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Monday, January 31, 2011

Review: Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, Virtual Console

System: NES
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Original Release: 1986
Cost: 600 Wii points

SCORE: 6/10

Super Mario Bros. It's a true masterpiece. Spot on controls, slick level design, limited but memorable power ups and one of the finest soundtracks in gaming history. When most people think of the game's sequel, they imagine flying carpets, Shyguys, nightmare-inducing Phantos, Birdos, and a whole lot of vegetables. By now the majority of gamers are up to date on their Mario history, but for the sake of those that may still be in the dark, here's a history lesson. The American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was in fact, not a Mario game, at least not at first. American gamers were given a slightly modified version of an existing Japanese game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, which was also designed by Mario creator and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The true sequel to Super Mario Bros., which goes by the name Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels looks and sounds a lot like the first game, so much so that calling the it a rom hack wouldn't be too far off. I know what you're thinking. "More Super Mario Bros.! That's a good thing, right?" Sure, The Lost Levels may resemble the original classic at first glance, but when one sits down and plays it, they discover the only things The Lost Levels has in common with it's predecessor is that it uses the same tunes and the same paint job, which is actually one of the reasons it stayed in Japan (until it was released in the SNES compilation Super Mario All-Stars in 1993.) The other reason? Lost Levels is ridiculously, insanely HARD.

This game doesn't pull any punches with it's difficulty.

There's no two player game here, just the option to play either a Mario or Luigi game. Mario controls exactly as he did from the first Super Mario Bros. Luigi has better jumping skills but skids around as if he were always in an ice stage. Lost Levels is the game that introduced the two plumbers different play styles, but never has the difference between them ever been more apparent than in this game. Only play as Luigi if you're looking for even more of challenge.

One of the many hazards to watch out for is the Poison Mushroom, darker than the Super Mushroom. These have the exact effect as touching an enemy. If you touch one as Super Mario, you'll revert to regular, small Mario. Touch a Poison Mushroom as regular Mario and you're dead. Ironically, Poison Mushrooms are found in question mark blocks. Even worse is that Poison Mushrooms can be found in hidden blocks!

Get this man a Fire Flower!

Killer "power-ups" aren't the only thing out to make your journey a harsh one. You've got red piranha plants that can come out of pipes even when you're standing on them. Then there's blowing winds that you'll have to use to make jumps, but at the same time, these can ruin your jumps. Better exercise caution when using spring boards. These things can send you soaring so high that you'll be out of the screen for several seconds and have to carefully position where you land. Lost Levels gives you lots of opportunities to warp but you'd better take a close look before you hop down that pipe. You just may end up going back a few worlds. That's right, Lost Levels actually has warp zones that send you backwards. There's a pit where you can kill yourself if you happen to come across a backwards warp, but that's still a wasted life. Not cool.

Hidden blocks yield one ups and coins but this time, they are actually needed to progress through a few stages. World 2-2 cannot be cleared, even with Luigi's superior jumps until you find a set of hidden blocks. World 3-4, the game's first maze not only forces you to be small to get though the first half of the stage, it also cannot be beaten unless you hit four hidden blocks and then run on top of them to take the higher path to continue. Unless you know these things before hand, the game will be brought to a screeching halt very early. Something that use to be secret is now used as a mandatory means to clear levels. At times you may see what looks like a running jump. So you run, jump and see that even after running, you still couldn't make the jump because you had to bounce off a Koopa para Troopa! What kinda crap is that?!

Lakitu AND Firebars? Kill me now.
Get used to seeing Bloopers in stages that are not underwater stages. Those things are annoying enough as it is in the water levels, so when did they gain the ability to fly? Speaking of underwater stages, these are packed with even more enemies than the first game, making for tight maneuvering. Unless you've got a Fire Flower, underwater levels are going to be a serious headache.

There's actually a hidden world but in order to unlock it, you have to complete the game eight times. Eight. Times. Like the rest of the game, these hidden stages are very taxing and only the most dedicated (or crazy) players will ever go through the game repeatedly to unlock them.

Bloopers in non-underwater levels? Sure, why not?!
It works for Cheep-Cheeps!

Lost Levels isn't a bad game but it's frustrating difficulty and reliance on cheap tricks really do weigh it down. The Japanese cover for Lost Levels reads "For Super Players" and that's really who the Lost Levels is for. Masochist players, step right up. Everyone else, move along.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Virtual Console Review: Kirby's Adventure

System: NES
Genre: Platformer
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Original Release: 1993
Cost: 500 points

SCORE: 8/10

Kirby has been a staple in gaming since the early 1990s. The pink puff ball's games are designed with younger gamers in mind, but still manage to be entertaining for adults. Despite being the second Kirby title ever released (Kirby's Dream Land was the first, originally released in 1992), Kirby's Adventure is widely regarded as one of the best entries in the series and one of the last great games to grace the NES.

All is not well in Dream Land. It seems like King Dedede, the land's self appointed ruler is up to no good once again. He's broken up the Star Rod, a magical device that gives the citizens of Dream Land their dreams, and scattered it across the land. It's up to Kirby to journey through seven worlds and reclaim the Star Rod pieces.

