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FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

Let's go ninja!The next two weeks will feature articles that are aggravatingly autobiographical as part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). I realize I’m not too conservative with the ol’ autobiographical moments on a good day (hey, this is my blog), but I feel these stories need to be told before I wrap up the FGC project (in another hundred articles, gotta plan ahead), and, well, if you can’t indulge yourself, then who else can you indulge?

So, fair warning, FGC #551 and #552 are going to be about videogames and friendship, and #553 and #554 are going to be about videogames and love. If you are just here for random videogame musings that aren’t entirely centered on my life experiences (then why are you here!?), we will resume true randomness with #555. I think E. Honda may be involved? I’ll have to check.

And with that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about what I learned in college.

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a very special videogame to yours truly. For one thing, I’m rather fond of legends, mystics, and ninja. So we’ve got a clear winner here. For another thing, it was inexplicably one of my few Super Nintendo cartridges back in the early days of the system. It wasn’t a launch game, but it was a game that came along early in the system’s lifespan, and well before I had a handful of JRPGs that were capable of capturing about 40 hours of my life at a time. And I feel I need to remind my presumably adult audience (I use swear words, like “butt”) that, when you are a child with nothing to do, any enjoyable distraction is forced to last for the approximately 40,000,000,000 spare hours you have over the course of the day. In short, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja a lot.

WeeeeeBut it wasn’t just about the single player experience in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. TLotMN, like many games of the era, contained a 2-player mode. Unlike many games of that era, however, its two player mode wasn’t a Mario-esque affair where you constantly traded turns back and forth. TLotMN allowed both players to play at both times! Like Contra! These Konami guys are pretty great! So TLotMN got played an awful lot not only by myself, but also in tandem with my next door neighbor and best friend, Jimmy. Final Fight might not have been two-players, but The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was, so we cooperated and did our best to save Ancient Japan from the forces of whatever the hell we were continually hitting with pipes.

Sad truth? We never, ever beat the game.

And, to be clear, this was not a game we played when we were young and hopelessly inept. Yes, back in the NES days, Jimmy and I were but babes, and we were generally about as effective at beating videogames as we were at solving quadratic equations. But by the Super Nintendo era? Brother, we were all-stars! I mean, like, literally, we beat Super Mario All-Stars. We also were able to one-credit stomping all over M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 (on, uh, the easier modes). Yes, by the time we had to grapple with L & R buttons, we were ready to conquer the world. … Just so long as that world didn’t contain The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.

EAT YO-YOAnd, looking back, I don’t exactly blame my younger self (plus guest) for not finishing the game. Yes, there are generous continues, but the password “save” system is one of those final relics of the NES era that needed to lay buried the absolute minute the save battery was invented. And TLotMN demands its players know exactly what to do when. For instance, if you blow all your cash in the arcade in Level 3, you’ll never be able to afford the mandatory travel visa in Level 6 (there’s probably a life lesson there, but I’m mad right now, and not having it). Cool powerups (that are advertised right there on the cover!) require time, money, and effort that continually makes them about as useful as actually trying to solve your problems by riding a tiger. And, yes, this is an early Konami game, so there are a few places where the directors apparently expect you to have Gradius-level reflexes. Yes, playing The Legend of the Mystical Ninja now, as an adult with save states, seems to portray the title as something on the easier side of the Sesame Street 123 – Battletoads scale, but there was a time when this game refused to allow entry to the final level. Beating that giant weeble wobble was just too hard for two children!

Eventually, emulators became available. Eventually, likely out of a misplaced sense of vanity, I conquered The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. But it was a lonely journey. By this time, there wasn’t anyone in my life that was still interested in Super Nintendo games (the N64/Playstation was the new hotness), and it seemed unlikely I would ever rectify the life-long mistake of not having completed TLotMN “the real way” (or at least the real way according to Bubble Bobble). Would I ever again have a friend that wanted to play as Dr. Yang ever again?

Enter: college.

MeowIt’s hard to explain to the youth of today, but, when I was first entering college, there was some weird kind of faux-retro thing going on for the NES/SNES era. To sum it up nicely, one time a number of us sat in the quad staring up into a dorm window while some unknown individual played Punch-Out! with a TV pointed toward his enrapt, outdoor audience. They were pretty good at it! It may have simply been the marketing of the time (I want to say this is right about when Hot Topic started stocking 8-bit Mega Man shirts), but the NES/SNES era was totally “in” when I was first matriculating, so, surely, this was the time to avenge myself upon various games. I was gonna save the princess with a buddy once and for all!

