Saturday, February 18, 2012

Level Up: New Super Mario Bros. vs Super Mario Bros. 3

Once again, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. This year I think it’s time I cover the couple that comes to mind when you think video game relationships: Mario and Princess Peach. This couple has been an icon of the video game world since the original Super Mario Bros series. And a few years back, Nintendo decided to revive that series and make New Super Mario Bros., which was the game I planned on reviewing today. However, whenever I start talking about that game, I can’t help but compare it to the last entry of the series before it. So why not just compare the two? Here is Level Up’s Old vs. New *buzzer, producer speak* Oh, Nostalgia Critic does that? Ok, well then… Level Up’s Retro vs. Reboot! *buzzer, producer speak* ScrewAttack has that one? Ok um… Oh, how about Classic vs. Comeback? *beat, confirm sound*Ok, great. Here is Level Up’s first Classic vs. Comeback: New Super Mario Bros. (released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS) vs. Super Mario Bros. 3 (first seen in 1988 for the Nintendo Entertainment System).

Before we start, I want to explain a few things. First off, this isn’t like a normal double review where I present two games in the time of one. I have a lot to say about both games, so this will be double my normal length. Also, I won’t be declaring clear winners to rounds: I’m just going to give the two games a score at the end, with the highest being the “winner”. Alright, so now lets get on with this.

Since I already started talking about it, might as well start with the story. But, what else is there other than princess Peach gets kidnapped and blah blah blah. What I really want to talk about here are the characters involves; more specifically, Bowser’s kids. (The only other different characters would be personality lacking enemies and the kings in Super Mario Bros. 3, which I have no one to compare to.) In Super Mario Bros. 3, we saw the introduction of the Koopalings: Bowser’s 7 offspring. They each had their own unique design and even names (all named after famous musicians). In New Super Mario Bros. however, we get a previously created character: Bowser Jr. Honestly, I don’t get the point: it’s just a smaller version of Bowser (same name even). Really, the only reason it exists is because everyone in the Mario universe needs a baby form apparently. He’s a pretty boring character made even more useless with the return of the Koopalings in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Because of the advancements in technology, when it comes to the technical aspects, you’d think the 2006 release would be flat out better. And the answer is yes, in a way. The graphics for New Super Mario Bros. are 3D rendered even in this 2D game. Everything is vibrant and clean, and some of the animations are really smooth and impressive. Due to the hardware limits, the 2D Super Mario Bros. 3 just can’t match up; its one of the best looking games for the NES, but it’s beaten by 18 years of technology. However, with the graphics comes animations and frame rates. See, in the simple NES times, frame rates were rather slow, so some animations were just omitted. Now a day, that doesn’t fly, so, while turning around in Super Mario Bros. 3 is instant, it takes a second in New Super Mario Bros. If you’re a fan of the older games, getting hit in these little seconds will really anger you.

Now, if you want to talk about the designs, there’s a lot to be considered. Super Mario Bros. 3 came after several games where the look was very different (I mean, Mario is red and brown in Super Mario Bros. 1). By New Super Mario Bros, he had long since had a uniformed look that was being used in every game. So yeah, he looks like the Mario we all know and love in that game, but I gotta say, I dig the black pants, heavy outline, dot eyes and kind of soft puffiness of Super Mario Bros. 3. Also, the texture of the background and enemies are all unlike any other Mario game there is. What I’m saying is Super Mario Bros. 3 has personality, while New Super Mario Bros. plays it really safe and familiar.

For Music, it’s sort of the same story: the DS has years of technological advances on the NES, but the tracks on Super Mario Bros. 3 are simply more memorable. Every gamer knows the first world map theme, the level music, the flying fortress theme, etc… I’m not saying that New Super Mario Bros doesn’t have good tracks (one’s so catchy, Bowser’s minions dance along) but rather the ones from Super Mario Bros. 3 have had years of nostalgia to sink in for us. But still, it seems like the newer game was made with a “this is how a Mario game should sounds” mind frame instead of just trying to make something catchy.

And now for the game play. At their cores, both of these games are the same: Go from left to right and stomp on enemies in your way. But of course, there are as many differences as there are similarities.

Let’s start with the power-ups. I’m not going to talk about the super mushroom, star or fire flower, since those are Mario staples. The ones from Super Mario Bros. 3 are classics of course, but it’s actually New Super Mario Bros. I want to start with. See, this game gave us a power-up I had been waiting for since Super Mario World: a koopa shell costume. While wearing this, Mario can duck in it and destroy whatever brick or enemy that might get in his way. It has the same effect as getting a koopa shell and throwing it, even when none are around. There is also the mini-mushroom which shrinks him and makes him weaker, but he can jump higher, run on water and access new areas. But the one most people associate with this game is the Mega Mushroom (seen on the cover). Mario will grow to an incredible size and will crush everything in his way. It won’t last the level and it’s rare, but it’s really fun to use.

Alternatively, the item Mario can be seen using on the cover of Super Mario Bros. 3 is the raccoon leaf, a very common item. With this, Mario gains a raccoon tail and ears, and once he gets up to the proper speed, he can fly (this makes no sense, I know). The introduction of flight in this game really changed the whole Mario series, making the games feel bigger. There is also a variation on the raccoon leaf called the tanooki suit. It’s rarer, but also allows Mario to turn into a statue. This power-up recently returned in Super Mario Land 3D. Another classic and recognizable costume is the Frog Suit, giving Mario more mobility underwater and allowing him to jump higher. The last power up worth mentioning is the Hammer bros. costume. This allows Mario to throw hammers around (like a hammer brother), but it’s kind of weird to use due to the angle and it’s quite rare, so it’s easily forgotten.

