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FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

knock knockIt is 2020, and Banjo-Kazooie is still one of the best 3-D platformers of all time.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: I have no affection for Banjo and Kazooie. I hit puberty right around when Banjo was making the scene, and that resulted in some lingering issues regarding the goofy bear. Actually, to be clear, I officially became a teenager a couple of years earlier (right about in time for me to focus on other things in polygonal graphics), and that meant I was well and truly over it by the time the Nintendo 64 was hitting its stride. Did I still play videogames? Of course. But did I only play videogames for mature, highly sophisticated teenagers such as myself? Indubitably. Excuse me, Rare & Nintendo, I only have time for developed JRPGs right now. Did you see that tactics game insult God during the intro? I don’t think this fuzzy creature is going to offer me a similar experience.

So I didn’t play Banjo-Kazooie in its prime. Despite loving Mario 64, I had moved on to other genres by the time one was supposed to be collecting collectathons, so BK was dropped as easily as DK (he’s the leader of the bunch). And, as I eventually became a poor college student during this time, I didn’t wind up snagging the game in any capacity until the Gamecube had conquered the gaming continent (or at least the Nintendo island). Then I was able to pick up N64 games by the bucketful, as they had dropped in value from “hundreds of hours of fun should cost nearly a hundred dollars” to “you can have a new game, but you have to buy one less taco”. So Banjo-Kazooie was purchased with other titles that I had deigned too “kiddy” at the time (see also: Paper Mario). I played it for about a week, collected what I could, beat the bulk of the game, and then moved on to other adventures. There were new, better games out, and why should I waste my time on something so obviously past its prime? Just look at Eternal Darkness! Need I be more fair? Aim for something more in the same genre? Well, I recall jumping directly from BK to Mario Sunshine. “Now this is a modern platformer!” I exclaimed to an empty room while dropping bear ‘n bird forever…

And who knew that nearly 20 years later, I’d be writing an article about how Banjo-Kazooie kicks Mario Sunshine’s soggy ass?

Here we goWait, heck, I feel like I have to elaborate on my own opinions again. I like 3-D Mario titles. Hell, I consider all of them to be some of the best videogames out there. I’ve spoken of it before, but the feeling of controlling Mario is unparalleled. There is nothing like perfectly leaping over obstacles to grab another star, shine, or moon. I like Mario Sunshine. It is probably the Nintendo Gamecube title I revisit the most, and that’s saying a lot when you consider how many smashing brothers reside in that system. 3-D Mario games are still the gold standard for moving and “playing” in a 3-D space.

And, to be clear, Banjo is no Mario. This bear might have the somersault jump, and something approximating Mario’s 3-D triple leap, but the similarities end there. Beyond that, Banjo’s moveset is a bit stiff. It’s not bad! It’s actually pretty great compared to some of the turds that appeared in the 3-D space in the late 90’s. But there are a lot of… little things that hold Banjo back in his first adventure. Shooting requires stopping and ducking, which is immediately frustrating when a witch is lobbing fireballs. Switching to Kazooie’s footwork is fun for climbing hills, but it’s another move that requires you stop and swap. And why are we even talking about a bird walking when she can be flying? Banjo’s Kazooie-aided float jump is pretty fun, but actual flight can be a bear. Landing and/or determining your exact location relative to the ground is difficult when you’re anywhere past about six feet off terra firma, and dive-bombing your opponents is nearly impossible to properly aim (and, half the time, you add injury to insult by losing health if you miss). Maybe it’s the familiarity, maybe it’s the focused design, but, somehow, Mario feels effortless to control, while Banjo is stuck in a number of situations where his abilities are lacking thanks to a combination of controls and camera. It should not take any more than a second to power-poop an egg into a hole!

Don't look at meBut judging Banjo-Kazooie as merely a platformer does it a disservice. Yes, Banjo doesn’t control as well as Mario. Mario wins that match every time, against every opponent. But Banjo-Kazooie does beat Mario in its own, chosen field: Banjo-Kazooie is a better collectathon than Mario 64. What’s more, Mario, from Yoshi’s Island to Odyssey, has never beaten Banjo-Kazooie at its own game.