And, yes, gentle reader, I did find a buddy. I found multiple college buddies in fact, as it was apparently a pretty popular job to work odd hours as tech support for the college computer labs, and I was a human being that liked computers and odd hours. I “hung out” with a number of young techs from late at night to the early morning because, hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am (an insomniac, to be precise). And, given there was no authority but these techs in these computer labs, any time except mandated exam time wound up being given over to LAN parties and emulators aplenty. We even hooked a Dreamcast up to a VGA monitor once! It was horrible! But it happened, and someone managed to score a perfect in Soulcalibur against the computer before the screen was even properly operating. In fact, that very person was Jim, obvious spiritual descendant of the earlier mentioned Jimmy, and he and I attempted The Legend of the Mystical Ninja one evening.

It… didn’t go exactly as planned.

We sailed through the first level. That was fine. We were enjoying ourselves, beating up townsfolk, collecting lucky cats, etc. Then we got to the second zone. Contained within the second act is one of the many available minigames in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We had already tried goblin tossing and paint in the first area, so we decided to hit the faux arcade and play whatever was actively 2-player.

Here it comes

There is a game that is, effectively, Pong. Given it is only available in a 2-player game (there is no CPU opponent available), I jumped on the chance to play this otherwise gated content. Jim probably just wanted to give Pong a try. So, we did.

Get ready

And, since save states aren’t just for cheaters, we were also able to continually “reboot” the minigame anytime we wanted. Thanks to the ability to immediately reload from the top of a game, we technically could play this version of Pong all night.

Now this is happening
Dramatic Recreation

And we did. We played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja Pong from 11 PM until approximately 5 AM. It was nearly the entire shift, and it was entirely Pong.

We never beat The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We never beat the second level.

And that’s okay.

We had fun playing Pong. We didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish, but we had fun playing a videogame. Acknowledging the simple pronoun difference there is important.

It's hammer timeThough I loath to acknowledge the term, I am a gamer. I play videogames. I beat videogames. Nine times out of ten, if I’m playing a videogame at all, I am playing to win. And it doesn’t matter if I’m battling a human opponent or attempting to steer my protagonist toward some AI final boss: I need to cross that finish line. I need to be the very best, like no one ever was. I have no time for this inconsequential “Pong”, I have to get out there and beat the game!

Except when I don’t. Except when I can just have fun with the game, because it is, ya know, a game. It is made for fun. A videogame is not designed to be beaten, it is created to be enjoyed.

Want to know what I learned in college? It was that life sometimes doesn’t go exactly how you’d expect, but it’s still worth enjoying yourself. Sometimes you save Ancient Japan, and sometimes you play Pong for hours on end. Sometimes what you expect is not what happens, but it can be enjoyable regardless. You can’t control life. You can’t control other people. But you can control what makes you happy.

I also learned you can sneak liquor into the computer lab. But I think I already knew that…

FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

  • System: Super Nintendo. Didn’t it get rereleased on the Wii or WiiU? I think it was WiiU.
  • Number of Players: Did you read the article!? Goddammit!
  • I hate youMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Didn’t I? Whatever! I’ll talk about it more, then! The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an extremely weird game in how it mixes 2-D “action” stages with towns that are loaded to the gills with, essentially, distractions. There is very little overlap between rewards you can obtain for painting buildings or hot tubs that restore health and the “real” progression in the plot, but, dammit, it’s fun. Long after I finished with other, more straightforward titles, I returned to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja for random fun and hijinks. Wait, dammit, now I’m veering back into autobiographical territory.
  • Favorite Minigame: I like painting. I feel like this whole “don’t ever go over the line again” thing has appeared in many other games as a minigame, but rarely as, like, a real game. I guess it’s like Snake? But not really? I like this better than Snake.
  • Eternal Trauma: I feel like entering Zone 6, and finally having a required amount of money to progress scarred me for life. I used to be such a happy child, using elixirs and spending money willy nilly, and now I am someone that hoards every last item and gold piece, confident in the idea that the game will require six hundred whositdaddies to advance. I blame Kid Ying.
  • Now I get it: For the record, that giant octopus at the end of Zone 3 is now a little more recognizable. No wonder he is attacking the (apparently eternal) Konami building!
  • More killer clownsLand of the Rising Fun: Yes, this is a game that was radically changed for localization, as it is aggressively Japanese. In the East, you’ve got Ganbare Goemon vaguely based on the historical/nigh-mythical Goemon, and in the West, you’ve got Kid Ying, who is just some marginally shifty dude that lives with a blue weirdo. That said, the game is still pretty damn Japanese, and it’s not like they changed Ancient Edo to be Old York City or something.
  • But they did change riceballs into pizza, right? Yes. Americans are physically incapable of understanding Japanese treats. See also: Ace Attorney, Digimon.
  • Did you know? There’s a “theater” in Zone 3 that features Dr. Yang dancing and farting. For some reason, it was removed from the American release. But! It is still referenced in Nintendo Power, a separate hint book, and the instruction manual. So we were obviously a hair’s width away from Ebisumaru blowing us all away.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? I like this game, even when I’m just playing Pong with friends. It is delightful, so The Legend of the Mystical Ninja always has a seat at my table.

