Monday, April 28, 2014

Level Up: Super Mario Sunshine

It’s no secret that I am a fan of Mario video games. It the only series so far to get multiple perfect scores and most of the ones that weren’t perfect still got pretty high. It’s a series almost without equal when it comes to both overall quality and recognisability. However, there is one game in the main Mario series that I consider not up to level. I am talking about Super Mario Sunshine for the Nintendo Game Cube.
Now, normally at this point a sound effect would play and I dissect the games, talking about graphics and audio, story and/or game play. However, this is a special case and I have to approach it in a slightly different manner, so bear with me.
First off I have to point out my biases. I can say that this was the first time that I felt disappointed to the level of anger with a game, and that leaves a big impact. This is the game that made fear hype and consider not buying new games anymore, something I still haven’t quite recovered from (though the straw that broke the camel’s back will come another day). The fact that I had paid so much for a new game I thought was going to be amazing (it was MARIO, it was a safe bet!) and I later ended up hating has left a deep scar at an age where it really mattered.
However, none of this answers the question “WHY do I hate this game?” I had forgotten the reasons for a long time, but playing it again makes it all come back to me, so it’s not just my bad memories. The first thing I have to put the blame on is the poor controls. For those of you that don’t know, Mario gets a water shooting backpack called the FLUDD in this game. You can use it take down sludge based monsters or use the water to propel yourself in interesting ways. Unfortunately this relies on the camera being great, which the ones in Mario games have never been. The game mechanics in this game makes the camera inexcusable. It becomes much more difficult than it should be to squirt water in the direction you want, or to make yourself fly a target.
It doesn’t help that you don’t really feel directly in control of the FLUDD either. This game feels like you’re trying to control Mario trying to control the FLUDD, which gives you an extra degree of separation that gets in the way. It also feels too different from the standard Mario game play, so it doesn’t mix well with it (much like the use of guns in Shadow the Hedgehog).
The FLUDD is an icon of another problem with the game though, and that is the theme. The reason why it suits the game is because it was part of the whole “island/beach” motif the game has. I have to ask though, is this theme strong enough to carry the game? I may be spoiled by the games surrounding it: Super Mario 64 was in a castle where every weird world was possible, and Super Mario Galaxy was a grand space adventure. An Island getaway seems tame in between those. It doesn’t scream “adventure” at all, and you kind of have limitations on your surroundings.  Furthermore, the theme just doesn’t work well for a game. When I think of an island resort, I’d like to think relaxing, taking naps, soaking in the sun and other stress free activities, not a full wacky, constant go-go adventure. Bottom line, the island stuff might be good for a world, but using it as the full Mario game is really stretching it.
All this being said, what made me decide to make this review in this different format was when a question was posed to me concerning Super Mario Sunshine: Would I consider it a bad game? The answer to that question has to be no. Let me be clear, I don’t like Super Mario Sunshine at all, but I’ve pointed out before what I consider to be a bad game, and Super Mario Sunshine does not meet that definition. It isn’t a flawed game by execution, but I just don’t like any of the choices. I’m not a fan of the theme, but Nintendo decided to go with it. I think FLUDD was a terrible idea for a game mechanic, but Nintendo decided to go with it. I think the level missions are very frustrating, but Nintendo decided to go with them. Really the only thing I can complain about without it being much a matter of taste is the camera and controls, and Super Mario Sunshine is far from the only Mario game with this problem. It doesn’t get a recommendation from me since there are still obviously problems, but it’s the type of game that I can understand that people still like. It’s still a Mario game which means there are many good things about it, but I still don’t like it. Sorry Nintendo, I know you can do much better. I give Super Mario Sunshine 6.5 levels out of 10.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Level Up: Mummies Alive

I’ve talked about a fair bit of games that would have been forgotten (or at the very least not as popular) if not attached to the name of a famous movie or TV show (the NES Batman comes to mind). I’m also certain that there are several almost forgotten TV shows that can be remembered due to a great video game. Today, I have a video game based on a TV show and the popularity of neither helped the other. Was the subject just to obscure for some people, or was the game just not noteworthy? Let’s find out as we review Mummies Alive, originally for the Arcade, but I’ll be playing it on the Wii Virtual Console.
As most of you probably DON’T know, Mummies Alive was a TV show by DIC in which a boy named Presley finds out that he is the incarnated spirit of a pharaoh. He has 4 guardian mummies that guard him from danger, the biggest danger being the main antagonist of the series Scarab, an ancient Sorcerer who wishes to use the pharaoh spirit to, you guess it, take over the world *of course*. When things got rough, the Mummies could power up with their catch phrase *with the strength of Ra!*. It was kind of like a mix between Batman and the Power Rangers, but lamer than that mix sounds.
The story in the video game is probably deeper than the show deserves really. There are 4 stages and all 4 are their own little “episode” (like Batman the Brave and the Bold, but not as repetitious). I expected to just chase Scarab who kidnapped Presley for the whole game, but that’s only the last level. Before him, you’ll have to stop Nuhn and his water minions from taking over the city, calm down Geb’s temper tantrum before he levels everything around and prevent Set and Anubis from their chaotic plan before you get to the last level. The stories aren’t much, mostly just “something bad will happen, punch this guy to stop it”, but it reflects the show well enough and like I said, it’s nice that the effort was put into 4 episodes.
The game play itself is nothing too new or exciting for the most parts, but it has some small nice touches. For example, like with SNES Power Rangers game, the Mummies transform part ways in the level. Not something that wasn’t already done by this point and doesn’t even effect the game play, but the cut scene is still cool enough I had to mention it. As a whole, the game play seems pretty simple; move, jump and hit. You can also hold the attack button down to do a projectile attack (and you can even move around SLOWLY while it’s charging in this game) and pressing the jump and attack buttons at the same time does one of those health draining super moves. You can pull off slide attacks, grabs, air attacks, spin moves and pretty much any directional attack you can think of, nice to see a game not limit itself to only attacking directly in front. You can also apparently do team attacks like in the arcade Simpsons game, but I haven’t had the chance to play this game two players to try them out.
Honestly though, having a second person might make this experience worse, as it is really easy.  While arcade beat ‘em ups were known to be quarter suckers, and even some home ports were amazingly hard (like the SNES Final Fight), I beat this game using a minimum of continues the first time. Maybe this is why the game never saw much success, as people were not even close to filling it with quarters. Still, the hit detection is pretty solid and the button response is great. And sections where you just take down crumbling Shabti after Shabti do have a very satisfying feeling to it.
While Mummies Alive was developed and produced by Bandai, the same people that made a couple of the Super Famicom Sailor Moon games, it’s clear that this game would never be as popular. While the two games have similar feels to them (though Mummies also feels a little “heavier” in movement despite the free directional attacks), Sailor Moon has such a strong backing that, even though the games were Japan only, Mummies Alive would never come close to it. The music is pretty good, and while the SFX does sometimes sound stock, the good ones are really good. The Graphics could use a little work (for example the mummy form look way too puny compared to the warrior mummy forms, even though it’s the same people just wearing armor) but since you’ll be fighting Shabti for the most of the game and they look perfect for the world and play style, I can’t complain too much. On the video game side of things, beat ‘em up fanatics might want to play this once just to say they played it. But if you’re one of those people like me who actually remembers Mummies Alive, than you can take this as your little reward for getting the reference. I give Mummies Alive on the Wii Virtual Console April Fools levels out of 10.
*Beat, followed, by party streamer.*