp King of Whomps Castle, and King Bob-omb from the Super Mario 64 level Bob-omb Battlefield, they both achieved the same type of thing. I also loved the vividness of the level, it was so colourful, it’s also pretty fast paced, you were being thrown from one place to another, yet it always felt very smooth. All these features combined to give me a warm welcome back to the Mario series, and despite missing a fair chunk of titles, it felt like i’d never been away, it still had that fantastic Mario charm.
(First Level & Boss from Super Mario Galaxy)
Video from Youtube User: houseofmario
The last level that i want to talk about is actually a MarioKart level, again i look back on my early days of gaming and MarioKart 64 was one of the games that introduced me too Mario, and what great game it was. I remember not long after having the Nintendo 64 me and my Dad had a big MarioKart tournament, we did a couple of races each night and over the course f a couple of weeks a champion would be decided, he even made a wooden shield for the winner, i won, of course, and looking back now even though he more than likely let me win it takes nothing away from the fun of that tournament and this game. The level, or track as i should really say, that i am going to Single out is Banshee Boardwalk, and there is one reason for this, the chaos it ensured. With its lack of barriers preventing you from the sea, and it’s narrow sections Banshee Boardwalk would always end up being a bad race for somebody. It’s a pretty simple track to be honest, but this is what made it so much fun! Going from my memory there were two major hot spots for this chaos, one being near the start, once you’d got your first random weapon you were in a very open part of the track, no protection from the sea, and somebody would always have a red shell with your name on it, usually putting you straight into the drink. The other was when you entered the small building, you could slightly cut the corner, but risked falling into the sea once more, if you did make the jump you then had an immediate turn to the right, this little corner could often get very busy, and when the track is busy on MarioKart something’s gotta give! The other thing i loved on this track was the music, it was very odd, but very fitting of the track, and as with most, if not all MarioKart tracks it got quicker as each lap went by, almost matching the chaos that was going on during the race. I think Banshee Boardwalk is a great summary of everything great in MarioKart and i think that’s why i like it so much, lot’s of crashing, lots of close racing, lots of fun!
Video from Youtube User: munchosdude
So, there you have it, my top three levels from Mario games. I think the things that the levels have in common are simplicity and fun, it just shows that you don’t have to overcomplicate things to make fun games. I’m sure that there are more complex and technical Mario levels, but from doing a lot of looking back and playing over the games once again these are the three that hold the best memories for me. I hope this shed a different light on the topic and you enjoyed my point of view, what were your top 3 Mario levels? I look forward to seeing everybody elses articles in the coming days! A toast to Nintendo and their little red plumber, we love you Mario!
My earliest experiences with the Mario Brothers were not spent playing, but reading the instruction manual while watching my younger brother play the very first game on our Nintendo Entertainment System. As I scoured over the game controls and characters, my brother would play through this relatively new experience with the ease of a much older gamer. All of Mario’s moves seemed natural to him, as if he had traveled these fantastic worlds for years. The reality of the situation is that my brother has better eye-to-hand coordination than I do, but the level design of Super Mario Brothers had something to do with his genius as well.
Think back to that very first level, World 1-1. There was no tutorial, no overt guidance for the player; only a stubby little plumber standing on the far left side of a screen. Any attempt to travel further left would result in the player hitting a wall, so to the right we must go. Oh no, there’s an angry looking mushroom heading your way. Quick, try one of those red buttons on the controller. Okay, ‘B’ doesn’t do anything… what about ‘A?’ Ooh, you made Mario jump! Try to stomp that mean looking guy. Hey, you squished him, good job. No time to celebrate though; there is a timer counting down up there. Let’s get going.
The design of these early Mario games provided levels that taught players the rules without beating them over the head with exposition and hand-holding. Almost all of the necessary skills could be communicated through visuals and the experience of play. To sweeten the deal, these games had such a reliably steady difficulty curve. Each concurrent stage added new challenges, but they hardly ever put the player in a situation without the resources to learn and grow. This trend of difficult but fair level design has continued in the Mario Brothers series to this day.
Over the years, I have enjoyed many a title in the Mario series. I would consider myself a rather advanced player; not a genius like my brother, but someone who has played enough of these games to acquire skills beyond the average. I have put in the hours, completed dozens of stages, stomped many a koopa troopa. In other words, I am pretty damn good at Mario. However, I recently witnessed a charity event that humbled me to my very nerdy core.
Awesome Games Done Quick 2014 started on January 5th and featured some of the most amazing speed-runners playing games and accepting donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Over the course of seven days, 115+ games were played continuously for charity, including a hearty block of titles from the Super Mario series. I just happened to tune in right at the start of a race between two players in the SNES classic, Super Mario World. What I saw in that live stream blew me away:
Video from Youtube User: SpeedDemosArchiveSDA
Just look at these guys- they never seem to stop running! They are using tricks within the game design that I have never seen before. It seems like every level is not merely a slog from left-to-right, but a challenge to discover new and inventive ways to speed through the game. While they do exploit some glitches over the course of play, the meat of their performance comes from intentional secrets and layouts within the level design. This is particularly noticeable in the stages made up of platforms or mushrooms suspended above bottomless pits. It looks like the placement of enemies was designed to be vaulted upon for a quick trip through difficult spots. It’s as if the designers wanted to reward dedicated players with the means to bypass the usual routes and discover entirely new ways for Mario to travel. This intention from the designers is made even more clear through the Super Play videos included in the more recent Mario titles.
