maanantai 25. heinäkuuta 2016

REVIEW - New Super Mario Bros. Wii

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: Wii, Wii U (Virtual Console)
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: November 12, 2009

After the great success of Super Mario Galaxy, Mario creator and producer Shigeru Miyamoto went on to recreate a classic Super Mario Bros. game for multiple players. He had toyed with the idea several times in the past, as far back as in the Nintendo 64's heyday, but found it impossible to create a fully functional game of such premise until Wii had proven its capabilities. Miyamoto's hand-picked "Team Mario" basically remade New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS, heavily revamping the level design to accommodate a 4-player game, the new power-ups and their advantages, and finally the motion detection feature of the Wii. The result, arguably a far more exciting platformer game than the first New Super Mario Bros. title, and another remarkable entry point to Mario's adventures in the 21st century alongside its sequel, the previously reviewed 3DS iteration.


Princess, Mario, Luigi, Toad. Birthday party at Mushroom Castle. Bowser crashes party. Princess gone. Oh yeah, Mario time!

20-something minutes into New Super Mario Bros. Wii - my first touch to a classic Wii game in seven years, I might add - I had made so many observations, that I had to pause the game every now and then to write it all down on paper, it's all very essential review stuff, in better and worse. First and foremost, most importantly, I have to explain my discomfort - in lack of a better word - with this particular series of games, 'cause now it's clear as day. Mario games have always been about something new. Every Mario platformer I've ever played has been notably different from all the others. Even the international version of the NES trilogy was comprised of three totally different games, and I think it was the huge, somewhat unexpected success of Super Mario Bros. 2, that prompted Miyamoto and his followers to strive for a completely different game every time they took on a new Mario project. When we have a game called New Super Mario Bros., we expect it to live up to its name. In the first game's case, all it needed to be was an entertaining platformer. It turned out a bit boring (on my personal account), but it was a Nintendo DS game; it had certain limitations, so everything's OK. When a Wii iteration came along - let's just pretend I cared back then - the expectations were much higher. Those expectations were certainly met, but what we had here was basically a remake of the Nintendo DS game. Oh well, maybe it was all part of the plan. Then came New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS - the same. Then, New Super Mario Bros. U - up next for a more thorough gutting - basically a remake of a remake. Namely, this game. With two fantastic, not to mention, hella inventive 3D-branded adventures in the between, for the 3DS and the Wii U, one has to wonder why this repetitive series is still widely considered superior. (I'll not even start with Super Mario Galaxy's alleged superiority to just about everything.)

Yoshi's back, but not as much more than a gratuitous cameo.
On a lighter note, which finally leads us to the actual review of this game, I also noticed that there is no better controller for a New Super Mario Bros. adventure than the Wii Remote. Its size and scheme are just right for this game. Motion control is so much comfier with the Remote than the Wii U gamepad - I'll have to replay New Super Mario Bros. U with the Remote before reviewing that game, 'cause I had gotten all ready to bash the game's motion-based controls. The only thing wrong with the Remote in relation to this particular game is the size of the digital pad. I have huge thumbs, been working 'em out for the last 30 years after all. It's very hard to maintain constant speed and momentum in the game - speed and momentum are very often the keys to success in a Mario platformer - as it's way too common to press to all directions at once. Death-defying running jumps - Mario ducks down when he's supposed to jump straight forward at the absolute nick of time with no second chances. Then it's "oh noooooo". Oh well, can't blame the game, or even the controller, for how the world built me up.

Koopa Party Poopa

Move and tilt the platform by moving and tilting the 'mote.
I'll surely return to this subject soon enough.
Instead of just duking it out with Bowser Jr. for most of the game's duration, you are also treated to a huge comeback by his seven siblings, who've been absent from a traditional Mario platformer scheme since Super Mario World. In a bit of a twist, you face all of 'em twice during the main game of eight worlds; first, in the mid-world fortress where they lay down the basics of how to fight 'em, and then in the world castle, where Kamek appears to buff them up with some magical enhancements, and/or manipulate the level itself. The boss fights are pretty clever and exciting, including the few showdowns with Bowser Jr. on the vintage airships, and the final fight against Bowser ain't nothing short of blood-pumping. Two thumbs up to the boss fights.

