Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Galaxy

Yeah, I’m still doing this. It has been some time, and I might not be able to finish for some time thanks to the remaining games providing difficulty, but I am still going. Mario’s first appearance on the Wii hit me like a truck with an incredible combination of nostalgia and wonder that re-solidified it as one of my favorite all time games.

This is the game that really got me into Mario. I don’t mean that I didn’t like Mario games before Galaxy, but I never really thought about them or considered myself a Mario fan. One of my earliest memories is of “helping” my Dad play Super Mario Bros. By the time I was old enough to really play games, even Mario 3 was kind of old hat. Otherwise I was a late adopter and Mario games tended to hit early in a system’s life. I bought Chrono Trigger with my SNES, Mario World was already nearly five years old. My N64 came with Jet Force Gemini. Mario games were always just kind of there. Super Mario Galaxy changed that. I bought a Wii to play Super Mario Galaxy. I was in college with time and just enough money to get a new system. I considered the PS3 and 360, but I was mostly spending my gaming time on the DS (I put 300+ hours into Pokemon Pearl) and playing PS2 games I missed because I was a late adopter. But then I saw videos of Mario Galaxy and it was just something I had to play. It and Smash Bros. Brawl made acquiring a Wii a necessity. I never regretted it.

Super Mario Galaxy feels like a revelation despite being an obvious evolution of what came before. The first three 3D Marios follow the same pattern as the the 2D games. The first established how the games work, the next did something very different and then the third came back and perfected the first game. Super Mario Galaxy is definitely the Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario 64’s Super Mario Bros. It plays in large the same, but features more, smaller levels and more adventurous power ups.

The most striking thing about the same is the feeling of unbridled creativity. You can beat the game with the only truly repeated challenges being the mandatory Bowser fights. One level you are running atop a rolling ball controlled with the Wii remote’s accelerometer. The next is a standard Mario level. Then a level with the new Bee Mario power up. And then Mario gets stuck in a bubble and you have to use wind to blow him through some obstacles. The most amazing thing is that nearly all of these different things work and work perfectly. The only one that doesn’t work is the motion controlled manta ray surfing, which is frustrating both (?) times it shows up. Everything else is just perfection.

The game also nails the presentation. I know its low def and on the underpowered Wii, but Super Mario Galaxy still looks good. It is vibrant and cartoony. Everything just looks right. The music is unassailable; boisterous and jazzy and perfectly fitting. The presentation helps make it so easy to just disappear into this game; to sit in it and lose full days as you collect star after star. That is something that few games can do, especially now that I am an adult. It is comforting. Super Mario Galaxy is damn near perfect.

I would hop right on Super Mario Galaxy 2, but I think I loaned it to my brother, so I’ll have to track that down. I do have Super Mario 3D World, so I might start that up sooner rather than later. It depends on how quickly I can track down Galaxy 2. I still need to track down a working copy of New Super Mario Bros Wii so I can get that one. Lastly, I have Super Mario Sunshine, but I don’t currently have a working Wii or Gamecube. It looks like that is going to be the last game I finish. If I finish this; when I started I intended to end with the release of Super Mario Odyssey, playing that game on my brand new Switch. Which I still don’t have.

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Super Mario Bros Replay: New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros U, to date the last New Super Mario Bros game, is absolutely the best in this subseries. The first New Super Mario Bros was a delightful return to 2D for Mario after a decade away, New Super Mario Bros Wii (which I don’t currently have access to) improved on that first game and added the fun of simultaneous multiplayer and New Super Mario Bros 2 was mostly just more of the same, but it showed a greater mastery of level design than the previous two. This one brings all of that together for a game that is creative and interesting and masterfully designed all around.

Like NSMB2, this game came out during a glut of Mario games and I don’t think it was properly appreciated. It doesn’t help that it is currently, exclusive to the tragically ignored WiiU. Some people think it is the best Mario game, but many more have likely never gotten to experience it. Hopefully the rumored Switch port becomes reality, because this game deserves to be played by more people.