Banjo-Kazooie is every bit the collectathon your parents warned you about (“Stay away from that bad boy, and don’t waste time grabbing everything in a collectathon!”). Every one of the nine worlds in BK contain no less than 100 music notes, 10 jiggies, 5 jinjos (required to obtain one jiggy), 2 honeycombs (health), and any number of silver skulls, eggs, and feathers of all colors. And, like many collectathons, every last bauble and collectible is simultaneously optional and mandatory: you need to nab a certain percentage of everything previously listed, but you don’t need every last item if you stocked up on some in an earlier level. Regardless of required amounts, though, this does mean there is a lot to find in every level, which is always a blessing and a curse. It is fun to find a new jiggy, but it is also a pain when you’ve got nine out of ten and… where did that last one go again? Was I supposed to beat some manner of giant crab, or explore the depths of the ocean? It’s… somewhere around here… Right?

But that is exactly where Banjo-Kazooie excels. By clearly defining the number of essential collectibles for every area, a simple checklist is immediately generated. By limiting the size of levels to something that can be easily traversed in minutes, you’re never stuck in an area that is far too large to explore for that final music note. By transparently outlining “extras” in an area with the assistance of a friendly mole, you always know if there is still a new move or ability to find. And when every world gives you a clear goal and a constrained play area, you wind up not having to sweat the small stuff. Found eight jiggies, have a general idea on the locations of those last two, but haven’t completed their associated challenges yet? Great! Now you can caper around the area at will, and all you have to worry about is eventually returning to those last few pieces of gold. When you know the parameters of every world’s challenges, you can have fun within those borders. No need to obsessively press A next to every nook, cranny, and NPC to hope for the best…

WeeeeeeAnd this is a lesson Mario never seems to learn. Mario 64 vacillated between “you can earn every star immediately” and “you must complete challenge A before moving on to challenge B” from level to level. Mario Sunshine decided to focus on sequential challenges, and wound up making each “world” more of a “level” in the process (and aggravatingly tossed unaccountable blue coins all over the place in the process). The Super Mario Galaxy games focused even further on making “courses” as opposed to “exploration worlds”, and would once again hide a collectible or two around a level, but never a consistent amount. Mario Odyssey finally returned to the exploration of Marios gone by… but every area suddenly contained an unruly number of moons. Would this mundane block randomly grant you a moon? Or do you have to defeat a mighty boss to get the same reward? How about jump roping for thousands of hours? All the collectibles were equal in value, but violently varied in their collection methods. And, since that “final moon” for the level could be found through something as routine as throwing a hat at an unexceptional frog (basically how I spend my Tuesdays anyway), a player without a distinct guide was forced to try every goddamn thing in every world about six times. Hey, sorry to bother you again, but maybe you are the one skeleton dude that will hand over that final moon…

Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have this problem. Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t have autoscrolling levels, flying shyguys hording red coins, or areas that require six kinds of backtracking. Every one of its nine worlds is very honest about its challenges and collectibles, and, if you’re getting lost, there’s probably a googly-eyed toilet around that will shout some clues at you. There are no situations where you will have to repeat an entire area just for one last jiggy, and (by my count) there is only one possible challenge Nice placethat requires a powerup out of sequence with the rest of the game’s flow (that would be the running shoes in the ice stage, for the curious). Everything else is straightforward to a fault, and you’re every bit as capable of immediately finding everything in the first world as you are at the finale. Banjo-Kazooie is designed in such a way to help a player understand the rhythm of its worlds very quickly, and then, once that is accomplished, gently guide play from one challenge to the next.

Banjo-Kazooie is an expertly planned collectathon that wholly avoids the greatest pitfalls of the genre. That makes it one of the best 3-D platformers ever committed to cartridge. It is, to this day, a smashing success.

FGC #529 Banjo-Kazooie

  • System: N64 to begin, and then it migrated over to the Xbox 360. It’s currently available on Xbox One, too, as part of the Rare Replay collection. This is ideal, as N64 games make my eyes bleed.
  • Number of Players: This is one of the few “Nintendo” N64 games that didn’t at least try to use all four controller ports. So one player here.
  • Reused Game: As I have stated before, I generally do not delete old save files from used games if I can help it. This is because I have brain problems, and treat save files like precious children. So, speaking of children, here’s what the previous owner of my copy of Banjo-Kazooie was up to…

    33 hours, and they didn’t even beat the game. Tell me your secrets, N64 cartridge! Did someone just like running around in circles for hours? That’s perfectly okay! Just tell me what happened!

