Those Cliché Emeralds

For those who have played a Sonic game to completion before, you should know exactly which emeralds I am talking about here. For those who haven’t, you probably still know what I am talking about if you have followed any topics regarding the blue blur. It you still don’t know, then you really need to get out from under that rock you’ve been living under. In all seriousness though, the Chaos Emeralds are one of the most important aspect of Sonic games to this day. Why? Because they are what allows Sonic to become Super Saiyan Sonic starting from the second game onwards. Since then they have remained an important plot point of many games in the franchise. However I feel as though there is a reoccurring problem that needs to be addressed now and for the future. The problem is that the Chaos Emeralds have essentially streamlined the way final boss encounters have been done since Sonic 3 and Knuckles. To go into more of what I mean by that, let’s look at the games from the 90’s for a bit.

Now in the original Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) the Chaos Emeralds were available in bonus stages for you to collect but there were only six to collect. Not only that, but collecting them only served as a purpose to getting a different ending screen. Sonic 2 added a host of new things to the franchise, the most important of which being Miles “Tails” Prower of course. Okay I guess there is one other thing that was introduced that is pretty cool and that is the seventh Chaos Emerald. You may be wondering how can another Chaos Emerald be so important? Well to answer those rock-dwellers from before, collecting all seven Chaos Emeralds allows you to become Super Sonic. Hooray! Now you can go through levels even faster, of course after collecting the prerequisite 50 rings. However collecting Super Sonic doesn’t really influence the ending that much since, like the original, it only influences which end screen you get. It wasn’t until Sonic 3 and Knuckles where getting the Chaos Emeralds mattered because there was an exclusive Super Sonic only boss fight where you collect rings on your way to attack the boss. The problem is that after this whenever Super Sonic has been used after this, it has only been used as a final boss encounter in this style.

They usually indicate that Super Sonic will be in the final boss encounter in one of two ways. They either have the Chaos Emeralds be an important plot device for the game or they have you play the game from multiple angles to unlock a final ending. Sometimes they even do both. There are two problems with having the Chaos Emeralds in the games. The first is the exclusivity of Super sonic to final boss encounters. None of the main games with final boss fights involving Super Sonic allow Sonic to go Super in the main stages and exclusively save it for the final boss, usually due to having them relegated to plot macguffins. I don’t know if they just wanted to make the final battle more epic or what, but the fact of the matter is that the Chaos Emeralds seem to either belong the realm of story or gameplay, but never both. It seems odd that they would intentionally limit themselves like that. Especially considering the second problem the Chaos Emeralds have on the game.

Now the second problem is actually related to the first problem. In fact it is the exact opposite. While some games use them in story but omit them from gameplay, some games include them in gameplay and yet do not acknowledge them in the story. Because of this the boss fights feel a bit anticlimactic since they are made to be fought against a non-powered up Sonic. Let’s look at Sonic Colors, Sonic Lost World and Sonic Forces who all have Super sonic playable in regular levels. They have the exact same type of final boss encounter. It isn’t even a hard final boss encounter either. It feels like without Super Sonic they really don’t know how to properly end with a satisfying boss. In fact there seems to be no balance between gameplay and story when using the Chaos Emeralds. They only managed to have it balanced for one game and then as soon as they moved into a 3D space they had no idea how to balance the power of the Chaos Emeralds. The cliché we are left with is that Chaos Emeralds in modern Sonic games cause a divide between story and gameplay. I am not saying that the games that use these emeralds are bad games. I am just pointing something out since I have nothing better to do than poke fun at videogames. Although I do hope that one day they manage to figure out exactly how they want to use the Chaos Emeralds so that the endgame feels as satisfying to complete as the journey it took to get there.

Now Hear Me Out: Sonic Adventure 3

I am no stranger to the fact that this game has been requested by Sonic fans since… forever. However I have never considered myself a big fan of the blue blur. That is not because I have any problem with the anthropomorphic hedgehog. It’s just that his games usually don’t click with me at first. I believe I have played only eight Sonic games and of those eight I think I have completed half of them. So do not hear me out as a Sonic fan. I wish I could say I was, but I am not going to pretend to be one for the sake of making a point. That being said, despite the fact that I am not a Sonic fan, I still think there should be a Sonic Adventure 3. At the very least, they should at least have a game that is something like it. Frankly speaking there are certain trends that have become standard in more recent Sonic games that have really overstayed their welcome. so since I am not confident in the developers managing to do something new and exciting with Sonic ever since Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, then I think a return to an old formula would be a good alternative.

Let’s go into further detail for a bit into some of those trends I mentioned. In my previous post I talked about how the level design in more recent Sonic games feel like it isn’t as complex as it could be. I feel part of the reason is that many games in the era of Modern Sonic have a lot of 2D areas for some reason. This may have something to do with the boost feature of the recent games being easier to control in 2D space. It really feels as though they don’t know what to do with Sonic in a 3D environment. That leads me to the other reason why Sonic game tend to have less complexity in their 3D areas, gimmicky game design. Why do Sonic games always seem to have these weird gimmicks that seem to be designed in a way so that the levels are pretty boring by default. First there was the werehog, then the wisps, then two Sonics, then wisps again and are you noticing by now that none of these helped to further 3D gameplay? Is Sega really that afraid of a 3D Sonic? I understand they probably wanted to try something new with Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, but they somehow made that game even more gimmicky than the previous ones. In fact, due to all of these different gimmicks, most of the boost-to-win Sonic games haven’t really aged well. I would say that Sonic Generations is the sole exception and part of the reason is solely because of 2D Sonic.

