10 July 2013

The Great Galaxy Experiment Pt 5: The Rise and Fall of Bowser

Wrapping up a series of blog posts following my playthrough of Wii's Super Mario Galaxy. (Previous episodes: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.)

About a week since I begun playing Super Mario Galaxy, with all the main main levels beaten, and a bunch of bonus levels — 95 stars out of the total 120 in the game — I figured it was time to proceed to save princess Peach, and the universe, from Bowser. The final level was pretty fun, and challenging as well, although the final boss fight with Bowser was surprisingly easy; beat him on the first try.

Peach is safe, the credits roll. But of course the game isn't really 'over'. You can still return to get the stars you missed, and in fact there are new bonus stars that can only be gotten after beating Bowser. So what I have left are a handful of hidden stars (some I haven't found, and some I haven't managed to beat) and a bunch of 'Prankster Comet' levels. The latter are primarily about revisiting old levels with additional conditions. I've beaten a bunch of them already, but some of the later ones are pretty darn tough (and the newly unlocked Purple Comet levels I of course haven't even tried yet)...

Apparently once you get the full 120 stars you can replay the whole game as Luigi. And once you beat it with Luigi, you unlock one final level... Whew, that's a lot of gaming. I kinda doubt I'll ever even get around to getting all 120 stars first time around. In most games, this tends to be the place where I quit and move on to another game. I tend to find 'post-game' stuff boring and un-motivating. But like I've said earlier, the driving force of this game is not so much the story, but the levels themselves. So we'll just have to see...

So, to wrap up this past week... My comeback to the world of Mario turned out to be a pretty positive experience. Super Mario Galaxy is a very well put together game. Even deceptively simple on the surface, the gameplay is fun, addicting, and challenging. The level design is cool, original, and very creative. And there are a lot of levels to beat (a week of daily gaming for at least a couple hours each day, and there's still more to do). The original Super Mario Bros. was a groundbreaking title in the early days of video gaming and Galaxy proves the series is still going strong — good, solid, fun gaming in its purest form.

I will very likely have to get my hands on the sequel at some point. Before that, I may or may not still visit Super Mario Galaxy to get a few more stars. But in any case this should be the end of this blog post series. See you when I have something new to write about, and in the meanwhile, keep on gaming! Oh, and one last shout out to the Mario Marathon crew for inspiring me to play this game in the first place!

7 July 2013

The Great Galaxy Experiment Pt 4: Triumph or Agony

Continuing coverage of my playthrough of Super Mario Galaxy. (Previous episodes: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

Just a quick update on my progress, 'cause I've played my fill for tonight and have a little time to kill before bed. Played maybe a mite too much, even, and ended up giving myself a headache. But the game's still a lot of fun.

Last night was a bit of a bust. I'd neglected to prepare spare batteries for the Wii remote (I use chargeable batteries, naturally), and then, of course, the batteries ran out... I was only able to play a couple levels.

Today I finally passed 60 stars. This is the amount needed to proceed to the final stage and 'beat' the game. However, I still have plenty of levels left to play, both main levels and bonus stuff, so I'll keep playing them for as long as I can. Because that's what this game is about, really — meeting the challenges, finding the solutions, beating the levels, experiencing the crazy level design... It's not that rare that in more story driven games I'll skip some side quests that don't contribute to the story, or won't bother to find every single item along the way, because it doesn't really add anything worthwhile to the experience other than statistics. But in this game almost every level, both regular and bonus stuff, even revisiting old levels to find that additional hidden star, has been in some way interesting and different.

Right now I'm not particularly hopeful of ever 'hundred percenting' Super Mario Galaxy, though. I just got my arse handed to me by Cosmic Mario in the Cosmic Mario Forest Race level. Some 30 lives down the drain. I think the guy's been on steroids since I last met him. The first couple Cosmic Mario races were a piece of cake. But this level... Your performance has to be absolutely perfect in order to beat him. Unless there's some trick I'm totally missing...