One could make the claim that Kirby's copy ability is lifted straight from Mega Man, but where Mega Man can only again the powers of defeated robot masters, Kirby can copy the powers of practically any regular enemy he encounters, provided they have something to offer. He doesn't even need to defeat them to do it (well, except for mini-bosses). All you have to do is get close enough, inhale them, press down and you've got yourself a new power to play with! The wide assortment of enemy types makes for more than 20 powers our pink puff ball can wield. These range from swords, ice, fire, wheels, stones, lasers, and a really cool mike that kills everything on the screen. Half the fun of the game comes from the cool powers at your disposal. And you're never stuck with any one ability. If the shock isn't your cup of tea, drop it and pick up something else. You can discard powers anytime you like.

Even though the game has seven fun worlds to romp through, you can clear the game in one setting with very little hassle. Getting 100% on your file may take a bit longer as certain powers are needed to find switches to reveal more mini-games, museums and the like. Still, even without going for 100%, the game does not disappoint.

Being one of the last titles to ever release for the NES, Kirby's Adventure boasts some amazing graphics. Kirby's world explodes with bright colors and even some impressive parallax scrolling on a few levels. The background visuals for the final battle are nothing short of beautiful. Composer's Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando serve up some of the finest 8-bit music ever created. The music is energetic, upbeat as to be expected from Kirby title, but still manages to be dark in tone when it needs to be. The Nightmare theme is easily one of the best tunes to ever come out of a video game.

Yes, Kirby's Adventure is an easy game but it still comes highly recommended for being crafted so well. If you've only heard why Kirby's Adventure is so great, but have never played it, plunk down 500 Wii points and experience it for yourself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

End of the Line

A failure is you.

Despite your best efforts, you failed to save the princess. The world was blown to kingdom come. You were never seen or heard from again. Yes, it's the game over screen because you fudged up. Game over screens have been a staple in gaming for as long as I can remember but some stand out more than others for various reasons. Let's have a look at some of them, shall we?

Super Mario Bros./NES

There's nothing particularly fancy about this game over screen, yet it still remains iconic. Just about everyone has played Super Mario Bros. and can identify the music right on the spot, the same goes for it's jingles and sound effects. Super Mario Bros. game over tune is often used to mark of end of a medley in live concert and orchestra performances. Not bad for a tune used to represent failure.

Silver Surfer/NES

The screen pretty much says it all, so much that it doesn't even bother with any words. Due to it's spirit-crushing difficulty, you'll be seeing it a lot.

Donkey Kong Country/SNES

This is without question one of the most depressing game over screens in the history of gaming. Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are battered, bruised and to further hammer the point home, the music just screams of despair. Never have I seen video game heroes so completely and utterly defeated.

Friday the 13th/NES

Sure, the game sucks but if you remember Friday the 13th for nothing else, let it be the game over screen because it doesn't screw around. It outright tells you that you and your buddies are six feet under. Even by NES standards, that's pretty scary.

Final Fight/Arcade

When you use a continue in Final Fight, you get a view of your character tied up with TNT getting ready to explode, all the while your in-game character tries in vain to blow it out. All the more incentive to drop a quarter in the arcade machine. But if you don't have any more money (or you're just cheap)? BOOM! The bomb explodes and it's game over for real! The SNES version had limited continues so I was forced to watch Haggar and Cody meet a terrible end numerous times. OK, it doesn't show the gory bits, but you do hear the bomb go off and that alone is pretty horrific. Seriously, what sadist thought that up?

Street Fighter II/Arcade

The numerous versions of Street Fighter II give you a beat down version of your fighter's portrait while the counter ticks down. Once it reaches zero, you hear a defeated cry as the character image turns gray and you get a game over jingle telling you just how much you suck at life. Depending on the version of SFII that you're playing, some character portraits are actually worse than others. Blanka's eyes pop in and out of his head in World Warrior through Hyper Fighting, but he looks rather tame in Super and onward. Bison looks awful all across the board but it was cranked up to eleven when Super came around. You almost feel sorry for the power-hungry madman. And that scream he lets out? *Shudders*

Chrono Trigger/SNES

If you take on Lavos and lose, one of the possible endings you can get is the highly disturbing it's-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario where the big bad launches nukes all over the globe. While not a direct game over screen, it's miles ahead of the default game over screen. This one probably gave more than a few players nightmares and the text in the above image just adds fuel to the fire.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link/NES

How's this for gruesome in a Nintendo game? In order for Ganon's minions to resurrect him, they must kill Link, and pour his blood on Ganon's ashes. So that means that each time you see the game over screen, said mooks have done just that. Ganon's taunting laughter only makes things worse. And since Zelda II is easily one of the hardest games in the entire series, well, yeah.