Now you are probably thinking that the both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 both had gimmicks that were just as bad, if not worse than some of the newer games. I would agree with that statement. Sure the werehog in Sonic Unleashed was a total breaker, but the same could be said for all of Big the Cat’s storyline in Sonic Adventure. We definitely don’t need pace breakers like that in a Sonic game where speed and traversing through areas should be the main focus. The thing is that as gimmicks go, having multiple characters is probably one of the easiest one to go with for padding the runtime. Of course that is only if the different playstyles aren’t so drastically different that one or more of them feel like they belong in a different game. Consistency would be nice Sega, provided you are reading this which I highly doubt. I would say it would be best to have three or four playstyles at most and maybe they could be spread across different characters in a Sonic Adventure 2 kind of way. Maybe we could give Eggman a playable role again, but instead of a mech we have him fly is his hovercraft to traverse through levels. I’m sure that thing has a name, but you probably know what I’m talking about if you have a general idea about the character. I also just think it would be interesting to give Knuckles a better version of the parkour system from Sonic Lost World since he can climb up walls and it could add some extra flare if done properly. Just some ideas to float out there, but that is better than nothing right?

Alright, I have talked about how gameplay could potentially be improved in the 3D field going back to this formula. The reason I picked it was not just because it had the most consistent pace in a 3D space. I was also thinking about how the story of more recent Sonic games could be further improved because they are also rather basic now. I am typically a guy who cares a lot about story so I have felt that what I have seen in recent games in the series is a lack of depth in the story elements. Even if you can say that the recent games were good, I don’t believe you can say that the storylines had a lot of thought put into them. Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 at least tried to have a more complex plot and make it work across multiple storylines. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) just tried too hard with their story and forgot about the fact that the game needs to be playable. I’m not saying the story has to be serious or anything, I just want a fun story to play through with some fun gameplay styles is that too much to ask? I just feel like there could be a little more effort on both fronts is all. If falling back on an old formula is what it takes to give Sonic the full 3D treatment in an interesting game, then why not go for it? Once again, thanks for hearing me out. And you know what, this time I made it the whole post without mentioning Mario. Wait a minute. Dang it.

Thoughts on Sonic Level Design

Alright it’s official, I am sick of talking about Mario games. Thankfully we have a new month ahead of us for another themed topic. The question was simply what should be cover next? Well, since I had Mario on the brain a lot the previous month, it is no surprise that the first thing that came to mind was his oldest rival Sonic. The main problem is that I am not a Sonic fan. That isn’t to say that I don’t like his game, but I haven’t played the majority of them. If I’m being honest, I don’t think there is a single videogame series where I have played every game to be fair, hence why I refer to myself as that casual gamer guy. However, I am willing to challenge myself and at the very least even though I haven’t played them, I have seen playthroughs for every Sonic videogame ever made. Figured it was a good way to kill some free time and now it’s coming in handy. Besides even if I could, I wouldn’t dream of touching Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Before we even start talking about 3D Sonic, we should look at 2D Sonic and what made it different from other platformers such as… Mario. I have a feeling I am somehow going to keep referring back to Mario this month, but hey I brought this on myself so let’s just keep it rolling.

The most important aspect of Sonic’s character is undoubtedly his speed and the best levels allow you to go fast. What would be the point of tracking your time if that wasn’t the intention behind this style of platforming? But that isn’t all there is to a good Sonic level. It is best if you can go as fast as possible but there is no point in doing that if you are just going in a straight line. There’s no challenge in that. So obviously the levels have with each having different paths for you to reach the goal. Some paths are more challenging, some are more rewarding, and some are just more fun to whizz through. Having the ability to go through different routes each time you play a level leads to encouraging multiple playthroughs. Especially if there are hidden goodies in each route. The best part about playing Sonic from what I can tell isn’t just getting to the end, but finding the best way to do it in the least amount of time. Otherwise you wouldn’t try so many different routes to see if you can use them to go even faster. Obviously not every 2D Sonic level follows this formula, but in fairness those levels tend to be the least popular from what I’ve heard. So I’ll wrap this up by saying that a good 2D Sonic level allows you multiple pathways which allow you to keep a certain pace.

Now I understand that is a pretty big generalization there, but I don’t think it is that far off the mark. Although, understanding 2D Sonic games on their own doesn’t tell us anything. What really starts to tell us something is when we transition from 2D to 3D gameplay. Sonic has had a lot of trouble with this transition. It makes sense considering the game is one with a heavy emphasis on using physics and momentum in order to achieve speed. If you mess up the physics and Sonic doesn’t handle right, then you won’t be able to achieve your desired velocity no matter how hard you try. So the best way to incorporate Sonic into 3D would be to have levels designed where using Sonic abilities would allow you to go through more pathways in a more open level design. That’s the ideal at least. However, it seems that more recent Sonic games have trouble figuring out what they want to do with 3D Sonic. Sometimes they incorporate 2D sections into the game because it seems that is easier to design. Sometimes they have you keep boosting in a straight line and doing homing attack chains. They have alternate pathways sure, but half the time it is not for getting a faster time. Instead you just find a random collectible at the end of it. I’m not saying there is anything not with collectibles, but why do I get the feeling that sometimes levels are designed more around the collectibles than Sonic?

