Tag Archives: pigs is pigs

FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

There’s something concerning about Super Mario Land 2. It’s clearly on display right here:

Spooky

Is it J-Son the Horror Goomba? No. Vertically moving mines? ‘Fraid not. Mario gradually turning into a bunny girl? Nah, that was always inevitable. What’s really concerning about Super Mario Land 2? It’s this right here:

Goombas gonna die

Mario has a kill count.

Mario is being incentivized to murder his opponents. That is vaguely concerning.

Granted, Mario has always been rewarded for his bloodlust. In Mario’s first appearance, leaping over a barrel would award 100 points, but smashing and bashing with a hammer granted triple the reward. Granted, the closest Mario ever got to a living thing in DK was a dubiously sentient bit of walking flame, and we can all agree that living fire is something that should stop living immediately. But Mario’s next adventure was all about extermination, as Mario was not allowed to progress until he had slain every last living thing on the screen. This wasn’t a situation where Mario was compensated for murder, murder was the entire point.

Sapping the fun out of the gameBut, depending on your perspective, things got better by the time Mario became super. Super Mario Bros. technically rewards Mario for leaping on the koopa troop and squishing goombas in new and innovative ways, but what Mario needs (precious, precious lives) are granted for feats of acrobatic prowess… that incidentally generally murder turtles. Bouncing off multiple monsters at once is what keeps Mario afloat, and if some of his enemies are shell-shocked along the way, so be it. And this seems to have been the standard for Mario going forward: Bowser’s henchmen are going to have to die, but as long as Mario looks like an Olympian during the bloodshed, he’ll receive a prize or two. That seems pretty fair for an athletic hero.

But things are a little different in Super Mario Land 2. Here, Mario’s hitherto unseen home kingdom has been invaded by the nefarious Wario. This is Wario’s first appearance, and, while he is clearly the antagonist, he is still very much Wario. Is he kidnapping princesses or threatening the state of the world? No, he’s just a homeless dude who saw an empty castle, decided to move in, and then changed the locks after a few too many keggers with Tatanga. He’s theoretically the ringleader of the other bosses in game, but, what, do you think he needed to command a gigantic creature named “Sewer Rat” to be a nuisance? Of course not. Every one of Wario’s flunkies is just futzing around Mario Land because it’s Tuesday, and what else do you have to do when you live in the eternal night of the Pumpkin Dome? Wario, at worst, just distributed Mario’s wealth to the commoners of the kingdom, and now Mario has to deal with the fallout of a peasant uprising. If things get too rowdy, they might damage his gargantuan statue of/to himself!

Goomba!But maybe that’s why Mario is getting bloodthirsty. Mario owns the castle, the place is called Mario Land, and there’s that Mario Monument over in the East. The implication here is clear: this is Mario’s kingdom, and the various enemies of the zones were previously Mario’s loyal subjects. Are they under a magic spell? Fighting against their leader under the orders of Wario? Or simply driven into a mad frenzy and attacking the first plumber they see? No, of course not: they’re rebelling. Mario ruled his land with an iron fist (that you can accidentally activate with a floor switch) for so long that the first moment his subjects had a taste of freedom, they mutinied against the very concept of ever dealing with the Mario Monarchy ever again. What does the Hero of the Mushroom Kingdom know about the plight of the common Goronto Ant? Nothing. These dudes are just trying to live their best lives, and here comes that jerk with the moustache to inform them it’s time to work on a brand new giant turtle statue with opposable neck. And all the taxes are going to building a new casino for toads? What is wrong with this land!?

Mario needs a kill count. Mario needs to know how many of these insurgents he’s stomped into the ground.

But whatever the cause of Mario’s new need for destruction, it doesn’t feel very… Mario. Yes, Mario has always had a vicious streak, but it was often tempered with a sort of… elegance. For an easy example, look no further than the persistent image of Mario sending a koopa troopa shell sailing through a row of his opponents. Yes, he is killing every last turtle in his path by using one of their own as an unstoppable, fatal bullet of green annihilation, but there’s a bit of cartoonish whimsy to such an action. And, what’s more, it’s not just about Mario’s murderous antics, but the inherent cleverness of lining his enemies up in the first place. They were an overwhelming force, greatly outnumbering their plumber prey, but Mario tricked them all and came out on top thanks to his own innate cleverness.