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) continues with Smarty Pants for the Nintendo Wii! Never heard of it? Well, that’s kind of the point! Please look forward to it!

Pew Pew
This is getting pretty meta

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

Dispatches from an alternative universe!
This article is provided by Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724

Let's do the MarioThe original Super Mario Bros. brought the concept of gaming back from the brink of ruin. So it seems only appropriate that, 35 years later, we examine its sequel, the game that crashed the videogame market forever.

Super Mario Bros. was a revelation here, there, and everywhere. When it was released in 1985, Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands within a mere four months, which wound up being plenty of time for its creators and curators to consider a sequel. What was it about Super Mario Bros. that everyone enjoyed? Running? Jumping? Malevolent chestnuts? Jumping on malevolent chestnuts? Nobody had the answers, but the designers of Mario did have a theory: people wanted more. They had already begun working on arcade versions of Super Mario Bros., and, given this version was thirsty for quarters, it was designed to be more difficult. Could this be adapted to be the official sequel to Super Mario Bros.? Why not! Super Mario Bros. 2 would be a game that assumed you had already played Super Mario Bros. 1 until your eyes popped out of your skull, and, after a licensed optometrist put those peepers back in place, you’d be ready for more Mario challenges.

So, on a metaphorical level, Super Mario Bros. 2 was designed not to start with World 1, but Super Mario Bros. 1 World 9-1. There are no simple “tutorial” words in Super Mario Bros. 2, just militant turtles and twisting mazes. There are new mushrooms that do not grant Mario new abilities, but simply poison the plumber. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not only a game that requires you master Mario’s physics before you even pop the cartridge in your system, it is also a game that requires you memorize the intricacies of its often dubious world. Super Mario Bros. 1 disguised the length of a handful of castles with a looping maze that required a particular path, but Super Mario Bros. 2 habitually leans on warp pipes that will send Mario back to the start of a stage, or even the start of the game. Super Mario Bros. 2 requires dedication from its audience, and it makes absolutely no concessions for a novice player (give or take a secret way to earn a hundred lives within its opening level). You will lose all of your progress often and repeatedly, and only complete knowledge of the game will allow you to circumvent a frequent, inglorious Game Over.

This sucksIt seems the tipping point for this tale happened when Super Mario Bros. 2 was being exported to America. Howard Lincoln, a man who was responsible for play-testing games for American audiences, felt the game was too difficult, and would not play well with American audiences. He famously said of the game, “Not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun.” However, Lincoln’s protests were ignored. While there was brief discussion regarding “reskinning” another title as “Super Mario Bros. 2 USA”, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released as is, with no changes or tweaks made to the abhorrent difficulty of the game. America was going to face down its first poisonous mushroom, and it would not be left in the cold by its Japanese brothers.

And it was a success. Of course it was a success! Nintendo had already set out to make Mario the most well-known mascot since Mickey Mouse, and, back in the 80’s, it looked like they were going to succeed. Yes, Super Mario Bros. 2 was difficult, but it was flanked by The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Nintendo Cereal System, and Nintendo’s own propaganda rag, Nintendo Power. In fact, many claim the success of Super Mario Bros. 2 could be attributed to its place on the cover of Nintendo Power #1 (famously showing a clay Mario as he grabbed a flagpole in front of a blue Bowser) and spread across the “tips and tricks” contained therein. Super Mario Bros. 2 needed a comprehensive guide if you hoped to conquer it, and Nintendo wisely delivered such in every toy and book store across the country. Before long, everyone was “beating” Super Mario Bros. 2, and it seemed like the gambit of releasing such a difficult game paid off. Sure, SMB2 was “beyond Nintendo hard”, but Nintendo stepped in to help the players, and, ultimately the game itself.

Unfortunately, other games weren’t so lucky.

