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Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. Read the rest of this entry

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Super Meat Boy Review

For the past couple of days, my reality has consisted of nothing but blood curdling shrieks. You see, I’m currently trapped in a nightmare. This terrible nightmare has a name–Super Meat Boy. Fun fact: Super Meat Boy is the devil. Hell, Super Meat Boy is perhaps the most infuriating title I’ve played all year. I can’t recall the last time I was this angry at a video game.

Yes, Super Meat Boy is the devil…but I can’t stop playing it.

The premise of the little monster is simple: Dr. Fetus is a dick. And true to form, he’s stolen your love interest, Bandage Girl. I’m sure this sounds familiar to some of you (incidentally the acronym is the same as Super Mario Bros). And, like Mario, I sincerely believe that Meat Boy deserves to be considered for a spot under “generation classic.” A bold claim which will need to be revisited at a later date, but one currently held with real conviction.

I can spend a long time detailing the aspects of SMB which exude the feeling of a classic title–from the retro chiptune soundtrack, to the inclusion of warp zones that teleport Meat Boy to homages to classic gaming consoles. Meat Boy himself oozes charm, thanks to the wonderfully gooey sound effects, his expressions, and his dashing animations. Even the “supporting cast” of Dr. Fetus and Bandage girl are precocious, in their own way (and isn’t the idea of a fetus as a villain amazing in of itself?), but none of this is what makes SMB stand out. Sure, it’s a love letter to old-school platformers, but what really makes SMB superb is the incredibly deliberate design. SMB stands strong on its core design without any of the “features” bloating modern titles. And it’s all the more bold, outstanding of a title for it. Team Meat knows, well, where the meat of the gameplay is.

Meat Boy must run, dash, jump and wall jump at high speeds–nothing new, as far as platforming mechanics go–across worlds designed to be microcosms for your own personal hell. These actions are all governed by simple controls which follow the ‘simple to pick up, difficult to master’ paradigm. The thing about the game is, Team Meat knows where you want to hide your family heirlooms, your children, and your dignity. But I will tell you right now: there is no escape. The only way to come out alive is to have the precision of a madman. Have I mentioned there are no checkpoints in any of the levels? Because there aren’t. Hence, the need for near perfection. Don’t take this to mean that SMB requires specific precision–levels aren’t (always) linear, and can often be approached in a number of ways. Some of the more creative approaches require nerves and reflexes of steel, though. In my current playthrough, I’ve died over two thousand times. Normally, that sort of death count would cause me to give up playing a game, but while each death brings me a little closer to heart attack, it strengthens my resolve to beat the level.

Read the rest of this entry

Making a Mario game is hard!

I’ve posted about some knockoff Mario related things over the months we’ve existed. You know, Super Mario Crossover and Super Mario Bros. X. You might remember the first, and not remember the second.

Well, now here’s Infinite Adaptive Mario, from a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz. Which shows, ultimately, the same thing the other two did: it’s really fucking hard to make a good Mario game.

I mean, yes, the theory is spectacular here. A Mario game that adapts to your level of skill as you play (and die) on the levels? Fantastic idea. I’m a huge fan of games scaling up or down in difficulty by how well you do, and this executes the concept pretty solidly. Die a lot, and you get a flat plain with goombas and coins. Beat a lot of levels in a row, and you’ll get a level straight out of Super Mario Frustration. It’s really good in theory.

I say in theory because this, like every other Mario knockoff, proves how hard it is to make a good Mario game. At it’s core, Mario is jumping. Just jumping. Just jumping is really, really boring if it is not balanced with the proper weight, and the enemies are not meticulously placed. Those two things exist in none of these games (well, Mario Crossover had proper level design, by virtue of being a remake), and as a result they’re all kind of bad.

But it’s a really neat, novel idea that deserves attention, and seems to be getting some from the internet at large. And while these new ideas might not work fantastically in Mario games, they might work in different games.

Make Sure To Catch ‘Video Games Live’ on PBS This Weekend

Video Games Live is “an immersive concert event” featuring  “top musicians from around the world perform along with exclusive video footage and music arrangements, synchronized lighting, solo performers, guitarists, percussionists, live action and unique interactive segments to create an explosive one-of-a-kind entertainment experience.”

