Saturday, May 26, 2012

Level Up: Super Mario Land

Today, I’m here to rectify a mistake. Sometimes in the rush of getting out these reviews on time, I will make one. Like my review of Dead Rising Chop Til you Drop; I mention Night of the Living Dead takes place in a mall (that’s actually DAWN of the Dead). Factual errors like that though, I’m ok with because someone can correct me. What I’m not ok with is when I make a mistake on my opinion because no one can and I don’t make the impression I would like to. For example, in my Spyro 2 review, I say I’m a fan of Spyro. Though I do have and enjoy his original PlayStation series, I haven’t played more than that, so “fan” might be too strong of a word. But the one I want to address now is Super Mario Land 2: the 6 Golden Coins. Now, it’s a really good game and deserves recognition, but I gave it 10 out of 10 not acknowledging its flaws, which makes me feel unfair and biased. However, I don’t want to go back and redo a review, so now I present to you a review of the game that came before it, and I will try to be as fair as possible. Here is Super Mario Land for the Game Boy.
Before Super Mario Land, most portable games were on Game & Watch, so a portable game that was comparable to something on a home console was a big deal. Most of the basic elements from the first Super Mario Bros. are still found in this game: you run from left to right, jump on enemies to kill them and mushrooms make you bigger and able to take an extra hit. As a matter of fact they even made a change I enjoyed: different castle bosses (it’s no longer just Bowser every time). There are also a few new and different enemies throughout the levels too. A little more variety is really appreciated.
HOWEVER something feels off to me. Part of it might have to do with the graphics, but there are a lot of little things too. For example, gaining momentum seems less important. What I mean to say is that in Super Mario Bros. it would take a small bit of time to reach top speed. In Super Mario Land, you seem to reach that speed quicker. It’s subtle, but I find it’s noticeable and gives the game more of a jittery feel.
I also have to point out that the hit detection is a little off. A lot of times, I would be running and see an enemy coming right for me. I then jump to avoid it but clearly see Mario running right into it. And then the enemy dies instead. I could keep nit-picking about the fireballs who bounce up in the air and never come back, how ridiculously short the game is and how there are 2D shooter levels (which just feel wrong for Mario), but I think I made my point: it just doesn’t feel much like as much of a Mario game.
I can’t judge the graphics too harshly due to when this game came out and the fact that it was made to look like the first Super Mario Bros. But I don’t think the size of that game was properly scaled back. In Super Mario Bros., most objects take up the same space as one block. In Super Mario Land, Mario looks like a giant! The blocks are all tiny, which, with the jittery controls, makes them really hard to hit sometimes. Mushrooms, extra lives, enemies: they all feel too small and like you need to adjust for it.
There aren’t any colors in this game either, so when you get the fire flower, you don’t see a difference. Often I’ll forget I even have it since I’m holding down the B button just to run. Super Mario Land 2 got around this by giving Mario a feather on his head, but here, no effort was made to distinguish the two.
If it sounds like I’m attacking Super Mario Land to make up for being too nice to Super Mario Land 2, let me assure you, that’s not the case. The thing with this game is that everything it does right is taken straight from Super Mario Bros., so the differences are the only thing to talk about. Sadly the differences I do find mostly make this game worse. As much as Super Mario Land 2 had its problems (like the physics being off for stomping on baddies or it’s detachment to the Mario series at some points) it still felt like getting to experience a good, new Mario game. Giving it a perfect score was a little over the top though, especially since I couldn’t even give one to Pokemon. But the thing is my scores are one of the least important parts of my reviews, as the reason I ramble on for almost 5 minutes is to tell you about what you should know about a game so you can decide if it sounds good.  That’s not to say I don’t put any thought into my score, but now I’m too off topic. Point is, I’ve change a bit since I started, and I think Super Mario Land 2 was judged unfairly in its favor, so don’t think I’m being harsh on this game because it’s not its better sequel. In all honesty, it was probably a good launch title, but hasn’t aged well and there are too many things about it that bug me. It’s a good game, but not one I’d put a priority on playing. I give Super Mario Land for the Game Boy 7.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Level Up: Donkey Kong Coutry 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble

