Review by Mariner
"Remember when you were young?"
In 1985, Mario ushered in a new era of gaming. The platformer genre moved beyond the limited scope of Pitfall or Jungle Hunt as the original Super Mario Bros shattered the old way of playing these games. It set the standard, and every platformer afterward owed its thanks to this strange plumber. Eleven years later, Nintendo did it again. Once again, an entirely new style of games was created when Super Mario 64 burst onto the scene, and again the industry followed in its footsteps. But this time, new beginnings brought about the end of the old, and this new platformer is just not as good as its ancestor.
It seems that, yet again, Princess Toadstool has been captured by Bowser, and yet again the only one who can rescue her is Mario. But he no longer moves through level after level of improbably designed architecture to hunt her down; now he must collect stars. Mario jumps around the castle looking for 15 different worlds, usually represented by paintings. By jumping through these paintings, he enters three dimensional landscapes, each with a different theme and structure. There are a total of 7 tasks for him in each one, and he is rewarded a star after completing each one. These tasks range from reaching a certain point in the level (like the peak of a mountain), defeating bosses, solving simple puzzles, and collecting 100 coins. There are also 15 secret stars hidden throughout the castle, making a grand total of 120 stars to collect. Thankfully, only 70 are needed to finish the game, so you do not need to go nuts trying to get those few annoying stars.
As with the change in objective, Mario also has a new set of moves to usher in his new 3-dness. Say goodbye to shrinking and growing and throwing fireballs. Instead, Mario punches and kicks and stomps the ground. And no longer does a simple push of the A button send Mario leaping across the stage. Now there's all sorts of different jumps you can do: the standard jump, the triple jump, the long jump, the backflip, and jumping off a wall. Mario can also gain the powers of three caps: the power to fly, turning into liquid metal, or the ability to walk through certain items. And with his increased offensive abilities comes a greater defense. Mario can now take up to eight points of damage, and his health can be refilled simply by collecting coins or even jumping in the water. Which means you have plenty more opportunities to play with these cool moves, right?
Sadly, this brings us to the major technical issue with the game - the controls. Simply put, Mario will never do what you want him to do. They feel floaty, especially considering Mario can't stop quickly, turn quickly, or generally get his bearings straight. Getting your jumps right is impossible too - I can't count the number of times Mario just decided to sit on the ground rather than perform the long jump. Or he decides to jump off at the wrong angle, apparantly preferring to jump in a lake of fire rather than the safe platform. Or he's too close to the wall, and so bounces off into his doom. Part of the problem is the camera, which never seems to be in an optimal place. It makes it extremely difficult to walk in a straight line, gauge the correct distance, or grab onto an enemy. I've found myself repeating tasks multiple times, simply because I couldn't get Mario to control correctly. He'd do the wrong jump, run off a cliff, or completely miss the enemy I was aiming for. It's rather pathetic that I barely played one level simply because getting to it was so frustrating, and this is one fault that should never have been in the game. I don't care if it's the first of its kind; that doesn't make me feel better when I'm not having fun.
But fortunately, that is the main impediment to the fun, and once you get past that aspect the game's rather cool. Here, the emphasis is on exploration and variety. Some stars will force you to explore every last inch of the level, looking for that last red coin or a way to get up to the top of the mountain. Others are more straightforward and more like the platformers of yore, forcing you only to jump over obstacles and take the correct route to the right locale. Perhaps you'll be battling a boss next, or perhaps navigating a treacherous series of obstacles. Still more require you to solve simple puzzles, such as opening treasure chests in the correct order or using your caps to their fullest extent. And don't forget the races with Koopa the Quick, or sliding down a long and treacherous slope, or catching a stray monkey, or getting catapulted by an enemy to the correct place. Heck, there are even stars hidden throughout the castle and not a part of any level, so be sure to explore every inch of land even outside the regular stages. In short, stars are everywhere.