I am not saying that the recent games are bad. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations were definitely good games. Sonic Colors tended to rely on the wisps to liven up the exploration of the stages and I feel that more than half of the stages were 2D sections of level. That’s fine and all but what about the whole 3D gameplay thing? Sonic Generations was definitely better, but the game itself was never really challenging enough that you needed to play through a stage too many times. Besides you were more likely to explore alternate pathways to find red rings than trying to get a better time, since acquiring an S rank does not require much effort. Sonic Lost World was an okay game and that was partly because the levels were kind of bland. In fact, one of my biggest problems with the game is that it had an interesting parkour system, but the developers barely made use of it and instead decided to turn the game into another Super Mario Galaxy for some reason. I mentioned Mario again didn’t I? Well, whatever. The point is that the systems they put in place feel like wasted potential since parkour never feels like it is required. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a game and that is all I need to say about it. As for Sonic Forces, I honestly don’t remember much of the game, but I doubt it didn’t have any of the fallbacks I listed previously. I could be wrong, but I doubt it considering the mediocre reviews I’ve heard. I’m not trying to hate on recent Sonic games though. I just want to say from the look of things recently, I feel that Sonic games have fallen into a bit of a rut. I am not saying we can’t have good 3D Sonic games with the current way of making games. I just think the current system is not the best translation we have for Sonic in 3D. As for what could be done better, I think I’ll save that for next time. See you next week.

Now Hear Me Out: Super Mario Galaxy 2?

We are finally reaching the end of the first themed month of the year. Yay! I figure that the best way to wrap up a month on Super Mario 3D All-Stars is to talk about something that needs to be addressed. Where the heck is Super Mario Galaxy 2? Quite honestly it was the first thing I wondered about when I first start the game’s announcement. I was excited to be able to play the other three games of course, but it was a little disheartening to see that the first 3D Mario title I played was not included in the package. I also found it to be strange since there aren’t many differences in control between Super Mario Galaxy 2 and its predecessor so I can’t see why they felt the need to exclude it. I can’t pretend like I know what Nintendo’s reasons are for doing this or what their plans are for the future. However, for this post I will remain under the assumption that they do not have any plans to include Super Mario Galaxy 2 in Super Mario 3D All-Stars at the moment. With that being said, hear me out on why it should be included and what are currently missing out on because it isn’t included.

The biggest thing that I feel is missing is challenge. Now I know that comes across as pretentious, but bear with me for a bit. I said previously that Super Mario 64 is only challenging due to the camera being your worst enemy. I also said that while the story in Super Mario Sunshine is absurd, the gameplay is great and it even seemed easier to complete certain objectives compared to when it first came out. Super Mario Galaxy has it’s moments, but being honest I feel it is the least difficult to fully complete of the three games. It’s definitely the most time consuming but most of the power stars aren’t that difficult to collect. I didn’t really bring this up before but what did you expect from a game where half the stars are just repeats you get in an alternate universe? I’m not saying that the sequel game is going to destroy your life count, but I feel that more of the levels were designed to challenge you than in the first game. That’s partially because they took more liberties which how the prankster comets appear, and partially because they make green stars way more annoying than previously. Adding the Grandmaster Galaxy along with all of that and I feel like I can be confident in saying that it is the most challenging of the four games.

Another thing we will be missing is being able to use Yoshi. I know Yoshi was also available to use in Super Mario Sunshine but there are two major differences between the Yoshis in the two games. The first is that Yoshi is not really available until about halfway through the main story and isn’t really used for more than a few Shine Sprites and blue coins, whereas the Yoshi in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is available at the beginning of the game and is able in a variety of missions, thanks in part to Yoshi’s new powerups. The other major difference is that the second Yoshi does not have to constant eat fruit to stay alive and does not evaporate upon touching water. The platforming with Yoshi in Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a lot more of how I feel platforming with Yoshi should be in a 3D environment and it always the best way to traverse through the levels he’s in. The powerups Yoshi gets also lead to very interesting levels and at the very least it is understandable why Yoshi keeps eating fruit in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Holding onto a powerup is a more reasonable challenge than just eating to keep Yoshi alive.

The final thing that I want to address is variety. There is a lot of variety in the different galaxies that appear in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sure there are some ideas that are taken from the previous game and, in one case, from Super Mario 64. However there are a lot of original ideas as well. That’s the reason Super Mario Galaxy 2 was created in the first place. Imagine creating a sequel because you had too many ideas for the original. That is love for a game if I’ve ever seen it. They even added new powerups to put a new spin on platforming and traveling to different planets. Also, because of the vast number of galaxies, many of them feel pretty short and so they don’t drag like some of the galaxies in its prequel. All of these ideas or twists on preexisting ideas led to a new game and yet they decided to leave these all out of the ultimate 3D Mario package! It makes no sense to me. But like I said before, I am assuming they have no plans to include Super Mario Galaxy 2 into the game when I am writing this post. Hopefully, I’m wrong. Maybe they wanted to include it, but they couldn’t make it in time for Mario’s 35th anniversary and so they had to scrap it. Maybe that’s why they have Super Mario 3D All-Stars available for a limited time, because they want to release it again later with all the games on it. This is just wishful thinking though. I hope it might become a reality though. If it comes out as DLC, I’ll pay for it. I just want to soar through the stars once more on the back of everyone’s favorite dinosaur. Now, is that too much to ask?

Now Hear Me Out: Super Luigi Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy is a game that I have spent a lot of time playing. As I am writing this review I have finish my fourth 100% playthrough of the game. Some have probably played it even more than I have, but at least know that of the three games I have covered this month, this is the one I have spent the most time on by a considerable margin. That is partially due to the game being the most fun for me to play, but it is also because 100% completion requires you to play the full game twice. I knew from playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 beforehand that its predecessor would most likely also have 242 stars in total, but imagine my surprise when after getting 120 stars as Mario the game wanted me to do the same thing, but this time as his brother Luigi. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of playing a game again just to get the true ending. The game is fun at least, but it can kind of burn you out doing both playthroughs back-to-back. However, back then I plugged away so I could get the full completion and continued playing the game. I knew that they couldn’t copy everything since Luigi couldn’t meet himself later on because that wouldn’t make any sense, but he needed to meet someone so that they could find some hidden power stars. I was under the assumption it would be Mario, but to my shock it turned out to be another Luigi! There were two distinctly different Luigis in the game and this bugged me for the longest time. So today I want you to hear me out on why there are two Luigis in Super Mario Galaxy. Just know that this is purely speculation on my part so feel free to let me know if you have another explanation.

