Monthly Archives: March 2017

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

Ready to fireFighting games are the closest experiences we have to “standard” cinematic experiences. Your average “action”-based affair features a hero, hero’s best friend, and hero’s inevitable love interest versus the forces of bad guy and bad guy’s second. Toss in a couple of comic relief characters (works for either side), an inescapably doomed mentor, and maybe the romantic lead’s chubby friend, and, basically, you’ve got the full cast of a movie, dramatic television show, or fighting game. Walter and Jessie versus Gus and Mike, or Ryu and Ken versus M Bison and Sagat? It doesn’t matter from a basic story structure perspective. What does matter is how many videogames necessitate… a slightly larger cast. The blockbuster, genre-defining Super Mario Bros. movie involved King Koopa and his army of two (2) goombas. Super Mario Bros. for the NES included more goombas in its first ten seconds, and never mind the sheer number of surprisingly lethal turtles wandering around. JRPGs are all about defeating Big Bad and his four malevolent lieutenants… and the 17,000 random monsters between here and the next town. Remember that beloved scene in Back to the Future when Marty is walking back and forth between Doc’s Mansion and Hill Valley, and he has to slaughter twenty random wolves and Big Boss Wolf? Yeah, me neither. In short, a number of videogame genres are forced into a sort of endless loop of adding more and more “nobodies” to the plot to validate gameplay conventions, while Fighting Games have to put in no such effort. Liu Kang hates Shao Kahn, and, after fighting six guys, they’re gonna settle this thing. Who would want to play a game that complicates that story?

So it’s always kind of surprised me that more games don’t borrow (re: steal) the basic layout of a fighting game. I’d argue that Smash Bros. does this with aplomb while still being more of a “platform/action” game without carrying all the baggage of a typical fighter (and I suppose that statement thus includes every game that ever copied Smash Bros). And, in a way, most sports games follow the same template, as you don’t have to battle, say, the Dallas Cowboys Color Guard before tackling the real Cowboy opponents in the latest Madden. But I guess that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? In film, a tight cast is a standard bit of storytelling, while, in a videogame, you’re only going to see such a thing in a sports/competitive environment. Otherwise, without a bunch of random nobodies to kill, what are you going to do? We all love that Street Fighter 2 bonus stage, but you can only beat up a car so many times before it gets old.

Or maybe cars can beat up… each other?

Look out!Today we’re looking at a game from the Playstation/N64 days. Most people remember the mid to late 90’s as the age of the JRPG boom brought on by Final Fantasy 7; however, this was also the epoch of the rise of “cool people games”. After a decade of videogames being synonymous with furry mascots and stabby elves, the big guys all seemed anxious to push a mandate of more “mature” gaming. And by “mature”, I mean “appeals to teenagers that so desperately want to drive a car and maybe touch a boob”. This led to the premiere of many “realistic” heroes, like Gordon Freeman and Lara Croft, who fought real-life problems, like aliens and t-rexes. Okay, the games might not have been any more realistic than what came before, but at least they were less cartoony, and that was good enough for a generation that was, finally, ready to play it loud.

This, coupled with the advances in graphics and scaling technology, led to a lot of racing games. A lot. Like, there was a time when you could walk into an Electronics Boutique, and there was just a wall of random cool looking cars staring back at you. “Realistic” racing games were meant to be system sellers, and, perhaps as some kind of residual aftereffect of Blast Processing, speed was king. One of these days I’m going to review that Playstation “future” racing game that involves the half-pipe and moving at super-speed… but I’m not going to name it right now, because I can’t remember if it’s that game I’m thinking of, or that other game with the exact same premise. Or maybe it was that other one? Meh, I’ll figure out later. Point is that there were a lot of racing games at the time.

Racing games naturally fall into that “competition” category like fighting and sports games. That means that your average “car game” could easily copy the fighting game template, and do the whole “unique character/unique story/unique ending” thing. That’s good! That creates memorable characters, that, in a sea of “red car vs. blue car” could make your new unique IP standout. People are always going to remember Scorpion, you could transform your racing competition game into something perennial with the right merchandising. Let’s make a car fighting game, and be legends forever!