NSMBU does its best to ape Super Mario World in many ways and it mostly succeeds and at times it surpasses that SNES classic. It brings back the world map stuff that helped make that game so memorable, for starters, with alternate paths opening up based in taking specific exits. Finding those deviously hidden paths is delightful. Otherwise, it is mostly just a Mario game, if a particularly well made one. It is hard to specify how the level designs are great without going into specific examples, and I really don’t have those queued up, but the difficulty curve is masterful. Most players should be able to beat the first couple of worlds without trouble. The next few provide more challenge, especially if the player is insistent on getting the hidden coins in each stage. Then the last couple of worlds are truly challenging, though largely surmountable without too much frustration. It provides a game world that has something to offer players of all skill levels and is set up to teach players to be better at the game.

Possibly its truest triumph is in the presentation. It is the first outing for Mario and company in HD and it shows, in a good way. Stylistically it is the same as the previous “New” games, but it just looks and moves amazingly. Then there are the special levels. Certain levels use a special graphical style that is beyond anything else. The most notable example is the swamp stage with a background patterned off a Van Gogh painting. There are other examples making for a game with varied and interesting looks that perfectly complement the play.

There isn’t anything new in New Super Mario Bros U, but it does almost everything other Mario games do better than it has been done before. If this turns out to be the last game in the “New” line of Mario games, it is a fitting end. It is everything those games are at their peak.

On to, or back to, Super Mario Galaxy!

Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros 2

I thought I had written about this game back when it was released, but apparently I didn’t. That is a shame. New Super Mario Bros 2 was released amongst a uncharacteristic deluge of true Mario games. From 2009-2013, there were 6 full Mario games released, not including Super Luigi U, a full-sized DLC add-on. NSMB2 was released right in the middle of that, and it got overshadowed by the games around it. That really isn’t unfair; most of those games are straight up masterpieces. NSMB2 is not quite on that level, but it is also a decided step up from its immediate predecessor New Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately for this game, excellence is overshadowed by brilliance.

The first New Super Mario Bros game was a phenomenon, but it is actually pretty pedestrian compared to the rest of the series. As you play it, you can almost feel Nintendo working through the rust of not having made a 2D Mario game in more than a decade. That time gap also allowed people to give it a lot more leeway. It had been a long time since there had been a 2D Mario game, the sheer newness of it covered a lot of the games lesser moments. Plus, its not like NSMB was bad, it just wasn’t on the level of the first four games. After that, Nintendo followed up with the multiplayer focused New Super Mario Bros Wii, (my copy of which unfortunately won’t play, so I can’t revisit it at this time) which was its own thing. NSMB2 feels much more assured than the first game; by the time of its release the developers knew how to make Mario games. But it also adds little to the formula.

NSMB2 is not helped by its gimmick, which is based around collecting coins. It is a good thought; coins were a long time part of the series that had little to no mechanical import. Sure in Mario 64 they acted as health, but for the most part they seemed to be there because they always had been there. Without changing anything, NSMB2 emphasizes collecting coins. It almost feels like it should have been a Wario game, since he is the one that loves treasure. It adds almost nothing to the game.

That said, I still think NSMB2 has been unfairly dismissed. While it lacks that spark that makes a lot of the Mario series so great, the game is still excellent. Now that Mario games have again slowed to a trickle, the routine excellence of NSMB2 is more easily appreciated. Not all games can be Super Mario 3D World or Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sometimes just doing everything right can be enough. Sometimes you just want to play more Mario levels. That might be all that New Super Mario Bros 2 brings, but it brings it so well that it is hard to hold it against the game. At least, it is now that it is not coming less than a year after Super Mario 3D Land and a few months before New Super Mario Bros U. Those are the more essential games, but once one has finished with the essential, there is more than a little to recommend in the excellent.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 3D Land

I’ve already reviewed this game here, and I mostly stand by what I wrote about this game more than a half decade ago (dear god). Now as then I find it to be a near perfect execution of the Mario formula. Now, though, I am a little more forgiving about how much of a formula the series uses, and how much of a departure this game is from that formula.