Now the first thing we have to address is the fact that Mario is missing. He doesn’t show up at all in the second half of the game. It would be easy to assume that Mario just doesn’t exist in this universe and instead of Mario and Luigi we have the Luigi twins. However, Peach always addresses the letters she sends throughout the game to Mario, meaning he does exist in this universe and has mysteriously vanished. Not only that, but she is expecting Mario to save her from this plight despite the fact that Luigi is the one who ended up at the gateway rather than Mario. We can infer from this that most likely the same events from the festival happened from the first part of the game, including the part when Mario gets shot into space by a magikoopa. However, somehow a second Luigi ends up meeting Rosalina instead of Mario. I have no evidence of this claim, but the fact that they do not show Luigi getting invited to the festival or Peach’s kidnapping shows that it is possible that everything happened the same way as in Mario’s storyline up to arriving at the gateway. It also gives the best explanation for the letters that Peach sends since if Luigi was invited and got blasted off into space like Mario did in his storyline, the letters would most likely be addressed to Luigi. So we can explain Mario’s disappearance form the story and yet we still can’t explain the appearance of the second Luigi.

Let’s think back for a bit to the end of Mario’s storyline when he successfully rescues Princess Peach from Bowser’s clutches and stops his plan to rule the universe. Due to the collapse of his empire, Bowser’s galaxy end up becoming a black hole which starts sucking everyone inside. Through the power of the Lumas they are able to avert the crisis by having the Lumas reset things back to normal and being reborn as new stars and galaxies. Although things aren’t exactly back to normal though with many notable characters from other galaxies also appearing in the Mushroom Kingdom at the end. Some of those characters can also be seen when getting the 121st star in the final galaxy in each universe. However, there is one person who is strangely absent from the Mushroom Kingdom, who is not seen in the ending cutscene or the final galaxy and is the very person with whom you start the second playthrough. That is right, Luigi seems to be suspiciously absent at the end of the game. Now that could be a coincidence, but what if instead he is not there because he got thrown into another universe due to the black hole and that is why there is a second playthrough. I have no real proof other than not seeing him at all in the endgame, but it would help explain the twin Luigi problem in a way that makes some sense, at least to me. So if we assume that Luigi’s disappearance was related to the appearance of the second Luigi, we can assume that the reason there are two of them is because the events of Mario’s universe caused Luigi to be thrown into another universe.

Now, I know that there are some holes in this theory that need to be addressed which are what happened to Mario after getting thrown into space and why does the Luigi we play as not act like the Luigi from Mario’s universe. Addressing the first issue, Mario has either gotten launches into space or into another universe due to the fact that he never turns up in Luigi’s story. It is also possible that he ends up inhabiting Luigi’s body which is why the player Luigi seems to act more like Mario. However, if that isn’t the case it is also possible that the Luigi we see at the gateway is actually the Luigi of the current universe who accidentally ended up there and the alternate Luigi ends up in the same place as he did in Mario’s storyline. It could also be that Luigi experienced some changes due to traveling between universes and that is why he acts that way. It could be any number of these or something else entirely. This is the part of the theory that has the least amount of evidence but feel free to listen anyway. So my thought is that when Luigi gets trapped in the black hole’s vortex he probably called out for his brother to come save him. At the same time, the Mario of another universe that didn’t make it to the gateway had an earnest wish to save Princess Peach and due to the power of the stars Luigi got brought to the other Mario’s world as a way to save Princess Peach. Due to the sudden turn of events, Luigi ends up coming to the new universe. However, because of him thinking about Mario and other world Mario’s earnest wish to save the princess, Luigi wakes up in the right location for the start of the quest and due to the previous circumstances believes it is his duty to save the princess on behalf of Mario and with that confidence he ends up acting like him. It would explain pretty much everything and I know very well that it is farfetched, but that is how I imagine how the scenario plays out. Of course it doesn’t matter if I am right or wrong here, what matters is that I enjoyed the game enough to speculate this long about it. It could be that everything I’ve said is true, but I’m probably just overthinking things. Thanks for hearing me out though and hopefully you enjoyed all my ramblings. Next week should be a bit more toned down on the conspiracies. Probably.

The False Charge Cliché

This week we will be talking about Super Mario Sunshine as part of this month’s theme. You probably thought I wasn’t going to talk about any clichés this week, but I decided to mix it up a bit. To start off though, I just want to say that I have mixed feelings about this game. For one thing, it is the only game in the Super Mario 3D All Stars trilogy that I have yet to 100% complete at the time of writing. It’s not because the game itself is hard to control or has any real design problems. Sure the game has a heavy obsession with collectibles, looking at you blue coins, but at least the game itself is fun and easy to control. Besides it isn’t like you can’t look that stuff up if you are really pressed to get 100% completion. That being said, I am crazy enough to try and accomplish it so that doesn’t really bother me. In fact I think some of the bonus areas actually handle better on this version. It only took me four tries to do the Yoshi river. Four tries! I even used the lily pad the entire way down the river without having to walk along the sides. So with 100% completion being quite a realistic goal, you can see that there isn’t much point in me harping on the gameplay. So naturally I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to nitpick the story. I know that nitpicking the storyline in a Mario game is the equivalent of beating a dead horse, but that never stopped me before. So let’s take a look at that story shall we?