And that car fighting game became… Twisted Metal. Who doesn’t love Sweet Tooth!? He was in Playstation All-Stars!

Fear of a yellow busThree years later, there was Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 does not feature any characters that resurfaced for Playstation All-Stars… or… anything else, so I guess there’s something to be said for being first to the finish line. However, Vigilante 8 attempted to do something rather unique with its car combat simulator: it copied everything about fighting games. Not content to just copy the (good) basic plot structure of a fighting game, Vigilante 8 went the extra mile by copying the worst part of fighting games: the distinctive, often esoteric motions for special moves. And it married that concept to a “fight” where you basically only have one reliable offensive option (shoot), so a new player will have something of an distinct disadvantage when battling a veteran player (or, ya know, the entire single player campaign). There are even car “fatalities” available, and the game constantly prompts the player to “total” incapacitated enemies… but… how am I supposed to do that again? Come on, Activision, you always knew this game was a rental at best, why do you think anyone would read the instruction manual?

Vigilante 8 isn’t a terrible game; it can actually be quite fun if everyone involved knows what they’re doing (and you have a TV large enough to accommodate blurry 64-bit split screens), and you’re not just skidding around each other desperately trying to clip your opponent with a Stay on target, jerkdinky machine gun (only in Videogame Land may a machine gun be effectively useless). But what could easily have been a memorable game with interesting characters (interesting by late 90’s videogame standards, mind you) is severely marred by a bizarre insistence on copying everything about fighting games, good and bad. Mortal Kombat with cars could be a great game, but only if you leave the silly input motions on the cutting room floor.

Pull that off, and maybe then we’ll get some decent memories out of a bunch of fighting cars.

FGC #258 Vigilante 8

  • System: Playstation, N64, and… Gameboy Color. Suffice it to say, the GBC version is a tweeeeak different, and looks more like R.C. Pro-AM. There’s also a modern HD version that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone ever mention.
  • Number of players: I believe we’re limited to the standard two on Playstation, but the N64 version takes full advantage of those multiple controller ports, and allows for up to four. The Gameboy port has never been simultaneously played by two people on Earth, so who knows about that one.
  • Get 'em, paPort-o-Call: The N64 version was released a solid nine months after the Playstation release, and seemed to gain a few bells and whistles to overcompensate for the delay. The most important changes seem to be that the secret character (an Area 51 alien) gets his own story mode, and story mode itself can be played with 2 player co-op. More wannabe fighting games need co-op story modes.
  • Favorite character: Beezwax is a bee keeper with bee-based special moves and a battle-camper. I can’t say no to that kind of insanity.
  • Did you know? Molo’s “battle school bus” featured heavily in advertising and the game’s box art. Then Columbine happened. Then, for some reason, the advertising campaign for Vigilante 8 went the way of the dodo. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: For a kid that wanted to claim that the N64 was somehow better than Playstation and its Twisted Metal, Vigilante 8 at least could start an argument. Now, however, it’s little more than a curiosity. I doubt I’ll ever revisit this title.

What’s next? Random ROB is back up and working again, and we’ve got… Strider 2 for the Playstation! Yay! Ninja times are here again! Please look forward to it!

FGC #257 Waku Waku 7

SUPER WAKU FIGHTING TIMEI love a good knock-off.

There is a fine line in any medium between original and IP theft. What’s the difference between Superman and Captain Marvel/Shazam? Well, one is an alien from another planet with strengths granted by his alien biology, and the other is a little kid with magical powers that allow him to instantly transform into an adult with super speed and muscles. But both Superman and Captain Marvel can fly, fight, and wear a cape, so, uh, guess they’re legally the same dude. Meanwhile, King Kong and Donkey Kong, both giant guerillas that climbed towers after kidnapping blonde damsels, are totally different ape creatures, so don’t even try to claim they’re remotely the same. When you look at history, you see the only difference between an “original character” becoming successful or being devoured by a rival corporate entity is a good lawyer or two, so let’s stop pretending there is some gigantic gulf between Midnighter, Batman, and your Sonic the Hedgehog fan character (do not steal) Bruce the Bathog.

