Saturday, November 27, 2010

My return to the plastic jungle

Dr. Kong I presume?

It has been a while since I last visited the DK family and their pre-rendered home. Some things have changed since then. It turns out the wonderful plastic jungle is no longer run by the British gentlemen over at Rare. Instead it has been taken over by a bunch of Texans from Retro Studios, mostly known for their work on abandoned space stations. Also the jungle doesn’t seem quite as plastic as before, probably due to it now being rendered in real time by the little white box underneath my TV.

Some things on the other hand have been left unchanged. Besides the camera still being stuck in a side-view angle, the monkeys still prefer to travel in groups of two (this time with Diddy riding on Donkeys back) and their affinity for riding around on Rhinos appear unchanged. Also there are a lot of money being launched out of explosive barrels and highly dangerous minecart rides as well as the famous (some would say excessive) collectathon everyone loved to hate in the Rare games. There are K-O-N-G letters, hidden puzzle pieces, large coins and bananas to collect.

So even if the talented Texans went along and changed around some things, I still felt very much at home in the plastic jungle with my hairy friends.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oh, Come On!

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll is a cute and fun little Wii game. The graphics are charming and the controls are really good. Unless of course one decides to use the Balance Board which makes the game near uncontrollable.

I would have really enjoyed it if it wasn't for one detail that drove me absolutely mad. Every time you beat a world you have to sit and watch the 10 minute ending credits. Usually this treat is reserved for when you beat the game, this time Sega has decided to be a bit more generous. There are seven worlds in Step & Roll so you will spend a lot of time watching those credits over and over again. And this is not a long game, I probably beat it in around five hours. So a large part of those five hours was spent watching the credits roll. Sure there is a silly little minigame to play while watching the credits but that doesn't help much since it's the type of meaningless minigame your tire of after 2 minutes.

Either the developers over at Sega have a sadistic bent and love to torment their fans, giving the difficulty of the Monkey Ball series that's not a wholly impossible proposition. Or they just suffer from an extreme need for attention. Maybe this is their way to make up for the unfair practice in the early years of the industry when publishers refused to allow developers to put their names in the credits.

I don't know the reason for this highly annoying oddity, what I do know is that it made me want to tear my hair out in frustration. My time has value too Sega! When I only mange to squeeze a few hours of gaming a week in to my busy schedule this is not what I want to spend them on. What's sad is that in six months all I will remember about Step & Roll is likely those never ending credits, not the games charming style, its excellent controls or its challenging yet very satisfying gameplay.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tracing the popularity of the King of Koopas

The latest game in the Mario RPG series is Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. Where Bowser joins in as one of the playable characters. This is not the first time he has stepped out of his traditional role as the fire breathing final boss. He was one of the playable characters in Super Paper Mario and then of course there are all the Mario sports games, where he is an obvious star.

This honor surely stems from the vast love for King Koopa among Nintendo fans. But this begs the question why is Bowser so bellowed when most gamers struggle to remember the names of his fellow final bosses. Who remembers Wart, the evil humanoid frog you face at the end of Super Mario Bros 2? What about King K. Rool from the Donkey Kong games, when did you think of him last? Or what about what about Emperor Andross from the Star Fox series, even I had to look up that guys name. Mario is arguable the most famous video game character so some of that fame is bound to rub off on to his archnemesis but I feel that this is an insufficient explanation, Bowser is simply too popular. Instead I would like to trace the popularity of Mushroom Kingdoms infamous bad guy back to design of the very first Super Mario Bros. The game where Bowser first made his appearance.

Unlike later platformers the original Super Mario Bros only had one boss, you had to face him in a number of incarnations of increasing difficulty but it was always the same guy, the same crazy eyed sprite. At the end of the forth level of every world you came face to face with Bowser. This ensured that every kid growing up during the NES-era had to battle him innumerable times. Unlike your traditional last boss which given the difficulty of games back in the day, only the most skilled kids ever got to even see. I was never good enough at Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World to reach Bowser back in the day. But I surely got to develop a close relationship with him in Super Mario Bros.

Back when games had a minimal story and hair tearing difficulty the last boss all too often remained a mystery, not Bowser. When I think about it the only antagonist that can rival Bowser in popularity would be Dr. Robotnic. The early Sonic games like the Mario games had Sonic facing off against Dr. Robotnic at the end of every zone. Another case where this type of game design surely contributed to the popularity of one of the mediums best known bosses.