It all starts with Mario, Peach, and the toads heading on a plane to Isle Delfino, a tropical island resort where they plan to stay for vacation. Once they get there the plane stops on the airstrip in front of some colored goop which Mario sets out to clean up. Meanwhile, Peach notices Shadow Mario and doesn’t say a word about it to anyone. Then Mario gets equipped with F.L.U.D.D. so he can clear up the air strip and upon doing so is awarded with a shine sprite, essentially the same as a power star in the previous game. Without missing a beat, Mario is incarcerated, convicted and tasked with permanent community service until the island is cleaned up from all of Shadow Mario’s handiwork since the people of Isle Delfino seem to be colorblind. Now this is not a cliché, that should be unfamiliar to anyone. The hero is wrongly accused of a crime they didn’t commit and have to find to real perpetrator so they can clear their name. This is something we all have seen before, however Nintendo is using this cliché in a bit of a non-standard way. So I want to take some time to analyze the pros and cons of their approach to the use of this cliché.

First, the fact that the hero is forced into doing community service is something that is a strange twist. In the game Shadow Mario admits he wanted to get Mario thrown in jail, but he ultimately failed because Mario was tasked to clean up the island. The police officers say they will keep tabs on you, but they definitely won’t do any such thing. Especially because if they did, they would clearly see Mario and Shadow Mario duking it out and would realize how bogus the charges are. The people don’t seem to care about the fact that they were wrong or even acknowledge it for that matter. Also, they believe him to be responsible so they leave him to fix everything despite not keeping tabs on him. If he were actually a villain, Isle Delfino would have been ruined for sure. The only reason he can even do anything about the situation is because of F.L.U.D.D. and it isn’t Mario is the chosen one who has to use it. Heck, he just found it at the airport and used it because people told him to after having just arrived. Are you telling me that no one else could use this device? Not a single person? Yeah right. I wondered to myself while playing this game if these people deserved me saving them when a good portion of them treated me like garbage. If Peach didn’t spend have the game kidnapped, there would be absolutely no motivation for me to help these people. After all, I’d be pretty cross too if I were arrested with no real evidence except faulty eyewitness testimony and was forced to serve a sentence for a crime I didn’t commit. I have a feeling it probably happens a lot at Isle Delfino.

Now let’s talk a bit more about Peach’s kidnappings to get a idea of the story that doesn’t relate to how foolish the inhabitants are. I have already said before that kidnapping Peach is the bread and butter of Mario storylines, but in this one Bowser doesn’t do the kidnapping and rather leaves it to his son. That’s right the villain for this game is Bowser’s son Bowser Jr. Nintendo’s really working to change that formula by making some bold strides. Bowser Jr. disguised as Shadow Mario in order to frame Mario, but since the police system is absolute trash Mario was left pretty much unhindered so he could do whatever we wanted. The reason he did this was Bowser told him Mario was actually the one who stole Peach and that Peach was his mom. To protect his “mom,” Bowser Jr. kidnaps Peach again and heads to the final boss area. There are two reasons why I brought this up. The first is because that to this day, I find this to be the weirdest reason Peach has been kidnapped. Usually Bowser is a bit more straightforward is his kidnappings, but this time he is having his son do the dirty work? That’s cold. The second reason is to highlight the fact that pretty much everyone in this game is an idiot. Bowser Jr. not only failed to stop Mario from acquiring F.L.U.D.D. at the airstrip, where his is clearly seen at the beginning of the game, but he continues to disguise as Mario after his plan to imprison Mario has already failed showing that there are indeed two Marios. I know it’s a Mario game, but that means I can’t take the villains seriously. Not only do they fall back to the whole kidnapping plot, but this time they have it done by a smaller version of Bowser. How can I take any of this seriously. I would be more efficient spending my time finding hidden shine sprites than believing anything significant is happening on Peach’s end. So might as well leave it alone for now. If I am being perfectly honest, the only reason I beat the game at all was to take a break from finding blue coins.

Now the false charges don’t really do anything to effect the game so exactly why are they even brought up in the story. This false charge storyline is supposed to end with you being recognized for being right and clearing your name, but it seems like nobody actually cares about the truth. They just want things to be fixed so things can go back to normal. Now this cliché usually involves rampant corruption and finding leads, but in this game people are just too dumb or too blind to see the truth. The problem with using this cliché in a Mario game is that the game is not serious enough to effectively use this cliché and so it ends up with us having everyone sounding like an idiot. I really can’t think of any Mario game that has a bigger disconnect between the story and the gameplay. Normally it’s simply Bowser being evil and you have to stop him and that cliché works for a Mario game. Peach getting kidnapped is something you could probably do without, especially if you do it multiple times in the same game. However the Mario being falsely accused storyline doesn’t really work because Mario never really seems to struggle with these false accusations. There is no sense of accomplishment for clearing my name or saving the island from darkness because people just trust you to do things for you regardless of whether they think you are good or bad. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing the game and appreciate Nintendo trying to do something new with the story. I just think they fell short on what they could have done with the story. If they wanted to change things up they should have gone all in. I appreciate Super Mario Sunshine for daring to take some risks with the story, but they all just fall flat. So I will close with one last thing. I noticed that I got more satisfaction from messing with the two cops by the station than saving Peach and beating the game. That seems like might be where you went wrong Nintendo. Alright, see you next week everybody.