And knock-offs are important in videogames, too. Got a great idea for a magical girl game, but don’t feel like roughing out your own ideas on gameplay? Well, how about you just copy Mega Man wholesale, and call it a day. But don’t tell Astro Boy, he’s still trying to get a hold of that thieving Dr. Light. Got a brave new mascot that happens to be a bobcat that runs fast? I’ve got an idea! This all traces back to the Atari, too, the system that hosted a number of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong clones. And, again, Donkey Kong “himself” was accused of being nothing more than IP-theft at his inception. Videogames are bootlegging all the way down!

OuchBut, as ever, there are degrees of plagiarism in videogames. SoulCalibur may have imported Harley Quinn into medieval times, but… there are enough of the edges filed off, right? It’s still an almost wholly unique fighting game with weapons. On the other side of the coin, you have something like Fighter’s History, which (kinda) has unique characters, but their movements and play styles are almost exactly copied from Street Fighter 2. So, which is worse? Copying gameplay or copying characters? Is SoulCalibur “better” because its IP theft isn’t as blatant? Or should we be nicer to Fighter’s History, a game that at least had the good sense to include Karnov, who hails from a surprisingly original action game?

But when you consider which franchise is a franchise, and which is forgotten by all but the most esoteric blogs, well, maybe that means the only question should be, “but is it fun?”

Waku Waku 7 is a fun fighting game. I first discovered the game through filthy emulation back at the turn of the 21st Century, but Waku Waku 7 was formally released for the Neo Geo in ’96 or so. It was also released for the Sega Saturn… but only in Japan. Boo. Regardless, my buddy Matt and I played this game roughly 7,000 times, because it was one of the best fighting games available at the time. Okay, it was no Marvel vs. Capcom, but it could also be played on a crappy little laptop, so it was the closest we were going to get to a decent portable fighter. And by “portable”, I mean, “we’re stuck at your mom’s house for the next hour, what do you want to do?” It’s amazing how much being a poor college student is like being six…

Here they areWhere was I? Oh yeah, Waku Waku 7. It’s a 2-D fighting game, and it’s pretty much like Street Fighter 2 or King of Fighters or generally any of those games. In fact, given the Neo Geo hardware, it’s a lot like King of Fighters or Fatal Fury, and that fact might be influenced a little by how Rai Bakuoh, the “genki” teenage hero of Waku Waku 7, is a living parody of a character from Psycho Soldier/KoF and has all the same special moves as FF’s Terry Bogard. Then again, maybe Waku Waku 7 is more like Darkstalkers, as Mauru plays a lot like Sasquatch, and just happens to look a lot like (My Neighbor) Totoro. Or should I have just stuck with Street Fighter 2? Bonus-Kun is a deliberate parody of Ryu, right down to his red bandana and spinning hurricane kick. He just happens to be, ya know, a literal punching bag.

Maybe we should investigate that “parody” thing a little further. The full cast of Waku Waku 7 features seven distinct characters (oh, I just got that), but glancing at the character select screen, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is some manner of 90’s (pre-Neon Genesis Evangelion) anime reunion. Tesse is a mechanical battle maid that directly recalls Mahoromatic/Mahoro. Slash is a sword-wielding elf straight out of Record of Lodoss War, or maybe just Magic Emperor Ghaleon in glasses. Politank-Z is some bizarre mix of “chibi manga” like Dr. Slump and Dominion Tank Police… and he can’t get enough of that Cookie Crisp. Dandy-J is the most “Western” character, because his origins apparently involve Indiana Jones and JoJo(‘s Bizarre Adventure) conceiving a love child. Arina, the begoggled bunny girl, seems like the most original character, but that’s only because “a bunny girl wearing goggles” is an oddly established anime trope. It’s like saying there’s an elf in a Tolkien fantasy, or a tech-savvy support character in a Berlanti show.

