Tag Archives: The Joy of Movement

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Blood!Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the rare game that is so good, it makes old games better.

Full disclosure: I have a complicated relationship with the early Castlevania titles. To elaborate, I am referring specifically to any Castlevania game that was released prior to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which I now realize that, thanks to the unstoppable march of time, is approximately twelve billion years old). But back before Alucard ever earned his first crissaegrim, there was the Belmont clan, and its unyielding pursuit of the death of the undead. And… I kinda didn’t like those Castlevania games? Maybe?

It’s complicated. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was one of my first NES games (and, thus, one of my first videogames, period), and, as anyone that has ever banged their head against Deborah Cliff will tell you, it is a deeply confusing and difficult game. Luckily, I had an older neighbor (he was, like, twelve!) who shared tips and tricks on how to traverse the Wallachian countryside, and Castlevania 2 was less “impossible” and more “inordinately difficult”. I could send Dracula back to his grave! It… just took a password that unlocked all the items (and maybe I still died a thousand times). Oh, and I would totally glitch out that one jump in the graveyard area. What does it matter if Simon drowns? He’ll be better in no time.

Whip it good!But Castlevania 3? Now there was a game. It was another of my precious few “original” Nintendo games, and an air-mailed Christmas gift from my grandparents (who had fled to warmer climes for the holiday season). As a game I could immediately identify as both “advanced” (look at those amazing graphics!) and “clever” (four playable characters! That’s as many as a full gang of Ninja Turtles!), I was fairly convinced I enjoyed Castlevania 3. After all, I played Castlevania 3 so many times, I had all but mastered such advanced techniques as Grant’s wall hugging and Alucard’s surprisingly weak fireblasts. I was a Castlevania master!

And I think I only ever made it to level… four.

Yes, I could plug in “Help Me” and use that password everyone ripped out of Nintendo Power to skip straight to the good Count, but did I ever legitimately beat back Death with my NES Advantage? Never. Did I ever even approach the Doppelganger? Nope. And, as I can very vividly recall, that room with the falling blocks was the absolute end of many a playthrough. If Alucard ran out of hearts to bat his way up that chamber, I was just done. Don’t have time for this nonsense!

Which… was kind of the point. I continued to purchase and/or rent classic Castlevania titles (Bloodlines comes immediately to mind as my most rented Genesis title), and I unequivocally enjoyed that franchise… but it wasn’t Mega Man. It wasn’t Mario. In fact, Mario might have been the biggest reason I could never truly enjoy a Castlevania game. Even if I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I still had some thought in my head regarding that whole “joy of movement” theory. Mario was unmistakably fun to control. Simon Belmont? Not so much. His movements were restricted. He had a terrible jump, limited offensive options, and didn’t gain magical invincibility that killed every zombie in his path even once. And the average lifespan of a Belmont? Not very long when you consider how easily a single decapitated medusa could shove that entire clan into one of a thousand bottomless pits.

In short? It sucked to be a Belmont. And who wants to play a game where you have to suck?

Magic!Unfortunately, in the time since the Castlevania “classic” series reigned supreme, I have become a cranky old man. As such, I rarely have time nowadays for games that I do not immediately enjoy. Many JRPGs have fallen by the wayside simply because I cannot deal with another tutorial dungeon explaining how fire beats ice. Perfectly competent platformers have gone ignored because I bounced off the main character’s art style. And I’m not afraid to admit that I dropped at least one “game of the year” just because the hero’s initial movement speed was “too exhausting”. Suffice to say, I was not exactly expecting to dive into an “old school” Castlevania with the same gusto that a more grilled cheese-based Wee Goggle Bob was once capable of mustering.

But Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was more than a little surprising.

First of all (he said, 700 or so words in), Bloodstained: CotM is just plain fun. It is aping Castlevania 3 like a monkey mimicking an orangutan, and it hews so closely to the “original”, it’s almost a surprise that Miriam can’t stick to walls. You start with the base, limited protagonist with slow, but functional, movements, move on to someone a little weaker, but with greater agility and range, pick up a squishy wizard with extremely convenient spells, and finally gain some brooding dork that craps fireballs and occasionally morphs into a bat. Unlike Castlevania 3, though, you do have the option of switching between all four combatants at once, which wildly increases the odds you’ll ever bother with that weakling mage. And that also means stages are designed around every possible party combination, and… that’s where things get complicated.