I think this is probably what is most appealing about this game, at least to me. The fact that there is just so much to do, and so much variety, make this game seem like the possibilities are endless. Indeed, every time you start up the game you can do something entirely different. And with the wide range of options and stages, you can play the one that tickles your fancy at that particular moment. There's bound to be quite a few stars that seem like fun, and you can easily skip the ones you don't feel are worth the effort. It also means the game will last you awhile and keep your interest the entire time. With 120 stars, you'll be playing this game for a long time hunting them down. And because there are so many objectives, you can easily feel some sense of accomplishment after every gaming session as you watch your star count slowly rise. Some of those stars are easy to obtain and others are quite difficult, and in the end getting all 120 will prove to be a grueling task. And although you may not feel like getting all of them, you'll still want to get as many as you can.
That's not to say they're all exciting and fun, unfortunately. Running around finding 100 coins on each level isn't exactly the most appealing thing in the world to me, and some of those other stars required more pain than they were worth. The bosses in particular were pretty boring to fight. Most required you to attack from behind, and with the shady camera and controls, this often proved quite difficult and extremely annoying. I found myself overshooting the bosses, running into them, or getting behind them but not able to actually grab on. Fighting Bowser was a chore, and one I wasn't fond of. I died against him 12 times in a row - not because I didn't know what was doing, but because the stupid camera and even stupider way of fighting him just did not help out at all. And any other type of combat was often boring and pointless. Furthermore, some of the stages weren't much fun. I hate swimming (it's far too slow), yet there were two entire stages devoted to it (and a third where it was extremely significant). So I can't honestly say the design of this game is perfect, as there are a few significant aspects besides the controls that could have been better.
And yet, I did enjoy the game. Running around as Mario was pretty cool, and seeing 3D representations of classic enemies or hearing remixes of old tunes is always neat. You can't deny the game has a lot of character, with its colorful levels, unique overworld hub, and ambient effects. Besides, hearing Mario say ''okie-dokie'' or ''boing!'' is kind of funny, or at least fun. And there's a certain delight in this new genre - this seemingly endless and all encompassing adventure game, a delight I did not expect. And yet, I still felt somewhat hollow playing it. I still felt that something was missing (besides those infernal controls!), something important.
You see, this game may be all fancy and cool, but it is NOT Mario. Take the controls, for instance. In the platformers of yore, it was absolutely imperative to have precise control, so you could jump and run through the levels with ease. They were almost invisible to the game, an unconscious event, as you had a seamless transition from what you tried to do to what Mario actually did. Here, you constantly have to worry about the controls, readjusting the camera or taking it slow to insure you don't screw up. Furthermore, The original Mario was never about looking around or performing odd tasks - it's beauty lie in creating such unique level design as to provide plenty of challenges and inventions using the same basic motions. Here, the variety of moves and styles insure that such obstacles remain at a fairly simple level. Levels were short and sweet in the original, allowing you to replay them over and over until it became a part of you. Although the multiple stars in each level did a lot to help that experience in this game, you still never get as used to the levels as with the old game. And that's what's missing - the sense of unity between you and the game, the immersion the original managed to achieve and this one failing to do.
In all honesty, that hurts me the most. I know I'm supposed to judge a game by itself, but I can't help it. The 2D platformer was one of the very few genres I actually liked, and this game killed it. The old way of playing is all but gone, with only a few stragglers (Klonoa, Kirby, etc) remaining. And I can't forgive this game for being the cause of a major draught in these games I thoroughly enjoyed on the NES. This punching, star collecting, floaty Mario is no match for my love a good ole tanooki suit and linear levels. Despite a few moments, this just doesn't provide the same thrills as the old Mario, doesn't provide the same amount of enjoyment or immersion. Yes, it's a pretty good game. Yes, this new genre has potential, even if it dirties the pristine name of platformers. But it's not that great. It has its own share of problems, most notably poor controls and stupid battles. Finding stars may have been fun, but it was a hollow, empty feeling. On the whole, it was pretty decent...
...but it's not Mario!
Final Score - 6.9
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 03/11/04
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