Monday, February 23, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Super Mario 3D World

No matter how many games I play, and no matter how many other games and series are released, I always find myself circling back to the world of Super Mario. So it was bound to happen during my #52GameChallenge that I’d add a Mario game to the mix, especially after buying a Wii U over the holiday season. And, just like a lot of Mari games I’ve played in my life, this one didn’t disappoint.

I’m talking about the lazily named Super Mario 3D World. Despite the name (which sounded like it was created by a bored Nintendo intern at the last minute) the game delivers in a major way. The biggest draw of the game is the multiplayer. Now I haven’t played a major Super Mario game since Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii, so I’m not familiar with any previous platforming Mario games that allow simultaneous multiplayer. However, I’m also not a huge couch multiplayer fan unless it’s some retro games or sports games, but I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a platformer playing with friends and family.

The game itself is standard for those familiar with Mario platformers: Bowser is causing issues by kidnapping some fairies, Mario (and Peach and Toad and Luigi) jumps in to assist, you traverse koopa-laden worlds to collect stars, and eventually face-off against Bowser and save the day. But there are some solid additions to this formula that make the game new and exciting for gamers who may’ve been on a newer Mario game hiatus. The coolest of which is the new cat suit that each character can don that allows them to scamper up walls and attack many enemies easily without having to stomp on them. Not only is it cooler and more useful than the Tanooki suit, but it makes the characters really cute (statement co-signed by my fiancée).

And let's not forget the adorable Plessie who whisks you around some levels.

But the biggest addition to the formula is the multiplayer aspect. Each world can be explored with up to four people at once on one screen. This can add some interesting dynamics to each playthrough of each level. Depending on who you’re playing with, the multiplayer can be co-op, or it can be highly competitive. If you’re like me and you prefer getting 100% on as many levels as possible, you’ll likely play nice with others. However, if you’re also like me and you want to be the best in anything you do, you’ll try and sabotage your friends. You see, not only is the game as a whole based on how many stars you collect to access new worlds and levels, each level itself judges players by how many coins and stars they collect, and who finishes higher on the end-level flag pole. And to make matters worse (or better), the person to finish first and highest on the flag pole gets their flag hoisted for that level on the world map.

What you’ve now got is a mad dash on screen by everybody to collect every star and coin first, but also to complete the level first while sabotaging everyone at the same time. As a result, you may want to pick your friends you play with very carefully. Or, if you’re very prone with ragequits and bouts of immature screaming matches and telling everyone to leave, it might be best to play alone (and seek some anger management help). 

Giant Luigi Death Stare Mode Activated!!!

The other multiplayer aspects are the ability to see and leave helpful little hints to other players about a level or the game overall. However, helpful hints are quite rare as most people use stickers you can collect in the game to leave little doodles and works of “art” to entertain you when you beat a level…so good luck finding that elusive 2nd star on your own.

Since I was simply having a blast the whole time I was playing Super Mario 3D World, it was hard to find anything to dislike about the experience. I will say that there was a flaw with the controls that led to some cheap deaths. You can pick up your fellow players and toss them, which can be helpful in some areas, but can also lead to friends being launched over a ledge accidentally when you don’t intend to pick them up. The only other negative I have to voice about this great game is the final boss fight and the game’s conclusion. I’ll not spoil anything, but the final confrontation with Bowser was frustrating at times, but once you get the hang of it, it’s over very quickly and you’re sitting there thinking that the ending didn’t do the game justice.

Still, the game can’t be judged just by those minor negatives, because it’ll please any fan of Mario and any gamer who enjoys hanging out with friends. I had to move on from this one to make room for other games in the #52GameChallenge, but I know that in the future I will definitely make my way back. There are plenty of stars and stickers to collect, as well as high scores to beat and a “Lost Levels”-esque world of timed levels with difficult enemies to test your skills. Of course a Mario game has high replay value! 

#52GameChallenge Progress: 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Tomba!

The next game in my #52GameChallenge is one that I wanted to play years ago, but unfortunately fell through the cracks until now. It wasn’t really my fault, though. The tale is boring so I’ll spare the details – I bought a lot of retro games from a guy on CraigsList one day and he said Tomba! was included. I was getting the games for an amazing price and Tomba! is a semi-rare and semi-valuable game, so I was excited. Sadly, the excitement was dashed when the guy said he couldn’t find the disc and only had the case. I kept the empty case as a reminder of what I almost had.

Fast forward a few years and I found a copy of Tomba! on CL again – not at as good as a price as presumed before, but decent nonetheless. I wasted almost no time in booting the game up to see if it lived up to the hype I’d heard from fanboys over the years (and I'm sure my opinion is going to upset some Tomba! faithful).

I’ll give a little background on the story, which makes no sense but it’s noteworthy as it adds that ever so important quirkiness seen in many earlier games that jumped right into gameplay, something  that so many modern games forsake for establishing a plot (there are pros and cons to each, but that’s for another day). Here’s the tale; evil pigs have taken control of the land and are making your world different that before and filled with more perils. Their magic is powered by gold and other valuables, and one day they steal Tomba’s gold bracelet, pissing him off and giving us motivation for defeating the evil pigs (you know, because them being evil and taking over the world isn’t enough).

WARNING: Clay Tomba and/or pigs may not appear in-game.

