Tag Archives: wiiu

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

THWOMPEvery title that has been profiled thus far for Games Preservation “Week” is currently very difficult to obtain, should it even be possible at all. Ignoring the fact that one game is now apparently getting a stateside release because I willed it into being, other games this week include two arcade games that never saw home releases, one delisted online offering, and a 20 year old game starring a fat penguin being the only one that exists in anything resembling a physical form (albeit only in Japan). Today’s game survives in digital and physical form across all regions. Despite being a title for a “retired” system, it is likely still easily available at your local used games shop. It is available on Amazon. It is available for two different systems on Amazon, and you don’t even have to settle for a used copy. And, considering “Mario” is right there in the title, it is likely to always be available in one form or another, whether you have to go trawling through eBay or dusty discount bins to find it. Today, we are talking about Super Mario Maker, and such a title is never not going to be available.

And, likely sometime in the near future, it’s simultaneously going to be one of the best games ever made, and one that is completely, utterly worthless.

Super Mario Maker was my Game of the Year at its release in 2015. Why? Mario Maker is a fun, Mario Paint-esque way to create Super Mario levels. But who cares about that? Creation is secondary to the reason I played the title for hours: Infinite Mario. As someone who could literally play Super Mario Bros. stages all day (and absolutely has), the idea of a game featuring literally thousands of Super Mario Bros. stages is something of a dream come true. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if Super Mario Bros. 3 had DLC as we know it back when I was seven, and I had access to a parent’s credit card, my family would be destitute before I even turned ten. I would spend every last real world dime on a new opportunity to use Kuribo’s Shoe, and I’d gladly watch my family move into a comfy cardboard box if it meant I could play through an all-new World 11. There isn’t even a question in my mind: Super Mario Maker is everything I’ve wanted from a Super Mario game since before the Super Nintendo was even a Here we gotwinkle in Miyamoto’s eye, and, even if the stages of Super Mario Maker weren’t all designed by the geniuses at Nintendo, at least I could get some sweet, sweet Mario “joy of movement” going on in every stage. It didn’t matter if I was destined to lose one Mario or a million, it’s just fun to be Mario, and these “infinite” stages would quench that thirst with a veritable waterfall.

And a funny thing happened when Super Mario Maker started to gain popularity (roughly seventeen seconds after release). In a way that no one ever expected, new, fan-made Mario stages started to coalesce into a few distinct categories. There were the “obvious” stages; the levels that could, with a little polish, exist in regular Super Mario stage rotations. These were easy to navigate stages with plenty of powerups and a familiar tone for anyone that had ever played through a Super Mario World or two. Then there were the inevitable “hard as Steelix” stages that required an impossible amount of memorization and a general hatred for invisible blocks that may pop up at any moment. Then we’ve got some puzzle stages that may or may not be one screen wide and require three minutes of maze navigation or turtle shell manipulation. And, finally, we have the automatic stages.

The automatic stages leave me… conflicted.

On one hand, the last thing anyone wants to do when they pick up a controller is sit and do not a damn thing with it. Controllers are meant to control! They are not meant to idle and be unused while Mario is conveyed around a cinema scene of a level. Automatic stages suck! And, on a personal level, I really feel like I’m in a groove when I’m dashing around and saving princess after princess. When I hit a stage where the “answer” is “don’t move for a minute”, well, there’s nothing that kills momentum faster than outright stopping. Automatic Mario levels are a scourge, and their continued existence within the world of Super Mario Maker is a detriment to us all!

This is boringOn the other hand, the automatic levels of Super Mario Maker are testaments to creativity and an almost super-human understanding of how Mario “works”. These stages require hours of trial and error to create, and, while they might be over inside of a minute or two, the time their creators have invested is staggering. And that’s time involved that doesn’t even consider the number of days it takes to be enough of a Mario expert to absorb the timing and physics of every last spring, trap, and creature in Mario’s world. And, taking it a step further are the automatic stages that play some kind of musical tune. This requires not only perfect timing and understanding, but a musical aptitude generally not possessed outside of your finest virtuosos, like Beethoven or John Cougar Mellencamp. And never mind that sheet music for transposing Final Fantasy 6 themes into Mario blocks isn’t exactly readily available. In short, while these automatic stages might not be the most exciting levels when playing through a proper game of Hundred Mario Shuffle, they are shining examples of the creativity and care that can be involved when using the limited tools of Super Mario Maker.

