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Posts Tagged ‘Super Mario Brothers’

In case you’ve been under a rock, today is the 25ht anniversary of Super Mario Brothers original Japanese release.  As I write this, “Mario Bros” is the #5 trending topic on Twitter.  In addition to the usual suspects, a ton of mainstream press covered it.  I even saw a headline about the anniversary on that screen in the elevator in my office building.  Y’know, the one that everyone awkwardly stares at, so they don’t need to make conversation.

It’s appropriate that the anniversary happens to fall on the release date for the latest Halo game, Reach. These two properties couldn’t be further apart.

Halo is the very essence of what drives the industry today – a multiplayer-focused shooter fueled by competition, favored by angsty teens (and ghastly teens-at-heart), where it’s not uncommon to count more epithets than bodies. I’ll admit it – I’ve never played much Halo.  It just never appealed to me.

Mario games look downright quaint by comparison, with bright colors, squeaky clean character design, and all those side adventures in cart racers, puzzlers, brawlers, RPG’s…

Just take a look at their flagship characters.  Halo’s Master Chief is a faceless cipher under that impenetrable helmet. He and his space marine buddies have now starred in 5 games, but are still mostly marketed around (and purchased for) the multiplayer experience.  Besides, he just wouldn’t fit in a fun, happy-go-lucky cart racer.

Mario doesn’t speak either, outside of the occasional “it’s-a-meeee!’ or “let’s-a-go!”  But his charisma and charm have moved 240 million games – just among the character-focused core series.

Mario has been a constant through some remarkable personal benchmarks.  For those of you just joining us, some highlights: One of my first published reviews was on Mario 64.  I broke the news to readers (and in turn, some of my friends) about my wife’s pregnancy via a post about New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  And when it came time to take the baby announcement photos, my daughter had on a Princess Peach onesie.  Mario was even mentioned twice in speeches at my wedding – one of those during the actual ceremony.

Playing a Mario game evokes much of the same feeling for me as watching my daughter play on the floor does now.  There is an innocence, and a simplicity to it that will always be endearing.  I can’t help but smile when it’s just me, and the jumping, and the coins.

Happy birthday, buddy.

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I quite often get official word of marketing campaigns for new and soon-to-be-released games.  They’re second only to architectural trade stories in “things I’m most often pitched.”*

Anyways, EA is taking a novel approach to promoting their supercops-and-unsavory-characters MMO, APB. They’re making one fan put his money where his mouth is, literally turning him into an avatar that could be produced in the game’s design-your-character interface.  I’ve seen more than enough promotions that put one lucky fan into a game as a background model, and even occasionally as a playable in-game character.  So it’s cool to see EA turn that concept on its head.

The community is at the helm, making choices via popular vote on who their base model is, his hairstyle, even tattoos the poor guy has to get. To be fair, Josh (the “winner” in this case) lists “Free Runner” as his occupation, so he probably had plenty of time and empty pockets to commit to this project.  And hey, it’s not like his shift supervisor is gonna reem him out for showing up to work with stupid visible tats or a crazy haircut.  That’s why you make career choices like “Free Runner” in the first place, right?  Except this guy.  He’s a badass, and it look like dude gets paid.

The whole thing has me thinking more about our relationships with what we control onscreen.  Tom Bissell had some very, very good points in Extra Lives about how much of (another EA title) Mass Effect’s success is tied to Bioware empowering us all to create OUR Commander Shephards.  I still bristle a little bit when I see a YouTube video or something from that game, and it’s not MY Shephard running around.  It feels like the lost footage from Back to the Future with Eric Stoltz in the Marty role.  Creepy.

...that's just not right

But I don’t think I would ALWAYS be more emotionally invested if I could design my own avatar.  Case in point: there’s nothing on this earth that turns my “nostalgia” valve quite like a Mario game.  Even when I could play a sidescrolling platformer — that most nostalgic of genre — with an avatar of my own design in LittleBigPlanet, it just didn’t resonate emotionally as much as one starring everyone’s favorite plumber.

APB designer Dave Jones (of Lemmings and GTA 1-2 fame) clearly wants us to feel like we’re inhabiting that world.  As WoW has shown us, a custom avatar can really make players buy in to the setting and fiction on a very deep level.  Let’s hope Josh can hack it.

* Really.  Enough with the damn pitches about building materials.  I’m sure advances in shaftway cabling are a very big deal, but we write about videogames here, peeps.