  • Port-o-Call: Okay, I might insult the graphics of the N64 on a routine basis (I think it goes back to that teenage angst thing mentioned earlier), but the controls of Banjo-Kazooie really were made for the N64 controller, so playing it on the original hardware at least once adds a little context to how the whole “using a gold feather” thing made sense on at least one console. That said, definitely play the Xbox360 version, because at least that unlocks new features for other Banjo-based games.
  • Are you talking about the Stop ‘N’ Swop Eggs and the Ice Key? Yes. Please don’t get me started on Nintendo Power lying to me yet again. I’m still grumbling about Crash Man.
  • This is the worstHey, Mario 64 called, it wants its everything back: There was a lot of discourse in the 90’s that Banjo-Kazooie wholesale ripped off Mario 64. There’s a desert level full of pyramids and flying, a huge castle filled with secrets and portraits, and, perhaps most damning of all, an entire ice level themed around an impossibly large snowman. And, while these are all great points, it’s important to note that Banjo-Kazooie is 100% its own adventure. How can you tell? Well, you don’t see oversized cartoon eyes on Mario 64’s ridiculous eel, do you? Check. Mate.
  • Favorite Level: Tick Tock Woods actually disproves my thesis, as you are repeatedly returning to the same area with slightly different changes, and then have to explore the whole area all over again. It’s like a dry run for Donkey Kong 64! That said, it’s the exception that proves the rule, and I enjoy even the slightest scraps of time travel, so I’m down. Also, it contains the only worthwhile magical transformation in the game, so I’ll take it.
  • Everybody Talks: If I’ve got one complaint about Banjo-Kazooie, it’s that absolutely every damn thing has something to say, and 90% of that dialogue is awful. I don’t need a shark explaining that he is trying to eat me, Rare, he’s a shark. And the whole Gruntilda thing could be fun from a “she’s a scary/gross Halloween witch” perspective, but the entirety of her interactions with the world boil down to “she’s fat”. Over and over again. Same joke. She’s fat, and nobody likes her because she’s fat. And it’s wonderful to see that joke continued into the most recent Banjo adventure…
  • The goggles do nothing: And they insult people for wearing goggles!

    The goggles!

    But I guess it gets better.

    They do nothing!

    Partial credit.

  • Did you know? Diddy Kong and Donkey Kong are not disguised as a basic chimp and guerrilla lurking in the first world. Those are totally different characters, and, if you want Banjo and Diddy to interact, you’re going to have to look elsewhere.
  • Would I play again: Probably! I was impressed by how Banjo-Kazooie fares compared even to its own direct sequels, and I’ll probably give Banjo another go in the future. It’s fun collecting things when a game is designed around placating my OCD, and not just running it into overdrive.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES! Yes, that’s right, it’s inexplicable bee transformation week here at Gogglebob.com! Please look forward to it!

Bee yourself

FGC #498 DK: King of Swing

MOAR APESLet’s hear it for Donkey Kong, the incredible ape that only has a few actions, but can do ‘em a million different ways.

… Or at least three.

To start, we have to address DK’s most hated rival: Mario. Or… well… they seem to be getting along pretty well at this moment, but they do have the occasional issue over copyright disputes. Regardless, as you may be aware, Mario has starred in a number of games. And it’s not just his popular adventures jumping across the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario has been everything from a tennis ace to a kart racer to a medical doctor. Mario had more spin-off titles before the end of the NES than many gaming heroes had individual “main franchise” games. Mario, designed to be like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Tom Hanks, could fill many roles and serve many masters. Mario has to headline a golf game now? Sure! Princess Peach can be caddy for some reason.