Good, now that you know why Tomba is your protagonist, on to the gameplay. I was immediately caught off balance by the controls. Tomba! is a platformer but because it was on the PS1 and technically in 3D, the developers made the worlds you explored layered. This means that Tomba can jump from the foreground to the background(s) in areas that have them. This adds an interesting dynamic to exploration, because sometimes items are unattainable until to you jump to another layer. It was very different from anything I’d seen previously in a game, and while confusing at first, I eventually became a master at finding where and when to jump back and forth.

As a platformer, Tomba! is decent but frustrating. Sometimes I felt the platforming spiked in difficulty at odd times without warning. One level you’d be jumping from large platforms, and the next you’d be jumping from small platforms and ropes over a huge chasm of death. I know I was a bit out of practice when it came to platformers of advanced difficulty, so part of it was me. However, it made me rage a couple of times when I went from having 12 lives to 2 just to get through one small portion of a level (especially knowing I had to go back later).

Another oddity of the game is defeating enemies. Most you can simply jump on to defeat…with an added twist. Tomba “paralyzes” enemies by biting them, and then can throw them in a number of directions. Sometimes this comes in handy because it allows you to defeat enemies by using a paralyzed one as a weapon. It was truly a unique element of the game and it’s one you have to experience or see to understand how it’s best utilized. Also, the hit-boxes for some enemies were odd and led to Tomba receiving damage when I thought I’d jumped on them correctly, but with an odd way of killing enemies there were bound to be snags.

Hey, you unlocked Lava Caves...prepare to die!

The biggest frustration with the game is the exploration. The game world isn’t that large, but the way missions/events (which pop up randomly when you talk to someone or do certain tasks) are structured require you to backtrack a significant amount of time, even all the way back to the starting point of the game. It wouldn’t be a burden except that the game gives little to no clues or hints regarding your next step, and when you do get a clue it’s usually cryptic and/or given at a point way before you unlock the event. So you either have to use a pen and paper to write everything down, or have a photographic memory. Obviously the game wanted to encourage exploration and challenge the gamer to think about the events in the game rather than hold your hand throughout, so I can appreciate it from that perspective, even if I was annoyed at times.

Tomba! also incorporated some role-playing elements which, while diluted, still added good variety to what would normally be “just a platformer”. Throughout the game, Tomba can gain more health-slots by completing certain events, and Tomba can level up by defeating enemies. While there were obvious benefits to increased health, I was never able to figure out how defeating more enemies and “leveling up” made Tomba more powerful or helped me beat the game easier. Perhaps an event would unlock if I hit the max level 10, but I never got that far. Plenty of room for clarification and improvement in the RPG elements, but as a platformer it’s forgiven.

Overall, I will say that Tomba! was a bit of a disappointment. The quirkiness and little bonus 3D and RPG elements wore thin once the frustrating platforming reared its head. On top of all that, the method of defeating enemies became dry over the 7+ hour adventure, and even the boss battles (not previously discussed) all felt the same and got boring by the 3rd one. I can understand how this game may have seemed exciting and innovative when it was released, and I don’t want to stomp on anyone’s nostalgia, but in 2015 I can’t bring myself to say that I would play this again or recommend it to a friend. At least I can say I’ve played it now, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

#52GameChallenge Progress: 6/52

Saturday, February 07, 2015

#52GameChallenge - Battleblock Theater

I’m going to keep this short but sweet about my time with Battleblock Theater – it’s a frustrating game that has the potential to absolutely ruin friendships and relationships. I say this because I played this game exclusively in 2-player mode with my fiancé and I’m not proud to say that she saw a very different side of me during our co-operative quest.

On its own Battleblock Theater is a cute game with a weird story told by one of the most hilarious voice-acting performances in a game I’ve ever heard. Seriously, this game is 100% responsible for me having a HUGE man-crush on Stamper, the voice of the game’s narrator. If you have no idea what I’m talking about or what the big deal is, stop reading right now and search for “Battleblock Theater Cutscenes” on YouTube. Go ahead, I’ll wait….




I KNOW RIGHT?!? HILARIOUS! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched those cutscenes because of Stamper’s voice-acting. It’s a work of hilarious art.

Okay, enough about my love for Stamper, because the game is more than the narration. Most of what you do in this game is go through levels with deadly traps in order to collect gems and other items to advance. The levels increase in difficulty as you go along, but at points late in the game it felt like the game just wants to be a dick and make you hate your life as a gamer.

This is particularly frustrating when you’ve playing co-op with someone who doesn’t have the gaming experience, skills, or dexterity on your level, because they will die…a lot. That’s when they get frustrated even more than you are because completing the level seems damn near impossible, and it leads to arguing about strategy, rage-quits, and sleeping on the couch as the cat stares at you as if to say, “You should’ve kept your mouth shut, you idiot.” On the list of things that have the potential to end relationships, I’d rank Battleblock Theater second, behind Ikea of course.

So that’s why I highly recommend rethinking playing this game co-operatively unless your partner is an experienced platformer and knows their way around a controller. I still plan on tackling the game solo, but I think I need a large amount of time away before I can do so sanely. I’d also likely have to do so when my fiancé is away so it doesn’t reopen old wounds. Yea, good memories with this game…

#52GameChallenge Progress: 5/52