OwieSo all the characters are varying degrees of outright IP theft (there has never been a person that didn’t start this game by asking, “What’s Totoro doing here?”), but what about the game plot itself? Well, there are seven magical orbs, and, if you catch ‘em all, a magical being will be summoned to grant a wish. I want to say I’ve heard that one before. Most of the characters are fireball motions and dragon punches, so the gameplay is “borrowed” as well. And it’s not even like there’s a difference in the bells and whistles between this and every 90’s fighting game ever. Profile screen during the attract mode? Check. Win/lose quotes after every match? Check. And the ol’ ending “cinema” of two or three screens with some goofy dialogue? You better believe that’s a check. Seen it all before, Waku Waku 7!

But it’s still fun, and that’s because it’s a rip-off.

King of Fighters is fun, but to the inexperienced, neophyte fighting fan, well, who are these guys? Dude with the weird pants hates the guy with the fire fist? Okay? That’s neat, but why is there a dwarf version of Freddy Kruger bouncing around? Street Fighter 2 is supposedly as iconic as it gets, but good luck getting someone new excited about Street Fighter 3 (“Why is that guy in the speedo two different colors?”) Tekken is full of bland shirtless dudes, and SoulCalibur is all about its heroines’…. assets. And we’re even ignoring the host of over 90’s fighting games that barely got past one version. Remember Weaponlord? It was like if Todd McFarlane made… never mind, it doesn’t matter. It never mattered. Point is that, whether it’s acknowledged by “the scene” or not, there is a barrier of entry to most fighting games, and, suffice it to say, it’s one that Marvel vs. Capcom doesn’t have to deal with. Everybody recognizes Spider-Man.

So proudAnd everybody recognizes Totoro, too… even if it’s not Totoro. Waku Waku 7 is guileless. Its characters are obvious archetypes (if not outright plagiarism), the gameplay is four buttons and simple special motions. The plot is funny, though it doesn’t fall all over itself to be another Clayfighter. It’s a fraud, but that deception makes it accessible. Like a pair of faux-Oakleys you can pick up for ten bucks to impress your crush so she’ll maybe say yes to prom (it works! I swear!), Waku Waku 7 is a fine knock-off.

Waku Waku 7 is not original in any way, and, sometimes, that’s just fine.

FGC #257 Waku Waku 7

  • System: Neo-Geo in likely impossible to find quantities, and a Saturn version that only appears in Japan. But now it’s available for Switch! Hooray! This is the first Switch game reviewed on this site! Technically!
  • Number of players: Two anime fighters.
  • Favorite Character: I’m going to go with Arina, the bunny girl. She’s basically the game’s Ryu in special moves and general narrative, but what’s important is that she’s rocking the goggles. Actually, there are two different characters with goggles on the roster… so maybe that’s the entire reason I like the game? Hm.
  • Don't look him in the eyeAn ending: The final boss is an unspeakable black void of horror named… Fernandez. In Japan, he is known as Fernandeath. That sounds slightly more threatening.
  • Land of the rising fun: The Switch version allows the player to choose between Japanese and American versions of the game. Having played through both, aside from a few names, I think the only difference is that the Japanese version gets character profiles that nobody felt like translating. Boo, cheap localization.
  • Did you know? Bonus-Kun, the Ryu-wannabe, premiered in Sunsoft’s earlier fighting game, Galaxy Fight: Universal Warriors. I want to say that game is even more obscure than Waku Waku 7… so it should probably have a Switch release next week.
  • Would I play again: Most certainly. Having it as a downloaded title on a portable system does a lot for replayability, particularly at the start of a system’s lifespan. Politank Z will ride again!

What’s next? I kind of like that there has been a number theme matching the FGC entries all this week. Pac-Man 256 for 256, Waku Waku 7 for 257… I mean, it was an accident… but still! Let me see if I can dig up a game involving an eight, and then we’ll get back to true randomness next week. Please look forward to it!

So wrong

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

Wakka wakkaPac-Man 256 is great because it’s the first videogame in the Pac-Man franchise.

