The Mezunian

Die Positivität ist das Opium des Volkes, aber der Spott ist das Opium der Verrückten

Great Stages: World 6-5 o’ Super Mario Bros. 3


I’ve always been interested in appraising level design for various reasons:

  1. Levels were always my favorite part o’ video games & level design was the part o’ game development that interested me the most.

  2. It’s not focused on as much by most reviewers as what seems to me much mo’ shallow elements o’ a game, such as story or aesthetics ( ne’er mind the fact that the average video game praised for its story comes nowhere close to the storytelling quality o’ great literature, while literature can’t come close to doing what well-designed levels can ).

  3. A lot o’ the work I find online is, not to poison the well to make my own pitiful work look good, not good. I don’t mean that they have bad opinions — that their conclusions are “wrong” — but that they don’t bother to go into detail on the “why” — the most important part. Most just say their favorite or least favorite levels & leave it @ that; others give shallow reasons like “too hard / too easy”.

The problem is, whenever I try to make some grand series appraising every level o’ a game, I can ne’er finish it. Mainly ’cause, honestly, most levels in every game aren’t worth writing ’bout. ¿What’s there to say ’bout that 2nd tank level in Super Mario Bros 3.?

Thus, I’m cadging a chip from some random YouTuber & just writing ’bout particular levels worth writing ’bout, ’cept with words ’stead o’… words o’er video, ’cause video-editing is ’bout as palatable as having my wisdom teeth yanked out. Technically, I already did that with my hyperbolic article ’bout that terrible level, C-3 o’ Lost Levels, eons ago. So let’s balance that out with a good level.

Super Mario Bros. 3 – World 6-5

Map courtesy o’ KingKuros @ The Video Game Atlas.

I’ll start by defending an oft-criticized level. World 6-5 is that infamous cave level wherein you have to get a Raccoon Leaf ( if you don’t already have 1 ), grab a Koopa shell, & fly up into an alcove & throw the shell to kill some Nipper Plants blocking the way to the pipe to the end o’ the level. This is 1 o’ those levels that’s “bad” ’cause it’s challenging. Worse: it’s not challenging in the typical “keep trying pixel-perfect jump till you robotically learn it through muscle memory”, but a puzzle that requires creative thought.

But it’s 1 that’s perfectly fair & intuitive. Once you find out the level wraps round, you know there’s an alternate way to win. There’s also a high chance that just before it loops, you’ll get a Raccoon Leaf; if not, there’s ’nother respawning ?-block with a Raccoon Leaf just after where the pipe drops you off @ the start o’ the cave. The game has consistently taught you that you can reach different areas by flying; ¿why shouldn’t it finally expect you to have to fly to beat a level by now? Eventually, flying round, you’ll find the alcove with that tantalizing other pipe, blocked by Nipper Plants. Whether you already realize you can’t attack them with your tail from ’bove or learn it the hard way, you’ll ’ventually run out o’ options up here & ’ventually have to go back down to search for mo’ answers, & ’ventually you’ll notice that conspicuous lone Koopa in a sea o’ Buster Beetles.

This Koopa lived a cruelly monotonous existence ’fore Luigi took him out o’ his misery.

Despite this level’s challenge, it’s nice ’nough to ne&rs

Actually, e’en the many Buster Beetles & the weirdly special throwable bricks they toss @ you work well. In addition to providing many ways for them to make you lose your Raccoon Leaf, challenging you to defend 1 o’ the keys to victory, they focus the level on the issue o’ throwing, which hints to you that throwing something @ the Nipper Plants is the answer. You may e’en try flying up with a throw block & fail, — or maybe succeed: I’ve ne’er tried, actually — only to later stumble ’pon the lone Koopa.

Despite this level’s challenge, it’s nice ’nough to ne’er completely screw you out o’ it — ’less you die, ’course: @ the end o’ the main path there’s a perpetually-respawning ?-block with a Raccoon Leaf before a pipe that leads back to the start. So e’en if you get hit & lose a Raccoon Leaf, you can always get ’nother. Koopa shells, ’course, also respawn ’pon entering & exiting a pipe, in case you accidentally kill the only Koopa.