Thoughts on Camera Control

Hey everybody. The theme for this month starting right now is… wait for it… Super Mario 3D All-Stars. That’s right, we will be talking about the three games included in this package which are: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. Of course not all at once. We have to save some games for the rest of the month. So we will be primarily focused on the first game in the package: Super Mario 64. Of the three games in this package, this is the one I have the most experience with playing. Of course I couldn’t play in when I came out since at the time I was about a month old. However, I exposed to it later when they introduced it in the virtual console and I even managed to play the DS version. I won’t say I’m an expert on this game, but I know it well enough to get all of the power stars at least. When I got the game from my friends this holiday season it took me about three days to fully complete the game. I could have taken less time if I weren’t spending half the time fighting with the controls. Mario can be stubborn with how he decides to move sometimes, but that isn’t the main mechanic I fought with, not by a long shot. It was controlling the camera so that it could keep up with my platforming.

Now the reason that I want to bring special attention to the camera in Super Mario 64 is because I think this is a good example showing how important controlling the camera is for 3D platformers. Sure it sounds obvious when you think about it, but you don’t really feel it until you play the game yourself. Now in 2D platforming games, unless it’s one of those annoying auto scrolling levels, you should always be able to react on time to what is coming at you since you can see it all on screen at once. You also do not have to worry about the angle of your jumps since there is less precision required with the exclusion of the third dimension. Once you have 3D platforming though, you have to be a lot more precise with jumping and having the camera angled correctly could mean the difference between landing on a platform or missing it entirely. Not only that, but the effects of a limited perspective usually cost you more in some levels than others. Why is that? Well that’s why we are here. So, let’s start from the beginning and work our way from there.

So after you start the game and enter Peach’s Castle, you find out that Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and stolen the castle’s power stars (big shocker there everybody). So you jump in paintings to go to different themed worlds to retrieve the power stars and defeat Bowser, again. Now at first the levels are pretty straightforward and take place in areas that are not as platform heavy so that you have time to adjust to Mario’s varied new move set. However, even in the early game some missions require serious mastery over controlling Mario and the camera. For instance, any mission that requires the use of the wing cap, because without precise direction you are not getting anything done. Part of the reason for this is since the camera is so close to Mario it usually is hard to properly aim while flying. You’ll notice the camera is very close to you while you are flying as if the cameraman wants to zoom in and capture the gracefulness of this fat Italian plumber soaring through the skies. Because of this a lot of things that just pop into frame as you get closer to them causing you to be caught off guard and occasionally veering off course. Of course there is no way to adjust the camera distance on the fly so good luck collecting coins for those 100 coin stars.

There aren’t just problems when the camera is too close. There are also problems when the camera is too far away, because precision platforming can be an absolute nightmare. Sometimes in can be hard to gauge where a platform is if the camera distance is too far away so your only option is to adjust the angle that you are looking from so you gain have a better chance of not falling to your doom. The problem is that the camera only circles around Mario and never really provides a top down view so the back view is the best you can hope for, making it a little troublesome to gauge distance appropriately. The problem with using the side views is that if you are angled incorrectly you can end up failing in a different way by just missing the platform completely as opposed to under or overshooting it. Again, this problem doesn’t apply to every level in the game. It only applies to certain ones, especially those towards the end of the game with a heavier vertical climbing focus. Ascension through platforming vertically when the camera is usually by your side can be an absolute nightmare in the later stages since you may have to take a leap of faith to reach the platform. I’m specifically looking at you stage fourteen. Thankfully the camera isn’t on the level where you would have trouble getting the required stars to beat the game. The final boss though…. I just want to say good luck getting your throws to be able to hit anything, especially during the last phase of the fight.

Now, I don’t think that how the camera is used changed a lot in later 3D Mario games. I felt that the camera was more flexible for sure, but it is not just the camera angles that have improved since Super Mario 64. The other thing they have improved on is the means of recovery when you make a bad jump so you can recover as opposed to accept your death. These improvements have also helped deal with the verticality problem where traversing platforms that are higher up is much less of a gamble. All this makes sense those as they have had years of improvement and Super Mario 64 was Nintendo’s first attempt at a 3D Mario platformer. The reason I wanted to bring up my thoughts on this topic is not only to show how far we’ve come, but also so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Being able to control where the camera is angled effectively gives you an area of your character’s surroundings which is an important aspect of any 3D videogame. So as my closing thoughts on the matter, perspective is one of the most important elements of telling a story and creating a stable difficulty level. There is a reason why there are a lot less games featuring platforming in a first-person perspective. You need to be able to see different angles to have a good grasp on your jumps. I’m not saying Super Mario 64 is on that level, but I do want to say that the camera angles that end up blocking your figure half the time do make 100% completion a challenge. Just thought I would give fair warning. Although, despite all the hardships due to level design in the second half, it is still easier to complete than Super Mario Sunshine. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, since that game is next week.

Announcement 1

Hello there everyone. First off, I would like to wish everyone a “Happy New Year” again. Here’s to looking forward to recovering from the last one. And since it is a new year with new beginnings I’ve decided to start trying out some new things this year. Seeing as how this blog has only been around for about two months I know I still have a lot to work on, but I will continue to do my best. That being said, I feel as though while I had a lot of fun writing previous blog posts, I felt that they could have been a bit more organized so I’ll try to work on that this year. As a way to start this off, what I am going to do for the next couple of months is add a theme to the posts for each month so that you have an idea of what I will be talking about in advance. I think it will be a fun little challenge for me so I’m looking forward to it. And as for the week left out of what I call “The Big Three”, I will most likely make a post that is in keeping with the monthly theme and talk about something that I want to address that may or may not relate to “The Big Three”. That’s all from me for now. The monthly theme will be for this week’s post. I understand the month already started but I already had that post planned for New Year’s and I just thought of this idea so… bye!