Pac-Man is unbelievably iconic. In some ways, it was probably a happy mascot “mistake”; many early videogames didn’t really feature a hero (we love you so much, Pong Paddle!), but Pac-Man was, ya know, Pac-Man. Yes, he’s a yellow circle with a mouth, but, in a time when your protagonist can either be Nondescript Blob or Triangle Dude, Pac-Man stood out. And everything combined perfectly (if again, maybe accidentally). The dot munching created that lovely “wakka wakka” noise that could be interpreted as Pac-Man’s “voice” (that must be the explanation, nobody likes the sound of a glutton eating), and the monsters’ expressive eyes were simply meant to indicate their directional intentions, but it inadvertently gave the impression that those ghosts are a little more personable than the cold, unfeeling antagonists of Asteroids. By the time we found out that Pac-Man was married with a Jr. on the way, it was pretty much a given that this “Puck Man” had gobbled his way into our hearts.

Oh, and I guess his starring vehicle was pretty fun to play, too.

I don’t need to explain Pac-Man, do I? My father is no fan of videogames (too many bad memories of goombas), yet he enjoys the occasional game of Pac-Man. My mother played it quite a bit. I’m pretty sure my grandfather (the first person in my ancestry to ever own a videogame console) got my grandmother to try it once. It’s just so simple! Guide this little pizza-man around the maze, avoid the monsters, and maybe turn the tables on your adversaries with a power pellet. Or try Ms. Pac-Man, the same game, but with new mazes! Or Pac-Man Jr., which involves scrolling for some God-awful reason! Or the one and only Super Pac-Man, where Pac-Man can use keys to unlock doors, and large power pellets to become swole. Think of all the different ways you can play Pac-Man with all those wonderful sequels!

YUMMYExcept, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: were Pac-Man released today, the many, many “sequels” to Pac-Man would be considered nothing more than DLC expansions. You can’t just add one new power-up, or two new mazes, and call it an all-new game! You have to create… let’s see here… a full new eight power-ups and accompanying Robot Masters to make a sequel! And maybe add a dog, too! No, Pac & Pal doesn’t count! And when you separate out all the random gimmicks and subtitles, all you’ve got is… Pac-Man. One man, four monsters, a bunch of dots, and four surprisingly powerful dots. That’s it. Forever.

Pac-Man is a videogame, yes, but it’s from the Dork Ages of the medium. When games were limited to a number of bytes roughly on par with the amount of memory my modern computer uses to sneeze (most computers have terrible allergies), games had to be all of one “screens”, and the only way to gauge progress was the humble score counter. There was no final boss. There was no log of all the collectibles you’ve found. If there was a second player option, it was the same character as the first player, just maybe (maybe!) with a fresh coat of paint. Your only goal was to see your name at the top of the high score table. There was no ending. There was no final stage.

Except… Pac-Man did have a final stage: Level 255. Thanks to those previously mentioned limited bytes, the original Pac-Man arcade game couldn’t “draw” a new stage after reaching Level 255, so Level 256 was a glitched, imperceptible mess of pixels. One way or another, 255 was the end of the road for Pac-Man.

So it seems appropriate that Pac-Man 256 finally brings Pac-Man into the 21st Century.

Never look downBefore we go any further, I want to note that I’m well aware that Pac-Man doesn’t need to “get with the times”. I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed Pac-Man CE in my adulthood, and, yes, I will still occasionally hit the ol’ Pac cabinet at a local arcade (I have local arcades!) or diner lobby. Pac-Man may be primitive, but it is a perennial favorite. Nobody needs to update football, tennis, or chess for modern audiences, and Pac-Man could easily keep on pac-ing in the free world.

But sometimes it’s nice to see what Pac-Man would look like if it were designed today.