And, soon enough, all of those stages will be gone, lost to the digital ether like Scott Pilgrim before them.

This is an inevitable problem with literally every videogame that involves an online component. MMORPGs have risen and fallen (I see you, City of Heroes, and I would totally write an article about you if I could play your damn game), and scores of original characters whom must not be stolen have died on the battlefields of the server wars. Online friends lists tied to particular games have been dropped forever when a later version was released, and thus were untold OWIEfriendships lost. And, while we’re all sad to see online matchmaking go the way of the dodo in any given fighting game, it’s always the creative titles that are hit the hardest. Yes, that Super Mario Maker stage you had hiding on your local hard drive is unlikely to go anywhere, but the online data associated with it, and the ability for anyone to play that level outside of your living room, is going to be gone forever very shortly. The “MiiVerse” comments are already gone, and, given enough time, data on who died where, or how many stars numerated the many people that enjoyed that stage will be gone. Everything that made Super Mario Maker a community project for thousands of people will be gone. It’s supposed to be Bowser that is flushed into the unforgiving oblivion of lava, not his meticulously-designed castle.

And what can be done about this? Absolutely nothing. Even if Nintendo were to carry Super Mario Maker stages forward from generation to generation, eventually that data would be dropped for literally anything else (new stages in… Animal Crossing?). In 2016, Nintendo announced that there were over 7,200,000 stages created in Super Mario Maker. In 2020, it is likely there will be 0.

This “week” (month?) has been about videogame preservation. Videogames have only been “videogames” as we know them for the previous three decades or so. In that time, we have already seen games that will be gone from future generations forever (give or take a rom or two). As time passes, as CDs degrade, as base consoles crumble, and, yes, as hard drives inevitably self-destruct, more and more of the past of videogames will be lost to the ages. But at least these items were built to last in the first place. A Playstation 1 CD might be failing now, literally decades after its first printing, but that CD likely survived about seven resales at Electronics Boutique just to get to this moment. And while your Legend of Zelda save battery might be long gone, the cartridge still functions as it should, even if you may have used that chunk of gold plastic as a Frisbee in your younger years. All videogames may eventually degrade, but the amazing content of Super Mario Maker was born with a comparatively Chestnuts stackingtiny shelf life. One way or another, the levels of Super Mario Bros. are going to be around until mankind is usurped by the inevitable rise of super-smart dolphins (they loathe any medium that requires thumbs), while the unique, remarkable, and millions of levels of Super Mario Maker are unlikely to see a full decade.

Videogame preservation is important. Preservation of what’s in those videogames is important, too, whether it be professional, or created by fans. We have an entirely new generation of poets that use springs and hammer bros. for their rhymes, but they are creating poetry that will be forgotten as quickly as Edith Södergran.

Super Mario Maker, you are the best game I have ever played that has so totally broken my heart.

FGC #431 Super Mario Maker

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. Given how that system seems to be all but disowned by Nintendo now, I assume that’s another strike against the title’s preservation. Also, there’s the 3DS version that I am barely counting.
  • Number of players: This ain’t no cat-costume, four-player Mario title. One of a hundred Marios at a time, please.
  • Great Moments in Interfaces: Whoever came up with the concept of “shaking” an item during level creation, and getting a similar, but different item is a goddamn genius. Give that person a raise! And maybe a puppy!
  • Make any good levels you would like to share? Nope. Next question.
  • Not a single one? I’m a writer, dammit. I am so much better at making punny names than actually worthwhile levels. I have a level just lousy with Lakitu called “Cloud Strife”. That’s exactly what I’m looking for in level-name synergy.
  • Toasty!Favorite Mario Maker Addition: The Flying Bowser Clown Car has gained a surprising amount of traction in the last few years, but transmuting it into a fire-breathing mount capable of transforming traditional Mario action into a shoot ‘em up is rather inspired.
  • Amiibo Corner: You could have sold me on this title with the fact that every Smash Bros. amiibo works for unlocking cute lil’ 8-bit version of your favorite smasher. Nintendo, feel free to reward my unquenchable OCD any time you’d like.
  • Did you know? Takashi Tezuka, co-creator of the Mario series, has expressed that he is nearly jealous of all of the Mario Makers that create difficult levels. When you’re not constrained by creating a Mario game that is actually, ya know, fun, then you can just go nuts with an army of spinies and thwomps.
  • Would I play again: I still keep my WiiU gamepad charged exclusively to try the 100 Mario Challenge every once in a while. And I’ll keep doing that until the lights go out in this particular arcade.