Another motion-based level where the direction of the
spotlights depends on the 'mote's position.
The power-ups also get two thumbs up. The Mega Mushroom is ousted, perhaps because it doesn't sit well with the multiplayer endorsement of the game - I haven't even tried the multiplayer game, in case you're wondering. I hear it's pretty damn neat, but I don't know... I have enough trouble as it is in the single-player game... anyway. The Mini Mushroom is still in, unfortunately, but I don't remember seeing more than one level where it would be needed for any cause, and they're never found from the field, only won in minigames. So, why am I complaining? Perhaps I shouldn't, 'cause we have 1) The Ice Flower. It's basically the same as a Fire Flower, but instead of outright killing enemies, it freezes them, after which you can use them as platforms or throwing weapons. Additionally, the Ice Flower works on many enemies that cannot be harmed (or killed) with any other type of attack; for example, you can freeze a Dry Bones and afterwards crush him with the Ground Pound, or put a Podoboo's flame out with just one shot. Very handy. 2) The Penguin suit. Now this is just useless on most occasions, but you will definitely see the good in it whenever you're in a water- or ice (yuck)-based level. You can slide across ice killing every enemy just by bumping into them, and swim much, much more fluidly while in this get-up. 3) The Propeller power-up. ...You know, I won't even go into it. All I can say is that it's a God damn lifesaver, and makes good use of the motion detection feature. Good use, as in proves to a stubborn old fool how great such a feature is.

The level design could be better, but then again, it IS already much better than in the previous DS game. It's not just one identical level after another, there's a lot of shuffle going on constantly, and even in the twilight of the game, there are plenty of levels that are thrown in as peacemakers after lengthy stretches of absolute insanity - or elaborately, levels that are easier for a 2D Mario veteran to cope with. I think that fixed statement hit the target much better, after all New Super Mario Bros. Wii is NOT, under any circumstances, an easy game. But it is a fun game, which will please veterans and newcomers, single players and multiplayer enthusiasts, alike.


New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a great platformer, a huge improvement over the first game in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Instead of going into more detailed stuff as to how it still lacks the excitement of the very best in the Mario franchise, and how I and the developers still have some slight differences in the creation of entertaining level design, I'll just bow my head, thank the developers for their fine work in recreating a classic Mario game for us who appreciate them over any Sunshine or Galaxy, and take my leave to work on the next one. Thank you.


maanantai 18. heinäkuuta 2016

Mario & Donkey Kong: 35th Anniversary!

...Over a week ago, that is. I'm a tad late, but there are plenty of reasons for that, both proper and not so proper ones. I'm a really systematic guy, and after I wrote the review for New Super Mario Bros. 2 all those weeks ago, I found myself in a loop 'cause I had no New Super Mario Bros. Wii to review. I was heading into New Super Mario Bros. U instead, and that just wouldn't do. I had to get that one game from the between on my plate. So I went to a local retro store (I fucking love that shop) and found it immediately; for a very reasonable price, no less. Then, since I couldn't find a compatible controller combo for any sum relatively as reasonable, I turned to a favorable mail order company, and found a Wii Remote + Nunchaku combo for about 60% cheaper than anywhere else. Of course I ordered that set. Days went by, then weeks, then my schedule got filled with all kinds of stuff such as the Tuska Metal Festival and my birthday party, and I was totally hooked on a certain Legend of Zelda game, I kinda forgot the whole Mario and DK anniversary, and that I'm still waiting for the controllers to show up. It turns out they've still got my order, it's just that they had to order a new batch of those controllers and one of the games I ordered along with 'em themselves, which is the cause of the remarkable delay. That's fine by me, I wouldn't have had time to play any other games anyway. Well, I'm returning to my actual day job tomorrow - good vacation, btw - so if I'm going to do this, it has to be done right now. I'll get back to actually reviewing games as soon as I can - and it's kinda obvious my plans are to pay homage to the Zelda series' 30th anniversary as well, and get some reviews, which have been a long time coming, out of the way. But, only through reviews - I'm not that much of a fan of the franchise. These two guys, on the other hand, made up for the best parts of my childhood.

