Itchy Thumbs

Completing games then reviewing them

Archive for January, 2007

New Super Mario Bros 2

Posted by D on January 16, 2007

It is almost amazing that it has taken quite this long for a SMB (as the kids are saying, yes, they really do say these things, you can take my word for it) sequel to arrive. Although if you’re as old as I am you’ll remember Yoshi’s Island which was billed as SMB2 but now there’s even a Yoshi’s island 2. Perhaps a little too fast and loose with the chronology for my liking but I sucked up Paper Mario so I have no room to complain. Nonetheless a long time, 12 years in fact, and 12 years in which everyone has decided to lose all of their critical faculties.

When the SMB on the SNES arrived I was an Amiga boy and those rare chances I got to approach a SNES were coralled in such a way that Mario Kart was the only tasty treat I was allowed to indulge. At the time SMB looked like a kids game nothing for a man with such a serious computer as myself (dual processor don’tchaknow). Years later I took the time out to buy a SNES and play all the games that people had then called classic. And indeed, the original Super Mario Brothers is a benchmark few others have come close to approaching. But enough about me what about NSMB2?

NSMB2 retains all those visual stylin’z (as the kids are saying, the z is especially important for keeping in touch grandad) that you’ve come to expect from the SMB universe. The controls maintain the feedback, inertia and tactile responsiveness which makes it immensely satisfying to interact with. There are probably few more obvious examples of ruthlessly and expertly honed play testing available in the world of computer games. Mario’s little touch of inertia requires that you actually must learn to how control him and mastery leads to a lot of satisfaction. The like of which the Rolling Stones apparently were never party to. A digital smugness, if you will.

There is almost nothing to be faulted about the level design, again ruthless play testing is totally evident. Most levels have a flow, a pace; a certain cadence that not only allows but expects you to settle into “the zone”, It is almost zen like. Mu-Shin. Between the tactile controls and the level design these two facets intertwine to produce an extremely gratifying experience. The kind of gratifying experience you usually have to pay for (often by going to your local high street and handing money over a counter and recieving cartridges or disks in return).

But for all my fawning praise there remains a dark underbelly to my critique: Ultimately, in this day and age, NSMB2 just ain’t that good. Super Mario 64 (DS edition perhaps?) is a better game. SMB was a better game. Donkey Kong Country (1 and 2 but not 3; natch) is a better game. Crash Bandicoot: Warpped is a better game. I don’t really care for games having to be in 3D (even though the games industry has decided that we all must have 3D interactive experiences, more intense than real life yet less satisfying than having a shit). The problem is that for the work lavished on making it feel right and play right they forgot to add any challenge. It’s easy. Stupidly easy perhaps. I appreciate that I cut my teeth on Jet Set Willy but this is silly. Within a 2 week period I completed the game 3 times, collecting everything and max’ing all 3 save slots. That’s about £15 a week (compare to WoW which I spent £7 a week and played 3 or 4 times the numbers of hours too).

The two major problems are the difficulty curve and the game length. Which aren’t entirely unrelated. Were the game much longer and the difficulty curve continued then it really might get to a point where it became a challenge but as it is shorter the difficulty curve should have been steeper. Although even with a steeper curve it wouldn’t be a long game. In this day and age this won’t have been a very expensive game to create. Content creation just won’t have been that involved. Could we not have had twice the number of levels? I think so.

One way to look at this is that maybe the game was so good that I was just very dissappointed when it finished. Maybe it’s a “loss leader” designed to suck me in and ensure I buy the next one. But it’s unlikely that the next would pick up where the difficulty curve left off. This is a shame.

I have other minor gripes too. In this one you can eat various mushrooms and you can grow or shrink. There is a vast amount of potential. All manner of puzzles and game areas that might focus on this concept. It tantalises you with hidden promise, notions of juicy gaming secrets that might be hidden within yet it delivers very little. There are perhaps 2 small sections in the entire game that require you to be big and a few more that require you to be small. An object lesson about small being better for our American cousins perhaps? Perhaps not. But certainly an object lesson in wasted potential.

My other gripe was the level progression. Each World is laid out in an enitrely linear fashion. It lacks the exploratory nature of the original SNES SMB, the illusion that you can pick your path. Perhaps wend your way past that level you can’t quite master. I think this is a shame. As well as this the world layout more or less spells out where you will find the hidden secrets. Standing by a level you can’t get to? Then you likely missed the second exit in the level you just completed. A bit more mystery would have been nice. The self satisfaction of finding things without such heavyhanded clues is definitely missing.

For all my grumbling this is far from being a poor game but I don’t really think it’s the game everyone (read: I) was waiting for. While SMB will remain a benchmark this might well be forgotten.

7/10

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Mario Kart DS

Posted by D on January 16, 2007

I love Mario Kart. Since the day my school mate bought a SNES and we could lay our grubby
little paws on a SNES controller I’ve been it’s slavish minion (even if the SNES mode 7 horizon pixels
eventually give you a headache). You can imgaine my dissappointment when I played the N64 version. A fine multiplayer game but a pale shadow of the original. But now we’ve ascended to Mario Kart DS. I’m not sure they can do better.

You get 32 tracks! You get classic tracks from previous versions (even the more powerful GameCube) You get 2 multiplayer modes. You get online play. You get single player challenges. What more could you want?

Well you could want some other things. I would have quite liked Koopa Beach 1 included instead of Koopa Beach 2 as the classic koopa Beach track from the SNES version. Also, I hate blue shells. I’ve always thought they spoil the balance of the game. When you’re the better player and you’re out in the lead you’re there for a reason. This extremem level of arbitary handicapping is mindblowingly fucking annoying to say the least. Couldn’t the computer just race better? That you can no longer jump over shells and blue shells come from above anyway merely compounds their soul crushing inevitability. And speaking of jumping over shells. I’ve always though it was a shame that you can no longer hop over incoming shells. It was a true sign of PvP mastery that marked da playaz from the hataz (as the kids of the street say). And what did happen to feathers? Also in online play if would be nice to record the friend code of random people that the game had paired you up that you enjoyed racing with. It’s quite dull that you can only consistently play people who’s friends codes you’ve already acquired in real life . Perhaps one might trade such valuable codes via the medium of paper. Is this an internet enabled device or what?

But these are minor quibbles.

Other than the shear amount of game to play one thing that they’ve got right is the difficulty curve where the SNES version was real hard later editions were just too easy. There was little point playing the one player game other than to familiarise yourself with the tracks. Here they’ve really got it right. It’s really challenging and not just completing it. Getting those exceptional 3 star ratings will take you forever, maybe you’ll never do it.

I’m not sure if this is actually perfect but it’s pretty close

9/10

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