Tag Archives: skeletons

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

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

I'm walking on airKid Icarus was a formative NES action game. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the portable sequel that continued with similar, improved mechanics. Twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising was released.

And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.

Say what you will about things getting stale, but with Nintendo franchises, you generally know what you’re going to get. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros, two Mario releases separated by decades, might not seem terribly similar to some magical human being that has never seen a videogame before, but, once you start steering Mario around the Mushroom Kingdom/Universe, it’s clear that both games come from the same base run/jump/stomp concepts. This continues through basically the whole Smash Bros cast: The Legend of Zelda is for exploring/swordplay, Donkey Kong is for simple jumping and running, Captain Falcon and F-Zero are for racing, and Metroid is for metroiding. Yes, there are spin-offs and outliers, but Star Fox is always for shootin’, even when your arwing can fold up like origami.

So you’d be forgiven if you were expecting the first Kid Icarus game in ages to be at all similar to the prior two experiences. But it turns out this Pit doesn’t need a jump button. And speaking of which, the control scheme is optimized for this guy…

Gimme some sugar

If you have less than four hands, bad news, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising, considers his creation to be a shooting game. That is… generally accurate? Half of every level takes place in the sky (or an approximation thereof), with heroic Pit blessed with flight by Goddess Palutena. During these sections, conceptually, you are basically playing Star Fox, and the 3DS adapts well to fight and flight mechanics. Heck, there’s a reason Star Fox 64 3D was one of the first 3DS games: the 3DS seems practically made for 3-D shooting galleries. Pit, with his wings and arrows, adapts well to the role, and you could easily make the argument that this is a “modern” version of Kid Icarus’s iconic final stage. And, let’s be real here, that section probably was the best part of Kid Icarus (or the only part where any kid ever accomplished anything…) . So, yes, okay, let’s make a Kid Icarus shooting game.

Except… eventually Pit lands. Palutena’s blessing can’t last forever, and Pit must explore the second half of most levels planted firmly on the ground. Maybe there’s a tower to scale, maybe there’s a dungeon to explore, but it must be done on foot, and jumping and flying is right out. It’s here that KI:U’s control scheme gets crazy, and… why can’t he just control like a normal Nintendo hero, again?

TANK!The on foot sections of KI:U are probably best described as “experimental”. If you’re breaking this down to its core components, you’re pretty much looking at an innovative way to control a FPS hero… but in a 3rd person perspective. It’s… cumbersome. And it takes a little getting used to. Actually, it takes a lot of getting used to, and I swear the level designers know it. Some of the more demanding sections include honest-to-God walking puzzles. For those that missed the fun, that’s a challenge, usually involving narrow ledges, where you can “fail” because you did not walk correctly. That’s not something that should ever be in a videogame, because walking should be as easy as… walking. If a toddler can master something (if Dirk the Daring can master something) it should not be a remote challenge in any kind of videogame. But it seems like Angel Land has a hero or two with some manner of vertigo, so constricted walkways might be a problem. Maybe Pit had eggplants for brains a few too many times.

And it’s not just the controls that might repel a new player. There is a weapon upgrade system that is… opaque seems a little too gentle. Completely insane? You can buy new weapons by offering hearts (currency) as tribute, but all the good weapons are available via a weapon combining system that… I have no idea what is going on. There are star ratings for various weapons, but there are different types of weapons, and Pit’s shooting style changes dramatically from one weapon to another. Yes, this sword is powerful, but it would mean giving up a pair of orbs that shoot homing missiles. And the sword doesn’t “shoot” at all? But it reflects shots? Well, is that going to be at all useful in the next level that I know nothing about? Can I try before I buy? No? Hey, it’s not like the average level lasts fifteen minutes or so…

WeeeeOh, and determining the “difficulty” for a level before you play it? And it’s a one to ten incremental system? I’m sorry, what’s the difference between this stage being level 4.5 difficult versus 4.7 difficult? I can understand the difference between “Normal” and “Hard”. I’ll even tolerate a “Very Hard” or “Professional” mode. But decimals? Just show me exactly where the bar is for “world is filled with invincible skull heads”, and I’ll choose the next level lower than that. ‘Kay? Thanks.

But all of this insanity is not why Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers. What’s bonkers is how much, despite everything in this game, you will want to play more.

Kid Icarus, more than any other Nintendo game, is a playable cartoon. And that’s not because of dialogue boxes or “the plot”; it’s about the simple, instant rapport between Pit and Goddess Palutena. From the first moment, they’re chatting over the action while “you” are playing the game. Occasionally, a villain breaks into the narrative to hurl insults. As episodes progress, various other characters join the fray, and, while you’re busy with a grim reaper or two, Pit ‘n Pally are going through their comedy routine. And then, as it inevitably must, Pit gets real in later stages, Palutena is absent, and “lesser” goddesses have to pick up the slack. It’s not the same, and that’s not a bug, but a feature. When, after fifteen stages of having Palutena in your corner, she’s suddenly missing, you notice. You notice, and you notice it sucks. Where’d my goddess go!?