Piggy!But that cleverness is nowhere to be found in Super Mario Land 2’s kill count. Do you receive a point for tricking a monster into walking off a ledge and into an endless void? No. Any additional bonuses for ending a bullet bill with a touch of flare? Nope. Do you even see a smidgen of a benefit for bopping multiple victims simultaneously? Not a bit. The only way to make that number go up is kill through any means necessary. And your reward for depopulating Super Mario Land? A super star, so you can reach terminal velocity running through your casualties as quickly as possible. Destruction begets destruction, and Mario is the wrecking ball that is going to swing across his kingdom.

Luckily, Super Mario Land 2 did not set the standard for Nintendo’s legendary hero. Mario returned to being rewarded for his cleverness in later titles, whether that be through collecting peaceful flowers and coins, or discovering the secrets of another monarch’s castle. In fact, at least one later title saw Mario serving a sort of community service for the violent crimes committed in his own kingdom, and cleaning up beaches and volcanoes alike. Mario never entirely stopped being destructive, but he did at least make some grasps at making the galaxy a better place through non-violent means. And the kill count? That went to Wario and his various adventures.

And, hey, maybe that means this was Wario’s fault all along. Maybe the invasion of Wario didn’t cause the inhabitants of Mario Land to turn murderous, but Mario himself. Maybe that was Wario’s plan all along, to leave Mario alone in his castle, trapped in a kingdom that no longer respected their ruler. Maybe Wario really is the greatest, and most successful, opponent Mario ever faced.

Or maybe giving Mario a kill count was just a dumb idea.

Though this may explain why we’ve never visited Mario Land’s blood-soaked hills ever again…

FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

  • SPACE MONSTER!System: Nintendo Gameboy, and wherever else Gameboy games are currently available. Nintendo 3DS? That sounds right.
  • Number of players: Mario is going this rampage alone. I shudder to think what Luigi Land looks like at this point.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kill count aside, SML2 is a very good Mario game, and was one of my favorite Gameboy titles back in the day. Right up there with Mega Man V and Final Fantasy Adventure… which means I didn’t get to actually play these games very much until the Super Gameboy. But boy did I play it a lot then! More 2-D Mario content was like ambrosia back in the pre-Mario Maker days, and any game with this many secret exits and malevolent witches was bound to be fun for the whole family. And battling Wario for the first time was pretty great, too.
  • In Living Color: When ROB selected this title, I was moderately happy at the chance to try the new(ish) Super Mario Land 2 DX patch by Toruzz. And it’s cool! Mario Land 2 in color! And hearts are mushrooms now! And… uh… that’s it? Got some physics tweaks in there, and maybe a Luigi, but that’s about it. Look, this thing looks amazing, but it’s still just an improvement on an already great game, so it’s hard to really make an impact.
  • I know that guy!It’s the Little Things: I appreciate that piranha plants that don’t stick their teeth straight up are now spiky and wearing clear “do not touch” signs. This is coming from someone that may have tried to stomp a fire-breathing plant in Super Mario Bros. 3 and was immediately punished for my hubris.
  • Favorite Zone: Even if it is short, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Space Zone and its nonstandard jump gravity. I also love/hate the automatic scrolling stage, as infinite jumping is great, but automatic scrolling is the devil. A hippo that blows Mario-sized bubbles, though, is always great.
  • Would I play again: Probably! It might be a Gameboy game, but it’s still a lot of fun, so if I’m looking for bite-sized Mario, it’s one of my first choices.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… if you can believe it… Super Mario Bros. 2. Yes, in the year 2020, ROB has chosen two twos in a row. So now it’s time to trade Warios for Warts. Please look forward to it!

Buzz buzz

FGC #441 Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II

Here comes some starsThe original StarTropics game was an action/RPG hybrid that saw young Mike Jones venture through some ill-defined “South Seas” Caribbean-esque tropical venues. Mike traversed caves, spoke to parrots, and eventually discovered the source of all of his woes were mysterious aliens. The aliens are well established as antagonists from early on, though (StarTropics), so they’re not completely out of left field in this otherwise mundane adventure about Mike exploring some deadly vacation destinations. In a time when NES titles were often incredibly bonkers, Mike’s quest was arguably simply a much more ordinary Legend of Zelda.

