Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Greg L's 2013 GOTY Award

at 4:39 PM
I just have the one.

When Nintendo released Wind Waker HD, everyone noted that the prospect was sad in one sense or another: one of Wii U's headliners was a remake. The console's first party offerings have been short on creativity. New Super Mario Bros. U continues the line of New Super Mario Bros. games that iterate rather than progress. Super Mario 3D World gives players a cast of characters with competing strengths and weaknesses, but it's a gesture that does little to hide that each stage is predictable and shallow.

(Maybe we can discuss Pikmin 3 and Game & Wario some other time.)

Enter New Super Luigi U. On the surface, it appears to be a shameless rehash, featuring assets already used for New Super Mario Bros. U. Luigi may jump higher, he may be more slippery, and he may only have 100 seconds to clear each stage, but there's no obvious change to the essence of New Super Mario Bros.

In reality, though, these modifications fuel sweeping changes. Because you have but 100 seconds to clear each stage, the stages are shorter. This leads to denser enemy placement. Flying squirrel enemies will land on your weighted platforms, disrupting your footing. Ice-throwing turtles will bump elbows with spiked fuzzballs, turning harmful obstacles into icy platforms. Elements interact more often, creating a more engaging playground. 

In one stage, Ice Bros. freeze your enemies to create platforms. It's definitely one of the better stages, and it showcases how original the Luigi U team got with old assets.

New Super Luigi U emphasizes a sense of chaos. Stages are not just punchier than usual; there's more going on in each individual moment. Normal New Super Mario Bros. stages have a series of challenges, but in New Super Luigi U, those challenges are all lumped over top one another. On top of that, Luigi's floaty jumps and slippery stops lend more weight to your button presses, increasing the sense of chaos.

Perhaps ghost houses speak the most to this change. These stages are all about employing deception to hinder your navigation. Normally, this means plopping a big old maze for the player to slog through; check each door, make a mental note of what you do, and eventually you'll walk out. New Super Luigi U instead restricts its deceptions to the span of one room. Rather than wander around a maze, you'll see a single scenario and figure the best way through it. In one stage, you're on a moving platform suspended over a bottomless pit, and it looks like it's about to hit a wall--there must be some way past, right? Try checking for an invisible passage through the wall. Moments like these make deception tense and exciting rather than long and drawn-out.

Given the time restriction on levels, the developers mixed crafty design with tension for ghost houses.

It's no revolution, but it's an experience unique to the Mario series in the same way that Lost Levels and Super Mario World carve unique spaces from the molds of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, respectively. It's an important distinction to make from other games that merely improve--New Super Luigi U deviates.

If Nintendo needs to turn to easy-to-make budget-priced DLC to regain its sense of daring, so be it. On that note, New Super Luigi U also makes me smile because it reflects Nintendo's growing realization that the internet can be your friend.

Games like Pandora's Tower, Chain Blaster, and The Wonderful 101 also made my year, but as an increasingly cynical Mario fan, New Super Luigi U stood above the pack as Game of the Year.

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