As was said at the time: so goes Mario, so goes the world. Super Mario Bros. (1) inspired a thousand 2-D platforming clones that all attempted to capture the magic of Mario. Did any succeed? Yes, a small handful did, but certainly no greater than a dozen. Super Mario Bros. 2 had a similar effect on the trajectory of videogames. Where once a sequel would account for new players (what would eventually become known as the nigh mythical “first time gamer”), all new sequels produced decided to follow Super Mario Bros. 2’s trail. This led to a variety of games that all seemed dedicated to murdering the player within the opening moments. Bubble Bobble 2’s starting “Floor 101” combined a million monsters with a timer that could barely be surmounted. Contra 2 led to a generation memorizing its “ten extra lives code” because you’d lose your first three inside of the opening seconds. Rygar 2 utilized every mapping “trick” available to create levels that had extremely poorly defined endpoints, and Gradius 2’s “poison powerups” made acquiring a shield intolerable. Final Fantasy 2 introduced an archaic leveling system that was about as opaque as a behemoth, and Dragon Quest (Warrior in the West) 2 featured dungeons that contained traps upon traps. Even Nintendo wasn’t immune to its own hype, as The Legend of Zelda 2 released with more invisible walls and spongey “green Moblins” than you could shake a stick at. And, to this day, no one has gotten past the first stage of Punch-Out 2 without tool assists. The only sequel that seemed to dodge this absurd difficulty fate was Mega Man 2, but, even there, some said the infamous Quick Man stage seemed like something that was “Super Mario Bros. 2 hard”.

And, God, what was done to Tetris 2 was criminal. It’s no wonder the Gameboy hardly lasted a year.

glub glubThough, of course, that was the inevitable end of this trend. Super Mario Bros. 2 was a success, but every game attempting to ape Super Mario Bros. 2 just hammered a nail into the coffin of gaming harder and harder. By the time of the predicted Super Mario Bros. 3 release, sales of Nintendo consoles had plummeted. Sure, this was the system that had Mario, Link, and Kid Icarus, but nearly every game that included a “2” was an awful slog of anti-fun. If this was the direction gaming was going, apparently the general public wanted nothing to do with it. In retrospect, it should have been expected: the Videogame Crash of 1983 was followed six short years later by the Videogame Crash of 1989. Stores stopped stocking videogames at all, and, by 1990, you could no more purchase a Nintendo Entertainment System in America than a pet rock. The fad of “gaming” had faded, returned, and faded all over again within the span of a decade.

And, like E.T. before it, everyone pointed to Super Mario Bros. 2 as the most prominent example of the reason no one wanted to touch a controller ever again.

So what became of gaming after the crash of ’89? There is no shame in not being aware of the last thirty years of videogame history, as the hobby became little more than a niche occupied by some very dedicated enthusiasts. Those that stuck around after Super Mario Bros. 2 demanded more and more severe challenges, and, given they were the entire audience, the gaming companies of yesterday and today were happy to oblige. Nintendo got out of the hardware business after the twin bombs of its Nintendo Entertainment System 2 and Super Mario Bros. 4 (infamously featuring a rideable dinosaur that would, after a set period of time, eat the player), but they are still making games for the personal computer, and the recent Super Mario Bros. 35 certainly seems to be 35 times as challenging as Mario’s original adventure. Other companies from the NES era, like Capcom and Ultra, faded into the ether, but they have been replaced by modern, “indie” developers that attempt to capture the feelings of the original titles like Castlevania 2 (a game that literally asked its players to bang their heads against cliffs). Oddly, it seems the most profitable gaming Wart?company in the modern era is a British gang by the name of Rare Limited, as their most recent release, Battletoads 3, is topping the sales charts. Granted, at this point, topping the videogame sales charts is roughly as financially relevant as selling the most model train sets in June, but it is still an accomplishment.

And that’s the world that Super Mario Bros. 2 created. It was a difficult, grueling videogame, and, thanks to its unprecedented success, every other company decided to make games that were more tedious than fun. As we now “celebrate” the 35th anniversary of the first Super Mario Bros. (there is even word President Dean will publically recognize the milestone), please remember that, thanks to one fateful sequel, Nintendo also smothered gaming in its crib.

One poison mushroom is all it takes…

Thank you for the guest article, Goggle Rob of Alternate Universe #724. I’ll be sending over my thank-you article about the failure of HD-DVD in this universe shortly!