Playing it all again, the tight design of this game shines. It starts off probably too easy. That is a common complaint with this game, though an over blown one. It is easy, but Mario games are for everybody. It eases players into things to give new players a chance to learn the ropes. That is a good thing. The counterargument is that many people grew up loving Mario games started with games that are much harder than this one. That is true, but it also misses some crucial points. One is the greater degree of competition for young players attention. Super Mario Brothers might not have been the only game in town, but it was one of only a few when it came out. Super Mario 3D Land faces a lot more competition, with children more likely to turn the game off forever if it is too frustrating. Also, 3D games are more complex than 2D games, and it would naturally take a new player longer to learn to play those than of the original Super Mario Bros. So 3D Land walks a fine line, and maybe errs by being a little too easy, by making a game playable for new players but with enough bite for veterans. It definitely does have that bite at the end; the last few of the special worlds are pretty devilish. So yes, the game makes you wait a little too long before getting to the good stuff, but that stuff is good enough to be worth the wait.

Super Mario 3D Land continues the trajectory from Super Mario Galaxy of bringing the 3D games more in line with the 2D games, with smaller, more inventive levels. Super Mario 64 turned the levels into open playgrounds, and Super Mario Sunshine continued that. The series retrenched after that. In many ways, SM3DL is as much like Super Mario Bros 3 as possible. That is clear in how much emphasis it places on SMB3’s signature power up, the racoon tail. While it doesn’t work quite the same way here as it did there, it is an excellent power up as balanced. It gives an inexperienced player a cushion for ill-advised jumps. But it also gives expert players a lot of tools. The only problem with it is that its ability to break blocks is kind of necessary at some points.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of my favorite games in the Mario series. It is the game that sold me on the 3DS and remains maybe the best game on the system. It is only an incremental movement from the Galaxy games, but it is a meaningful evolution.

Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros

I haven’t managed to get my Wii or Gamecube set up to play Super Mario Sunshine, but I did find time to run through New Super Mario Bros. Playing New Super Mario Bros after recently beating the original 2D Mario games is kind of a strange experience. It makes it clear just how much of a backwards looking title it is. It feels like an amalgamation of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, but with some regressions to the original Super Mario Bros thrown in. It has a smattering of new ideas, but it seems largely to be an exercise in stoking nostalgia.

That might be a too harsh assessment. There are some new and interesting ideas. The Giant and Mini mushrooms are good ideas, even if one is mostly pointless and the other is an over-used secret generator. I also had some fun with the turtle shell power up even though it is as dangerous as it is helpful. And while it doesn’t feel like it is breaking new ground, it also isn’t directly copying any of the previous games in the series. It takes from all over the series. The world map feels very Mario 3, the gameplay feels more like Super Mario World. The secrets in the level, with 3 hidden coins to find while poking around mostly linear levels, feels a lot like Yoshi’s Island. While Nintendo put “New” in the title, it is clearly a backwards looking game.

That kind of makes sense. New Super Mario Bros was the first new 2D Mario game in more than a decade. If you don’t count Yoshi’s Island, it had been around fifteen years since the last time Mario had featured in a 2D platformer. With Super Mario 64, the series left the sidescroller behind. And even then, there had only been that game and Sunshine since the SNES. After getting roughly seven Mario games in roughly ten years, from after Yoshi’s Island to New Super Mario Bros it was ten years with two. New Super Mario Bros was the start of a renaissance of Mario games, the first in a line when they started coming much more often.

I don’t think New Super Mario Bros holds up too well compared to other Mario games. It was successful because it was being compared to no Mario games, which it is clearly much better than. However, it lacks the spark that most of the other games have. Each of the original run of Mario games felt like an event. It was something new and different and exciting. NSMB feels like a reminder of that feeling. It feels like all old Mario games and somehow none of them. It is creating something new, because no Mario game looked or played like, but doing everything it can to feel like something old.

It also feels like Nintendo was stretching muscles they hadn’t used in a long time. It is occasionally rough, with some weak levels and too many secrets hidden behind mini-mushroom pipes, but you can almost feel the development team learning how to make this sort of game as they go. Which is why I think each subsequent New Super Mario Bros game is better than this one. This was a proof of concept, and Nintendo learned that both they could still make this sort of game and that this sort of game will sell.