What’s next? Oh, what the hell. Let’s try one more lost arcade beat ‘em up. One more for the road, ladies and gentlemen. Please look forward to it!

Gotta recognize
Special thanks to everyone that made this article possible

FGC #412 Metroid: Other M

Let this be Goggle Bob canon: I refuse to believe Metroid: Other M exists.

Some franchises dance all over the place. Before we even hit Nintendo’s third console, Link had already explored Hyrule through overhead exploration and 2-D jumping. Kirby saved Dreamland, and then had time to play mini golf before becoming a pinball wizard. On other systems, Sonic the Hedgehog explored a Game Gear labyrinth as easily as jetting across Mobius. And Mario? Mario had wildly different gameplay just between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2, left alone later games featuring age regression. In short, if Nintendo had announced that Super Mario 64 was going to feature Mario riding a giant bunny as he hopped across the universe, we all just would have understood that that would be Mario now, and it’s no use lamenting the inevitable absence of our beloved fire flowers.

But Samus Aran and the Metroid series? For a long time, that was ol’ reliable. Metroid, Metroid II, and Super Metroid were all very Metroid. Even Kid Icarus couldn’t make that claim! In a time when most games were still discovering what would eventually be their defining traits (Star Fox is still working on that), Samus Aran had it all figured out. Run around an abandoned planet, collect powerups, fight a dragon man, and call it a day around the time that the last metroid is in captivity (or completely obliterated). This was tried and true gameplay, and Super Metroid was such an amazing title, we didn’t need a new one for nearly a decade.

WeeeeeBut when Samus finally returned (again), we were greeted with two new branches on the Metroid family tree. On one side, we had what was essentially Super Metroid gameplay, but now married to a more robust (and chatty) hint system. Metroid Fusion was superficially very much like Super Metroid, but it forsook the deep well of loneliness of the earlier titles for a more story-based adventure. But on the Gamecube, we saw Metroid Prime, a game that, by all rights, should have been absolutely terrible. It’s a FPS! Of a Nintendo property! Samus is all about finesse and exploration, not tanking around boring hallways! We were all convinced Metroid Prime would be awful, but it was quite the opposite. Through some dreaded alchemy, Retro Studios managed to transmute the gameplay and feeling of Metroid into a FPS format with nary a zoomer left on the cutting room floor. The game may not have been perfect, but it was certainly impressive, and it corralled the interest of an avowed FPS-hater like myself as well as those that actually enjoyed the genre. Metroid Prime brought Samus Aran into the 21st Century, and, more importantly, was a hit in every conceivable way.

And the trajectory of the Metroid series seemed to support Prime over any alternatives. Metroid Fusion saw one direct sequel/prequel, and then not another peep out of 2-D Metroid for years. Metroid Prime, meanwhile, saw two sequels across two platforms. And its DS spin-off title was the pack-in demo for the Nintendo DS (just incidentally one of Nintendo’s most successful portable systems). And there was a pinball game for some reason. Straight through to the Metroid Prime Trilogy for Nintendo Wii, it was clear that Metroid Prime was Metroid, and other interpretations of Samus Aran were destined for whatever solar system used to host Zebes.

And then there was Metroid: Other M. Metroid: Other M is not a Metroid Prime game. Metroid: Other M is something… other.

SCREETo be clear, despite the fact that I have implied otherwise on the site, I do not think Metroid: Other M is a terrible game. M:OM has a terrible plot, and arguably everything about its characterization of Samus Aran does little more than subtract from her story/character/any concept of fun (seriously, Nintendo, literally all of your iconic women are diminutive blondes, let Samus be an inexplicably purple-haired seven foot body builder). It’s noble to feature a heroine suffering from PTSD (reminder, this game takes place shortly after Samus took two hours to blow up her home planet), but there’s a difference between “this is clearly weighing on her” and “Ridley turns her into a blubbering child”. And, heck, some of this would probably even work if Samus wasn’t a woman, as then her submission in the face of a father figure or need to be literally rescued from her most consistent and present enemy would maybe be the slightest bit less sexist. And, heck, I’m not even complaining from a “feminism is good” perspective, I just want to see the same kickass warrior woman that learned how to scale walls from little green men that could sing her theme song. That Samus Aran is gone! I want her back!