When I was a kid, Donkey Kong Country blew me away. When I finally got back from being blown away, Donkey Kong Country 2 blew me away even farther. Then, a third game came out! I am ashamed to say though that I never owned a physical copy of that game (fun fact, me and 2 of my friends each owned 2 of the 3 games so we had two complete sets between the three of us. I would always just borrow it from one of them); today I’ll be playing it on the Wii Virtual console. Here’s Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble originally for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
The game starts off in a similar manner to the last one, but this time K. Rool (now under the moniker of Baron K. Roolenstein) has kidnapped both Donkey Kong and Diddy. He did this by building a giant robot, which introduces us to our theme for the game: the first one was a tropic island, then we had pirates, here, it’s mostly technology. There’s not as much done with it though, but that keeps it from clashing with the jungle setting.
Once Dixie arrives, she is asked to take care of the toddler Kiddy Kong, her sidekick for the game. Now, I want to talk about Kiddy Kong, as his character perfectly represents this game. Kiddy Kong is big and strong and reminds players of Donkey Kong. But much like this game in regards to the first Donkey Kong Country, he’s actually a more childish version. That’s where we run into a problem with this game; it seems too “child-friendly”.  The bad guys look less menacing (they’re big and puffy) and everything is a lot brighter. There is nothing wrong with a game aimed at a younger audience, but when it’s the third installment of a series, you invite the comparison, and too drastic a change becomes a negative aspect.
The fact that Kiddie is big actually adds a lot to the game play. Beyond just returning some old elements omitted in Donkey Kong Country 2, it makes things interesting with the piggy back system. This means that while playing as Dixie, you can throw Kiddie to kill tougher baddies and break through certain areas. Playing as Kiddie allows you to throw Dixie farther, just like in the previous game. So, which Kong you play as makes a more significant impact in this game.
Another BIG change is that you can now freely enter and exit worlds. Before you had to visit Funky Kong or beat a boss, but this time you can come and go as you please. This is because there is now a big amount of over world exploring to do (rare in 2D side-scrollers like this). Any time you’re in the water (which is a lot, since the map is laid out like a series of island), you have free control of movement. Instead of just going to the next destination, you can adventure around, see what hidden secrets you can find and unlock things to get the full 103%. As you play, you’ll be given vehicles to overcome certain obstacles, and the fun of exploring really kicks in.
Now, as fun as over world exploring is, you wouldn’t want to get to the next level if they weren’t fun to play. Again, the common complaint is that the game is more child-accessible, so it’s also easier. You don’t seem to have to master the skills and timing of the game as much (which is good for me, the button layout on a GameCube controller make this hard to play). However, the game makes up for it by having some really creative levels. My favorite parts of this game include climbing up a tree being cut in half, an underwater level where you need to keep feeding a fish that’ll eat you otherwise and one where you play as Squitter the spider while someone keeps shooting at you. These gimmicks are rarely repeated, plentiful and memorable. I applaud the creativity of this game.
I think the Donkey Kong Country series can be compared to a lot of movie trilogies; the first game was amazing, really set things up and made us want more. The second one gave us more and improved it. But the 3rd one is weakest overall. (And like some movie trilogies, it even has the recent reboot). However, Donkey Kong Country 3 isn’t a bad game. At the time, people might have passed it up due to it being too easy or because the Nintendo 64 was already out, but it really shouldn’t have been. It’s easier, it’s more childish, the 103% ending is very anti-climactic, but it’s still a Donkey Kong Country game on the SNES and still has every good aspect that implies. Though this would be the last game to carry the “country” name for a while, Rare would make one more home console platforming DK game. And as a matter of fact, with the over world adventuring, it’s easy to see how this game led to it. But, that’s a review for later. I give Donkey Kong Country 3 for the Super Nintendo 9 levels out of 10.