For all that this game lacks the spark of the games that made Mario Mario, it is still a very good game. I did speed through it in about six or seven hours over two days. It is a lot of fun. Not gold standard, best game of all time fun, but solid fun. That is something that the Mario series has never failed to deliver. Even if this game was junk, the fact that it seems to have been the impetuous for the ongoing Mario renaissance more than makes it worthwhile.

Super Mario Replay Yoshi’s Island

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t really like Yoshi’s Island. You could argue that is because I’ve only ever played the supposedly compromised GBA port, but I think I just don’t like the game. I have played most of its recent follow ups, like Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS and Yoshi’s Woolly World, and while enjoyed those games, there is still something about them that I wasn’t quite to my taste. Compared to other Mario games, Yoshi’s Island is a slow and pokey game, focused more on exploring and collecting that traditional platforming challenges. I get why people would like it, but it is not for me.

It is a great looking SNES game. While at the time most games were either ugly 3D (Star Fox) or ugly approximations of 3D (Donkey Kong Country), Yoshi’s Island went for a detailed, colorful hand drawn look, with plenty of effects thanks to using the same advanced on cart chip that Star Fox used to make the SNES capable of its primitive 3D graphics. There is no getting around that this is one of the best looking games on the SNES. The same is true for the excellent music. And Nintendo wasn’t content to just run out the Mario World formula again, they gave the idea of a platformer a fairly extensive overhaul and produced a fresh and tightly designed game.

The problem I have is that no matter how well made the game might be, I simply prefer what came before. Super Mario World was already more of an exploratory game than previous Mario games and Yoshi’s Island slows the pace even more to focus on poking around expansive levels. I couldn’t even begin to say that they aren’t well designed, but they end up being more like mazes than obstacle courses. It is rarely that difficult to just clear a stage, but the game judges based on how well you collect things and finding all of the things in each stage is a tedious and involved process. Many people bemoan the collect-a-thons that 3D platformers became in the wake of Super Mario 64, but that trend was started with Yoshi’s Island. There are five flowers hidden throughout each stage, a perfectly fine collectable, much like the three giant coins in later Mario games. Each stage also has 30 red coins to collect, some of which are hidden, some sit in plain sight and some look like regular coins until you nab them, meaning you have to go for every stupid coin in the game on the off chance it is one of the important ones. Then there are the stars, which are tied in with the game’s worst mechanic.

The stars represent how much time you have to rescue Mario if you get hit and he becomes dislodged from Yoshi’s back. Because yes, you control Yoshi, not Mario in this game. And Baby Mario’s wails as he floats around are insufferable. To then be also graded on maintaining 30 of those damned stars is frustrating. Finally there is the egg throwing. Yoshi is able to eat just about anything and turn it into an egg. The player must then throw those eggs at just about everything. This brings up the not especially intuitive aiming mechanic and the often limited supply of eggs. It is a good idea, but one that is often too complex to be enjoyable.

I do question whether Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is really a Mario game. The unignorable fact is that the game is titled Super Mario World 2. But that doesn’t make it all that different from Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. There Wario gets top billing, but Nintendo was still hedging its bets by keeping it in the Mario series. In both games, Mario has been replaced as the protagonist and the mechanics of the game are significantly different from what came before or happened since. None of Yoshi’s Islands sequels or follow ups are considered a part of the main Mario series. I counted it at least as much because it is one of the few Mario games I haven’t beaten than for any other reason.

The thing is, I see a lot of Yoshi’s Island’s DNA in the “New” Super Mario series. It has been scaled back quite a bit, but things like the hidden giant coins feel like something from this game. Though Yoshi’s Island’s mechanics have been directly continued in what most people call disappointing follow ups – I would argue the only thing disappointing about Yoshi’s New Island is how it looks – its impact continues to be felt in the main series as well. I guess I just have to finish coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really like it.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 is without question one of the most influential games ever made. It was a trailblazer; the first game to prove that you could make a fun game in 3D. It is, however, still an early 3D game and it plays like.  Super Mario 64 kind of holds up perfectly and it kind of doesn’t hold up at all.