Crap, that paragraph was supposed to espouse the good in M:OM. Take two…

Metroid: Other M is an interesting experiment in moving Metroid’s normal 2-D action into a 3-D world. Against all accepted standards for such a thing, it completely ignores the analogue stick, and employs the cross-pad exclusively. This should work as poorly as any other 3-D game running on a “lesser” controller (see Head, Metal), but the Bottle Ship is deliberately made with this sort of 2.5-D gameplay in mind. And it works! Samus can certainly run in a circle, but a number of corridors generally bump into the 2nd Dimension anyway, so it feels completely natural to launch into a space jump like in the Metroid adventures of yore. Aiming is fairly automatic, so that clears that spatial hurdle, and, give or take a few spots, the bosses are pretty fun from an action perspective for possibly the first time in the franchise (sorry, Kraid). And the Bottle Ship is just plain entertaining to explore to boot. It’s not too big, not too small, and, while it’s no Zebes, it’s certainly a fun spot to spend a few hours hunting down missiles.

Ultimately, if you can ignore the plot, Metroid: Other M is a fun game.

For the N64.

ChillyWe might be living in a world where Metroid Prime 4 is on the way, but back in August of 2010, it seemed like Nintendo wanted to put the genie back in the bottle. Metroid: Other M notably seems to ignore the more significant character beats of the Prime series (this Samus Aran is not The Hunter that petrified an entire space crustacean race) but also ignores a host of innovations from the series. Metroid Prime proved that Samus could work in a fully 3-D world, but Other M walks that back to a pseudo 3-D. Prime 3 made Wii aiming the most fun it has ever been in a FPS (disagree? Fight me), while M:OM’s missile aiming is inconvenient and cumbersome. Even Samus’s model, thin and lithe like a mecha ballerina, can’t hold a candle to the mobile tank seen in the Prime series. Yes, it might make a little more sense that this Samus can roll into a perfect sphere, but, bad news, that has always been completely bonkers. In short, despite Metroid Prime nailing the Metroid aesthetic and gameplay right out of the gate, Metroid: Other M feels like a stumbling attempt at bringing Metroid into the next generation.

In other words, it feels like a Mario 64 to Super Metroid’s Super Mario World. It’s the Ocarina of Time to A Link to the Past. And none of those games were ever bad… they just might not have been as innovative after a solid decade of advances. Mario Galaxy built off the base of Mario 64. Metroid: Other M built its house on the sand.

Metroid: Other M is not a terrible game. But it is a game that deliberately ignored its own past, and suffered for it. And, through that suffering, it seems it is doomed to be forgotten.

… At least on this site. Let us never speak of it again.

FGC #412 Metroid: Other M

  • System: Nintendo Wii. Despite being released for the most popular Nintendo system in the history of money, this title dropped to bargain basement prices almost immediately. I guess it may have resurfaced on the WiiU, too.
  • Number of players: One day we’ll see a multiplayer Metroid title… That plays like Knuckles Chaotix.
  • Just primeGod Damn this Plot is Terrible: Okay, look, this could have worked. Samus has obvious parental issues (what with her biological parents becoming Ridley chow), and I could totally believe a game where Samus is deliberately limiting herself to impress her father (figure). That could actually be an amazing idea for a Metroidvania style game: you have access to everything immediately, but using the wrong items too early earns you a bad grade and a stern talking to. That could be fun! But that’s not what’s happening here. What is happening in this game is that Samus is being completely subservient to some random dude that just popped up, and, considering he has her walk through an active volcano without protection, it’s hard to imagine this jackass has our heroine’s wellbeing in mind. It is… very hard to justify.
  • Ridley is too Big: Oh, and then we get the nonsense with noted space dragon Ridley scaring Samus until her clothes fall off. How the hell does that make any sense? Why would you design a “power suit” that can teleport into nothingness the moment the exact person that requires protection is frightened? And why is Samus afraid at all, considering she has personally killed Ridley 6,416 times? Is it because she found out he was a Pokémon? That was rather unexpected.
  • And what about those parts of the game where you have to stand perfectly still, and look at some random thing, and make sure the game knows you’re looking at that random thing, or else you can’t advance or do anything? Screw those.
  • Favorite Powerup: The screw attack is more fun here than in the Prime franchise. M:OM gets some things right.
  • Did you know? There is a bug in Metroid: Other M that will permanently lock a door in Sector 3, and thus forever prevent the player from completing the game. This isn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen.
  • Would I play again: Play what? What game were we talking about?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bonk’s Revenge! And that’s kicking off a special theme week! What’s the theme week? Guess you’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

ROAR

FGC #410 Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar & Falzar

GWARHere lies the Mega Man Battle Network series. May it soon return to us.

