Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Super Mario World vs. New Super Mario Bros. Wii

New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a pretty sweet video game. Plumbers tripping on Magic Mushrooms is something that everyone should experience. I really like it. I'm of a mixed mind whether prefer it to my other favorite Mario game, Super Mario World, or not. I decided to make a comparison.

Good Level Design, Thy Name is NSMB-Wii

In terms of level design, I think it holds its own well against any of the classic games. Some of the scenarios are downright challenging to get past. I was impressed that Nintendo would make a game this hard for their casual gaming device called the Wii. However, when I say "hard," I only mean it in the sense that some levels will might take eight or ten of your lives on the first attempt. If you have any Mario skill whatsoever, you probably won't get a Game Over in this game. Extra lives are everywhere, and you can stock up on them without really trying to. Basically, I'm saying that I beat the game with 99 lives, yet still think that it's a pretty challenging game.

Why is it challenging? Things popping out of lava, thirty or forty fireballs chasing you back across the levels, jumps that require absolute precision, and all sorts of arduous scenarios that just never existed in Super Mario World. It's almost like playing those classic Mario games is a prerequisite. To me, NSMB-Wii plays like a version of The Lost Levels that has been packed with thousands of extra lives... and made a little bit easier. Nothing in this game is as hard as 7-3 of The Lost Levels. Damn those catapult springs!

Overworld Devolution: NSMB-Wii's Failure

There's no denying it. The pack-in game for Super Nintendo had a more impressive overworld than a comparable mid-life Wii game. In Super Mario World, there are numerous alternate exits. Only a few were really hard to find, which made it accessible enough for most players to try and find them all. In NSMB-Wii, there are secret exits. However, the map only gives you a vague suggestion of where they are. Also, I haven't counted them out, but I would wager that far more secret exits exist in Super Mario World than in this game. NSMB-Wii's overworld wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't quite live up the still-impressive feat that was the SMW overworld.

When I was finding NSMB-Wii's Star Coins to beat the levels in Star World (or World-9), I was hoping there would be a Special Zone after beating all of the levels in Star World. Well, there wasn't, and that was a letdown. It actually wasn't a big big deal as the game was still really good, but, the Special Zone is legendary in its difficulty -- right up there with the Lost Levels, in fact! I know that Mario and hardcore aren't often mentioned in the same sentence, but you've gotta be pretty hardcore to clear SMW's Special Zone levels. But anyway.

Star Coins: NSMB-Wii's Improvement

After beating Bowser NSMB-Wii, I thought, "Yeah that was pretty good. The bosses were a step backward to Super Mario Bros. 3, but I liked it." Then I got to collecting the Star Coins to unlock levels in Star World. At this point it hit me: This game is like Super Mario 64 in 2D. As someone who has issues with the slow pace 3D Mario, I was pretty excited. "Finally, they've put this find the stars stuff into a game style that I enjoy!"

You can actually try to collect all of the Dragon Coins in Super Mario World. I went back and did it a few months ago. It was a lot of fun, and I'd recommend it. However, there's no system in place to keep track of whether you've obtained all the Dragon Coins in a given level. Also, not all of the levels have four Dragon Coins. Some have five, and a few have three (Chocolate Secret, and one other... I forget which). I do believe I obtained all of the Dragon Coins, but I can't be sure. :P

So, NSMB-Wii did something that was quite unique for a 2D Mario game. Whether the other NSMB games did, I don't know. I would to play them find out if I had a (3)DS. This "find the coins in the level stuff" also occurred in the Donkey Kong Country games with DK-Coins, Bear Coins, and whatever else was in there.

Multiplayer: Pick Your Flavor

Super Mario World plays like Super Mario Bros. 3, alternating whenever a play beats a level or dies. NSMB-Wii doesn't do that. It does something that's, to me, far more annoying: You need to play these levels with everyone on the screen at the same time. I'm Mario God in one player (like most people, I imagine), but 2-players is quite hard due to each player going for the same platforms. 3-players is unruly. 4-players is impossible, man. Everyone wants to go their own way. While I think that the co-op mode is a good feature, they should have included old school alternating Mario to appease people who actually want to finish the game with more than one player.