I think this level shows a prototype for Super Mario World’s generally superior puzzle-based level design. It feels right up there with the kind o’ memorable puzzles like Yoshi-jumping under the goal post o’ “Cheese Bridge Area” or bringing a Yoshi to the end o’ “Valley of Bowser 4” so you can lick the key through the solid blocks. But it also has Super Mario Bros. 3’s brevity & focus, whereas Super Mario World levels sometimes had a tendency to be o’erly long & have jarring, unfocused, irrelevant extra parts — you know, those side rooms that don’t fit, like that pointless coin snake in “Donut Ghost House”, that P-balloon cave section in the underwater level, “Donut Secret 1”, or that outside section with the single flying Hammer Bro in the otherwise underground level, “Chocolate Secret”. Thus, this level combines the best elements o’ Super Mario Bros. 3 & Super Mario World’s level design.

It can also be rather fast-paced if you know what you’re doing. E’en if you start small, you can pop in the pipe near the beginning to grab a Mushroom, & then grab a Raccoon Leaf in the ?-block in the cave. Then just dodge all the enemies to the Koopa & fly up to win. Super Mario World, & some levels in Super Mario Bros. 3, infamously had a tendency to have ploddingly slow levels, as Sonic ads relished pointing out, ’specially Super Mario World’s puzzle levels. The fact that the aforementioned puzzles from World required you to get to the end o’ relatively long levels a 2nd time to get the 2nd exit doesn’t help. I almost mentioned the secret exit to “Valley of Bowser 2”, with its subtle clue that you can stay on the edge o’ 1 o’ the rising blocks you’re s’posed to be running from to reach a secret area ’bove the room… but that exit requires you to go through a direly long & slow autoscroll section, which should ne’er be encouraged. That this level was able to have a creative puzzle without needing to bog down the player’s momentum makes it deserve extra puntos.

If this level has anything you could call a flaw, it’s that, other than the graphics, it doesn’t truly fit the icy theme o’ its world. I guess the throw bricks look kind o’ icy… but these have appeared since World 3, & they don’t make sense as ice blocks. ¿What ’bout ice makes it mo’ susceptible to being picked up & thrown? & if they’re s’posed to be ice, ¿why aren’t they affected by fire when other ice blocks are?

But that’s the most anal-retentive o’ complaints, & there’s something to be recommended in a li’l mid-world variety. It’s not as if this level is jarringly contradictory to the ice theme; it’s just theme-neutral & could fit in any world.

I probably mentioned it already in my big article comparing Super Mario Bros. 3 & Super Mario World, but I consider World 6, ’long with 7, to be the high point o’ Super Mario Bros. 3’s level design, with tricky, clever block arrangements, so it does fit in that way. A’least it fits better than the 2 underground water levels in this world ( whose existence admittedly undermines my “high point” point before ).

Swimming while taking pictures is bad for your health.

Posted in Great Stages, Video Games

The Nostalgic Double-Standard o’ Difficulty

After o’er a decade o’ ne’er truly playing a Wii1, I got 1, & having tried the Wii Mario games, — the Super Mario Galaxys & New Super Mario Bros.: Wii Bootleg Ourselves — I’m amused by the indignant scoffing o’ grown-adult Mario fans who grew up with the series & feel the need to measure their own dick by criticizing these games for being “pathetically difficult” all throughout el entrered2. I would agree that these games are, indeed, pathetic, but not due to any lack or non-lack o’ difficulty.

There are a few reasons I find this amusing. 1, I thought society evolved past the ideas that a game’s quality came from its difficulty. ( Mario Paint is absolute shit: you can’t e’en lose. ¿What kind o’ liberal everyone-wins garbage is this? )

But the most amusing part is something I thought everyone knew, but apparently everyone forgets: Mario games have always been “baby-easy”. Super Mario World lets you just ’bout fly o’er everything with a cape, or if not, usually a blue Yoshi; Super Mario Bros. 3 drowns you with so many lives & powerups that you’ll run out o’ room before you finish the game, & throws fire flowers & raccoon leaves @ you throughout levels. E’en the original Super Mario Bros. was easy for its time. I can think o’ literally only 6 NES games I can beat, & Mario games make up a full 4 o’ those.