But there’s a problem with Mario appearing in so many roles: he has lost sight of his original moveset. Mario runs and jumps. It has been there from the beginning, and his greatest hits have ultimately boiled down to those simple motions. Mario jumps. It’s his thing. And even when Mario leaps from system to system, you have a basic idea of how his physics are going to fare in the new dimensions. … Except, when, ya know, there is no jumping. There is, at best, a tiny hop in Mario Kart. Mario nary jumps an inch in Dr. Mario. Picross is right out. And even titles that are not action games, but do pay homage to Mario’s ups, feature a Mario that is, at best, hobbled. Mario & Luigi or Super Mario RPG literally talk about the great jumping Mario, but it’s still not the primary way Mario interacts with his world. It’s telling how quickly Mario discovers a fire flower or hammer (or both!) in those titles…

The new canonAnd, in a way, that’s absolutely fine! You don’t need running and jumping to toss pills of dubious scientific origins at viruses, and RPGs shouldn’t have puzzles where the solution is “run better”. Mario has existed across genres and playstyles, and the fact that he adapts to each new challenge like he always belonged there is a feature, not a bug. Mario can compete in the Olympics, and his caretakers don’t have to find a way to squeeze a mystical mushroom into the already complex, shot put-based gameplay.

But that does mean Mario loses something along the way. If you pick up Mario Kart expecting typical Mario gameplay, you’re going to have a bad time. If you only want a traditional Mario game, but with a whole lot more dialogue, then the latest Mario RPG is going to leave you wanting. Mario might be right there in the title, and he might be the focus of the core concept, but that’s no guarantee that Mario will be the Mario that you remember. Mario is always going to be Mario, yes, but there’s no promise his latest outing is going to feature a Mario that simply runs, jumps, and occasionally menaces turtles.

Donkey Kong, though, now there’s a reliable ape.

The Donkey Kong official timeline is a little blurry, but the first playable “Donkey Kong” was definitely Donkey Kong Junior. DK Jr. controlled much like Mario, though with the moveset addition of “can climb”. This was required across all levels, and, in some stages, was little more than an evolution of Mario’s ability to “press up”. However, some levels (including the finale!) were almost entirely climbing based, so, while a horizontally traveling DK Jr. was very similar to his father’s captor, an ape on a vine was a different animal from a plumber on a ladder. As such, we learned the one thing that DK has over Mario: he’s an experienced climber. DK Tarzan, Mario plain.

Spikey!Then Donkey Kong took some time off to discover himself, learn math, figure out how ties work, and eventually returned a decade or so later. The “new” Donkey Kong of Donkey Kong Country was not confined to a scant few stages, but had an entire, enormous island to explore. He had his own reptilian villain, a fresh addiction to yellow fruit, and a little buddy that was so happy, he’s doing cartwheels. But Donkey Kong? Donkey Kong, at his core, was still doing the exact same things. He ran. He jumped. He swung on vines. The only new addition for the player was DK having some offensive options, like tossing barrels, but that was something the big guy did right from his first appearance (even if the player didn’t have any input on when he did it). Donkey Kong felt different from his DK Jr. days, but the same basic moves were all there. To some, this might seem like the old monkey couldn’t learn new tricks, but to others, this was glorious familiarity. And that’s very important when a videogame character resurfaces on an entirely new system with unfamiliar graphics.

This iteration of Donkey Kong stuck around for a generation or so, and stayed consistent (give or take a coconut gun that can fire in spurts). And then, once Donkey Kong (and Nintendo) separated from Rare, things got interesting.

Four years after Donkey Kong 64, Donkey got his own official Nintendo Peripheral. The DK Bongos were a pair of bongos (of course!) poorly posing as a controller. They were Nintendo’s answer to the Taiko Drums or Guitar Heroes of other systems, but they were used for more than mere rhythm games. The DK Barrels led to not only the prerequisite Donkey Konga, but also Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. DKJB was controlled entirely via bongos, and felt very different from every action platformer that had ever come before. But you know how DK navigated this brave new world? He ran, jumped, and swung on vines. DK: Jungle Beat felt wholly new and different from literally any game that had come before, but Donkey Kong was still very much Donkey Kong. And that familiarity is a godsend when you’re trying to grapple with a controller that somehow involves clapping.