This was my first time playing Mario 64 in years. I was one of those oddities that owned an N64 but never owned Mario 64.  By the time I got my system, I had already played most of the game at friend’s houses and I could borrow it from any number of them at any given time.  I lived in some sort of anomalous bubble where everyone owned an N64 and the PS1 was something of a rare breed.  So I played my fair share of Mario 64, but it wasn’t a game I could easily revisit. Playing it now was surprising in how much of the game held up perfectly, but other parts had aged as badly as any game of the era did.  

Super Mario 64 is a wonderfully crafted game.  Each of its 20 or so stages are dense little environments to explore in.  They provide the perfect playgrounds in which to utilize Mario’s expansive move set.  There is an array of challenges, with stars alternately hidden and sitting in plain sight in hard to access areas.  It is a game the drops you there and just lets you explore.  Wonderfully, almost none of it is mandatory.  I don’t think you have to collect a single red coin to beat the game,  so long as you are not going for all 120 stars. Super Mario 64 is very much the proof of concept for what a 3D game could be.

Unfortunately, some things on the technical side let the game down. The camera is the big offender.  Getting it to show the needed angle is a significant battle and makes portions of the game much harder than they have any business being.  The controls also feel primitive.  Mario is fun enough to move around, but trying to read a sign is an exercise in frustration, as is lining up a punch.  It is really any of the fine controls that really hold things up.  Running and jumping feel great, but anytime you have to slow down and be precise the frustration mounts. Swimming manages to combine the worst of the camera and the controls into one awful experience.

A lot of the later stages were somewhat unfamiliar to me.  I know the first handful very well and with the exception of [water stage] can relieve them of their stars pretty quickly.  But the back half of the game, while not new territory, was much less known. Having that somewhat new experience helped me sort out how much of my affection for this game is nostalgia and how much due to it being actually good.  As I mentioned above, there are frustrations, but even in 2017 there is a lot to love about Mario 64.  Most later 3D Marios returned to more of level structure.  A wise decision in my opinion, as that gave us the Mario Galaxy games, but there is certainly something to be said for the greater freedom and exploration to be found in Mario 64.  It is a different kind of Mario game than those that Nintendo has made in the last decade, and that at least makes it interesting. The relatively small size of the stages, at least by today’s standards, also allows Nintendo make it feel open while still being pretty tightly designed.  It doesn’t have the formlessness that often afflicted N64 action games.

In many ways Super Mario 64 is a lot like Super Mario Brothers. There is something timeless about it, despite its primitive graphics, which held up much better than expected, and its imperfect controls, it still come together for something tirelessly fun and endlessly replayable.  It is the first of its kind and established paradigms that later games would improve upon.  It showed other games the way, but other games did it better.  Though not many, if any, on the N64. It might be more important than good, but it is plenty of both.

Mario Replay: Super Mario World

Super Mario World doesn’t change things a whole lot from Super Mario Bros 3. It is the closest any of these sequels has looked to the game before it, even taking into account SMW’s new SNES paint job. Yes, the series has made the jump to 16-bits, but the look of the series has started to solidify.  They aren’t going back to the drawing board every time now, or massaging an unrelated game to make it look like a Mario one.  This feeling is probably increased by my having most recently played the All-Stars versions of the NES games, were are designed to look as much like Super Mario World as possible.

In a few ways, Super Mario World reins things in from Super Mario Bros 3.  There are fewer power ups, the plethora from Mario 3 reduced to just the fire flower and the cape.  That is offset by making Mario himself more innately capable, with a new spin jump and the ability to climb on certain walls. That and the major addition of supporting character/power up Yoshi. While there  are fewer power ups, the levels are much larger. That facilitates the game’s change of focus from from speedy completion to more sedate exploration.  SMW’s levels, especially compared to its predecessor’s, are expansive.  It plays somewhat slower, but encourages a more thoughtful approach.  It helps that these larger levels are mostly very well designed.