In a way, Mega Man is videogames. He was right there at the dawn of the NES, and starred in a new, great title every year. He was one of the chosen few to star in Captain N: The Gamemaster, and he had a few shows of his own over the years. But all of his media traced back to one videogame franchise, and as the decades and technology went by, Mega Man grew and changed with them. Mega Man X heralded the dawn of a new, super age, and Mega Man Legends introduced us to the glory of polygons. And when Mega Man seemingly faltered on the consoles, he sought shelter on the handheld systems of the day. Mega Man Zero and Z/X continued the action-based gameplay of Mega Man X, while Mega Man Battle Network and Mega Man Star Force made an attempt at the new action JRPG genre that had cropped up around gamers’ unpleasant need for games with more and more words. By the time the DS’s popularity was winding down, it was time for Original Mega Man to make his retro return to consoles, and thus could the whole cycle begin anew.

Except… Mega Man’s adopted father, Keiji Inafune, left Capcom in 2010, and the franchise has been slow to restart since. Mega Man 11 is apparently on the way, complete with its own tie-in animated series, but, by and large, Mega Man has languished in cameos for the past decade. Poor little metal boy, left all alone with nary an e-tank to keep him company! Where will we find that amazing Mega Man gameplay now!?

Jackin' itBut that’s the joy of this glorious new future: we do not want for Mega Man games, because Mega Man so greatly influenced gaming, there are now modern successors to his legacy. Shovel Knight is totally its own thing and absolutely a Mega Man game occasionally starring Explosion Man trying to impress his fabulous girlfriend. Walking and gunning opponents until they give up their abilities seems to have become a staple of many 2-D games, and, even though the queen is dead, long live the queen. Mega Man may not have had a new official release in years, but the fan community has also kept the bot alive, and if you want to see the lil’ guy take out the Street Fighter cast, go ahead and download that exe. We’ve got Mega Man games oozing out of our arm cannons!

But we need a few more Mega Man Battle Networks.

Every (mainline) Mega Man Battle Network game is unquestionably a JRPG. What’s more, the entire franchise is basically Pokémon. You’ve got a shorts-clad protagonist that pals around with a bunch of random archetype kids, solves all of the world’s problems through pet (sorry, PET) battling, and, for some inexplicable reason, the villains that could potentially just kick over our rollerblading hero somehow lose to the power of friendship and teamwork. But all of that is just precursor for the best part of any MMBN/Pokémon game: futzing around in the world and becoming a Level 100 battle demigod. The post-game of this franchise is always amazing, and all that talky talk can get lost in the recycling bin for all anybody cares. Who doesn’t enjoy earning icons that forever signify your victory over the super, super, super hidden boss?

But Mega Man Battle Network has one thing that is completely missing from Pokémon: it’s actually fun to play.

WoofOkay, as someone that has sunk a legitimate 400 hours into the last three Pokémon titles, I know that’s absurd hyperbole. Pokémon games are fun to play, in their way, but they are, at their cores, little more than chess. It’s all about strategy and planning, but the game itself could technically be played by a thumb attached to a jar (the jar, like most jars, contains a brain, duh). Mega Man Battle Network still relies heavily on strategy and planning, but actual physical skill is required for every battle. It doesn’t matter if you have the best chip folder on the net, you need to actually move that MegaMan.exe around the screen, dodge incoming projectiles, and maybe score an all-important counter so you can attack a weak point for maximum damage. Mega Man Battle Network is an action JRPG that amazingly adapts Mega Man gameplay. That’s no small feat! Looking at you, Mega Man X Command Mission!