Mario fans apparently forget this ’cause they still remember playing those games as, well, babies, while now as grown-ass adults they whine that the games still aim for that target demographic.

E’en Miyamoto apparently forgot this, as he “admitted” that he regretted making the 1st New Super Mario Bros. “too easy”, when he should regret intentionally sabotaging it & the whole series ’cause he hates 2D games & doesn’t want to work on them. Seriously: nobody who directed Super Mario Bros. 3 makes games these bad on accident.

But ’cause I’m a scientist in game-hipster-dialectical-analysis o’ the highest caliber, I shall prove to you, objectively, that those ol’ “hardcore” games that Mario fans are talking ’bout — Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 — e’en the original Super Mario Bros. — are, in fact, easier than these shitty not-new-anymo’ Wii Mario games & that these games are shitty for completely different reasons.

For New Super Mario Bros.: Wii Have No Artistic Value this’ll be easy, thanks to the fact that it rips off Super Mario Bros. 3 so much ( without understanding what made those elements it stole work in its own context — i.e. fucking up ripping them off ).

A few comparisons:

Super Mario Bros. 3 has its ice world world 6; New Super Mario Bros. Wii Put Mo’ Thought into these Belittling Subtitles than they Did in the Actual Game has it in world 3.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii Are Tired o’ these Subtitles has a wind-based level in world 2. The only classic Mario game with wind is Lost Levels — & it’s 1 o’ the most controversial aspects o’ that game. ¿What drugs were Nintendo on when they put a wind section in world 2?

Harder enemies appear generally earlier in NSMBW than earlier Mario games. Hammer Bros. & Bullet Bills, which were a formidable late-game enemy in the original Super Mario Bros., & which appear a bit later in Super Mario Bros. 3, 1st appear by world 3 @ the latest in NSMBW.

¿Remember those infamously “hard” levels in Super Mario Bros. with the hopping fish o’er bridges in World 2-3 & 7-3? Well, NSMBW is such a pansy game that it has a level like that in World 4, but with falling donut blocks ’stead o’ a sturdy bridge. Meanwhile, that hardcore game, Super Mario World, had you hopping o’er slowly hopping dolphins that can’t hurt you o’er safe water with a spiky fish giving itself a heart attack chasing you @ the speed o’ snail.

NSMBW randomly decides that waggling the Wii dick doesn’t do anything, making it impossible to pick up propeller blocks or frozen Dry Bones, ’cause the Wii is an amazing system & Nintendo was too braindead to figure out how to make a basic fucking button do that e’en though every classic Mario game was able to; all classic Mario games have actually functioning controls. To be fair, the original New Super Mario Bros., & presumably its sequel with its Golden Fire Flower that wrecks economies & makes Ron Paul commit sepeku, also had fully-functioning controls, so this was probably just a Wii problem. I don’t know ’bout the Wii-U, since I ne’er bought 1, & apparently hardly anyone else did, so we can chock up New Super Mario Bros. Wii-U & its millions o’ Luigi-fueled rom hacks & Super Mario 3D World as “games nobody cared ’bout”3.

Also, admittedly, I didn’t play past World 4, ’cause Zzzzz… So maybe the game becomes ridiculously easy afterward. I wouldn’t put it past them. Look, I try to be comprehensive, but I just spent hours trudging through the 2 Galaxies & almost doing Galaxy 1 twice ’cause o’ its dumbass 100% bullshit. Demanding I play New Super Mario Bros. Wii comprehensibly is like saying I have to play every game on the Jaguar to know it sucks: we all know that game sucks. It’s not like New Super Mario Bros. Wii suddenly starts revolutionizing gaming in World 5. Also, I’ve watched entire gameplays o’ this game, so I kinda know it doesn’t.