Music: SMW owns it

This is just my opinion, but I don't think that the music in NSMB-Wii is all that great. There are good themes here and there, but the main little motif is as mediocre as it gets. Other pieces sound good, but they're just too ambient for a game that's focused on rhythm, running, and jumping. Compare it with the Donut Plains 1 music, the Vanilla Dome, and the Valley of Bowser. NSMB-Wii's music seems like it's at its best when it's paying homage to previous games in the series (a-la SMW's Castle Theme. The Hammer Bros. theme from SMB3. etc.). I suppose nostalgia affects my opinion here, but I stand by it. ;)

Final Verdict: Doesn't Matter

Is it a better game than SMW? For the most part, no. SMW's overworld and Music were better, to me. but it was still pretty damn good. Collecting the Star Coins was just fun. If I had $400 to just throw away, I would get a Wii-U and the 2D Mario game for that. Just keep making 2D Mario games, Nintendo! It's not creative and definitely not innovative, but they tend to rule. In my opinion, NSMB-Wii beats the hell out of SUper Mario Galaxy, but I may have a minority opinion on that. :(

Well, that concludes a pointless comparison of two games with very similar gameplay. I hope you enjoyed. I thought it was a fine time-waster.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Link to the Past and Non-Linear Progression

I read something that made me die a little on the inside. I'm paraphrasing here: "A Link to the Past is the source of modern linear Zelda. How you can like that and not like the equally linear Twilight Princess? They're the same thing."

This is a common perception about my favorite Zelda game, one that is completely wrong. A Link to the Past creates the appearance of a linear game -- insofar as it numbers the dungeons via the map -- but the order is completely up for grabs after the Palace of Darkness. After completing that first dungeon of the Dark World, it's possible to complete Skull Woods, Thieves' Hideout, and... that water one (Level-2) in any order. I never could remember its name. And if I'm not mistaken, the order of the Ice Prison and Misery Mire can be swapped up.

Ok, so it's a common habit to play a game through once and never touch it again these days. I can understand how younger gamers might think that if they just beat ALttP once. However, it baffles me to see that some players of the original Legend of Zelda really regard ALttP as a linear game. I'll grant that it muffles the absolute freedom given in LoZ, but its Dark World portion is still a pretty great continuation of LoZ's non-linear scheme.

Anyway, I think it's sad to see ALttP regarded as such by anyone, because I believe that its formula achieved the best of both worlds. Its Light World portion was quite segmented to allow for the storyline to develop. After Zelda's capture, the game switches to non-linear traditional LoZ-esque gameplay. ALttP has a Storyline AND Exploration, which to hear Zelda fans tell it, are two things which cannot exist within the same game.

Ocarina of Time continued ALttP's tradition of allowing alternate dungeon orders in the "second half" of the game. But alas, OoT had fewer dungeons, so it wasn't quite as apparent. After OoT, it was abandoned entirely in favor of the type of segmented gameplay found in Link's Awakening. That's the real prototype for linear Zelda.

The alternate orders are what makes a good Zelda game great to me. Good Zelda games like Skyward Sword would be better if I could come back to them a second time and do something differently. ;) Series director Eiji Aonuma recently spoke about returning non-linear progression to the Zelda series. I'm hopeful that this is the case.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why Smartphones Won't Kill Game Consoles

If you follow gaming news, that's the primary headline to carry away. "Angry Birds is pretty much on the same level with Farcry 3 in terms of quality, development costs, and everything. It won't be long before phones eat 100% of game consoles' market share." Ok, so I'm just beating up a straw man there, but you get my point. Apparently the readily available supply of games and newer business models will eventually kill Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. I have my doubts for a couple of reasons. Behold!

A Bigger Screen One of my friends came over with her kid one day. He brought his 3DS and Ocarina of Time 3D. I've heard worse reasons to turn on Ocarina of Time 64. I just wanted to show him what the game originally looked like, but one of his comments surprised me, "I think your version of Ocarina of Time is better. It's bigger."

Obviously, Ocarina of TIme 3D has substantially better graphics than Ocarina of Time 64. However, he -- a kid who grew up during the smartphone age -- preferred the console version to the handheld version (which is, in my opinion, quite comparable to a smartphone game. Probably better since it's Zelda.). As long as smartphones aim to be small portable devices, they'll never be able to duplicate the same kind of experience that a game console can.

A Dedicated Device Phones are limited by the fact that they are phones. I find playing most console games via phone hard to imagine. The adequate control schemes just aren't there. There are a good many people that prefer console games to computer games for this same reason, and the PC is far more well disposed to give you a good experience than some phone.

Smartphones will destroy game consoles? BS.

Wii-U Should Have Been Virtual Boy 2

So, Nintendo's having a tad of trouble selling their new game console, the Wii-U. IGN has a post about it here.I like Nintendo, and I don't want see their console fail. In the worst case scenario, it could lead to the dreaded Nintendocalypse in which we have to buy Nintendo games on PS4. :P

So the thing had a crappy launch title lineup. Most of the games were games that were already available on PS3 and Xbox 360. The Wii-U exclusive ZombiU is apparently terrible, and that puts an awful lot of pressure on Super Mario Bros. U.

