I’ve been playing Super Paper Mario for the Wii since it came out, and I finally “Solved” it, that is, I got to the part where it shows you the credits after telling you how everything ended.
I choose games I’m going to get really involved in carefully these days; lack of time and all that. What I look for is a sense that a game has been crafted in some fashion, and not just shoved out the door on a nasty out-of-thin-air selling schedule. Games that are created over the course of years are rare these days, with the obvious exception of games that are being worked on as a hobby. And there’s these sets of folks within Nintendo creating games to this level, and I buy them, and I am very happy.
I enjoyed Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Thousand Year Door, Zelda: Wind Waker and Zelda: Twilight Princess for this reason; all of them had the sense of being self-enclosed worlds, slavishly worked on by people who were all geared towards making the game better. This is especially the case in the 3-D games, where you walk around and realize these “level maps” feel like actual places; I recall a couple times playing Twilight Princess, far involved in the plot and gathering of the whatsis and the rebellion of the whosis, and I would stop to admire the view.
So much cheating and hackery has had to be done in the past to make a game feel like it’s bigger than it is, that I still get surprised when I find cases within the game that it’s not a cheat. The idea of “well, if I do this crazy thing and pile on this other crazy thing, I’ll end up in this location it never expected me to go” and then you do it and there’s an object up there, basically saying “so, what took you so long”… I wonder if newer generations of game players feel that. I marveled once at an airport, watching two seven-year-olds screwing with a touch-screen tourist kiosk, and realized they had never known a time you couldn’t walk up to some TVs and touch them and have it do something. The idea is neither weird nor miraculous nor even unusual to them. Maybe the kids who come up simply expect a decent game to have extended out to hundreds of locations and have nearly-fully-articulated world interaction within those locations? if so, keep yelling at the game companies; I’m benefiting.
I think the best indication to me about these high-ticket Zelda/Mario games is how the development cycles sometimes outlast the platform. At some point, this was going to be a pure GameCube game, and then they strapped on the Wii controls. For me, they work perfectly fine and seem to have always been designed for it; I especially like the pointing feature where I take the controller and aim it at the screen, turning it into a cursor that can give me more information on any of the objects in sight. The swap from 2D to 3D and back was also wonderful. All in all, a good game.
Most notably, this is actually something like the fourth game in a “series”, consisting of Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door, and now Super Paper Mario: Keep Buying Paper Mario. The structure used to be more like a turn-based role-playing game, which wasn’t entirely my favorite but it was a lot of fun. Now they ripped all that “turn-based” part out, making it, essentially, the largest game of Super Mario in the entirety of history. With only the slightest pretension of its RPG roots, now the game’s basically a really involved video game, and hooray for that. Hardcore Gamers will probably hate it, but hardcore anything hates everything.
One other thought. I remember when I was working at Psygnosis, just before the Playstation started to hit, we had one in the office. But not just any one; we had a development playstation, which was blue and had, critically, 8 megabytes of memory, just like the Playstation was going to have. But since Sony sucks, they cheaped out at the last possible moment and made it 2 megabytes. A bunch of games were stuck in the middle, where they had to completely rejigger these great-looking games to fit in 1/4th the memory. One of these was the spectacular Lomax, which had multiple backgrounds scrolling by as you jumped around on different platforms. I’d show it to people and they’d go “wow”. After the Great Cheaping Out, pretty much all those scrolling backgrounds had to go. All that work, gone. Meanwhile, in Paper Mario, I see visual effects that probably eat 2 megabytes just warming up. And the multiple scrolling backgrounds that shot the old game Shadow of the Beast to the top of the charts are all over the place here, adding that flair and style just because they can.
When I found Super Mario in a crappy arcade in Carmel, NY next to a scary pet store and down the strip mall from a horrible record store, I never could have imagined that 20 years later I’d be playing variations with almost all the same game mechanics. And way better graphics. In my house. Waving a white wand.
OK, I knew some sort of white wand was going to be involved.
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