FGC #547 Super Mario Bros 2 (The Lost Levels)

  • Dodge 'emSystem: Nintendo Famicom originally, but most of the West saw it as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation on the Super Nintendo.
  • Number of players: It’s just one player, right? You have to choose a brother, but can’t cooperate? That is bad, and the game should feel bad.
  • Speaking of All-Stars: The 16-bit remake really did this game dirty. The original NES version clearly has graphics that are an upgrade over the original, “launch” Super Mario Bros. palette. However, the SNES version seems to use the majority of the same assets for both games, giving the impression that SMB2j was little more than an expansion for SMB1. Way to rewrite history, Nintendo!
  • Other complaints: No new enemies or “creatures” are introduced for Super Mario Bros. 2, save that lovely toxic fungus. The Mushroom Kingdom has one of the most interesting bestiaries in gaming, so it’s kind of a shame that the likes of bob-omb, shy guy, or dry bones didn’t premiere in this title. I like a goomba as much as the next guy, but Mario is at his best when he’s introducing something more interesting than “Blue Bowser”.
  • Mario or Luigi? As a child, I saw as a child, and assumed jump height was everything. Now, as an adult, I prefer a hero that is less slippery, and is not demolished by strong winds. I have matured.
  • Other connections: You cannot tell me the same thinking that inspired SMB2j’s ridiculous “spend half the level up above the boundaries thanks to overly powerful springs” level design is not also responsible for (real) Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic’s more albatross riding-based stages. It feels very familiar…
  • Watch those cloudsGoggle Bob Fact: Nintendo Power goaded me into finding World 9 and sending a picture of proof so I could earn a badge of honor for my accomplishment… but I’m pretty sure my dad never properly developed the film, and it may or may not have actually been mailed. Regardless, I do not have a spiffy trophy badge, and my life is all the worse for it.
  • Did you know? The A/B/C/D levels clearly reuse stage layouts from earlier in the game, but SMB2j doesn’t otherwise recycle any levels before rescuing a princess. This is in stark contrast with SMB1, which reuses levels constantly starting with World 5’s castle. Or am I just thinking of Super Mario 35
  • Would I play again: I would literally play any other Mario game first. I don’t really believe this game would have crashed the entire videogame industry exclusively because it is bad, but I do believe SMB2j and its hidden blocks/aggravating warps was basically the start of “Kaizo Mario”, and that’s never been the reason I play Mario titles. Sorry, history, I like fun games.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Super Nintendo! It’s sequel time, again, so it’s time to see Diddy’s Kong Quest! Please look forward to it!

I do not care for this

FGC #536 Super Mario Bros. 35

Here we goCan we talk about how important it is when numbers go up?

Today’s title is all about special numbers. Super Mario Bros. 35 is a “limited time” Nintendo Switch title celebrating the 35th anniversary of our favorite plumber, Jump Man. Ol’ J.M. made his debut in Donkey Kong back in 1981, but he was established as super/mushroom-based in 1985, so that’s the game we’re going to celebrate. And that’s an important title! Super Mario Bros. introduced Princess Peach, Bowser, the Mushroom Kingdom, and, oh yeah, it kind of sold thousands of gaming consoles to an eager generation of gamers (what? You didn’t think ROB has responsible for the redemption of gaming, did you?). Super Mario Bros. was a revelation in 1985, and it seems only appropriate that that be celebrated in the same way we revel in other important events like Arbor Day or National Squeezings Month.

And now the videogame that was Super Mario Bros. has finally become a game.

Super Mario Bros. 35 is simultaneously the most creative thing Nintendo has released, and its most banal. For years, men, women, and a few extraordinarily gifted bears have been speed-running Super Mario Bros. Hell, even before we had the term “speed-run”, we had people racing each other to beat Bowser. It may not have been online, but we could stick two CRTVs in the same room and see who could be the first to rescue that pink blob of pixels squatting at the finish line. Or maybe we could just wait and see who could get off the NES’s blue flashing screen first. Whatever! Point is that Super Mario Bros. 35 has turned Super Mario Bros. into a competitive sport, and, while that may not have always been the intention when Miyamoto first married mushroom to man, it is an evolution of an aspect of Mario that has always been there. Should every game get the battle royale/racing time treatment? No, of course not. But we already did Tetris, so we may as well hop on the Mario train and full steam ahead.