Pac-Man 256 started as a cell phone game, which, let’s face it, is the first sign of its modernity. The next sign? Pac-Man 256 is never ending like its forefather, but there is a very distinct “goal” here. The glitched nonsense from the original Pac-Man Level 256 is eating the bottom of the screen, so Pac-Man must escape “up” in an endless maze of dots and monsters. Progress is logged in every conceivable way: high scores, maximum combo of dots eaten, maximum number of ghosts defeated, and even total number of raw dots consumed. And all those dots pay off: in one version of Pac-Man 256, Pac-Man can trade dots for new powerups… which kind of raises questions about Pac’s dot feeding. I have… concerns about his digestive system. Oh, and in some versions of PM256, it’s “freemium”, and actual cash money can be traded for powerups. Hey, it’s probably still cheaper than 3 lives for a quarter…

But those powerups are the real showstopper here. Pac-Man may still consume a power pellet so as to necessitate monster consumption, but now that ability is joined by fire trails, ninja stealth, tornados, ice magic, and, my personal favorite, LASER MOUTH. Freeze fire?And those are only the powerups I feel like naming at the immediate moment, don’t even get me started on crazy Bomber-Pac-Man. And powerups are all earned through playing the game (unlocked, if you will), and earning better and better scores and combos. Get better at the game, get more stuff. Easy peasy Blinky squeezy.

And it’s amazing how much of all of this comes from modern innovations in videogames that are standard now, but weren’t even considered back in the days Pac-Man ruled the arcade.

Multiple, “whacky” kinds of powerups? Check. Monsters follow very deliberate patterns? Check. Combo meter? Check. Play more to unlock more? Check. Multiple “skins” so you can customize your Pac? Check. Online leaderboards? Double check. Multiplayer? Yep. Random reference to Super Pac-Man for nostalgia’s sake? Oh yeah.

But the important thing isn’t the innovation on display, it’s that it all blends together perfectly. Basic Pac-Man gameplay married to modern novelty and game design thinking doesn’t create some horrible lumbering Pac-Monstrosity; no, what we have here is a effortlessly fun Pac-Experience. Pac-Man 256 brings Pac-Man into the contemporary era, and, for the first time in gaming history, creates a true Pac-Man sequel.

Pac-Man 256 is the videogame that we always knew Pac-Man could be.

FGC #256 Pac-Man 256

  • System: Mobile devices, and then modern consoles, like Playstation 4 or Xbone. I would be very happy if a Switch version were to appear.
  • Wakka wakkaNumber of players: Four, and I’d like to try that out sometime. Only issue appears to be that I don’t think I’ve… ever used my PS4 for couch multiplayer.
  • Favorite Powerup: I’m sorry, did I not already mention LASER MOUTH?!
  • Favorite Monster-Ghost: Everybody seems to have very “set” patterns in this game, save the always industrious Blinky. Though I’m going to say Funky, the green ghost, is my favorite, as he seems prone to traveling in packs. That’s the way to do it, Funky!
  • Did you know? The “chicken” skin of Pac-Man 256 is actually based on Crossy Road, a sort of “Endless Frogger” that was designed by PM256’s creators. Considering the pattern here, it looks like an “Endless Space Invaders” is right around the corner. Wait… is that just Gradius?
  • Would I play again: Yes! Though, I want it on a system that is portable and has a proper joystick. I realize that’s kind of ironic considering the mobile origins of the game, but the hearts wants what the heart wants.

What’s next? Random ROB is still rebooting, so we’re going to go with a game I never thought would legitimately see American consoles… Waku Waku 7! It’s super dynamic anime fighting time! Please look forward to it!

FGC #255 Super Mario 3D Land

Here we goIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while (… there are how many FGC entries at this point? What? When did that happen?), you know that I cut Nintendo a lot of slack. I don’t think you’ll ever find me saying an unkind word about a Zelda game, and even games that may cause crippling hand damage are lauded as revolutionary. When Nintendo is ready to release a new system, I pen a decade’s worth of articles that start with “In the lead up to the Nintendo NX…” as if Nintendo is the cornerstone on which the gaming world pivots.

But… that’s because I do think Nintendo is the foundation of all gaming.