And, what’s more, MMBN doesn’t make “action JRPG” a scary phrase. There have been many titles that attempted to add action heroes to the JRPG formula, and failed miserably. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood could have been an interesting adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog’s “gotta go fast” gameplay to the traditionally slow world of JRPGs (wait, this was always a terrible idea), but its constant need for timed hits every encounter quickly made battles a disappointing slog. There’s no such problem in MMBN, though, as, if you know what you’re doing, your average fight can be over in literally a second. And that’s not a glitch; you will receive all sorts of prizes for unleashing a 700 HP Program Advance at the starting bell. You’re encouraged to be as ruthless as possible, and that means snappy, fun gameplay. Just ask Kratos!

So it’s a bit of a pisser that this glorious action-JRPG gameplay from 2001 is apparently gone forever.

BY THE PITFull disclosure? At its core, the Mega Man Battle Network series is a card-based action JRPG. And I hate card-based games! I would sooner send the entire genre to the Shadow Realm than spend another moment of my life waiting to draw from my deck so I can actually do something. By my view, there are people that rave about the great gameplay of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and, on the other side of the aisle, there are sane people. Nine times out of ten, a card-based action JRPG just means you’re doing the same action you’d normally be performing, but maybe weaker, because you have the same luck as John McClane, and, by God, you’ll be walking barefoot over broken glass before you draw an actually useful card. I don’t care how dutifully you stack the deck beforehand, you’ll be wasting turn after turn waiting for the one card that completes your hand.

But Mega Man Battle Network doesn’t have that problem. Battles are snappy to the point of absurdity, and even if you’ve got a bad draw, you’re still essentially playing Mega Man (albeit one without jumping). It’s fun, exciting, and there isn’t the unending lingering found in its other card-based brethren. Mega Man Battle Network is wholly unique in its dedication to action and strategy!

And nothing else even comes close. So, please, Capcom, Inafune, or somebody, please bring back Mega Man Battle Network.

(But you can keep making regular Mega Man games, too.)

FGC #410 Mega Man Battle Network 6 Cybeast Gregar & Falzar

  • System: Gameboy Advance. It also made it to the WiiU virtual console in 2016, but fat lot of good that does us all now.
  • Scary!Number of players: Like Pokémon, MMBN also always had a robust “meta game” where you could fight your friends. I… don’t think I ever had a friend that was also playing this game… so… uh… I’m sad now.
  • Going to talk about the plot? Maybe if ROB chooses another MMBN game, and I’m not cripplingly nostalgic for the good ol’ days of its gameplay. Look, for MMBN6, just know that the internet was once inexplicably ravaged by a pair of magical monsters, and Dr. Wily wants to bring them into the real world because he’s mad at his adopted son (because his regular son has amnesia).
  • Which version is best? There’s a lot to unpack there, because, not only are there unique Navis between versions, but both versions are direct sequels to the separate versions of Mega Man Battle Network 5. Which story would you like to continue? Which navis would you like to fight? What unique forms would you like to utilize? I chose Gregar version, because it includes a choo-choo.
  • Favorite Navi (this game): EraseMan.exe is a play at featuring the grim reaper in a children’s game, and that’s always fun for everybody. He’s got guillotines for feet! He’s also known as KillerMan.exe in Japan, which is a little less subtle.
  • Did you know? Speaking of EraseMan.exe, if Killer Cross, the version of MegaMan.exe when he’s fused with EraseMan.exe, attacks a virus with a 4 in its HP, the virus will be instantly erased. This is because 4 is a number of death in Japan… which must really make counting in that country a real pain in the ass.
  • Would I play again: Cooooome on, Mega Man Battle Network Collection for Switch. You can do it, Capcom!

What’s next? Random Rob has chosen… Clayfighter 63⅓ for the N64! Is it just two thirds shy of being a good game? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

Slashy slashy

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Let’s talk about limits, phobias, and easy mode.

Limits are important. The old yarn about videogames is that, thanks to the virtual unreality of the digital world, you can do anything in a videogame. And anyone that has actually played a videogame knows that that is bull hockey. Super Mario Bros. is an amazing game, but can you do anything in the Mushroom Kingdom? Heck no. Mario might be able to jump higher than any basketball star, but he still has a limit, and cannot, say, jump straight to the goal flag right from his first bound. Mario is very limited in his movements, but, if you notice the world around him, you will see that his entire universe was designed exclusively for these limits. There is no jump that Mario needs to make that he cannot clear. There is no villain that he must destroy that does not have a weakness. And, since Mario is limited to only running and jumping (and not, say, negotiating with wandering turtle hordes), there is no problem that cannot be solved with that moveset. Mario is limited. Videogames are limited; but that is why they are “games”. A game with no limits and no rules is just a playset, and, given the dismal sales of Endless Ocean, games are exactly what gamers want.