I love this placeBut don’t worry, this isn’t just a straight Mario race for the prize, Super Mario Bros. 35 offers a variety of new quality of life improvements to separate itself from simply wiring 35 different versions of Nesticle together. The most important new feature in Super Mario Bros. 35 is how it allows you to be a jerk to your friends and neighbors. Whenever one of Mario’s enemies is defeated in SMB35, it is “sent” to another player as a relentless, undead version of its already menacing self. This means that World 1-1 may wind up crowded with 30 continuous goombas, or, if your opponent is particularly unfriendly, seven different pairs of Hammer Bros. And, lest you think these zombie opponents are little more than their usual, 35-year-old selves, some of these ghost creatures have new behaviors, like those previously mentioned Hammer Bros. tearing turtle ass through the stage if you dare attempt to sneak by their stationed positions. And Bowser! Big, bad Bowser can appear in any stage, and his fireballs can be a nuisance in even the most submerged of levels. And, lest you think you can perform some manner of pacifist run, so everyone can just be content with the koopa troopas they already have, the timer of Super Mario Bros. 35 has been tweaked so you must commit turtle murder to accrue enough seconds to finish even the first level. Mario’s more elegant moves can be performed to earn extra time (like bowling a buzzy beetle through a strike’s worth of goombas), but, worst comes to worst, you can just fireball everything that shows up in Mario’s periphery. And thus are those poor creatures sent “at” other players, and the circle of death continues…

Get out of hereAnd it will likely not surprise a single person to hear me extoll the virtues of such a game. Yes, gentle reader, I enjoy Super Mario Bros. 35. It is the experience I have been chasing for the last 35 years. It is Super Mario Bros., yes, but it is also a new undertaking every time. I have memorized the ins and outs of 1-1, but this is the first time it has included an army of bloopers (at least that I can remember, shut-up, nerds, if I’m wrong). And, yes, SMB35 provides a number of good vibes because I consistently put myself in the top ten, and definitely have scored the top ranking on more than one occasion. Does this mean I am a Super Mario Bros. champion? No. It simply means that I am likely better than everyone reading this article, and you peons better line up to lick clean my sneakers that have unfortunately been muddied by my deigning to meet you plebes halfway. There need be no Super Mario All-Stars, I am the only Super Mario All-Star this world needs. Super Mario Bros. 35 compliments my usual speed-based Mario playstyle, and it literally compliments me every time I successfully earn the highest ranking. What’s not to like?

Well, there is the little matter of not having any idea how to make progress.

Super Mario Bros. 35 seems to imply that it unlocks the whole of Super Mario Bros. over the course of traditional play. Assuming you can survive just one stage in SMB35 (which is a big assumption, considering how many players seem to feed Mario to the nearest goomba), you’ll unlock other levels upon seeing your final ranking. 1-2 or 1-3 seem to be gimmes, but maybe you’ll even score the whole of World 2, too. From there, further stages are unlocked, which allows for a greater number of challenges to enjoy. You would not ever see a single Hammer Bros. without 3-1, and 2-2 is the home of so many aquatic nuisances. Unlocking more stages means more monsters to menace your opponents, so this is much more than a cosmetic unlock, as you need some fresh attack sources after running through 1-1’s limited challengers a thousand times.

I win!And, despite my stellar rankings in Mario, I have no idea how to unlock further levels. I mean, sometimes new levels are unlocked… but why? Was it because I chose to have Mario think about later stages at the start? Was it because other players choose Mario’s thoughts in a manner that agreed with mine? Did I level up? Did I play against someone with a higher level? Was it unlocked by play time? Or the time it took for me to score a victory? Was it unlocked as a consolation prize after I came so close to actually winning? Was it because I wished to the right Mario gods during this particular run (I hear Geno is being very generous this year)? I have no idea! I have absolutely no clue how a player is supposed to unlock new stages, and I haven’t seen a single world past six. Is this part of the limited time release nature of SMB35? Is Nintendo getting off on withholding? Is it possible to cram any more rhetorical questions into this paragraph? Maybe!?

And this is all a terrible shame, because one underrated but absolutely essential piece of Super Mario Bros. was how it all clearly defined progression in 1985. We absolutely take it for granted today, but back in the day of excessively reused assets and limited graphics, it was difficult to ever determine if you were making progress. Is there an “ending” for Asteroids? Pitfall? Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and even Donkey Kong all had loops that quickly blended together as you desperately tried to survive. Donkey Kong Jr. had a bizarre progression method in its American arcade incarnation, and had additional levels “unlock” as you completed more and more loops. And did that work at all? Did people just assume DK Jr. was like his old man, and one loop meant you saw it all? Even when there’s a “round counter”, games of yore were terrible about properly conveying progression.

SELECT SOMETHINGBut Super Mario Bros.! Now there was a game where you knew where you stood! You have to rescue a princess, and she’s at the end of world 8. Everything before that? Clearly labeled and categorized. You know you’re heading to another castle after every rescued Toad. World 2-2 isn’t a punishment, it’s just the next stepping stone between World 1 and World 3. The skies didn’t get black because you did something wrong, this spot is just a little dark. And there simply could not be the Super Mario 2-D staple/innovation of Warp Zones without this measured development. You know you have to reach World 8, and you can use these hidden warp pipes to get there. It’s going to save so much time!