VroomAnd it’s in this manner that Kid Icarus: Uprising worms its way into your heart. Its systems may be dense, its controls may be some manner of hand-torture, but it contains some of the most instantly approachable and sympathetic characters in gaming. Considering Pit didn’t have very much to say in his initial adventures past, “I’m finished!” it’s a rather significant accomplishment that KI:U makes a better case for Kid Icarus: The Animated Series than every other Nintendo mascot. And these are the best mascots gaming has to offer! Pit is standing in the heavens of the gaming hall of fame, and it’s all thanks to one game.

One game that is nothing like its forbearers and is attached to impossibly janky controls. It’s… kind of bonkers.

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Given the direction of Nintendo’s “handheld market”, this game might never see another release again. It really is 100% geared toward the 3DS, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.
  • Number of players: There’s a multiplayer “fight” mode here (as is proper to Sakurai games), and some sort of co-op thing, but I’ve never met anyone else with a copy of KI:U handy, so I can’t really speak to how it all plays. All I know is that it was mysteriously implicated in a number of cases of boneitis back in 2012.
  • Think of the Centurions: Palutena’s army, the noble centurions, are just as fragile as ever. And Palutena notes that they are disposable… but you’ll feel bad if they die. And, dammit, she’s right. Poor lil winged dudes…
  • Metroidian: Despite the presence of space pirates and “metroids”, there is no relation between Kid Icarus and Metroid.
    NONE

    None.
  • Just play the gig man: It’s a good thing Super Smash Bros. 4 got to reuse a lot of this music, as it is phenomenal. Sakurai doesn’t seem to direct games with half-assed soundtracks.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Male deities seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve noticed a peculiar trend with the goddesses of KI:U.

    Wankery Week never ends

    With the exception of Medusa, it seems like every heavenly being of the female variety could double as Pit’s “playful” older sister. Actually, to put a point on it, Palutena is the older sister, and the rest of the women are her cool friends that jokingly flirt and tease the dweeby Pit. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of fanfic coming upon me again. Could go either way.

  • Did you know? Viridi is the one recurring character that appears in “chat scenes” but is never directly fought. Dark Pit, Hades, Medusa, and even your own allies appear on the opposite side of Pit’s sword-bow at one time or another, but Viridi is always on the sidelines. Guess it helps to have your own army.

  • Would I play again: My hand is a little knotted right now… Maybe after a little healing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze! Guess we’re on a Nintendo kick again, ROB? Or maybe you’re just looking for a banana smoothie? Whatever the case, it’s time to roll around with some Kongs. Please look forward to it!

DO IT!

FGC #251 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

Here comes the heroSuper Kid Icarus would have been amazing.

I feel like Super Mario Bros. 2 defined how Nintendo makes sequels. Which Super Mario Bros. 2 am I talking about? Both! Super Mario Bros. (1) was an unprecedented success that led not only to Nintendo’s dominance of the videogame market, but also roughly ten billion imitators. Run, jump… who cares if we get the physics right, it’s all the same, let’s snipe some of that sweet Mario money (coins?). Thus, Nintendo had to create its own Super Mario Bros. sequel to maintain its grip on “this is how it’s done”. And Super Mario Bros 2: The Lost Levels (let’s just use that title so I don’t have to awkwardly type “J” repeatedly) was born. The Lost Levels was, in essence, a continuation of Super Mario Bros, with (pretty much) the same sprites and physics, just greater and deeper challenges for a population that had already mastered Mario’s first adventure. And… Miyamoto didn’t like it. So when Super Mario Bros. 2 came stateside, it was a totally different game, with a full cast of unique characters, magical dream worlds, and a giant frog instead of a giant turtle. Yes, it was, basically, an “official” rom hack of another game, but this is what America saw as “the second Mario game”. And, of course, it was successful.

And it seems like that trip to Sub-Con set the tone for future Nintendo franchise sequels. Super Mario Bros. 3 returned to “old” Super Mario Bros. gameplay… but with the notable addition of flight and frogs. And completely new sprites. And practically every opponent using new patterns or skills. Super Mario World again changed the game in every conceivable way, and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island changed so much that it’s barely even considered a proper sequel. Meanwhile, Link went through three very different iterations between The Legend of Zelda, Link’s Adventure, and A Link to the Past. Even “lesser” franchises and characters follow a similar arc, whether it’s Donkey Kong (1) vs. Donkey Kong (’94), or Kirby’s Dreamland (a suck and spit adventure) vs. Kirby’s Adventure (meet the copy ability). While Nintendo is consistent with its franchises offering the same general gameplay across sequels (almost consistent, look forward to the next entry…), there’s often more innovation than iteration than seen in other companies’ franchise sequels. Or, put another way, it’s difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish the difference between a Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 5 stage, while no one is going to mistake a SMB3 world for a SMB1 world. Heck, I think there’s so much nostalgia for Super Mario Bros. 1-1 in later Mario games because we didn’t revisit that same basic layout for, what, twenty years? Where have you been, old friend?