Mega Man 3/NES

Mega Man 3's game over is pretty interesting for a number of reason. For one, the password and game over screen are exactly the same. Two, the music is also the same. The music itself? One of the most upbeat tunes you'll ever hear, which really comes off as a surprise. How can you stay depressed with such a cheerful song playing? Maybe it's the game's way of telling you to dust yourself and try again. Or the game could just be insulting you by playing happy music.


Save your game and call it a day or get a game over and Gruntilda wins! Stealing the looks from Tooty, she goes from your everyday wretched, old witch to a smoking-hot babe! Even Mumbo can't resist Grunty's newfound hotness. As for Tooty, well, it's only natural that if one women gets the good looks, someone's getting hit with the ugly stick. Really though, it's played up for laughs more than anything.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Super Mario Plush Dolls Get!

One of the first things I got for myself in the new year were some genuine Super Mario Plush Dolls in Barns & Nobles. I was really surprised to find these things in a book store. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't even looking for them. Yeah, I knew there were video game plush dolls out there, but I'd never actively sought them out. When I actually saw some, and some of Super Mario no less, I was ecstatic.

My mom didn't understand why I'd actually want something like these. This coming from a woman that has a glass shelf to display her collection of clowns. Clowns! (Not that there's anything wrong with that) As a huge Mario fan, how could I not be interested in Mario plush toys?

From what I saw, they had everyone but Mario (figures he'd be gone), but that was OK because Luigi has always been my boy. I just had to get Yoshi as well because he looked so cute.

When I get some more cash, I'm definitely going back to pick up more.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Arthur Has it Worse Than Mario

Tale as old as time. The princess has been captured! The kingdom is in peril! The guards suck at their jobs.

When most gamers think of rescuing a distressed damsel, the Super Mario Bros. games are probably the first that spring to mind. After all, the entire plot of these games revolves around saving a woman that can't seem to pick flowers without being whisked off by the clutches of evil. The Ghost 'n Goblins games may not have the same level of fame as the Mario platformers, but the overall goal is the exact same; Arthur must save his lady love, Prin Prin. But between the two of them, I honestly think Arthur has it much worse than the plumber.

Now Mario is a pretty humble guy. He goes to great lenghts to save Peach. He runs away from angry suns, makes insane leaps over pools of lava, all to be told that "Our princess is in another castle" a whoping seven times. Any other man would have thrown his hands in the air and stormed off, but not Mario, no. He just keeps on trucking and for what? A kiss on the nose and some cake. Those are some vastly slim rewards for such a bold display of courage. I wonder if Peach realizes how lucky she truly is. Most men would never brave such odds to rescue their girlfriend. They'd probably just get a new girl, one that isn't so high maitenence.

Mario also gets a sweet arsenal of power-ups to aid him in his quest. Fire flowers, super leaves, karibo's shoe, the metal cap, propeller suits, and on and on. The fact that Mario gets such cool toys to play with along the way helps make a harsh journey a little easier.

Arthur, like Mario is also a very down to earth fellow and is more than willing to risk life and limb to get his lady back. But sweet, merciful heavens, the road that lies ahead of him is BRUTAL! He has to go all the way down to hell, fight Satan, the lord of darkness, just to win the day. Oh and the minions that Satan throws at you? Sure, most of them may be easy to defeat but they come at you in droves. The enemies that Arthur faces are like cockroaches. It doesn't matter how many of them you kill, there's always more. In fact, some of them will come back in the very same place that you've killed them, right there on the screen!

Depending on the game, Mario is able to take a few hits before he falls. Arthur? One hit and he loses his armor and he's gotta run around in his underwear. After that next hit, Arthur becomes a corpse. So while rescuing your woman in your undies might get you more bravery points, it can also be pretty dangerous, especially when the entire underworld is after your head.

Yeah, Arthur gets some special weapons to help him out, but you'll be lucky if you can hang on to them long enough for them to do you any good. On top of the hordes of enemies you'll be dealing with, the levels themselves are no cake walk. I can remember playing Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts and dying more than 20 times on the second stage. I must have been on masochist mode because I kept on playing until I passed level three. The game did not get any easier.

Remember how I said you had to go down to hell to beat Satan? Well, after you get there and take him down, you're treated to the mother of all the-princess-is-in-another-castle tropes. It turns out the entire thing was an illusion, a trick by Satan. You wanna get your girl back? You gotta play through the whole game again. Yes, Virginia, Arthur quiet literally has to go to hell and back and back again in order to truly be victorious. Bowser never had Mario go through his entire quest twice! Most folks I imagine would just shut the game off after that and I would not think any less of them if they did. The truly dedicated (insane) would go through it all again, trounce Satan, and win back the Prin Prin. Really, Arthur, is this woman worth all that?

The fact that the Ghost 'n Goblin games are infuriatingly difficult, have constantly re-spawning enemies and an ultra cruel fake out, requiring you to beat the game two times just so you can win for real proves that Mario is on easy street compared to Arthur. Mario may have more games, but Arthur's few titles trump Mario's plethora when it comes to challenge. I guess love really does make you crazy.

Old School Meme

Nuff'. Said.

From XHunter's gallery at Capcom Unity.