But the best videogame limits are the ones that are completely invisible. Mario isn’t limited by his jumps, he’s super! You can do anything in Grand Theft Auto… except maybe go inside a building. The latest WRPG has incredible freedom and insane realism, though maybe your hero can’t hop over a waist-high fence. But all of these limits are there for a reason, because without them, there would be no game at all (or, in some of the “open world” cases, because otherwise the title require three decades to actually be released). Limits are what make videogames fun, and if they weren’t there, it would be bedlam every time C.J. jumped all the way to a moon nobody ever got around to modeling.

Unfortunately, not all limits can be invisible.

CreepyLink is one of your more limited heroes in your typical Legend of Zelda title (though maybe not in at least one recent entry). He can’t jump (except when absolutely necessary). His traditional offensive options are generally sparse (the sword is a mainstay, but have you ever really tried to take out a Helmasaur with bombs or hammers? They both suck). And, even when Hyrule has been expanded to Switchian levels of size, it’s still a fairly narrow chunk of geography. Mario often vacations in the far off corners of the galaxy, but the best Link can hope for is a quick jaunt to a flying whale’s dreamscape. Or, like in this entry, a visit to Hyrule’s next kingdom over, Termina, where a crash landing moon is going to abolish all life in the immediate area. And all Link can do, as ever, is run around like a cucco and hope that talking to everybody saves the day. Oh, and there’s a time limit now, too. It’s there, and you’re reminded of it every few moments. Actually, that time limit is integral to the entire experience, so you’re more likely to be reminded of it every second.

And, like so many limits in videogames, this is technically a good thing. For possibly the first time in a Zelda title, there is some genuine suspense. The end of the world is coming, and if you don’t do anything, you’re going to be toast in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1. That moon is always there, looming, stalking your every move. You have to complete this dungeon in a timely manner, or everyone is going to die. If you don’t rescue that monkey, if you don’t find the right route through the canyon, if you don’t listen to goddamn Tingle, that moon is going to come crashing down, and it’s over, “Hero of Time”. Or maybe you choose to believe that there is no danger. Maybe you aren’t saving the world from a horror-moon, and you’re working hard because you want to see how much you can complete in a “cycle”. After all, the real world isn’t in jeopardy, and a dead Link doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all about getting what you can get done in your time limit, and, if you have to reset the three day cycle all over again, that’s just the price of “wasting” time. You lose some progress, and that sucks, but it happens.

And that’s the scariest idea of all.

Going for a dipI genuinely believe videogames are art. I also genuinely believe videogames are wastes of time. But in the most literal sense! Videogames are amazing and fun, but the chief way a videogame will punish a player is through wasting time. What is the number one result of “losing a life” in practically any game? It’s a loss of time through having to repeat a section. In other cases, you may instantly respawn, but you also work up to a “continue”, and the threat is that you are one step closer to losing progress. Dying, but with extra steps. Some RPGs have adopted the method of letting you keep your story progress, but you lose gold, equipment, or experience… so you’ve just lost a different kind of progress. And what’s worse? Losing a life and having to respawn somewhere “further back”, or a game where your “life” is captured, and you have to search all over the place to rediscover your lost comrade? That might be up to personal preference, as the end result is the same in both cases: lost time. You could have beaten the final boss by now if you didn’t waste so much time on all those deaths, right? Heard it all before…

So, suffice it to say, by Majora’s Mask’s release in 2000, after a solid decade of gaming like a maniac, the idea of “death = lost time” was already drilled straight into my noggin. Losing time was the enemy, and a game where the hook was that time was constantly against you, and not knowing what you were doing at all times could lead to more lost time… The concept scared me. Hell, I was downright frightened by the idea that I could fill my wallet with rupees, gain every last magical item, and then lose it all because I dawdled too long in a swamp shooting gallery. It didn’t help that this was also the second 3-D Zelda, and the concept of proper camera control was still in its infancy. I’m supposed to find five random kids around town? In only three days? How am I supposed to pull that off when I can barely see around corners? I was never good at finding random skulltulas, so I was already pretty screwed if this game expected me to find hidden children and masks within a time limit. I knew my skills, I knew my limits, and I knew that there was no way I could have ever saved Termina back in 2000. I had so little time as it was, I wasn’t going to waste it on a game that was built around wasting even more time.