Anyway, so there aren't a lot of compelling reasons for "hardcore" gamers or even Nintendo fans to get the thing as of yet. A Zelda or a Super Smash Bros. game would help 'em a little, I'm sure. But where are the casual gamers who bought the Wii in the first place? Why didn't they flock to this device? I have a theory. Behold!

Back in 2005 or whenever, what was the main draw of the Wii? Motion controls. When you bought the launch title Twilight Princess with your new Wii, you expected to be able to swing your sword and make Link do as much on screen. While Twilight Princess didn't meet that hope -- and it took six years to get a Zelda game that would -- the Wii's main crowd of gamers did get what they wanted. You swing the remote and it hits a tennis ball. It was pretty cool, almost as if you were really swinging a tennis racket.

What would be the next logical step from the motion-controlled Wii? I don't really know whether it's financially feasible or not, but I would think virtual reality. Where the Wii got people moving, the Wii-U should have gotten people into the game.

Googling reveals that most virtual reality helmets are prohibitively expensive. However, a company as large as Nintendo probably could strip the stuff down and economize it. Playing console games via tablet is a nice idea, but it would have been badass if could have fed that same stream into some VR goggles. And hey: It could have still had assymetrical multiplayer.

Friday, March 15, 2013

FC-Twin Light Gun Review

Yesterday, I posted a review of the FC-Twin Light Gun. As I did not have my television configured probably to get accurate shots out of the gun, I was less than pleased. The same setup allowed for accuracy out of my NES Zapper, so I thought,"Surely those would work for the FC-Twin Light Gun as well, right? ... right?"

Well, the answer to that question is a definitive no. To get an accurate shot out of the FC-Twin Light Gun, I had to lower my CRT TV's brightness settings down to zero. Of, course, this makes the games look a little darker than they should, but the gun is quite functional. So, in light of that, I feel obligated to re-review the FC-Twin Light Gun.

Build Quality:

I dwelled on it a little more than I should have because the gun wouldn't always fire correctly, but the truth is still that this gun is made of what feels like pretty cheap plastic. It's a very lightweight gun -- which is nice for these types of games -- but it doesn't give me a lot of confidence that this gun will work ten years down the road.

The trigger, in particular, feels flimsy. It's quite the step down in quality from the NES Zapper.


With your television properly configured, the gun will work just as well as the NES Zapper. I was able to get as far as I normally could in Hogan's Alley and actually a little further in Duck Hunt. The lightweight nature of the gun really does help with accuracy.

One game that I had trouble with was Operation Wolf. With same low-brightness settings, I could not get the game to register a single shot. This is (I assume) because Operation Wolf registers your hit differently. To get it to work, you need to raise the brightness. Despite my best efforts, it was hard to get a completely accurate shot out of that game. However, I honestly think it has more to do with the way Operation Wolf works than the FC-Twin Light Gun itself, as I've always had the same trouble out of the NES Zapper.

To Buy or Not To Buy

Since it seems to work (albeit with different brightness/contrast settings than you would get out of your NES), I would recommend it. I prefer the way the way Duck Hunt's brightness looks via NES, but not enough to actually hook up my NES and play Duck Hunt own it. Provided the durability holds up, the FC-Twin Light Gun is just as good as the NES Zapper. And that's saying something.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Review of The FC-Twin

As I said in my previous post on SNES game prices, I recently got an FC-Twin. There's a decent bit of information on this Famiclone from Google, but more never hurts. Well, for starters, the FC-Twin is shaped to resemble a remodeled Super Nintendo (that would be the small one). It looks pretty nice, although I wish it was bigger like the original Super Nintendo. The FC-Twin feels quite light when you pick up, which is something I don't like in a game console. Pick up a NES, SNES, N64, GCN, Wii, or (I suspect) a Wii-U. You know you're holding a good device because it has a certain amount of weight to it. The FC-Twin's lightweight design doesn't give me that same assurance. But to be fair, it hasn't broken or anything yet. ;)

The device itself is used to play Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. For the most part, it seems like the FC-Twin can play whatever game you decide to throw at it. The performance is significantly better than many cloned Nintendo consoles I've seen on Youtube. When it works, it seems to do everything close to perfectly. The sound and video are quite good for most games. I've played the hell of Super Mario Bros. 1 on NES and I noticed one really insignificant difference.

