Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly: Marios

at 9:27 AM
The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly takes a look at a character archetype and breaks down where it's gone right, wrong, or just plain weird. While the effort may seem perfunctory, we hope to examine the consonance (or dissonance) between high-level concepts and their practical execution. 

I'm not here to tell you the best Mario game. I wouldn't dream of it. That's for you and your local priest or medicine man to resolve. Rather, I'd like for us to have a calm, level-headed discussion about which incarnations of Mario should and should not exist. 

The only rule of Mario is that no one fucking cares what he's doing, he has to be fun. Funsylvania. Mario is an ideal. Almost nonstop since his appearance in Super Mario Bros., he has served as the pattern from which other player-characters derive. He is the patron saint of muckin' about, against whom all shall be judged. Everyone wants to be Mario, except for a brief and sad period where they wanted to be Sonic, who himself is really just another wannabe. At his best, we're thrilled just to steer Mario around a flat (Donut) plain. But every plumber has his fall from grace....

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The Good: Mario (Super Mario 64)

No one even understood how to make a 3D character until this. This Mario is the first and best character to deliver the sensation of running around a real environment just for play. There's no streamlining, no shortcuts around physical logic for the sake of gameplay - Mario runs around like a person would run around (realize that even to this day, the majority of PC games use digital control - Mario was full analog in 1996!). What's crazy is how gratifying it is. Triple jumps and wall-bounces and other complex acrobatics take some know-how, but still derive from the same one-button control scheme. Discovering what Mario can do is a game in and of itself, and the delight is in learning when and how to use your new second nature.
Oh, plus he can fucking fly. If you're going to take advantage of 3D, that's the way you have to do it.

The Bad: Super Paper Mario (Super Paper Mario)

Come on. This game is so bad. It's one of the worst games to bear the Mario moniker (excluding the million weird non-canonical cameos), it's a travesty against the genius that was Paper Mario, and it only contributes to the utter lack of substantial first-party efforts on Wii. Hmm, "contributes to the lack"? That's kind of an oxymoron. I don't think you can say that. Luckily, I can. But I made a promise that I wasn't gonna pass judgment on Mario games - not today - and that's a promise I have to keep. For the good of whalekind.
Still, the not-a-game-ness of SPM is inextricably linked to the shittiness of its edition of Mario. This is a 2D game; Mario has flourished in two dimensions for decades, longer than just about any character we know. He's to this day great in his original flatness, as New Super Mario Bros. can attest. But SPM, as a walkabout RPG without platforming or combat, trashes every precept that has made the character great. This "super" "paper" "Mario" has no momentum, he is not victim to gravity, friction, acceleration, or any other real-world forces - unless you count the Wiimote's gyroscope - he doesn't spring, he has criminally little effect on the world, and he has to bounce on enemies numerous times to make them even flinch. And don't forget - for each bounce to give maximum reward, you have to waggle the remote! I'm not as rabidly anti-waggle as some Wii-haters, but could there possibly be a worse place to require it than when MARIO JUMPS ON THINGS? He does it non-stop! Why interfere with his defining characteristic?

This is #2 on my list of reasons to blow up Shigeru Miyamoto's family, because yes, I hold him personally responsible for this game which I'm sure he had zero input on. How did Intelligent Systems make games as Intelligent as Tetris Attack, Paper Mario, and Fire Emblem without knowing what makes Mario Mario?

The Ugly: Baby Mario (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island)

Baby Mario is just so fucking annoying and pointless, contributing in no way to the gameplay of what is one of the most overrated and unnecessary platformers of all time (is there any reason not to skip directly from SMW to Yoshi's Story?). I mean, were people really begging for Mario to be relegated to a sidekick in his own main series? And for him to be turned into a baby? Yeah, there's nothing more adorable than a screeching plumber baby (NOT baby plumber... although I guess Baby Mario does just as much plumbing as does Regular Mario). You don't even get to control him - his sole purpose is now to annoy you if you screw up. Cool, guy! Couldn't they have just invented a new stupid character to do this? They invented Bowser Jr. (or I guess Princess Toadstool gave birth to him, but whatever).

Nintendo at least had the courtesy not to make us play as BM, and one can hardly complain about Yoshi. But I do cringe every time I see him included in one of the Mario _____ (Kart/Tennis etc.) games. Baby Mario for Smash Bros.!

This one was a tough call, as Sunshine's FLUDD Mario is a weird one too. FLUDD may have been the last thing we wanted to see strapped to Mario's back, and many agree that the non-FLUDD levels were the best part of Sunshine, but I'll be damned if the thing isn't a blast to play with. So it gets an honorable mention. Even though I don't really know what the "Ugly" category even means.

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Look if my goddamn computer hadn't been blue-screening like a blue-screener for the last couple days, I would've written a better post. But it didn't and I didn't and that's where we are. There's not a lot of new things to be said about Super Mario 64, I'm afraid. I mean I guess probably no one's ever called it African-American, but only for fear of NAACP intervention.

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