Despite the fact that the games don’t play all that differently, there is a fundamental change to the Mario series that happens with Super Mario World.  Before that the games were all still arcade influenced action games, designed to be beaten in one sitting.  Super Mario World introduces saving and the game becomes much more exploration focused. While there are secrets in all of the games, compare what finding a secret area in Super Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros 3 gets the player with Super Mario World.  In SMB you can warp rooms, which let you skip large portions of the game.  The same is true in SMB3, where you find warp whistles that transport the player later in the game.  There secrets there are designed to help facilitate the experienced player beat the game by skipping it.  The games are designed to be beaten in one sitting, and jumping almost straight to world 4 really helps with that. Just knowing about the warp is not enough, an inexperienced player will be quickly stymied by the increased difficulty, but those who have seen it before can quickly get to the meat of the game.  In Super Mario World, though, the secrets are not there to let the player skip the game, but to open up more game to beat.  You can unlock star roads and alternate routes, but still you have to beat the vast majority of the game before you can have your showdown with Bowser.

That Super Mario World makes this change without dramatically changing how the game is played is rather remarkable. In many ways, Super Mario World is the last of the original run of Super Mario games.  After this we got Yoshi’s Island, which changes things up significantly, and then the 3D evolution with Super Mario 64. By the time the series came back to 2D with New Super Mario Bros it wasn’t really the same thing.  I’m not sure this is a bad thing.  I’m playing through the series as fast as possible, one after the other (while still taking time out for Zelda, Persona and Dragon Quest) and I would be overjoyed if there were another handful of 2D Mario games before the series went 3D.  Hell, we got 10 Mega Man games in that same time frame, and most of them are more than worthwhile.  But each of the console Mario games has a distinctive feel.  Mario World and Mario 3 might the be the closest any of the games feel to each other, with the exclusion of the glorified expansion pack The Lost Levels, and even between those two there are significant differences.  I don’t see how Nintendo could have fit in any more games without repeating themselves.  Super Mario World is the perfect end point for this vein of the series.

Super Mario World remains one of my favorite games.  In the eternal, pointless argument between Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, I am strongly in favor of the SNES game. This playthrough did nothing to change that.  I love Super Mario World, even if I usually peter out about three worlds in. Now it is on to relatively unexplored territory.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Bros 3

Again, I am just going to link to my previous Super Mario Bros 3 blog post. This is a game that I come back to fairly often and I don’t have anything in the way of fresh realizations from my recent play through. As much as I like to point out Super Mario Bros 2 as an underrated gem, its real problem is being sandwiched between possibly the most influential video game ever in Super Mario Bros and a legitimate, best game of all-time masterpiece in Super Mario Bros 3. SMB3 does essentially everything right, gets all the juice it possibly can out of the NES and most importantly is just a blast to play. It is possibly for a knowledgeable player to blast through in an hour or so and is just as much fun for a novice to wander around in for five.

Playing the three NES games as the All-Stars version did a lot to make the experience feel fresh. The games still play like they should, but there is novelty to playing these NES games when they look like early SNES games. Other than the graphics, the one big change this game brings is save functionality. Being able to save would fundamentally change the series, but all it does with these games made without that feature in mind is let you play the game at your own pace. That is not a big deal in this age of Virtual Console save states, but you do play a game differently when you have to beat it all in one sitting or start over from the beginning. I don’t think it will ever be more than a curiosity, but I am glad it exists. Next time, I’ll probably stick with the originals, but I am glad to have seen these versions of the game.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Bros 2

I started and lost a version of this blog post and I don’t really feel much like rewriting it. Especially since I’ve already said just about all I have to say about the game in my 25 Years of NES entry on it. So this one is going to be short; just a few observations from my recent play through of the All-Stars version of the game.

smb2

Super Mario Bros. 2 is a still great, and the All-Stars version just makes it better. It is already a game notable for being bright and colorful, this version just adds to that. There is just something so inviting about this game. It doesn’t have the game changing importance of the first game or Super Mario 64, nor is it as virtuosic a display of game design as Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World or Super Mario Galaxy, but Super Mario Bros 2 is one of the most pleasant games in the series to play. With the Mario series that is really saying something. Nearly all the games are pleasant, but this one stands out in that regard.

That’s it. Shortly it will be time for Super Mario Bros. 3, which might turn out to be as short as this one. It depends on how much I have to add to what I’ve already written about that game.