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While I didn’t get out to last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E³), I was really glad to see the show return to the more recognizable “under the big top” format.  At a time when just about everyone is forced to cut costs wherever possible, it was nice to see some of the industry’s big hitters pull out all the stops once again.  At the very least, it gave us all a lot more to watch than the very weird “editorial speed dating in office parks” feel of the last two years.

This year’s show was poised for success from the start – we’re far enough into this console generation that most developers understand how to get the most out of the hardware, but we’re not quite to the point where everyone expects to see new all-new consoles unveiled.  E³ 2005 was the most boring show I’ve been to, with the big reveal of the PS3 and all the tech demos and non-games that came with it.  This year was mostly focused on the games.  Be sure to check out the big honkin’ E³ coverage summaries over at Kotaku and Joystiq, just in case you missed anything.  Read on for my highlights (and a few not-so-highlights) from the big keynotes of the show.

MICROSOFT

beatles RB sullivanThe Good: M-soft came out strong right out of the gate with The Beatles: Rock Band.  They managed to have Paul McCartney and Ringo Star onstage, turning an otherwise ho-hum demo into a newsworthy event for even non-game press.  Perhaps most importantly, they created the most newsworthy event of the show for non-enthusiast press, and managed to have the surviving Beatles on stage with all sorts of Xbox branding behind them.  It’s a multiplatform title – in fact, the first Rock Band to ship day and date on the Wii as well as the PS3 and 360.  But Microsoft has managed to “own” this game in the minds of exactly the type of casual gamers that will eat up The Beatles: Rock Band — and a system to play it on.

The Bad: Microsoft managed to grab headlines with their project Natal camera system.  Essentially, at-home, real-time motion capture for gesture controls in games.  It looks like it works pretty well, and is much easier to set up than Microsoft’s earlier efforts with the Live Vision camera.  But I still can’t get excited about applying that technology to games.  I guess time will tell, as no release date or even a price point are in sight yet.

The Rest: All in all, Microsoft had a strong showing with those two reveals, and then a lot of smaller, fan service announcements.  The first ever Final Fantasy game on Xbox, a Metal Gear Solid multiplatform title, and a ton of sequels to familiar Xbox franchises rounded out their hour.

NINTENDO

The Good: Last year, the enthusiast press felt abondoned by Nintendo, with their keynote centered around Wii Motion Plus and the pack-in game, Wii Sports Resort.  This year, they made sure to take care of the hardcore set, with ample stage time given to a new Metroid game by Tecmo’s Team Ninja, The return of Mario Galaxy, and the very classic feeling New Super Mario Bros. finally brought to the big screen as a fun coop game for up to 4 players.  Charming, timeless IP goes a long way toward keeping the Big N in good graces with their loyal fans, and they delivered quite a bit of love for them this year.

wii_vitality_1The Bad: The Wii Vitality Sensor is… puzzling at best.  I’m an unabashed Nintendo fan, and I stand by the notion that failures along the way like the Virtual Boy are essential for a company to foster the free thinking brand of R&D that could deliver the Wii unto us.  But the idea of a peripheral that pinches you on the finger so it can get a read on your pulse… I just can’t see the application here into anything that would make a fun game.  I’ve been wrong before and I really hope I am in this case, but Nintendo certainly didn’t help its cause by not even really demoing this at the show.

The Rest: I was honestly hoping for a little more of a preview of what’s coming down the pipe for DSiWare and WiiWare.  They’re both underutilized networks on the best-selling pieces of hardware out there.  Beyond that, 6 new exercises and 15 minigames added to Wii Fit Plus doesn’t sound like very much new content to me.  I’d prefer to see them deliver more exercises throughout the year as DLC.

SONY

The Good: Team Ico revealed The Last Guardian, the sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. True to form, this one will be a PS3 exclusive, and looks to be hauntingly beautiful.  I will probably buy it on launch day, and cry at least once by the time I beat it.  So will you, if you happen to have a soul and a PS3.

The Bad: Sony’s gesture control (was this a requirement to present his year!?) just seems way too early to show to the public, and I’m willing to bet they wouldn’t have if Microsoft hadn’t made such a big splash with Natal.

The Rest: I’m intrigued by the PSP Go.  That tiny form factor looks to solve a lot of the issues the original design (and subsequent iterations) had to deal with, but not all.  The screen’s still not protected in your pocket, which is a much bigger deal to me than the fact that there’s only one analog nub.  Sorry, FPS fans.

It’s puzzling to me that the PSP, which has had such a hard time reaching any audience other than teenage boys is the first to market with a download-only portable system.  Not to mention, one with a $250 price tag at launch.  If they don’t market the Go hardware the right way, they could be left with a diminishing audience that feels burned about all the useless UMD’s they bought to go with their original hardware.