How do you get to World 8 in Super Mario Bros. 35? I have no idea. I have ranked first repeatedly, leveled up continually, and am sitting on a cache of coins that would put Wario to shame (editor’s note: incorrect, Wario is incapable of feeling shame). But do any of these clearly delineated measures of success get me any closer to the princess? Not as far as I can tell. I feel like I have mastered a great breadth of Super Mario Bros. 35, but I have no idea how to make any sequential progress. There are stages to be unlocked! And it looks like they are going to continue to be as inaccessible right up until we see Super Mario Bros. 2 – 35 (now with more Clawgrips!). World 8 may as well not exist, as I have no idea how to get there. And it is profoundly demoralizing to have lost something that was so basic and observable in 1985.

Super Mario Bros. 35 is a celebration of 35 years of Super Mario Bros., but it forgot one of Super Mario Bros.’ most important innovations. All these numbers going up are great, but how about increasing that world counter?

FGC #536 Super Mario Bros. 35

  • System: Nintendo Switch! It’s the only Nintendo console around!
  • Number of players: Two. Wait, no. 35. Sorry. Forgot for a moment.
  • It's wet down hereJust play the gig man: One thing that Super Mario Bros. 35 has taught us is that there is no universe where the starman theme was ever meant to be played in its “sped up” incarnation. That is audible cancer, and I hope it is patched out and replaced with, I don’t know, Kirby’s lollipop theme.
  • Favorite Level: I will repeat World 1-2 over and over again given the choice. Literally, in fact, as using the warp pipe there often randomly generates the opportunity to re-roll the stage. It may be because of the easy powerups and starman, or it may be because I like blue goombas. Either one works.
  • I thought We Had an Arrangement: I have encountered World 4-4. It is an endlessly repeating maze if you don’t know the proper route. And, assuming I haven’t gone completely deaf, it drops any helpful tones for indicating you’re going the right way. I thought we agreed some aural feedback was a good idea back in 1993! Particularly during a race! Nintendo, see me after class.
  • Further Leveling: You can unlock a variety of Mario sprites as your player icon. I’m happy with repping my buzzy beetle pride, but I really want a rare pull to be… I don’t know… Let’s say the yo-yo from StarTropics. Yeah, that should confuse all the other players into thinking there are more secrets abound.
  • Did you know? Buzzy Beetle first appears in 4-2. Its premiere is, oddly enough, the only instance of a Buzzy Beetle appearing underground in Super Mario Bros. (1).
  • Would I play again: As long as this game is available to play, I will play it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Parappa the Rappa 2! One would have to assume some believing will be involved in our future. Please look forward to it!

Gotta hang sometime

FGC #010 Ice Climber

Birds are basically dinosaursPopo could not remember a time when this was not his life.

Winters were cold in Popo’s village. A chilling frost blew over the land, and the once verdant greens of his happier days gave way to an icy white that left nothing but death in its wake. What few, precious vegetables had been harvested were collected and stored for the long winter, hopefully enough to last until Spring, hopefully enough to stave off death.

The arrival of the condor was the worst day of Popo’s life even before it came to define his existence. The children were playing, building snowmen and imprinting angels, when the shadow of real wings appeared. Cries were heard all around, not of fear of the bird itself, but what it represented, and the repercussions of its dastardly act. The condor stole all of the food in the village, every last crop, and now life had gone from “difficult” to “unsustainable”. No more would the children play, for how could they? The young and old alike knew the darkness that was waiting for them, and without provisions, it would be there before the thaw. Hell, now it seemed that glimpsing the full moon may be an impossible goal.

Popo didn’t have much, but he had what he needed. A heavy coat, thick shoes, a wooden mallet (used for cookery back in happier days): this would be all he would take on his venture to reclaim his village’s vegetables. He would climb that icy mountain, and steal back the food, nay, hope that the cowardly condor had pilfered. He didn’t do it for glory (which, he may admit, was tempting), nor for the food itself (as one of the heartiest villagers, he might have survived on what meager crumbs remained), but for his people. For the elders that had raised him up from a babe, for his friends who had supported his endeavors, and most of all, for the children, who had no future without the vittles atop that mountain.