A couple days ago I had a lot of trouble with the Bouldergeist Daredevil Run level. I haven't tried it again since that Game Over. I know I could maybe beat it with a little luck on my side, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort just now... It should be noted that both these trickiest levels thus far have been of the 'revisiting old levels with additional challenges' variety. Sure, there have been some challenges in the 'main' levels, too, but nothing I couldn't get over thus far... I hope my luck and skill last as I move on towards the final levels...

(The title of this post is a reference to a Rhapsody of Fire song. Today has included moments of both...)

5 July 2013

The Great Galaxy Experiment Pt 3: No Pain, No Gain

Continuing the coverage of my playthrough of Super Mario Galaxy (see here for part 1 and part 2).

Another day and several more hours of Mario fun. Like I said yesterday, this game is pretty addicting. I'm up to about 40 stars now, and slowly the levels seem to be getting a little more challenging. Which is to be expected, of course. Nothing I couldn't handle yet, though. OK, one bonus level I did actually quit on (Bouldergeist daredevil run, to be precise). But I actually had fun spending some 20 lives trying to beat that boss... Who'd have thunk it...

Yesterday I wrote about difficulty in video games, and how I do in fact prefer steady progress to insurmountable odds. That being said, finally defeating a challenging level is quite a satisfying feeling. Finding the right balance of challenge and progress is probably one of the greatest difficulties in game design. Particularly since each gamer has different strengths and weaknesses...

And there's no difficulty setting in Super Mario Galaxy. Although not every challenge needs to be overcome in order to 'beat' the game. Many of the most challenging levels thus far have been bonus levels. I currently have a good few more stars than are actually needed to unlock the next levels. I'm trying my best to get as many levels beat as possible, although I don't really expect to '100%' this game...

OK, onwards. I haven't talked about the technical/aesthetic aspects of the game yet. As one can expect from a major Nintendo title, it runs pretty smoothly. Not much load time to speak of. Of course the Wii has its limitations, as far as graphics processing is concerned. But then again, the colourful, simple style of Mario games doesn't call for all that much graphical detail. I hardly even notice the fact that it's not HD...

The music in the game is pretty good. I mean, sure, it's a little more light-hearted than the music I really like, but it works in the context. There's a symphonic feel to many of the pieces, and naturally plenty of nods to tunes from the old NES titles, too... There's very little actual voice acting. Not sure why, since there are little snippets of voices; they could have just as well done the whole thing, it's not like there are huge amounts of dialogue in the game...

OK, that's it for now. Till next time!

4 July 2013

The Great Galaxy Experiment Pt 2: Steady Progress

Yesterday I blogged about starting to play Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii.

Today I've had a chance to play for a few more hours. I must admit it's a pretty addicting game. I've collected about 20 stars now. The progress has been fairly steady. Of course there are occasional challenging moments, but nothing I couldn't beat with a handful of tries. Only once have I suffered a Game Over (this was caused by the moving, holey grounds of the Sweet Sweet Galaxy).

It is a well known fact that video games today tend to be easier than they were once upon a time. There are simple reasons for this: games these days are much bigger, and there are a lot of them out there. Back in the 8-bit days the average game would only have a handful of levels, so they would be made so hard you had to play the same levels over and over again in order to master them and be able to progress. But due to the advancement of technology and growth of the industry in general (big games now will have sizeable budgets and teams of dozens of people working on them) games these days can have dozens of hours of content. The way we play has changed. It's not just about mastering every aspect of a game; there must be actual progress, or else we'll get frustrated and turn to another game...

I have no qualms about this. I much prefer steady progress to the alternative. Patience has never been one of my virtues. In the NES days when you played a Mario game, you'd finish it in one sitting... or not. And then you'd play it again the next day. This seems a pretty alien idea from a modern viewpoint. I'd much rather have variety. New day, new levels, but building up a greater whole. I doubt I'd be playing Super Mario Galaxy now if it followed that ancient formula.