So thank Miyamoto for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D.

Poor LinkIn a lot of ways, Majora’s Mask 3D is an entirely different game. The all-important bosses have been dramatically altered, swimming is an entirely different ball of beavers, and, most importantly, a “save anywhere” feature has been added. This is a game changer, literally, as it means that the game’s saves are no longer tied to losing all progress within a cycle. One of those “frightening” features from the original release has just flown straight out the window. Even better, the presence of constant saving means that some of the more… fiendish minigames can now be savescummed. Not saying I’m a cheater (okay, I absolutely am), but knowing that I won’t lose all my progress to a damn deku scrub minigame goes a long way to putting my mind at ease. And those dungeons lose their bite when a puzzle can be solved over the course of a half hour, and then “reset” so the game only thinks Link only spent thirty seconds on that block pushing. Avoiding lost progress is easy!

And that’s just it: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is Majora’s Mask Easy Mode.

And… I think that’s the only way I want to play the game.

Beat itI never completed Majora’s Mask on the N64. In fact, I only really got into playing it at all on the Gamecube Zelda compilation, and, even then, I barely cleared the first palace. It was just too stressful, and that looming threat of losing progress, that unflinching limit, scared me off. I could contentedly sail the seas with Pirate Link, or I could suffer under the gaze of an ever-judging moon. That was no choice at all! But the 3DS version was different, because I could go at my own pace, and I didn’t have to live in fear of an oppressive limit on my play time. I suppose the limit was always there, as that moon certainly hadn’t gone away, but it was so much less oppressive. And “less oppressive” always translates to “more fun”. It may have been easy mode, but without that easy mode, I never would have experienced this entertaining, quirky Zelda title.

So what’s the moral of this experience? It’s not that limits are inherently bad, and it’s certainly not that you should live in fear of arbitrary challenges. No, I suppose our moral today is that sometimes the best way to enjoy a game is suck it up, admit you’re a weenie, and go ahead and play it on easy mode. Don’t limit your experiences by arbitrary skill echelons, and just have fun the way you want to have fun.

You’re allowed to be afraid, but don’t be afraid of easy mode.

FGC #404 The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

  • System: N64 (but only with an expansion pack), and then again on every Nintendo console since. Well, not Switch, but give it a hot minute, I’m sure it will get there. The latest version (with vast improvements) is available on the 3DS.
  • Number of players: This ain’t Mask of Four Swords, buddy.
  • Other Majora Issues: I also may have avoided playing Majora’s Mask initially because it is creepy as all get out. It’s not even that Resident Evil kind of deliberate creepy. It’s more like everything is just… wrong, and Link is trying to save a world that shouldn’t even be in the first place. And I’m still fairly convinced that this all happened because that’s a natural reaction to looking at Ocarina of Time character models.
  • These guysFavorite Character: Everybody wants to talk about Anju and That Kid, but the greatest, saddest love story in Majora’s Mask is the tale of Mikau and Lulu, the Zora lovers. No matter how much Link can control time, Mikau is always going to wind up seagull bait, and Lulu is always going to be stuck talking to a young boy that is wearing her lover’s death mask as a magical prop. Man, this is a weird game.
  • Favorite Mask: There are so many options! Fierce Deity and Lovers are great choices because they’re so insanely difficult to obtain, but that would ignore all the great dumb ones, like blow-yourself-up-all-the-time mask. And the bunny hood was so good, it infiltrated other games! But my pick goes to the Stone Mask, because the idea that it makes Link so plain, he is virtually invisible is fun and biting social satire. It’s perfect!
  • Did you know? This was the first place we had a Tingle breakout. It was mostly contained to balloons and map making, and the little bastard wasn’t too much of a drain on resources, but it seems the infection was destined to grow in later years. As of this writing, he has been mostly relegated to spin-offs, but vigilance is always necessary.
  • Would I play again: The 3DS version? Yes, absolutely. The original N64 title? No, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to air the Duck Dynasty for Xbox 360 stream from last Friday night! If you missed it live, it’s new to you! Please look forward to it!

What is even happening!?