Moral Choice Cliché

This week I will be taking a look at yet another gaming cliché. This week instead of a story cliché I thought that I would branch out a bit. So instead we will be talking about a cliché that affects the story and the gameplay. I know it’s quite ambitious, but I like to think I try to challenge myself every now and then. Now, this cliché is not usually as vital to the story as you might think. I would consider this cliché to exist in different levels when it comes to incorporation into the story and gameplay. There is the first level and what I find to be the laziest type in which you get different perks based on what moral affiliation you have. Then there is the second level where it does have an effect on how you choose to play, but the outcome and the world overall does not react much, if at all, to the choices you make. The third level is the rarest and the most satisfying where your choices have a sizable impact on the characters around you and influences the world itself. Now I am going to take some time to go through each level step by step to show the effects each one can have on the games we play. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for freedom of choice, but one should always ask if a feature is there to enhance the game or to pad the runtime.

Now let’s start with the first level and work our way up. The first level is the one that has the least affect on story and gameplay. In this level moral choice is relegated to a system of sorts where gaining new abilities is related to the choices that you make throughout the game and your current alignment. You also usually get a choice between a couple of endings based on your alignment. As an example, let’s look at a game people might have heard of before, Bioshock. Now I will say that Bioshock has one of the most fantastic video game stories to come about within the last 20 years. That being said, the choice to save the little sisters does not do much in the way of the story aside from what ending you get at the end. The gameplay difference is negligible as well as long as you are consistent in your choices. So why give a moral dilemma that doesn’t mean much except that you will have to play the game again for a different ending? I will grant that at least Bioshock is making an effort here by having the choices matter in the early stages rather than just choosing from two different types of the same skills. However, that doesn’t change the fact that while the story and gameplay are both good, the moral choice aspect does not significantly impact either of them.

Moving on to the second level, this level has the moral choice serving more of a role in story and gameplay, but is missing an important aspect to have the cliché be used to its fullest potential. To illustrate the example this time, we will talk about a more recent game called Ghost of Tsushima. If I’m being honest I find the idea of this game quite interesting for this type of dilemma since the moral code the main character is at odds with is not as simple as good and evil. What is at odds is whether to fight honorably or fight dirty. One ensures his pride as a warrior while the other ensures his ability to live longer. Now as opposed to Bioshock, this dilemma feels as though it is the center of both the story and the gameplay. The story highlights the struggle the main character goes through to become “the Ghost” and the gameplay allows the different approaches of one-on-one combat or stealthy infiltration. So, at least the moral choice aspect doesn’t feel tacked on like it did to an extent in Bioshock. However, Ghost of Tsushima stumbles in the same way as Bioshock when it comes to the moral choice aspect. Where they both fall short is the fact that none of the choices you made matter in the end. However, it doesn’t matter as much in Bioshock because the game’s main focus is not about your morality, but rather freedom of choice. In a way, having moral choices not really matter in Bioshock is somewhat in line with the game’s central themes. Ghost of Tsushima on the other hand, centered an entire game around this aspect and yet does nothing to change the story or encounters with characters. Your actions don’t really matter that much, but yet they really feel like they should since that is the premise the game is built upon in the first place. You are never given a path to choose, but rather the game gives you the illusion that you had the freedom to decide your own moral dilemma. I’m not saying that Ghost of Tsushima is a bad game, what I am saying is that they could have done more. At least, maybe it so you have the option to die as a warrior rather than be forced to live on as a “ghost”. It was nice the game allowed you to branch out in terms of gameplay, but it should have had allowed the story to branch out more as well.

Now I think it’s time to take the next step and move to the third level where we can see the true worth of having a moral choice system in a videogame. Quite honestly, in recent memory no game has done this as well as this one, so for the final game of focus we will talk about Undertale. Now the key thing Undertale has that many other games do not is not only do your choices matter, but they affect every single interaction along the way from the start to the end of your journey. The game even keeps track for subsequent playthroughs. Not only that, but your actions on your journey are reflected in how you play the game. It is hard to find a game that can achieve such an interesting dynamic between gameplay and story. To further elaborate on this, I should establish that the moral dilemma is the same as in Bioshock. You can choose to be good or bad and choosing good make things more difficult but leads to the best outcome. The crucial difference between them is that since in Undertale gameplay and story are two sides to a single coin, it means that the story encounters are vastly different and much more challenging. In Bioshock you will always get something no matter which option you pick, but in Undertale everything is either all or nothing. The key difference is that Undertale does everything in its power to raise the stakes, make you tempted to give up, waver your determination and it does all that so that you care about the results. That’s how it is supposed to be! Why bother introducing a dilemma if it can just be bypassed later? What would be the point?

Now you might be wondering why I am talking about this cliché. The reason is simply because I don’t think that it needs to be a cliché. I just want to address the fact that this is used in so many different games and yet most of the time there are no stakes or any real consequences involved with the decisions made. Which is a real shame considering the interesting discussions that can be had with this kind of topic. I know there are plenty of games that do give players an investment in making these choices. However, there are plenty of games that only treat them as a way to give players a different ending. It’s not like that is a bad thing, but it just feels like it’s a waste of potential. Giving the ability to choose the kind of player you want to be should mean more than just choosing between one or two different endings. In my personal opinion, if you create a world for people to interact and want to involve us in something as significant as a moral dilemma, then you should go all the way. Clichés are not bad to include in games. The reason they show up so often is that they still work. That is why if you are going to use something as complex as moral decisions, don’t just tack something like that on as a lazy excuse to add replay value since it won’t work if the choices don’t matter. Sure all of the games I have mentioned have replay value, but Bioshock and Ghost of Tsushima are not being replayed because they want to see the different endings. Undertale does have replay value for the different endings and if you do see both endings then you are a monster and the game will never let you forget it. Now that is a choice that matters.