I’m not delusional, I know Nintendo is not the industry leader it once was. I know that I’m an old man ranting at Cloud Strife, and Nintendo hasn’t been Nintendo since Sony destroyed the company’s monopolistic dominance by courting all the third parties that had previously made the Super Nintendo and Nintendo so great. And, yes, thanks to my own myopic views, I’m also entirely basing this on the fact that we haven’t seen a numbered Final Fantasy game on a Nintendo system since the 90’s… but it fits. The harbingers, the big “gotta have ‘em” games are on the “standard” Xbox and Playstation platforms, while Nintendo is left with quirky spin-off titles and whatever can be tailored to the latest Nintendo system’s gimmick. Other than that, all Nintendo has to offer is, basically, Nintendo games. Even when the Wii was the undisputed top of the heap, the best it could hope for was the likes of No More Heroes or ports of games that had been popular on the previous console generation. Grand Theft Auto: Wii was never meant to be.

SQUISHBut there’s a flipside to that coin, and that’s that Nintendo seems to be the only company capable of succeeding with those “gimmicks”. The Playstation 4 does, effectively, the exact same thing as the Playstation 1: play videogames with this standard lil’ controller that could practically be traced back to the Atari. The Nintendo Wii, meanwhile, featured ridiculous motion controls and a controller form factor that was much closer to a standard TV remote. The (unfortunately named) WiiU included a tablet that allowed for remote play and some excellent inventory management options. And the new NX Switch takes that a step forward with a portable system that can transform into something more akin to a console (and we’ll figure out how to properly implement that touch screen in that setup later). All of these systems are wild diversions from the traditional controller/game setup of previous systems, and, when other companies attempted to emulate those innovations, nothing came of it. The Kinect was probably the most successful of the lot, but that only seemed to only be truly supported for a year (remember when it was going to be a mandatory part of the Xbone? I own an Xbone, but I’m pretty sure I don’t own a single game that even includes a Kinect feature). The Playstation Move failed even harder, and is currently only remembered by the six malcontents that can afford virtual reality headsets (not that I’m jealous of their ability to play the latest Psychonauts jaunt or anything). And remember that one E3 where everyone was showcasing tablet/console cross functionality? Did that ever go anywhere? I don’t think I played Watch_Dogs…

GET IT!?The Nintendo 3DS is a Nintendo success story. I don’t believe it has been as profitable as the Nintendo DS, but I believe that’s only because the Nintendo DS cheated, and was able to coast a solid six months on an advertising slogan that went something like “Who wants puppies!?” You can’t be expected to compete with puppies. Regardless, the 3DS has been an efficacious Nintendo platform, which makes it difficult to recall that it was a risky innovation at its inception. The Nintendo DS introduced the idea of a touch screen and “dual screens” to everyone that couldn’t remember Game & Watch, and then the 3DS innovated with a 3-D display. While, again, this seems rudimentary to people that have survived the last six years of 3DS portable dominance, at the announcement of the 3DS, the idea of this scary new “3-D technology” was met with a lot of skepticism. In a time when 3-D was primarily being pushed in an effort to get the general public back to movie theatres and away from the chilling of Netflix, this was seen as Nintendo’s last gasp at relevance, and a stunt that would be quickly buried beneath a mountain of smart phones and idevices (… come to think of it, people think that any time Nintendo releases a console. Or announces a console. Or coughs).

GRRRRRAnd, I will admit, I was skeptical of the Nintendo 3DS, but that’s mainly because I hate 3-D. I have poor depth perception, so 3-D is less a feature and more of a threat. And that’s why I so rarely leave my basement. As someone who didn’t exactly love (see? Can’t hate Nintendo) the previous Zelda DS offerings that shoehorned in stylus controls when a perfectly good crosspad was right there, I was downright fearful of the 3DS, and the possibility that I’d have to use my poor, depth-impaired eyeballs to sink Donkey Kong into a pit infinitely. I fear change generally, but I’m downright terrified when a Nintendo system I know I’m going to buy day one might potentially lead to a decade of games I hate in franchises I love.

I have firstest world problems.