Stairs!It is very likely that, upon playing B:CoTM for the first time, the player will choose to recruit every last ally, and utilize their skills in every possible combination across all levels. Once that task is completed, a new mode will unlock wherein all the extra allies are available from the start, but Zangetsu (the ersatz Belmont and initial playable character) is missing in action. And he’s not missed! It’s pretty clear that Zangetsu is the Zeppo of these Marx brothers, and you’re much better off using literally anyone else. Miriam has mad ups, Alfred can blast any boss, and Gebel can scratch those hard to reach places. Who even invited that Zangetsu nerd in the first place?

This, naturally, will lead a curious player toward trying that initial mode again, but this time, using only Zangetsu. He’s the worst, but that just makes him a “secret” kind of hard mode, right? Not quite…

Zangetsu has two options for a solo outing. On one route, he may choose the bloody path of literally murdering each of his potential allies. And the prize for his sins will be access to new offensive and gymnastic skills. A homicidal Zangetsu can acquire a sweeping slash, high-speed dash, double jump, and a “charge attack” that would put a certain Mega Buster to shame. And then he’s the best character in the game! Without a question! Who even needs friends when you can slash an enormous turtle monster in half! I am become Death!

But then there’s “true” solo mode. Friendly Zangetsu acknowledges that all these wizards crawling around are creeping him out, but doesn’t kill a single one of them. Zangetsu must soldier on with his meager skills, and thus the player must learn to deal with a lame jump and Link’s Adventure-level weapon range. Zangetsu is pathetic, and every challenge becomes actually challenging, even for someone that has already saved this world three times or so.

But you know what? It’s doable.

Not a vampire!Bloodstained: CoTM is built for a full party of moon murderers (I miss just saying “vampire slayers”), including at least one dude that can magically become invincible, and another than can fly literally anywhere. Its stages are also designed for just the guy who can barely jump. In fact, the game is designed equally for both eventualities, and offers a wildly different experience for either choice. And, crucially, this means that the choices the player makes over the course of the adventure are significant. You don’t need a “Miriam will remember that” prompt to tell you something significant has happened when you’re too busy fighting your way over a bottomless pit to notice, and the “penalty” for literally killing a possible helper is immediately revealed in a sudden change of moveset. But, by the same token, these important choices may create a game that is more or less difficult, but never a game that becomes a complete cakewalk or impossibility. Everything here was carefully designed around players playing the game their way, and that allows for an inordinate amount of fun.

And, yeah, that’s something Bloodstained: CoTM learned from Castlevania 3, too. Heck, you could even claim it learned it from the original Castlevania. After all, tell me you’re not playing two different games depending on whether you decide to bring a bottle of holy water to a Frankenstein fight. The “old school” Castlevania titles might not have been as much fun to play as Mega Man, but in their limitations, they created an environment where the player had more choices than any title that involved a tanooki leaf.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon taught me that the original Castlevania titles were always more than they seemed, and didn’t need to pull in a single vampire to do it. Mimic a franchise, and somehow make the base franchise better? Pretty good trick, Bloodstained.

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

  • System: PC, Nintendo Switch, 3DS, Sony Playstation 4, and Vita. Sorry, this will be the only Bloodstained merchandise appearing on the Vita.
  • Number of players: One is good enough.
  • Pimpin!Favorite Boss: Hey, it turns out all these jerks have names on the official website! Valefor, the giant monster wearing a pimp hat, is my clear winner. He’s made of gold! And tries to kill you with gold! And can occasionally summon monsters made of gold! That’s solid gold, baby!
  • Out of Order: Did anyone else find Bathin, the light speed lizard that haunts the mechanical library, to be easier than literally every previous boss in the game? Its super fast attacks would be impossible without those target reticules, but with giant flashing “don’t stand here” signs all over the place? Not so much.
  • Favorite Character: Good call on making Miriam, the star of the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, arguably the most useful character. Sure, she is lacking in health or very strong attacks, but agility goes a long way in the 2-D world.
  • Favorite Reason 16-Bit Graphics were invented: Nothing interesting about the main characters really comes across with these faux 8-bit sprites, but Gebel really loses something when lo-fi. He’s supposed to be adorned with blood-purple stained glass across his flesh, but here? Here he’s just Alucard.
  • Would I play again? Odds are really good! Maybe I’ll even give that boss-rush a chance! Or maybe I’ll actually keep playing the parts of the game I enjoy! Who knows what the future holds?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Alfred Chicken for the Super Nintendo! There we go! There’s that randomness we all love and crave! Please look forward to it!

Choo Choo!