Popo nearly left alone, but he was joined by Nana at the last moment. Nana had all the same provisions as Popo… well, nearly the same, her parka was more of a pink than blue… and, while many claimed “a girl” would simply slow Popo down, Popo welcomed Nana with open arms. This would be a long, tireless journey, and companionship would be welcome. There, at the base of that first mountain, they vowed to support each other, but if ever there was peril, if ever there was a danger that would threaten to destroy them both, but one could be saved, the way was clear: someone had to survive this expedition, so leaving a man, or woman, behind may be that price. With steely determination, and a mutual understanding of their own mortality, Nana and Popo, the Ice Climbers, scaled the mountain, hammers gripped tightly in their mittened hands.

This is like killing a dinosaurThe mountain was a place of wondrous creatures, both amazing and deadly. The topi appeared to be an unfathomably fuzzy yeti, but its ability to undo the ice chiseling efforts of Nana & Popo labeled it as a threat. At times, perhaps as a result of snow blindness, Popo believed the topi to resemble blue seals, but Nana never corroborated these sightings. A bird that Nana nicknamed The Nitpicker often taunted the duo with its flight and endless mobility. Popo could not stand this bird, and, believing it to be a crony of the condor that had imperiled his loved ones, often struck it from the sky with a mighty jump and an even mightier swing of his hammer. This bird carried no foodstuffs, but its defeat did ease Popo’s nerves.

At times, it seemed that the mountain itself was on that blasted condor’s side. Icicles would form and fall with near no warning, and in the most inconvenient of places. It’s a small wonder the Ice Climbers didn’t acquire any new holes in their parkas (or heads). Worst of all, whenever Nana and Popo dawdled, a created of pure malevolence appeared. This animal was a towering polar bear, somehow equipped with shorts and sunglasses, that could cause an avalanche with the shallowest of leaps. Anyone left at the base of the mountain when this white bear started its assault… well… Popo didn’t like to think about it.

Hey, first time I'm playing another game to play the gameAfter much trepidation, Nana and Popo reached the apogee, and encountered the dreadful beast of their nightmares. It would be wrong to recount an epic battle, hammer against talon silhouetted against an icy winter sunset. No, at this point the pair just wanted the deed done, so Popo leapt, recaptured the eggplant, and hurried back to the village. It was laborious, it was treacherous, some even claimed it was suicidal, but Nana and Popo did return, vegetables in hand, and all was well.

Except the job was not done. By the calculations of the village accountants, a mere 3.1% of the village’s crops had been recovered. That condor was hiding more food on other mountains, and, having already proven their courage and skill, Nana and Popo were tasked with retrieving every last gourd and green.

Each mountain was more difficult than the last. Some peaks featured icy trails that seemed to push Popo back as he advanced. Other cliffs required Nana to balance herself on the clouds themselves for footing, if only for a short time. The white bear’s pursuit allowed no time for even the briefest of respites. The topi grew in number, their continuous compulsion to impede the twosome’s rise sapping whatever optimism they once had.
Despite it all, Nana and Popo conquered mountain after mountain, besting the condor each time, until it became a second nature for both of them. It was a difficult climb, but it had come to be almost comforting in its repetition. The Ice Climbers came to know their foes better than their friends in the village. None of the creatures on these mountains were pleasant, mind you, but they were familiar, and, like the snow that brought peace in the form of tranquility or death, they were a part of each other’s world. Finally, Popo retrieved every last eggplant, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, corn, turnip, pumpkin, napa, potato, and mushroom, and ventured back from the final mountain.

You'd cry tooAnd Popo wept, for there were no more peaks to conquer.

The village was saved, but Nana and Popo could no longer go home again. The mountains had not claimed their life, but it had claimed their lives. As Spring came, and the time of parkas receded, the legendary Ice Climbers ventured back to the mountains, this time not to scale the heights, but to build a home, to build a new life there, at the base of the cliffs that had brought them together. No one else would understand, no one else could grasp what they had been through. They would be together there, forever, and if that condor tried his same tricks again next Fall? Well, twin hammers would be ready and willing to climb.

FGC #10 Ice Climber

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Number of Players: 2 players, simultaneous, which is always nice.
  • Favorite Ice Climber Vegetable: Potato
  • So it’s come to this, Ice Climber fanfic? Yes. It was either that or my stunning creation: the Ice Climber theme song.
  • Is this “Ice Climber Theme Song” just the Clayfighter theme song, but with the words “Ice Climbers” in place of “Clayfighter”? …. Yes.
  • Did you know? Ice Climber was the pack-in game for the NES in some areas of Europe. This is exactly why the Master System is so popular over there.
  • Would I Play Again? %^$ no.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Lucha Libre Heroes Del Ring. I’m not even sure that’s a real game, ROB. Are your language subroutines degrading or something? I think you might need a diagnostic. Please look forward to it!