Radar Scope, the game that "evolved" into
Donkey Kong.
By early 1981, Taito's Space Invaders and Namco's Pac-Man had taken North American arcades by storm. A relative newcomer to the video game industry in the capacity of a developer, Nintendo had attempted expansion into North American territories numerous times, most recently with an arcade shooter named Radar Scope. While Radar Scope did become a big hit in Japan, only a handful of cabinets was sold in the West. Instead of attempting to launch yet another game, the company - under orders from the legendary president Hiroshi Yamauchi - recalled the unsold cabinets for reprogramming. 28-year old designer named Shigeru Miyamoto convinced Yamauchi that he's got a gameplay idea that could well be an international break for Nintendo. Hopeful, yet skeptical of the young designer's talent, Yamauchi appointed Nintendo's main designer Gunpei Yokoi as the project's supervisor, and a $100,000 budget for the game's development.

Around that same time, Nintendo had applied to King Features Syndicate for a license to make a video game based on the Popeye comic strip and cartoon - somewhat inspired by the recent feature film adaptation. The game, designed by Miyamoto, was basically done already, but when King Features turned the offer down, the game was basically converted into Miyamoto's Nintendo-saving project. Popeye was replaced with a carpenter called Mr. Video, Olive Oyl with a damsel in distress called The Lady, and finally, Bluto with a gorilla, as inspired by the film King Kong. He didn't want to create a monster, he wanted to create more of a character that was neither a hero or a villain, more of an endearing character with primal qualities that made him a nuisance rather than a manifestation of evil. The game is known as the first ever to have had a storyline written before the actual programming took place. Pleased with the results, Yamauchi laid down one more condition for the game's release: since it was targeted at North American audiences, he wanted it to have an English title. Instead of going over the numerous myths surrounding the title of the game, I'll just go with the most popular one: since King Kong was not an option, Miyamoto came up with the title of Monkey Kong, which he then rephrased Donkey Kong, because he and Yokoi felt that "Donkey" was a proper word to describe the quirky nature of Donkey Kong and his owner's rivalry - the "owner", originally called Mr. Video, then Jumpman, was renamed Mario in North American releases of the game (after Nintendo of America's landlord Mario Segale). His signature clothing and moustache were actually the product of Miyamoto's desire to create a fleshed-out human character as opposed to the matchstick men and formless protagonists of the past; his overalls were painted in the opposing colours of blue and red so players could see his arms move, and the moustache was added in for a distinguishing facial feature.

Gunpei Yokoi with his former apprentice, now master designer
Shigeru Miyamoto in 1994. Best known as the creator of Metroid,
Yokoi passed away in a tragic car accident in 1997.
Although Nintendo of America's sales manager disliked the game - reportedly for being so different from every other arcade game on the market - and even the distributors had doubts because of the game's title, Minoru Arakawa who was in charge of Nintendo of America at the time managed to convince them of the game's impending success, so a few machines were green-lit for testing. The initial turn-out was $30 per cabinet a day. The remaining Radar Scope cabinets were converted into Donkey Kong machines, and put on sale on July 9th, 1981. Thus, the legends of Donkey Kong and Mario were born - as well as the modern platformer genre, in which Donkey Kong is preceded only by Universal Entertainment's Space Panic from 1980.

After this story of how Mario and Donkey Kong were born, I hope to tell you more such stories as I go on doing this celebration of a marathon, until there are no stories left to tell. Needless to say, both characters are still going strong, both together and separate, with well over a hundred releases between them, and I consider myself blessed, having been a fan for over 25 years. Here's to the next 35 years, cheers!