Now Hear Me Out: Paper Mario

You know what time it is? That’s right. It’s time to talk about a game series that I want to talk about because I feel like it deserves some attention. This week we will talk about the Paper Mario series because despite my love for some of the things Nintendo has brought out over the years, this particular series has been through quite a lot. So I thought I might as well talk about it. Now I won’t really go too far in depth as usual just for the sake of brevity and in case you want to experience this series for yourself. Now, what makes this series interesting is it is one of the few series of games with Mario and co. in an RPG setting. Mario has to go through a bunch of interesting lands to stop whatever nefarious plot involves Princess Peach and potentially the fate of the world. However, in recent years they have hit a bit of a stumbling block when it comes to this series and I would like to take a moment to make some suggestions on how the series can build itself back up again.

Now, before I delve too deeply into that I want to make a distinction between the games in the series. Now the first three games were very good with the second, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, being hailed as the best to this day and thoroughly cementing this franchise as one that would be around to stay. The first, just called Paper Mario, was a classic that paved the way for these games coming to fruition and the third, Super Paper Mario, was still a pretty good game in its own right despite not being quite as good as the second. Now, the problems started after the third game when the fourth game came out. After Super Paper Mario came out Nintendo decided to double down on the paper idea and decided to go for a simpler approach back in the Mushroom Kingdom. I’m think it had something to do with sales not being what they expected so they thought to just start from scratch. The new game Paper Mario: Sticker Star received less than enthusiastic responses to put it mildly. So much for boosting sales for the franchise. The next game in the series Paper Mario: Color Splash didn’t do much better in that regard. Being totally honest, I didn’t even know that the game came out until months later. They really didn’t know how to market things with the Wii U did they? Recently, the latest installment, Paper Mario: The Origami King came out pretty much out of nowhere and while not being a bad game, it was not really at the same level as the original trilogy. So what happened? I’m so glad you asked.

The main problem with the series of games since Paper Mario: Sticker Star is that the games have become a lot more simplified. To be fair, some of these trends did start taking place in Super Paper Mario, but the game still managed to be good because it still had the necessary imagination of an RPG. One of the reasons the Paper Mario series was so good was because it was a fun RPG to explore with Mario characters with an good story, a fun battle system, a fun world to explore, and a lot of personality from the characters you met on the journey other than Mario. Now the first two games were pretty strong in these aspects, but the third installment started to falter because while the story was still good and the characters still had a fair of personality, the problem lied in the changing of the battle system and world exploration. The battle system was completely scrapped in favor of a more traditional platforming approach which some nuance between the four playable characters. The worlds to explore were contained in storybook chapters that you entered through a central hub which made the game feel a little less open than before since each section takes place in a different dimension where backtracking is essentially nonexistent. That is not to say that it was that bad, but the thing is that the changes didn’t add a lot to the game. The main problem is that it started to feel more like a standard Super Mario game instead of a Paper Mario game. Unfortunately, they continued this trend in the following games by experiment with the combat system while simplifying the story, character interactions, and world exploration. If that wasn’t bad enough the combat was grossly imbalanced in Paper Mario: Sticker Star and Paper Mario: Color Splash. Now thankfully, there has been some recovery in the aspects of characterization and world exploration with the newest title Paper Mario: The Origami King. The story and gameplay could still use a bit more work, but the series feels like it could potentially be able to make a comeback. Now what I want to do is talk about how we can further speed up this series’ recovery.

The first thing that should be addressed should be the gameplay, specifically the experience of leveling up. I addressed in one of my first posts that experience can feel out of place and unnecessary in certain settings. However, I have yet to see a time where it wasn’t beneficial to an RPG. So why not include it? You can experiment with the combat system as much as you want, but if fighting battles doesn’t really benefit you then even if the combat system works just fine you are still not going to get into that many battles because that just eats up time. The second thing that should be addressed is characterization. The reason having party members worked so well in the first two games is they not only enhanced the gameplay, but they also were interesting characters that made the world feel a little more real, so if you can’t get them to be a part of gameplay then you should at the very least make sure they are fun to interact with from both a story and gameplay perspective. In other words, have the character interesting enough to bring along while also being useful in taking with you to explore the world. There is one last thing that I want to say. Recently the Paper Mario series has been fairly insistent on paper gimmicks for each installment. I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing to incorporate these ideas into the series, but I feel the series would benefit more from instead of having just one paper theme per game, they should instead have different paper themes in each area of the game so that they don’t feel stale after a while. Or maybe incorporate more paper elements into the gameplay itself. As an example, bring stickers back as a temporary/permanent powerup in battles you can equip in order to give you different effects with your attacks. That’s just an example, but all I want to say is that if you are going to force yourself to go heavy on the paper aspect of the series just make sure each installment doesn’t feel like a one trick pony. The appeal of the Paper Mario series was never in the fact that the characters were paper, but that the characters never felt paper thin. If you create a good RPG with an engaging story and world to discover with a fun gameplay experience, that is all I need. If you are having trouble with ideas though, I have a way to buy you some time Nintendo. Next year, just re-release the first three Paper Mario games as an all-stars collection like you did for Mario’s 35th birthday this year. Just a thought, but trust me when I say you wouldn’t be able to keep it on the shelves. Thanks for hearing me out everyone. Oh, and have a Happy Holidays! I figured I’d just slide that in at the end.