And yes, Galaxy has plenty of levels to beat. And if they're not enough, you can also revisit old levels for additional challenges.

Speaking of steady progress, while your progress through the game (i.e. collected stars) is naturally saved, it doesn't save your current lives. Whenever you continue a saved game, you start with the default number of lives. Lives have been relatively easy to obtain thus far, so this isn't really a huge problem, but it's still a little puzzling. If you're only taking a break, even a longish break, it might be better to pause the game rather than turn off the console lest you want to waste a bunch of lives...

Well, that's all for now. I'll be back with more thoughts about Super Mario Galaxy later.

The Great Galaxy Experiment Pt 1: This Is Crazy

When I was a kid, we had an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, as families with kids at that time were wont to do. And, like anyone who ever had a NES will know, Super Mario Bros. one through three were among the games we would play most on it. But then in the mid-90s I mostly played on PC and when I got back into consoles it was on the PlayStation, and the games I was playing then were serious, story driven RPGs, action adventures and the like. Nintendo's offerings felt like little more than toys for kids, and when the Wii came along the silly motion controllers did little to alleviate this image.

Then a few years back I stumbled on to the Mario Marathon. Mario wasn't exactly my thing, hadn't been for many years, but the people were fun and working for a good cause. And I also got to see how Mario games had evolved since the days of the NES. And... I could see the attraction. They looked pretty fun to play. Every year after the event I'd have a yearning to play something simple and oldschool and just plain fun. But I never acted upon it. Until now.

After this year's Mario Marathon ended last week (and it was, as ever, a really fun event and raised a bunch of money for charity), I begun to seriously consider buying one of the more recent Mario games, just to finally try them for myself. I ended up getting Super Mario Galaxy, which, being a few years old, was around for a reasonable price (though strangely enough it seems cheap Wii games are much harder to find than, say, PS3 games). I also wanted to experience a 3D Mario, since I had never played one. (New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks pretty cool, if you're a fan of the original 2D games, but I wanted a new experience in addition to those nostalgia kicks.) I've never really played anything on the Wii before — we've had one in the household for some time, but it's mostly been used by other family members for Wii Fit (something that I wouldn't touch with a proverbial ten foot pole).

So I will try my best to play, and actually beat Super Mario Galaxy (something I can't really say about the NES games — I think SMB2 was the only one I ever beat without the Game Genie). And naturally I thought I'd blog about the experience as I proceed.

I received the game today and have now spent a few hours playing it. So far it's been fun — and pretty darn crazy. So Bowser kidnaps princess Peach, for a change. Seriously, have they never heard of security in the Mushroom Kingdom? This time he takes her to outer space, and Mario has to travel through a multitude of galaxies searching for stars (small, five pointed things, of course — not huge balls of fire) that will give him power to reach new galaxies — and, eventually, the princess. There's, unsurprisingly, a little more dialogue than in the NES games, but yeah, story's obviously not the main point of these games. It's the gameplay. Which, deep down, is still relatively true to the origins of the series. You run around. You jump on enemies. You collect coins and items that give you additional powers. Sure, the third dimension adds a new, um, dimension to the game, but we're all used to games being 3D these days.

Getting used to the Wii controls takes a moment, of course, although essentially it's not that different from a regular game pad. Naturally it uses the motion control to some extent — there's a move you do by flicking the Wii remote, and you also need to use the pointer to do some stuff — but none of these, in my mind, really add much to the game that couldn't have been done with a conventional controller. Camera control is pretty limited, what with the controllers lacking a second stick and all...

But where Super Mario Galaxy shines is the level design. Like I said, this is a pretty crazy game. A lot of the levels are formed of tiny 'planets' — three-dimensional, of course, so you can run all around them, with gravity shifting accordingly. This can be a little disorienting at times.

But I'll (hopefully) get back to you on this, and other topics, when I've played some more of the game...