FGC #389 Super Mario 3D World

Mario!There are some videogame franchises I can “rank” without question. Want to know my order for favorite Mega Man games? I made that sequence my pin number. How about a comprehensive explanation of why Final Fantasy 10 is better than Final Fantasy 12? I’ve got you covered. Heck, if you’re feeling really saucy, I could probably compare and contrast nearly every JRPG that was released in the last decade. Well… not every JRPG, despite recent posts, there are some Omega Quintet titles out there that even I can’t stomach. But I’m pretty sure I could accurately compare the finer points of Radiant Historia to some of the nonsense in Persona 5.

And there’s a reason I feel I could perform such a feat. It’s simple: so many videogames are exactly the same. Okay, that’s a touch of an exaggeration, but the concept seems rather pat. After all, this is why we like videogames. I enjoy some variety once in a while, but I don’t want to have to spend the next three weeks figuring out a control scheme just so I can play a fifteen hour game. To again use Persona as an example, while there are many fascinating ideas and concepts in that franchise (even going back to the pre-Persona 3 titles), that entre quinology (not the word I’m thinking of) still boils down to “is a JRPG”. Run through dungeons, fight monsters, use the spells and attacks that make the battles end quickly, and earn new skills and powers as you move along. And that’s what I want! Sitting down to play a new game shouldn’t be a chore, and immediately knowing what to do gets the dopamine a-pumpin’. Haha! An ice dragon? I’ve got my fire sword, and I’m going to be feasting on frozen dragon gizzards by nightfall!

Here he comes!And, while that may make some games predictable, it certainly makes them a lot easier to compare. When every game has an obvious A, B, and C, then you can effortlessly compare those ABCs to each other. Is this Robot Master better than that Robot Master? (Note: every Robot Master is better than Toad Man.) Does this title have the better soundtrack? How about controls? If the interface is vastly improved from original to sequel, that’s going to make a huge impact. And the levels! The dungeons! Surely there must be a difference between lava caves. These items are the lifeblood of any given franchise, and it’s fun to objectively compare these matters until you have a vigorous understanding of your “favorite”.

And then there’s the Mario franchise. Trying to compare Mario games is… tricky.

While Mario has always appeared to be the All-Father of gaming’s most familiar faces, it’s a lot more accurate to identify Mario as the trickster god of the medium. Donkey Kong featured a Jump Man that could barely vault a barrel, but then Mario Bros starred brothers that could leap a third of the screen in a single bound. Super Mario Bros. was all about turtles and flinging fireballs, and then Super Mario Bros. 2 brought us a bounty of vegetables and shy guys. Ever seen a raccoon fly? Maybe a dude riding a dinosaur? Now save some stars in a painting! Or clean up an island resort with your water gun! Travel to the furthest reaches of the Galaxy! Or just hang out in some random city! Mario is, and has always been, all over the map. And that’s even before you get to the time his fat, elven twin tried to steal his private theme park. Those overalls might be consistent, but Mario’s gameplay is as mercurial as the T-1000.

Go!Given we had to wait for the Switch to see Mario scoot along on his own little odyssey, it would be fair to call Super Mario 3D World the significant Mario game for the WiiU. In an attempt to define this Mario, it is a sequel to a portable Mario title that had been released a few years earlier. Or, it’s a sequel to another Mario lineage that brought four player couch co-op to the Mushroom Kingdom. Or it’s the sequel to Mario Galaxy? I saw a Charging Chuck in there, let’s just claim it’s a Super Mario World sequel, and move on. What’s important is that Super Mario 3D World is a platforming style Mario game (not to be confused with tennis or racing or… qix?), and we all know what to expect from that. Jumping, running, goomba squishing, and maybe Princess Peach can float in this one. She can? Awesome. Super Mario 3D World is another Mario game on another Mario system.

But the level to level creativity of this title is insane. There are grasslands, icy mountains, and lava castles just like any other platformer, but there are also stages that are built around speed boosters. Or overhead “dungeons” that would be more comfortable hiding around Hyrule. Or serene beaches crowded with vacationing goombas. And the powerups! Items like the Double Cherry or Boomerang Flower may initially seem like simple, “here’s the featured item du jour” type forgettable powerups, but once you burn through a level with an unstoppable army of four Luigis hurling boomerangs at boos, you’ll be singing a different tune. And, while the stages may all seem like complete chaos, they’re all carefully designed, and work equally marvelously with one player as well as four. It’s bedlam, and correctly guessing whether the next stage will be a “jumping puzzle” or a hammer bros. gauntlet is impossible. But it’s all the kind of organized anarchy that can only come from a deft directorial hand.

And that’s Mario.