Literally the only thing I could think o’ that NSMBW did that was easier than Super Mario World was that it saved the amount o’ lives you have. I was e’en shocked to remember that they actually e’en kept the 90s-era save-game limits, which is funny, ’cause Donkey Kong Country Returns & Super Meat Boy didn’t need that, e’en though those games are actually good hard games. It’s almost as if using save-game limits as an attempt to create “difficulty” is pathetic & stupid.

Some may defend these with the idea that NSMBW is for people used to the classic Mario games, which is why it uses late-game elements earlier. This is basically a way to say that NSMBW is a romhack. 1: this doesn’t contrast my point, only argues that it’s a “good thing” that NSMBW is harder, which is irrelevant; 2: ¿why didn’t Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, which came nearer after their predecessors, need to aim for creating an “extra challenge” ( without the “extra” part ) for “Mario veterans”, as if playing Mario games is anything close to fighting in war-torn countries.

Saying that New Super Mario Bros. Wii Still Can’t Believe We Put a Fucking Wind Section in World 2 sucks ’cause it’s not mo’ like some dumb kaizo rom hack makes no sense. It doesn’t suck ’cause they didn’t put in mo’ Hammer Bros.; it sucks ’cause it doesn’t have hardly anything “new” in it.

& then we have the Super Mario Galaxies vs. Super Mario 64, where I’ve read throughout the internet that Galaxy is s’posedly the “easiest” o’ the 3D games for such sane reasons as 1 guy not being able to waggle his N64 controller to give Mario a bit mo’ air in Super Mario 64 &… most who just don’t give a reason, it’s just received “wisdom” spread onward like STDs. Like before, I can objectively prove this wrong:

People criticize Super Mario 64 for the 100-coin stars being too “hard” to get; but name 1 star in which you had to not only collect 100 coins, but do so within a time limit while every floor crumbles under you or starts flipping its shit.

Name a single star in Super Mario 64 ( or Sunshine ) that didn’t allow you to get hit a single time.

Name a single time holding downward makes you go forward in Super Mario 64 or Sunshine or any game, actually. Seriously: they were drunk when they programmed the controls for the Galaxy games.

For fuck’s sake, Super Mario 64 lets you heal yourself fully just by jumping in water.

Granted, you could say that the Super Mario Galaxy games are simpler than 64 & Sunshine in that its just a dumb action game that makes you go straight ( just shown @ a stupid angle, ’cause o’ wacky gravity cinematics ), while 64 & Sunshine actually had puzzles & exploration & depth. That’s a mo’ accurate explanation for why the Galaxy games suck — but it wasn’t ’cause they didn’t make you collect every purple coin in Luigi’s Purple Coin Catastrophe or didn’t have lava rocks randomly fall everywhere… Which they did do in a star in Super Mario Galaxy 2 & in a level in the 1st New Super Mario Bros.

Stupidly ’nough, Super Mario Odyssey actually is easy ( & yet is actually good, unlike just ’bout every Mario game made for the Wii ), but Miyamoto claimed that it’s for the “hardcore” players, unlike Galaxy. It’s a good thing Miyamoto clearly designs games based on his intuition & not his analytical skills.

Posted in Video Games

Let’s Code a Crappy 2D Platformer Like Millions o’ Other People on the Internet & Lose Interest & Give Up Only a Few Months In, Part XXXIV

Play in the Background

For some reason, whenever I claim that the next level I make will be something, that’ll turn out to be a lie.

This is a rehash o’ a gimmick from Legend of the Four Switches, ’cept half-competently implemented so that you can’t just jump on the switches themselves to bypass the whole gimmick.

I also gave this level a stageplay graphical theme, including checkered floor graphics that I later realized look a bit too similar to Super Mario Bros. 3’s… O well: I’ve seen plenty o’ commercial games outright steal the original Legend of Zelda staircase or Super Mario Bros.’s bricks far mo’ closely than my checkered ground.

Implementing the gimmick was simple: it just uses the on & off switches, having “on” be you in the background & “off” as you back in the foreground. Background blocks are set to only be solid when the switch is on, & foreground blocks are set to only be solid when it’s off. Also, foreground blocks have priority ( drawn o’er non-priority sprites ) when the switch is on & not when the switch is off.

Source code

Posted in Boskeopolis Land, Programming