He can breathe anywhereAnd then DK’s experimental phase continued with DK: King of Swing. In this adventure, our dear Donkey Kong can run and jump, but he isn’t so much into those ground-based activities anymore. Donkey Kong has taken to the skies, and is going down swinging. Or up? He’s still going in whatever direction you want. In fact, he’s going in every direction, as the gameplay of DK: King of Swing is literally going in circles. The primary challenge involved is stopping the big guerilla’s rotation at exactly the right time. In this manner, DK is able to do all his usual moves, as “jumping” or “throwing” are now simply lesser facets of “twirling”. It’s an entirely different way to control Donkey Kong, but his moves are still familiar.

And that’s important when adapting your protagonist to different gameplay. Let’s face it, DK: KoS is the sequel to Nintendo’s long forgotten Clu Clu Land. This is the evolution, the “super” version of a game that was released in 1984. But it is not “a Clu Clu Land” game. This is unmistakably a Donkey Kong game. DK has a certain heft to his movements that is completely absent from other platformers. It’s the same weight that allowed him to roll off a cliff to grab a K emblem in the Donkey Kong Country titles. It’s the same weight that allowed DK to be controlled by frantic bongo drumming. It’s even right there at the beginning when DK Jr. cut across a stage with a well-placed jump on a spring. That same monkey momentum was taken to Clu Clu Land’s basic setup, and allowed for a hero that could propel himself through the air with a spin and a flourish. This is Donkey Kong moving like he has never moved before, but he feels right while performing those familiar physical feats.

Ouch!And that’s why Donkey Kong works. That’s why DK: King of Swing, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, and his later return to Donkey Kong Country all work. Donkey Kong has been consistent in his appearances for decades, and that allows for some superficially inconsistent gameplay. Even though everything seems different, it simmers down to something that is very much the same, and thus immediately understandable. DK: King of Swing is a very different kind of Donkey Kong game, but it works because Donkey Kong continues to be Donkey Kong.

So, congratulations Donkey Kong, you’re more consistent than Mario, and that allows you to feature in more experimental games while still maintaining your identity. You finally beat that plumber at something.

And I bet Pauline isn’t even going to notice…

FGC #498 DK: King of Swing

  • System: Gameboy Advance, and then nothing ever again. The game was well-received in its time! I think!
  • Number of players: There’s an entire competitive multiplayer mode that is separate from the main, one-player campaign. It’s a four player game as a result, and at least one player can be Wrinkly Kong’s Ghost. It is exactly as macabre as it sounds.
  • What about single player? For some reason, only Diddy Kong mode is unlockable as an alternative to Donkey Kong. I’m not certain why the likes of Dixie or Funky are not allowed to also fight the lizard king, but Diddy can play hero all he wants. Maybe it’s because he has so much experience with kart racing heroics.
  • Here we goHey, isn’t Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast relevant to this whole discussion on DK appearances? Gogglebob.com does not formally recognize any titles involving sexy lady kremlings and Lanky Kong.
  • Story Time: DK King of Swing’s official plot is that the Kongs were going to have some manner of Monkey Olympics, but King K. Rool stole all the medals, and now DK has to venture through five or so worlds to reclaim all the gold before the games. What happened to simply having sports for the spirit of competition, Kongs? Do you really have to rely on these meaningless baubles? Do you actually need your patriarch to fight a gigantic, flaming bird so you can have a medal at the end of the day? You apes are too materialistic.
  • Favorite Character: Less you missed the obvious parallels, the star of Clu-Clu Land is the final unlockable character. Clu-Clu is a beast… and incidentally a silly little circle. I like simple designs.
  • For the Sequel: DK: King of Swing did receive a DS sequel titled DK: Jungle Climber. Its selling point is dropping the “cartoony” graphics of King of Swing for the more familiar “rendered” graphics of the 16-bit era. It’s otherwise a pretty pat sequel in gameplay and plot, and an inglorious end for this branch of the DK family tree.
  • Did you know? Given he hasn’t yet returned for Donkey Kong Country Returns titles, DK: King of Swing and DK: Jungle Climber were the last titles where King K. Rool appeared as an antagonist. He’s performed a few times since then as a generic “player” in baseball games and alike, though, so it’s not like Smash Bros. was his only spotlight in the last decade. Maybe we’ll see more of the big lug in the future thanks to Smash. It certainly worked for Fire Emblem
  • Would I play again: I’m always reminded how much I like this game every time I play it. It certainly has its share of weird bits (what’s this about eating my banana stock for health?), but it feels very right, so I might chase that feeling again. And I have to defend my King of Swing medals…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ballz. Oh man, that game is balls. Please look forward to it, that, which is Ballz!