WeeeeYou never know what you’re going to get with a Mario game. 3D? 2D? Some… kinda of… time traveling… adventure… maybe? Doesn’t matter! What’s important is that Mario has the best, most consistent perfection average in the business. Want to know why I’ll buy every Mario game from now until the end of time? It’s because there is no “Mario Cycle”, no “nobody likes this franchise until the next title comes out” corollary to its reviews. Mario games are just good, and, even when they get experimental, they still define the industry. Mario isn’t consistent in anything but being amazing, and that’s why his adventures are so unique.

Though, obviously, Super Mario 3D World is one of the best. Probably… Number 4? No, maybe 3…

FGC #389 Super Mario 3D World

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. Complete with some fairly vestigial “gamepad features”, I feel like this one could easily be ported to the fabulous success that is the WiiU’s successor.
  • Number of players: Four! I’ve never actually tried out a complete four players in this game, but three is pretty tops all by itself. Well, I mean, tops for watching all of your uncoordinated friends die.
  • So, did you beat it? Yep, every last stage, including the impossible final gauntlets. Mind you, I haven’t beaten it all with every last character… but maybe one day. Gotta use those stamps in Miiverse, right? Wait… what’s that about Miiverse?
  • WeeeeGrand Finale: Of the many recent battles with Bowser, having the big guy go hog wild with the featured powerups of the title made for one of the most memorable encounters. It’s conceptually no different from any other “Bowser chase” final area, but the lunacy of Panther Bowser popping through a wall while Panther Bowser scales a building… Amazing.
  • Toad Origins: Also, it’s telling about the significance of the Mario franchise that a “once a world minigame” grew into an entire, remarkable title all on its own. I realize that fungus have a tendency to develop wildly when they start to take over, but if that kind of growth leads to Toad hunting down treasure, I’m down.
  • Favorite Stage: Take me to the beach any day.
  • Did you know? Chargin’ Chuck first appeared in Super Mario World, then Yoshi’s Safari, and then… nothing. Chuck didn’t reappear until this title, a full 20 years later. But those football hooligans are back for Odyssey, so maybe they’ll stick around this time.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. Totally yes. Need an excuse to get a full complement of players in my basement yes. Just hope the WiiU holds out…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Darkstalkers 3 for the Playstation 1! Vampires and mummies and yeti, oh my! Please look forward to it!

Noooo
Why does this always happen to Weegi?

FGC #331 Super Mario Galaxy 2

It's a-him!So here’s why Mario games are good.

Today’s game is Super Mario Galaxy 2, the final part of the Super Mario Galaxy duology. While some endlessly debate whether Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the better game (and I will remind you that SMG2 contains Yoshi), it is perhaps better to look at Super Mario Galaxy as one solid piece, accidentally fragmented into two sections. Let’s face it, SMG was released on the cusp of Nintendo learning how to add expansions to games (see the eventual joys of Smash Bros, Hyrule Warriors, and Mario Kart), and, should SMG have initially been released on the WiiU, we likely would have seen new planets until the release of the Switch. But, for now, the two games are separate but equal, with slight differences between the two, and an aggravating need to switch discs when you have to choose between riding a dolphin or a vulture.

But the reason the difference between the two games is insignificant is because both titles are amazing. Super Mario Galaxy is easily the apex of the Mario franchise (note for future readers: this article was published before the release of Mario Odyssey, or any other inevitable future endeavors, like Mario… Omniverse?), and the sheer volume of creativity and care on display in these games is astronomical. Yes, there are a few misses bouncing around the title (mostly experiments involving motion controls), and it would be nice to be able to play this Mario game with a “real” controller, but, by and large Mario Galaxy & Mario Galaxy 2 are perfect Mario games.

But why are they perfect? What is it about blasting around Mario’s Galaxy that makes these games so much fun? Is it the gravity? The enemies? The Bowser fights? (No, it’s never that.)

I’ve got a theory for Mario games (and nearly all action/platforming games), and it’s called “The Joy of Movement”. What makes a great Mario game? It’s whether or not you actually enjoy moving around.

WeeeeeAt first blush, this seems abundantly obvious. After all, sloppy controls are often the death knell for poorly received games. Amagon probably would be a passable adventure if it were at all possible for the hero to actually deal with the encroaching threats of Everything-Kills-You Island. And while even games with terrible controls may occasionally succeed (looking at you, Grand Theft Auto), they usually nail at least one thing completely perfectly (like using rocket launchers on pedestrians). But for successful franchises, it’s obvious that enjoying actually moving your digital avatar is the most important thing. Sonic the Hedgehog is the poster child for this phenomenon (and the recent Sonic Mania being essentially Sonic & Knuckles 4 and being wildly successful cannot be a coincidence), but Mega Man also slots in perfectly here, too. Mega Man might not have 360° aiming or the ability to bend his robo-knees, but he’s perfectly suited to his world, and there’s joy to be had in flawlessly stomping over the corpse of a robot monkey on your way to barbecuing a wooden man. The joy of movement is real, and you’ve subconsciously experienced it practically every time you’ve played a worthwhile videogame.

And Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2? Here is the apex of joy of movement.

It’s initially very simple: Mario just plain controls well. You’ve got analogue walking/running, you’ve got the triple jump, and you can even hold a button to crawl along. Start combining some of these commands, and you’ve got the inimitable long jump and backflip. Go a little further, and you’ve got Mario exploring weird little planets with their weird little gravities, but still “moving” exactly the same. And intuitively, too! Leaping from one planetoid to another always “feels right”, and switching gravities is as natural as stomping on goombas. And speaking of feelings, the aggressive spin attack or the frantic spin jump both feel wonderful when you use the technique to survive an incoming chomp or avoid a crushing black hole.

Well, I like itBut the powerups… now that’s where things get crazy. Bee Mario buzzes along and crawls exactly how anyone who has ever been outside would expect (though, granted, not every Mario fan has been outside recently). Boo Mario’s spectral floating feels fittingly weightless. Rock ‘n roll Mario moves with all the heft of a boulder, and no one bats an eye when inertia causes that Mario to go meteor. Running around at full tilt with an invincibility star is always cool, and fire flowers exploit a player’s desire to shake that wiimote and vaporize everything on six planets. Cloud Mario is likely the best thing to ever happen to the franchise, as generating your own platform with a panicked spin is something Mario has needed since he first dropped into that hole in World 1-1. Spring Mario can be a blast… you just have to think like a kangaroo. Or maybe an injured bird? Frog? I think frogs hop a lot.

Even Yoshi gets into the act. Tongue twisting across platforms is an innate delight, and swallowing every troopa in a ten mile radius is literally the reason these Yoshis were born. And Yoshi gets his own powerups! Balloon fetishists delight at a round and floating Yoshi. And the dash pepper leads to new and exciting challenges of the Turbo Tunnel variety, but with the important caveat of not being terrible. And, whether you’re riding a dinosaur or literally skating around a frozen planet, it’s all completely instinctive and… fun.

WeeeeeAnd that’s the joy of movement, the joy of a good Mario adventure. Every trot, every jump, every powerup just feels good, and that’s what keeps the player running towards 242 stars. Every obstacle course is masterfully crafted with Mario’s skills in mind, and every powerup is utilized in unique and electrifying ways to surmount new challenges.

When it feels good to just move, that’s when you’re playing a wonderful videogame.

FGC #331 Super Mario Galaxy 2

  • System: Nintendo Wii. Also available on the WiiU download service… but that system plays Wii discs, anyway. So does that even count?
  • Number of players: I laud any game that involves a two player mode that is meant for casual accompaniment. Not enough people celebrate the humble person that wants to participate in a friend’s favorite past time, but has absolutely no skills suited to the task. I blindly tried to help my buddy, One Handed Joe, with his carpentry hobby a couple of years back, and it ended… poorly.
  • And where is the joy of movement in Fluzzard? The joy of Fluzzard is selecting another level that does not include Fluzzard.
  • Question for the Ages: What nimrod decided they should replace Princess Rosalina with Party Pants Starfy?

    GO ON A DIET

    Hey, Rosalina, get out of the shot! You’re ruining my bullet point.

  • Favorite Powerup: Cloud Mario has saved that plumber’s peperoni more times than I care to admit.
  • So, did you beat it? Of course. I got all the stars, and conquered the final daredevil challenge. I even tried that final stage again for this article… and I barely got past the first area. Look, I need to get back in practice, okay?
  • But you still beat the repeat of Luigi’s purple coins, right? Some things never leave you.
  • What’s in a name? The internal title for Super Mario Galaxy 2 is Super Mario Galaxy More. I agree.
  • Did you know? The Flying Star that barely appeared in Super Mario Galaxy is buried in the code of Super Mario Galaxy 2. But it’s not completely forgotten! It has an updated theme, and can be patched into being a wholly working powerup. This seems to suggest that the star was intended to be used in Super Mario Galaxy 2, but was left on the cutting room floor because it was too joyous for this fallen world.
  • Would I play again: I love this game. I love it so much. I’d like to be able to play it with a “real” controller, as the wiimote/chuck has never felt 100% natural to me, but, other than that, this is one game that I can practically guarantee I’ll play again.

What’s next? Random ROB… better shut his trap, because I feel like playing Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. That’s just the way it is, robot. Please look forward to it!

Yay Mario!