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Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?
Rob: No…
Dick: Not alphabetical…
Rob: Nope…
Dick: What?
Rob: Autobiographical.
Dick: (In awe) No fucking way.

No doubt inspired by the brilliant movie (and book) High Fidelity, I’ve seen a lot of music bloggers run with an autobiography-through-music meme lately: pick one record (or song) for each year of your life.  Not the best seller from that year, or even the best record, but the most important one, personally.

Of course, I immediately thought of games, and what my collection would look like if I had never sold any games, and arranged them autobiographically.  Also, I threw in a little running commentary along the list.  I’d be really interested to see some more of these, so feel free to leave a link in the comments for your list.  Without further ado, read on for Games of Our Lives (part 1)…

1981 – Donkey Kong – Obviously a banner year for me, ’81 was no slouch when it comes to pop culture either.  Three days after me,  MTV was born and video killed the radio star.  And of course, Shigeru Miyamoto introduced the world to the original 800-pound gorilla and the most unlikely protagonist since Mickey Mouse: a plucky, mustachioed hero in red overalls dubbed Jumpman.  More on him later…

1982 – Burgertime – I can’t say I played a ton of this one-screen classic in the arcade.  I was busy with other stuff like solid foods, figuring out the appropriate places to put poop, etc.  Six years later, I got this game along with my Nintendo Entertainment System, so we spent a lot of time together.

1983 – Grand Prix – We got an Atari 2600 when my sister struck a deal with my mom about not sleepwalking for a certain length of time.  It worked.  I was too young to really grasp the mechanics of a lot of Atari games at the time, but Grand Prix is about as simple as it gets.  Push the button (and Atari controllers only had one) and move the car with the joystick.  Also, I was weirdly entertained by the screen flashing bright pink whenever you crashed into something.  I’m surprised I never had a seizure or anything.

1984 – Paper BoyAnother one that I was too young to play in the arcades, but absolutely loved when it was ported to the NES.  My first paying job was as a paper boy during junior high school and I think, subconsciously, that job only appealed to me because of this game.  I can still close my eyes and hear the tally screen after each level, counting up the subscribers and non-subscribers on your route.

1985 – Super Mario Brothers – This game was mentioned in two separate speeches at my wedding, so that should give you some idea just how much of a toehold this fictional plumber has in my life.  Want more?  As I write this, a Mario figurine stares back at me from my desk.  My wife will celebrate the day I finally quit wearing my team Mario jacket from a previous job.  I had a dog named ‘Mario’ growing up, and once dressed up as Mario for Halloween. That was Halloween 2006.

I think so much of what makes the original SMB great lies in its simplicity.  There aren’t any cut scenes to watch before you jump into the game – you just know that something is happening in this strange world, and it’s all to the right of where you are now.  It was such an accessible game that everyone at least tried it a few times.  Above all, playing SMB is one of the few shared experiences that my entire generation has in common.

1986 – Bubble Bobble – Catchy tunes, great character design and a vibrant color palette really made this game stand out from other early third-party NES games.  I first started playing it on my aunt & uncle’s NES, before we had one at home.  I used to write down my level passwords on a notebook next to their TV, and my cousins would pick up the game where I left off, writing down all their passwords during their respective visits.  I’d say we invented long distance cooperative gameplay, but I would imagine this same exact process went on in every Nintendo owning home throughout the mid-to-late 80’s.

1987 – Punch Out!! – Just like Super Mario Brothers, Punch Out!!‘s control scheme was elegant in its simplicity.  Everyone could identify with the game’s protganist, Little Mac, and pretty much every guy in his late 20’s/early 30’s can name at least one of the game’s larger-than-life opponents.  At it’s core this game’s a really, really impressive test of timing, rhythm, pattern recognition and scientific method.  It’s held up very well over the years, and was a tremendous hit when it showed up on the Wii’s virtual console in 2006.  Bonus points for including Mario as a referee.

1988 – Mickey Mousecapade I got my Nintendo as a present for my First Communion, along with this game, Burgertime, and the Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt combo cartridge.  Like everyone else, SMB introduced me to platform games, and I loved it.  But the cool thing about Mousecapade was that it let ME control an iconic character that I was already absolutely crazy about.  It’s a formula that game publishers large and small continue to trade in today.  This game added some nice touches, like the “keep Minnie Mouse close behind you” mechanic, and excellent level and enemy design based on Disney classics from Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, etc.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in the days ahead!

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