DIE!Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters seems to follow this template. KI:OMAM could easily have been a straight NES-to-Gameboy port (not like the NES original was all that complicated from a graphical or bytes perspective), but, no, like a tiny, gray version of Super Mario Bros. 3, we’ve got a game with all new sprites, all new enemies, and all kinds of interesting gameplay improvements. Remember how every last item is completely unexplained in Kid Icarus? KI:OMAM actually involves NPCs that explain how extra weapons work, where secrets may be hiding, and whether or not that off-color water is lava or a healing spring. As someone that has never seen a Kid Icarus instruction manual, this is a Palutena-send. And, despite the cramped Gameboy screen, it seems like fewer monsters spawn directly atop poor Pit. Hooray! And, even better, you can actually duck without instantly dying, as most platforms are now completely solid, and you can scroll the screen down without repercussions. Everything wrong is right again!

And, while the bosses of the original Kid Icarus seemed like mythological (and generally misspelled) names randomly applied to blobs of pixels (how is this smoke monster supposed to be Pandora again?), there is much more of a myths and monsters bend to the creatures of KI:OMAM. “Kid Icarus” absolutely should fight a minotaur, and, look, here’s one at the end of the first stage. And a flying skull with wings might not be the most Grecian thing in the world, but, hey, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s more of a “monster” than that attempt at a dog sprite from the first dungeon of Kid Icarus. And the final boss might not be Medusa, but it is basically the Roman version of Satan. This makes him a tweeeak more threatening than a giant eyeball and its accompanying lazy snake. Dude has horns for days!

WeeeeWhen you put it all together, you get an experience very much like Metroid II: The Return of Samus. Metroid 1 was good, but flawed, with far too many opaque systems and items and Jesus Christ what do I have to do to get an auto-map?! Kid Icarus was very similar in his maiden voyage, and, while his adventure was filled with buttheads, there was a glimmer of a more refined experience in there. Kid Icarus: OMAM is that refined experience. And, more than anything, it’s a fun, “new” sequel that borrows from the old but winds up being a distinctive, excellent experience.

But, for confusing reasons, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was never released in Japan. It’s a first party Nintendo game, but it never saw its native shores, only America and Europe. Likely for this reason alone, when Mario, Link, and even Little Mac were all getting their 16-bit makeovers, Pit was left out in the cold. The Hero of Angel Land never saw a Super Kid Icarus, and we’re poorer for it.

If Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the template for the future of the Kid Icarus franchise, we lost something special when Pit never ascended with his Nintendo brethren. Super Kid Icarus could have been another Super Metroid, and, heck, if it hit that echelon, it could have chiseled out its own genre. But, no, we are forever denied that beautiful, fictional version of 1994.

But at least we got a pretty good Gameboy game out of it.

FGC #251 Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters

  • System: Gameboy. It also saw some Virtual Console love, mostly as a canny way to promote our next FGC entry.
  • Number of players: Pit is a solitary hero.
  • He's hairy, tooFavorite Boss: The final battle with Orcos is pretty dang epic, and almost reminds me of Super Kraid. This is something of a major achievement on the Gameboy, even if it’s abundantly obvious that no more than one “part” of Orcos can appear on the screen at one time. Hey, it’s rough being a colossal boss on a system that can barely generate four shades of gray.
  • Other Improvements: The three treasures of Angel Land now enhance Pit’s natural abilities, and don’t transform the final stage into a completely other genre. This feels a lot more appropriate than Kid Icarus’s finale.
  • Makeover, Makeover: Palutena’s hair is canon gray for this adventure. Yes, it’s a Gameboy game, but she’s rocking the gray locks in instruction manual illustrations, too. This is probably because no one working on the manual finished Kid Icarus, either.
  • Did you know? When Orcos appears, he turns Palutena to stone. And all the centurions have been similarly transformed into a more statuesque form. That move made a lot more sense with Medusa…
  • Would I play again: The mystique of this game is all wrapped up in what could have been next. The actual game is a step in the right direction, but, like Metroid 2, kind of difficult to revisit after decades of innovations (mostly innovations in screen size). So, while this game is good, no, I don’t think I’ll be playing it again.

What’s next? You know the answer to that one.

Away!