And then we got StarTropics 2. And it was insane-o cuckoo banana pants crazy.

So, in the interest of properly conveying the plot and further adventures of Mike Jones, please enjoy these 30 unmodified images from my playthrough of StarTropics 2. It’s pretty straightforward!







Let’s see what else happens to Mike…

FGC #312 Tomba!

Here comes Tomba!So what’s wrong with Tomba?

Tomba (technically Tomba!, but I don’t feel like driving the grammar part of my brain nuts[er]) is a 1998 release for the Playstation 1. Hot on the heels of Symphony of the Night, Tomba is one of those precious few 2-D action games for the system that was responsible for more polygons than you can shake a poorly rendered hand at. What’s more, Tomba is not only a metroidvania, but it is also a 2-D game on the Playstation wherein the developers actually tried. This isn’t some upgraded “last gen” experience or a faux-retro adventure that doesn’t quite understand what’s appealing about retro in the first place; no, this is much more like Skullmonkeys, a game with new advances applied to old conventions, and gorgeous PSX graphics may stand side by side with simple “press X to jump” gameplay. It’s the best of both worlds! A bold new world for the genre everyone loved on the old generations! All hail the conquering Tomba!

Except… Tomba sold about twelve copies. There was a follow-up, but it basically bankrupt the company. From a strictly sales perspective, Tomba was a colossal failure on par with the Hindenburg. I mean, I guess no one distinctly died (unless you count a pile of pink creatures), but, still, not exactly a fun time for anybody on the development side.

So… why? Tomba was lauded by critics, and this was less than a year after the release of SoTN, one of the most praised (and purchased) games in the Playstation library. Tomba didn’t have to be the next Final Fantasy 7, but it could have at least conquered an echelon that allowed its producers to subsist on sweet Tomba ports for the next decade or so. Tomba is a delightful romp featuring a shirtless dude hopping through magical islands, so it should have at least done better than Adventure Island!

So what went wrong? Well, it might have something to do with first impressions.

SnifferFirst of all, to judge a book by its cover, Tomba is a hard sell. In a time when videogames were either getting solemn (Final Fantasy 7 was clearly a serious story for our serious times) or radical (Tony Hawk is wiggedy wiggedy whack), Tomba arrived on the scene with a hero wearing ragged short shorts and sporting bright, pink hair. And what else is going on on that disc cover? We’ve got a pair of pigs, and one of them is doing the ol’ “bug eyes” look at Tomba. And there’s a clock tower in the background that resembles the iconic WB water tower. What’s the final verdict there? Tomba is evoking memories of old cartoons, and, more recently (at the time), Animaniacs. That was something you simply couldn’t do in 1998. You could be staid with realistic polygon people (or as “realistic” as possible), or you could be anime as hell (and thus foreign and interesting), but you couldn’t be cartoony. That’s for babies, Tomba! Nobody cares about your opening sequence being an elegant bit of animation, it would be right at home on Saturday morning cartoons, and that’s juvenile. We’re into adult games now. Take your cartoon pigs elsewhere.

But even once you get past the cartoons, things don’t exactly improve. Tomba is a metroidvania platformer, and that comes with its own set of problems. There’s a reason the typical metroidvania features a weaponry-based protagonist. Consider Super Metroid: over the course of that adventure, Samus acquires a breadth of weapons and items that perform many different tasks. The ice beam can freeze enemies, but it also allows for using those icy monsters as platforms. The space jump offers Samus unsurpassed mobility and the ability to reach nearly any area. Missiles open doors and blast bosses to smithereens. But when you think of the final sequence of that game, the final battle against Mother Brain and the escape immediately after, are you really using any tools that aren’t presented within the first moments of the game? It might be a little higher, but Samus jumps almost exactly the same whether she’s first landed on Crateria or she’s fleeing Tourian. The speed booster might move things along a little faster, but hold A (screw you, default control scheme) to run fast along the path is right there in the original space station escape. And, whether it’s the hyper beam or Samus’s original peashooter, aim and fire in regards to flying jellyfish is exactly the same from beginning to end. Samus’s repertoire grows as the game progresses, but she’s always drawing on an unchanged base of natural skills.