However, problems WILL emerge with compatibility. Be careful, as there are contradictory lists on which games work and which games do not. To the best of my knowledge, I have a later revision of the FC-Twin. Tengen Gauntlet works in the sense that it will load, but the horrendous graphical glitches make it unplayable. I had to hook my NES back up to play it. Problems probably exist for other Tengen games as well. These problems more than likely extend to any unlicensed game which uses a different mapper than what the FC-Twin has been designed to handle.

Another bad thing is that it only uses SNES controllers. I like SNES controllers, so that doesn't really bother me too much. However, what does bother me is the lack of NES Zapper support. The FC-Twin does not come with a light gun, although Yobo (FC-Twin's manufacturer) makes one that you can purchase. My local game store didn't have it, so I had to order it online. It was thirteen bucks plus shipping, although there were some eBay auctions that had it cheaper than that. After it gets here and I've had a chance to test it out on my three or four Zapper games, I'll post a review of it on this blog.

But despite those problems, the FC-Twin can still a pretty worthwhile device. My NES works after going through the standard clean up procedures. You know, you have to clean the game with rubbing alcohol, put it in, adjust the cart's position ten or twenty times, and if you're lucky, you'll hit that sweet spot where the game will work perfectly for hours. In stark contrast, the FC-Twin works immediately when the game is compatible. And that is pretty freakin' sweet.

I long for a Famiclone with sturdy build quality and 100% compatibility. I'm sure the day will come, but until then, the FC-Twin is not a bad choice. It definitely cannot replace the original hardware, but it can make for a good companion for your original hardware. NES is nearly thirty years old, and it needs a second younger console to take some of its workload off it!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Surging Price of SNES Games

Disgruntled with the prices and general quality of modern gaming, I decided to get all retro and rebuild my SNES game collection. Boy, I was in for a rude awakening. Have you seen the prices of SNES games lately? For the core games, they're outrageous. Check out this Amazon listing of Castlevania IV. thirty-four dollars for a used copy, and that's without the box and manual. I do recall buying that game from a Wal-Mart bargain bin for twenty dollars. Wtf?

That's just one example. A Link to the Past will run you up to thirty. Donkey Kong Country games will go for just as much. The pack-in game Super Mario World is a somewhat overpriced at eleven dollars. Pretty much any game you remember fondly will run you cost you far more than it's actually worth.

I ask again: Wtf? These games were the best-selling titles for the SNES. There are millions of them in circulation. We're paying -- or rather, not paying -- the fanboy tax. I know full well that there are Zelda fans that would pay $200 dollars for a loose cartridge of A Link to the Past with a ripped label. Why? Who knows what motivates the deranged minds of the fanboy element? I leave that to the Sigmund Freuds and Carl Jungs of the world.

I've been searching the web for some sort of answer to this apparent surge in SNES game pricing. Different explanations have been presented:

Nostalgia Increases Demand: That's definitely part of it. As I said, nostalgia motivated me to look into rebuilding a SNES collection. However, I know my old game economics, and that these things simply aren't worth the asking price. That brings me to my next point:

Not-So-Savvy Consumers: The prices should fall if people aren't willing to pay these rates. However, people are willing to pay these rates. Maybe it's the thrill of buying it now, but you should be able to find the same game at a flea market or yard sale for substantially less. I'm talking five to ten dollars tops. That's assuming you can't find Castlevania IV for less than $34 at a used game store, and I -- HOPE -- that you can.

Hipsters: Related to above. Do people really collect retro games to be trendy? Uh, apparently so. The core SNES games are apparently seeing more demand than they might normally due to additional consumers.

New Hardware: I didn't mention it, but when I tried to boot up my SNES, I realized that the fabled Black Screen of Death had finally come to claim it. Research revealed that fixing it may well cost as much as a new (used) SNES, so I decided to try out an FC-Twin. It's a Famiclone that plays NES and SNES games. Compatibility is not 100%, but it's pretty good, all things considered. Audio emulation is pretty spot-on, which is apparently uncommon for Famiclones, but I digress. The point is that this newer, cheaper, hardware is making it possible for those who are not nostalgic blowhards like me to make use of the cartridges. I've seen Youtube videos of little kids talking about the Legend of Zelda being "a great FC-Twin game." Heh! Well, at least they're playing the classics. ;)

In looking at it all, it's clear that there's quite a bit of demand for SNES games out there. More than you would expect from a twenty-two year or game console. That's for sure. However, I really do believe that the amount of cartridges printed for these games more than exceeds the amount of cartridges needed for everyone to have one... atat a price less that forty dollars!

But I really want to play some SNES games that I haven't played before, anyway. Not to be too hipster-ish, but I'm going to find some cool SNES platformer that neither one of us have ever heard of. :P