So Super Mario Bros. 3 has Power Ups to change game play and really have fun, while New Super Mario Bros. changed the game play more and gave you more strategic items. I don’t know which is “better”, both suit their individual games really well, and the Mega Mushroom is already almost as recognizable as the Racoon leaf, despite being around for a shorter time. Really the winner in this case is not so clear.

However, there is a clear winner when it comes to the multiplayer, and it’s due to the hardware. This time though, it’s the Nintendo DS at the disadvantage. See, being a handheld console means that the game will be more personal and multiplayer is an afterthought. You can connect with another DS system and play these weird bonus levels, but its competition and not as fun. Super Mario Bros. 3 though rewards multiplayer in its main game. See, if you have someone else playing with you, they can do half the levels and you’d only have to do the other half. And even if you lose all your lives, the levels that your buddy will have beaten will still be done. Trust me when I say, this makes the game a lot easier.

That’s mostly due to the fact that there is no way to save in Super Mario Bros. 3. This means that you’ll likely skip some levels due to the map system just to get to the end. And why shouldn’t you? There is no incentive for 100% completing the game. New Super Mario Bros. can save though, and uses this to entice perfectionists to keep on playing this game. First off, in each level, there are 3 large coins to collect, which you can use to buy lives and power ups. There are also branching paths to find which even includes entire worlds. Yeah, 2 out of the 8 worlds are actually hidden. New Super Mario Bros. rewards players who go back and explore with more game play. In Super Mario Bros. 3, why not skip some levels? It makes no difference once you turn off the console.

Now I want to clear this up, neither of these games are bad at all. As a matter of fact, both of these were on ScrewAttack’s best Mario game’s list (though that’s 5 years old now). However, one of these was actually number one. Not only that, but many people also consider it the best game of its console; the other one, not so much. The better game is Super Mario Bros. 3. Not only does it seem to have more personality, it also did more to advance the series (the map system, flight, etc…). New Super Mario Bros. shouldn’t be disregarded though, as it brought the original Super Mario series back. (By the way I was also going to compare the mini-games, but they aren’t part of the main game play experience. If that is your thing though, New Super Mario Bros. has a good selection from the get go.) Again, both of these are great games, but Super Mario Bros. 3 is a classic for a reason. I would give it 11 out of 10, but that was a one-time joke for Super Mario RPG. I give Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES 10 levels out 10, and New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Level Up: Spider-man (the Animated Series)

I covered some of Activision’s Spider-man games last summer, the company that seems to have been with the wall crawler since he went 3D. But before then, the game company that dealt with him the most was probably LJN. Now, if you guys watch the Angry Video Game Nerd, you’ll know their games are rarely good. But hey, this one actually managed to get pass the AVGN when he did his Spider-man games review, plus it’s based directly on the 90’s TV show, so who knows how bad this really is? Here’s Spider-man the Animated Series for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The plot for this game is that some of Spider-man’s enemies have escaped from captivity, and that is it. As far as super hero games go, you can’t really have a less inspired story than that. However, it does mean there are a lot of villains in this game, all recognizable due to the show. And actually, this is the only Spider-man game I know of to include my favorite Spidey-villain : Hydro man! Other than allowing for the awesome amount of bad guys, the story is lame, so let’s move on.

The game play is typical side-scrolling, “punch the bad guys in the FACE(starting with a red Master Chief here)” action game. Simple enough, right? Well, there are two things to keep in mind: 1. This is LJN, and 2. This is Spider-man, so that means there will be wall crawling and web swinging. And both are a little messed up here. For wall crawling, it’s due to the control: you have to press the button while in the air, you can’t be holding it beforehand. However, web-swinning is just poorly polished; if you manage swing, you’ll just go back and forth until you jump, but there’s a delay in the jump. It’s possible to get the hang of it (I mean, it DOE work), but it’s near impossible to perfect and will likely bug up on you.

There are also parts where you can jump into the background and this game does it relatively well. It has the common problem that sometimes you don’t know where exactly you can do this, and also that you’ll jump for other reasons and land in the background accidentally. However, these are common problems for any game doing this. I think it’s done well, but far from perfectly.

Finally, the camera is poorly framed. Spidey will be about one quarter off the end of screen from where he’s facing, making it difficult to react in time to what’s coming. This is all just a bit much…

So, as I already mentioned, this game is based on the Spider-man 90’s Animated Series. Know how I can prove that (other than the name on the copyright screen)? The theme song has been perfectly recreated: *plays a few seconds of it*. Other than that, you won’t notice the music; it’s there, but barely. The sound effects are pretty standard, but nothing note worthy either.

I am surprised to say that the graphics are well done though, for the most part. Spider-man does look a little more buffed out than usual, but it works once you start swinging and climbing around. Also, all the bad guys from the show look exactly like they did, with a few exceptions. The main problem with the sprites that don’t work is that there is a lack of detail, making their faces look like something I made in paint when I was 6. But, I find those are few and far between.

So, that is the Spider-man game based on the Animated series that was developed by Western Technologies, Inc. and published by LJN Ltd. It’s honestly probably little known now a day for a good reason. But is it a bad game? Well, not by my definition of a bad game. Don’t get me wrong, this is still the worst Spider-man game I’ve reviewed so far, but despite the many tiny flaws, this game is not bad as a whole. It has frustrating moments, but it never feels unfair. It’s still very possible to want and be able to see this game to the end. If they could of fixed a few of the controls and spend a bit more time on the music and sprites, this would be a good game. However, as is, it’s only recommended for the huge Spider-man fans (especially ones of the 90’s cartoon); everyone else can skip it. I give Spider-man the Animated Series for the Super Nintendo 5.5 levels out of 10.