The concerts are a “musical journey through classic gaming” which feature “never before televised live musical performances from the Mario, Zelda, Sonic, Halo, Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Castlevania, God of War, Civilization, Chrono Cross, StarCraft and Guitar Hero franchises.” All of this? Just talk. Watch the trailer below to get a sense of the  unique experience:

If you’d like to know when this is airing in your town, make sure to check out the PBS TV schedule, found here.

And let me just add that if you don’t think this is a must-watch after catching a glimpse of the Civilization piece…then you, sir, are a barbarian of the lowest kind.

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII – Review

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII is a videogame developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii. It was directed by SHIGEYUKI ASUKE.

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This article contains the following types of spoilers:

  • Description of the boss system

Before anything else, let me say that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a good game and you should play it if you can find it cheap.

Gamers who knowingly buy New Super Mario Bros. Wii (NSMBW) are going to get exactly what they expect: there are the Mario Brothers, on the Nintendo Wii with super powers. Only the “New” part of the title is misleading. Perhaps it was irony, I don’t know. There is nothing really new in it. This is a remake from the Nintendo DS game New Super Mario Bros. (NSMB), which is itself a remake of the original Super Mario Bros. (SMB) for the NES. It’s a turtle on top of another turtle and, if this “New” series continues, that turtle will be on top of yet another turtle. Eventually this will become a perpetually remade series – with Koopas all way down.

I call NSMBW a remake because this game is the equivalent to Gus van Sant’s shot-by-shot refilming of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But while van Sant’s work can be viewed as an invaluable experiment in the theory of cinema, games have no need for such lesson, as gamers are already all too familiar with ‘more of the same’ sequels, ‘me too’ copies and remakes. NSMBW, however, did make me more aware of how I admired the creativity behind the older Mario games – including the DS one. Apart from the 3 new power-ups – the Propeller Mushroom, the Ice Flower and the Penguin Suit – everything in NSMBW was featured somewhere before. We are dealing with the same overall style of NSMB: the very same level archetypes (grass, desert, ice, water, forest, mountain, sky and lava), the same enemies, same Boo houses and even the same Bowser castle – so this is basically NSMB redone. Other features are aimed directly at the player’s nostalgia: the background features both hills from Super Mario World (SMW) and blocks from Super Mario Bros. 3 (SMB3); bosses’ castles feature all the traps we have seen in both SNES Mario games. There are appearances from the Koopa Clown Car and the airships from SMB3, but while in SMB3 those airships were used as reasons for developers to play around with fixed-scrolling stages and the impression of relative movement, the airships in NSMBW are purely gratuitous. Read the rest of this entry

Super Mario Bros. X is Super Mario Mario Crossover


I’ll admit, when I saw this post on Joystiq, I was skeptical. Mario “ripoffs” like this usually have slightly off controls, imitative gameplay, and just generally suck.

Then I watched the video. Watch the video. Keep going. Anything else I say at this point would be kind of silly, because…moving pictures say a thousand words. Wait until you get to the Mario Paint tools, to the bullet bill gun, to Mario fighting Mother Brain.

I’m going to go pick my jaw up off the floor. Best of all, it’s a free download, so guess what I’m playing right now? That’s right. That’s right. There will be actual thoughts sometime this week/end.

Video is after the cut. You should click it because it’s fantastic, and you have to see it. My life was not complete, but now! Now!
Read the rest of this entry

Text Adventure Done Right!

With the birth of the Nintendo DS, Text Adventure games rose from their grave. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney made us giggle only with the prospect of their return, and now we have more new Monkey Island games than we can manage to play. This return was not limited to handhelds and virtual marketplaces, as proven by the pleasant Zack and Wiki for the Nintendo Wii

Whoever said image was worth a 1000 words lied

It all started long before consoles. In a time computers didn’t even have graphics, there was a game genre that reigned supreme: the text adventure game. Of course, as our games became shinier, these Text Adventures were driven into the dark corner o f the room. However, even with the emergence of graphic-focused game, some Text Adventures games were able to survive online. Therefore, I’m not going to explain how a Text Adventure game works, you must see (er…read) it for yourself. Here’s a neat example: Pick up The Phone Booth and Die! (http://www.spatch.net/games/play.cgi?game=putpbad)

Well, boys and girls! The Text Adventure is coming back!
Read the rest of this entry