Weeeeee

FGC #487 Super Mario Bros. 2

This is the second consecutive article about a second Mario game in the year 2020. That’s a lot of twos! So let’s look at two significant things about Super Mario Bros. 2 that appear in this one (1) screenshot.

Mario!  Kinda!

We’ll start with the good

It's good!

This is the best heads up display there has ever been in a Mario game.

What do we have here? Two red dots. That’s your health. And that’s it! That’s all you need to know! It is firmly the belief of Gogglebob.com that every videogame requires an easy, immediately accessible health meter. This helps the player make decisions: you have full health, so do you take some chances? Or are you down to a single hit point, and you play as conservatively as possible? Do you go for that extra heart to keep your boat afloat? Or are you already sitting pretty, so why risk it for something you don’t even need? The choice is up to you, and knowing exactly how much gas is in your tank lets you make an informed decision. Are you getting this, Fable 3? Nobody wants to waste health potions because they can’t tell if that screen filter is supposed to bright or dark red.

Playin' SnakeIn your average SMB platformer, you can tell how vulnerable you are immediately by Mario’s average height and/or ability to hurl flaming balls, but Super Mario Bros. 2 simply has “health”. And that does allow for some interesting gameplay decisions. Are you going to horde that magic potion to find a mushroom? Or is it time to seek out as many gambling coins as possible? Are you full of hearts for the Mouser showdown, or are you going to hold off on opening that door until you’re a little more stable? Options! They’re back! And they all pivot on those simple red dots up in the corner.

And don’t even get me started on how good it is to see four dots up there. Mmmm…

There is beauty in what is not included up there, too. A score has never mattered to Mario, so why even bother? The game is tracking the Subcon denizens you defeat, as you are eventually rewarded with a restorative heart after knocking over enough shyguys, but you don’t need a “kill count” to encourage further carnage (eat it, Super Mario Land 2). And even your cherry collection, the closest thing SMB2 has to gathering coins, doesn’t need a counter when you’re just happy to see the occasional super star. Cherries are not something to be rationed across Wart’s invasion. Just grab ‘em! Cherries are good, and that’s all you need to know about that collectible.

Super Mario Bros. 2’s HUD tells you literally everything you need to know, and doesn’t clutter the screen with anything superfluous. It is a shining example of minimalist design.

So it’s a bit of a shame that excellent design doesn’t apply to the problem with Super Mario Bros. 2…

It's bad!

The issue? There at the top of the screen is the bird-mask gate that is the entrance to World 3-2. And that door at the bottom? That’s the exit. You can see it! It’s right there! You’re just going to have to traverse the whole of the stage backwards to find your way to your eventual goal.

And that’s always annoying.

Complete BSSuper Mario Bros. 1 is a game that scrolls from left to right so relentlessly, the screen literally doesn’t allow returning to the left. Super Mario Bros. 3 may allow backtracking, but you can be sure that your eventual fireworks display is always going to be far too the right. Right is forward, left is backwards, and if you’re not making forward/right progress, you are losing ground on reaching your goal. Easy peasy. There are some exceptions to the rule (usually involving a castle or similar Koopa encampment), but, by and large, you always know where you’re going in a Mario game.

Super Mario Bros. 2, unfortunately, doesn’t have this kind of focus. Right from the first level, there’s a branching path that involves the possibility of sneaking up on Birdo through some demolition, or scaling a vertical beanstalk. Choice is great! But it’s not so great on an opening level where you’re still trying to discover the shape of your goals. From there, we have a second level that requires a detour to find a key, and then another stage that entails some up-and-down just to make your way to a boss. Very rarely is there a SMB2 level that requires simple, left-to-right traversal, and, while the final fortress being a maze is to be expected of a Mario adventure, the second to last level hangs its opening segment on the deception of having to progress left when right seems like the most obvious goal. Right until the end, Super Mario Bros. 2 loves tricking the player into confusion at best, and general time wasting at worst.