Swing is the thingUnfortunately, when you base a metroidvania around a platforming style hero, things are a little more difficult. Tomba starts with his default run speed, his default jumping ability, and his default spikey ball whip. All of these defaults suck. All of these defaults are supposed to suck. Like any great metroidvania star, Tomba starts out kind of terrible in comparison to his eventual kickass final form. However, this means that the player’s first impression of Tomba is that he sucks as badly as his initial abilities. Tomba will eventually gain a weapon that is not only effective, but also a grappling hook. Tomba will eventually run at top speed, complete with an amazing dash. Tomba will eventually gain a jump that doesn’t steer like a freight train. Tomba will eventually become a great hero… but for that first level, you’re likely going to get smacked around by a couple of pigs that are barely even mobile. Samus or your average Belmont start their adventures “weak”, but they’re still fun to control. Tomba has to take time to get there, and makes a very poor first impression for it. (And it’s no coincidence that both Symphony of the Night and Shadow Complex start with a sequence that effectively says, “Hey, look how awesome you are going to get”.)

Which segues nicely into the other Tomba problem: RPG elements. Tomba was slightly ahead of the Final Fantasy 7 hype train (from which there was no getting off), and incorporated a number of features you’d traditionally associate with JRPGs. There are towns. There is a complete inventory system. There’s even “leveling” of a sort (or maybe it works more like money? But to open treasure chests?). There are a number of JRPG-like bits to Tomba… and it all seems completely 3-d!perfunctory. Yes, Tomba acquires upgrades, but he has no more need to “equip” new items than Samus Aran. Yes, Tomba encounters friendly towns, but he has no more need to interact with “people” for clues than Alucard. These JRPG bits make Tomba a more complicated game, but they ultimately detract from the experience. It takes a surprisingly long time to open the menu, select your item, and then use whatever doodad you need to use to clear the latest obstacle, when, come on, just give Tomba the space jump and let the little guy have fun. Again, this isn’t game breaking in any way, it’s simply an unnecessary waste of time, and nobody wants to waste time when Xenogears is also readily available.

And that’s Tomba in a nutshell. It’s a great game! There’s a great presentation here, and it feels like another game smuggled away from the alternate universe where 2-D Playstation games were granted the budgets and care of their 3-D brethren. But Tomba makes a lousy first impression, and its vaguely Looney Tunes-esque aesthetics couldn’t succeed anywhere in 1998 past Space Jam. Tomba is a great game that everyone should play, but it’s easy to see why it was a failure in its time.

Tomba, I’m sorry, but sometimes the pigs win.

FGC #312 Tomba!

  • System: Playstation 1. Again, Whoopee Camp pretty much stopped existing after Tomba 2, so we were denied what would have been an excellent 3DS port (hey, Spyro wound up on the GBA, after all).
  • Number of players: One Tomba. Ever notice that a lot of Playstation games are one player? Was there a particular reason for that? Other than the “everybody wants to be a JRPG” thing?
  • WeeeeWhat’s in a name: Tomba is known as Tombi in Europe. This is presumably because “tomba” is slang for a woman’s genitals in England. Okay, that might not be true, but that’s the reason I don’t trust fanny packs.
  • Favorite Upgrade: Tomba does not get enough respect for being one of the great umbrella-wielders of the videogame world. Kirby gets all the praise.
  • Did you know? In Japan, Tomba has a complete theme song with lyrics. For the American localization, like many games, the lyrics were dropped, but an instrumental version of the theme plays on. In Europe, Tombi’s intro is scored by… the theme to BBC kids’ show No Sweat. This is… odd.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. You should play Tomba at least once, but it’s also a relic of its time. You could do worse to spend eight hours or so on this adventure, but that’s about all it will ever need.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… C the Contra Adventure for the Playstation! Wow, now it’s time for the other side of Playstation “2-D” games. Please look forward to it!

Pigs!