That is the lesson I have come to realize in between the moments of actually playing games with the Mario Brothers. There is an amazing balance in the design of these levels so any player can pick up the controller and have a worthwhile experience. The novice player can discover a new hobby that eases them into the game with intuitive controls and a steady difficulty curve. World 1 will prepare them for World 2, which will prepare them for World 3 and so on. Behind the scenes, these levels have skilled routes carved into the background; perfect paths with a hidden time limit that provides a challenge to the expert who is looking for something new in a beloved game. For every level that made good use of my instruction manual studies, there is a stage that provided a seamless flow of play for my brother. It seems that across the long list of games in the Mario Universe, there is a level for every player.
For the record, the level for me is World 1-7 from Yoshi’s Island: Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy. But that’s just because I am a sucker for trippin’ dinosaurs.
The Duck is still working through the 30 day video game posts, slowly, like an unusually fatigued squirrel, with strength left in its fingers only, creeping towards an acorn, thirty acorns. In winter. When they move more slowly. No, it’s reptiles that move more slowly when it’s cold. Never mind.
And today’s topic, only topic 6, actually, which makes me further realize how pathetically slow I’ve been, is on the most annoying video game character, a rather difficult one for me. Some characters are indeed annoying, like Prince Tricky from “Star Fox Adventures”. But, is he annoying enough? Or Kiddy Kong from “Donkey Kong Country 3”, who is actually more creepy than annoying. Or Lanky from “DK64”, who is also creepy, in an annoying way. There are also bossy characters that tell you what to do, like various sidekicks in “Zelda”, or whenever Professor E. Gadd harasses me in “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon”. Stop calling me, you creepy, old man that looks like a decrepit child!
Well, many people, I’ve heard, go with Navi, the fairy that helps you in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. Probably because hearing “hey!” and “listen!” every time you target an enemy gets old. And there are lots of enemies. But, is she the most annoying character I can think of? Well, as I often do, because I have no life, apparently, I made a list of annoying characters by console. And believe it or not, I came up with one few would think of. (Well, it would be weird if you didn’t believe it. I never lie to you.) And so the character that annoys me the most is…
Mario. Yes, Mario. From the “Super Mario Bros.” games. Why? Two words. Slippery shoes. I hate Mario and his slippery shoes. Never have I played a game where a character has so little traction on their feet. You’d think the soles of his shoes are made of butter or wet soap or a slick sheet of ice. I have so many unhappy memories of playing the old “Mario” games on the Super Nintendo and having teeny, tiny platforms to land on, and I land on them just fine (after dying many times because I kept missing prior to the times I did indeed land on them), and then Mario slides right off. You know how annoying icy levels in video games are, when your character always slides to and fro, and you have trouble getting them to actually cooperate with you? Well, in a “Mario” game, it’s like every level is an ice level. Thanks to Mario. And his stupid, idiot moron shoes.
I’m serious. It bothers me so much. I seem to have much less trouble in newer “Mario” games, but I still can never get over the amount of pain those old “Mario” games have caused me. If Mario wore some nice hiking shoes or even ran around barefoot, perhaps, the games would have been a different experience. But, no, Mario decides that it is a good idea, when embarking on a treacherous journey to save Peach again, to wear shoes that would get you killed walking in your own house, let alone mountains and forests and all manner of other locations that all like to involve bottomless pits and stick-like platforms placed here and there throughout bottomless pits. Does Mario think he’s funny? Does my pain amuse him? Is he that bent on bothering me that he’ll risk dying due to his slick shoes? It certainly seems that way. Few games are more frustrating than the old “Mario” games, and it is all thanks to Mario and his sadistic (and masochistic, as his own poor decisions harm him, as well) choice of footwear.
And yet, Mario is so dang popular, which only makes things worse. It does! Really! There are constantly new “Mario” games. But, do we see new “Metroid” and “Zelda” and other such delightful things very often? No, we do not. Samus and Link have the common decency to wear proper shoes in their adventures, and yet Mario gets the spotlight. Mario gets all the games. Mario gets everything. And this simply isn’t fair. Not to gamers that are not infatuated with this particular plumber. Not to gamers that would like to see characters that give a darn about their fans (by wearing shoes with traction!) get more games. No, this man named Mario has gotten out of control. Someone ought to rein him in. He is a fiend. A fiend, I tell you. That has the nerve to wear slick shoes, and yet he still stays popular in the gaming world somehow, probably only because he has some unsavory connections, which only funds his ‘shroom addiction.
Mario, you annoy me. You really do. Watching you die a dozen times in “Super Mario World”, due to your bad decisions, not mine, annoys me. If I die in a game, I want it to be because of my own mistakes, not those of my character. Perhaps if you wore proper shoes, maybe Peach wouldn’t be kidnapped so often. You probably run at Bowser whilst he’s in the middle of taking the princess, yet miss and slip right on past, while that dastardly turtle gets away with his crimes once again. You should be ashamed of yourself, Mario. You know what, I bet you want Peach kidnapped, so you can have more games. And more coins, that you spend on your unhealthy addiction to fungi.
And so, my readers, do you not see what a most bothersome, most obnoxious, most annoying person our Mario is? And it all stems from his slick shoes. That he bought. With the coins he didn’t spend on ‘shrooms. Hours of my life have been wasted trying to get him to navigate precarious platforms, only to fail because of these shoes. But, I can’t blame the shoes. I blame the man wearing them. I blame you for my problems, Mario. I blame you.
The Duck That Wears Better Shoes Than Mario and Would Make For a Better Platformer Character, in a Game Called “Super Duck…um…Ducks”