And I am not a player that likes to waste his time.

Rarely seen crabI replay Super Mario Bros. 3 once a year (though I may ignore some levels). Super Mario Bros. usually sees a go for one reason or another. But I don’t think I’ve completely played through Super Mario Bros. 2 since the advent of the Gameboy Advance. Why? Because it’s a game that practically forces the player to second guess every decision. Is this the right way? Should I be riding that albatross? Is there a key down this pipe, or another stupid turtle shell? Hell, even pullin’ up plants, the temporary replacement for Mario’s iconic question mark blocks, is a lottery to the uninformed player. Are you going to pull up a helpful vegetable, or a bob-omb that is going to blow after an instant? And if there are a row of plants, where is that magic potion? If you pull it up first, it’ll lead to a bevy of coins, but tugging it out last means you won’t get a cent. And, as someone who doesn’t easily deal with missing collectibles, it poisons everything about the experience.

Oh… oh, God. Is Super Mario Bros. 2 the first Mario collectathon?

Well, no, of course not. It’s not like Wart is locked behind finding every last coin or some other esoteric condition. But Super Mario Bros. 2 does appear to be the first Mario title that experimented with eschewing “courses” for “worlds”, and its position as a the first Mario game to give that a try makes it a harder pill to swallow. Super Mario Bros. 2 is neither fish nor fowl in the war between Mario games where you have to find everything, and Mario games where the entire point is jumping around like an idiot. Dang whalesAs a result, even though it is a very singular experience in the History of Mario, it is also a game that doesn’t perform well in either category. There are too many “secrets” and “techniques” required for this to be a simple “run ‘n fun” platforming title, but there are too many pidgits and waterfalls for it to be a game simply about discovery. It’s a title lost in the middle, and that means it is rarely anyone’s favorite.

But it still has a pretty rockin’ health meter, so it ain’t all bad.

FGC #487 Super Mario Bros. 2

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, then Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and then… I guess it didn’t appear again until the Wii? Then it was on everything, though. Does the Gameboy Advance version count, too?
  • Number of players: This was the first Mario game to include Luigi, but not a 2-player mode. Or I’m making that up. But it sounds like a true fact!
  • Doki Doki Remake: Everybody knows that Super Mario Bros. 2 USA was a modified version of Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, a Nintendo game by Shigeru Miyamoto that featured a non-Nintendo license. The heroes of YK:DDP were switched with the Mario staples of Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess, but most of the rest of the game was unchanged. We’ve still got Wart, Mouser, and…

    This is not okay

    They just had to change a liiiiiiil racism here and there.

  • Favorite Character: Growing up, I always relied on Princess Toadstool/Peach. But now, as a mature adult, I apparently prefer Toad. I… I just gotta go fast.
  • Innovation: I may be against how much thinking is required to complete Super Mario Bros. 2, but I am continually impressed by how often the simple concept of “riding” an enemy is used for fascinating gameplay. Soaring across the skies on the back of a bird is pretty straightforward, but who would expect skittering up a tree with a hoopster? And seeing how far you can get while riding on a shyguy is always fun.
  • What’s in a name: Oh! Subcon! As in subconscious, as in the part of your brain that is working when you’re dreaming. I just got that!
  • Floating bubblesDid you know? Clawgrip is an entirely new boss added to the game to replace a third Mouser battle in level 5. It’s obvious that a number of SMB2 luminaries never made it into other Nintendo titles because “SMB2 USA” didn’t have as much cultural clout in Japan, but Clawgrip is on the Mike Jones-echelon of never being seen again. Come on, Nintendo, he’s a giant crab! Nerds love those guys!
  • Would I play again: It might not be my favorite, but it sure is a Mario game. That means I’m sure I’ll give it another go sometime, even if it won’t be for a while. Maybe I can go visit Mecha Birdo…

What’s next? We’re keeping this two-train going! Random ROB has chosen Sonic the Hedgehog 2! Are you up 2 it? Please look forward 2 it!

Sleep well

FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

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

Spooky

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

Goombas gonna die

Mario has a kill count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

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

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

Buzz buzz