Luckily, Super Mario 3D Land proved I had nothing to fear. After an (apparently overpriced) launch that primarily featured a number of ports of craky N64 games, Super Mario 3D Land was released in 3DS’s first Fall. This was appropriate on a couple of levels, as it hit that famous Christmas software sweet spot, and the whole game was vaguely fall themed (or at least falling-leaves-themed). And SM3DL was touted as the first “real” 3-D Mario adventure! It wasn’t enough for Mario to dabble in the 3rd Dimension back on the N64, now there are going to be narrow jumps and “challenge stages” that are all about Mario in a 3-D. That worked in Super Mario Sunshine, right? You all loved the bits without the jetpack… right?

Despite any reservations, though, Super Mario 3D Land is really good. It’s not just a good Mario game, it is, somehow decades after the “invention” of Mario, a really good fusion Mario game. Super Mario 3D Land deftly combines the obstacle course sensibilities of the 2-D Marios with the perspective and movement of the 3-D Marios… and it’s amazing. In a weird way, this is what I expected Mario 64 to be back in ’96, but Nintendo wisely conserved that concept until 3-D Marioing was perfected. Mario 64 stages are principally based on locations that could, potentially, be real (you can’t fall off Bob-omb Battlefield… well, without trying really hard), and that generally persisted through the 3-D Marios. Even Mario Galaxy, a more “obstacle course” Mario game, seemed to rely on slightly realistic planetoids, and not just the “this is a Mario level” of the 2-D games. Or did someone really believe Super Mario Bros. 3’s Piranha Plant Kingdom could have a prime real estate market? But Super Mario 3D Land adroitly weaves together these two concepts with aplomb, and subtlety makes the argument that this couldn’t be done outside of the 3DS, because all of these precise jumps couldn’t be made in faux 3-D, only real 3-D. It’s a complete lie, of course, as Super Mario 3D World did much the same on the WiiU three years later, but the comforting lie did much to assuage fears regarding the 3DS.

WeeeeAnd that’s why I give Nintendo a lot of leeway. That’s why I think they’re industry leaders. Nintendo makes mistakes and publishes the occasional game that is not only bad, but generally mind-numbing (), and even sometimes Nintendo systems are merely just kind of there, and completely fail to capture the same zeitgeist as their greater forbearers. But, despite all of that, Nintendo still knows how to make a damn fine Mario game, and “prove” a system with that same Mario game. One way or another, Nintendo knows videogames, and how to make games that will be entertaining for everybody.

Nintendo, to me, is videogames, and games like Super Mario 3D Land prove that.

FGC #255 Super Mario 3D Land

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Kind of central to the premise there…
  • Number of players: Just Mario. Well, you can play as Luigi, too, but only one brother or the other at a time. Gotta wait for World for more players.
  • No Princess? The finale image of Princess Peach with a tanuki suit might be the biggest tease in a Mario game.

    Oh my

    Who knew the logical follow-up to that would be a cat suit?

  • Power-Up: Is this the first Mario game to feature a “theme” of Mario’s enemies all using his preferred powerups against him? It seems like such a slam dunk of an idea, but I guess your average goomba couldn’t use a fire flower effectively, anyway.
  • Favorite Level: Which stage drops Mario completely unexpectedly into a Zelda dungeon? It’s that one. I really like that one.
  • Say something mean: Maybe the next 3-D Mario Obstacle Game will feature a Mario that can actually fly instead of “gently float”. I want to say it’s time for the cape to make a comeback.
  • Did you know? There are Yoshi and Magikoopa sounds lurking deep in the code. Does this mean one of these Mario staples was supposed to make an appearance, or is it simply a matter of Yoshi’s hatching sound goes with everything? You be the judge.
  • Would I play again: Did I get this far without noting that I absolutely love this game? I absolutely love this game. I might be playing it again right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen…. Nothing? ROB? Everything okay? Um… huh… looks like ROB only goes up to 255. Damn unreliable thirty year old technology! Alright, while I reset my robot, I’ll figure out something to play for Monday. Uh, please look forward to it!

It would be fun