Super Mario 64 and Freedom, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.


What I only realised recently is how the game teaches you that you don’t have to play the stars in order on the very first level. Right at the beginning of the game you have no choice. You must tackle star one on level one -‘Big Bob-omb on the Summit’.

After being dropped in you’re taught how to read/speak to things. This is the only thing the game forcibly teaches you, as it is the only thing it can’t teach you through reading or speaking to things, all of which is optional. The game encourages you just learned on a friendly, fuchsia explosive (remember, this is Mario), but you don’t have to.

If you do elect to, he/she/it confirms what would probably be your natural inclination based on the star’s name: to head to the top of the level’s only hill, where the personable pink ordinance tells you an important bad-guy is waiting.

Your path to this moustachioed munition however takes you right past a caged star in plain sight, guarded by a huge Chained Chomp (a massive, vicious metal ball with teeth and eyes, for those unfamiliar) whose chain is held in place by a wooden stake hammered into the ground.

You know you can ground-pound (If you read the manual. This is the 90s.), and that post looks awful stomp-able. But surely, it wouldn’t let you get that star this early… would it? Dodging the chomp, probably taking a few hits and retreating to get some health-giving coins [insert satirical comment on US health system/future of the NHS], you eventually land the three required butt-slams to drive the thing completely into the ground, freeing the chomp. Liberated, the beast galumphs in happiness, smashing the cage before bounding away to freedom. You grab the star, and upon re-entering the level discover that it was actually the sixth (of six). The blinkers are off.

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Super Mario 64 and Freedom, Part 1

So shortly before it stopped, ByteXplosion was putting together a collab piece for Nintendo’s 125th anniversary where we all contributed around 200 words. This was mine:

Even with all my nostalgia for it, playing Super Mario 64 isn’t as amazing as it once was.

It’s of its time. The controls now feel a little stiff, sure; but that’s not it. We’re simply too used to 3D now.

Before Spyro, Banjo, Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto III and Skyrim there was this. You pushed the stick and – provided there was ground under him – Mario would keep going in that direction, jumping over and belly-sliding through anything in his way. This doesn’t sound much, but you have to imagine you’d never played a 3D game before; not even Doom-style shooters or into-the-camera Star Fox.

The game’s progression matched this newfound sense of freedom. You were checked by star totals, the castle was split into thirds by Bowser levels. That’s about it. You could stay on one level getting all the stars in order and move on to the next when you’re good and ready, even ‘skipping’ levels by farming enough stars on previous ones, or do the bare minimum on each level to see everything new as quickly as possible, the freedom was such you didn’t even have to do the stars within a level in order…  and I’m out of words. Might have to do a standalone article on this.

As the ending hints, I approached the editor to see if he was interested in a full article and got the go ahead. Tbh I probably would’ve written it for my own (this) blog had he not be interested anyway. But before even the first, collaborative piece could go up, the site was discontinued. Here is the follow up article. Continue reading

So-Bad-It’s-Good and Video Games, Part Two

In part one we discussed why really bad media can sometimes be enjoyable and why watching Let’s Plays of bad games ticks many of the same boxes as watching a good-bad film, without the frustrations that would come with actually playing a bad game. Now we’ll consider whether playing is even necessary at all to get the heart of the good-bad experience.

So for cheap, short, throwaway games it might be worth experiencing the badness for yourself, we concluded. For longer, more expensive examples, perhaps not. But there are actually theories that seeing or playing a good-bad game/film are not even necessary for participation in the phenomenon of it:

The social aspect […] is really key. I think, if we’re being honest, they’re not so much movies to be watched as they are movies to be known about, to be shared, and to share in the complete disbelief of. Watching is not the primary experience […]; celebrating is.” – Mike Rugnetta, PBS Idea channel.

In gaming the Zelda games on the Phillips CDi are the perfect example of this: they are hugely ‘popular’ yet being rare, expensive games on a rare, expensive and temperamental console almost no-one has played them; most people’s exposure to them was first through YouTube poop and then through reviewers like the Angry Video Game Nerd and PeanutButterGamer. Furthermore every youtuber who does play them usually comments that the controls and design choices mean that they are no fun at all to play.

Emulation may fix some of the control issues, but this itself presents two problems: Firstly, you are not experiencing the ‘true badness’ that made the games legendary in the first place; and secondly the design issues (lamp oil and rope requiring rupee farming, darkness, enemies too short to stab) are still bad enough to make everything between the hilarious cut-scenes you’re probably playing it for a painful experience.

Hence, it could be argued it is the viewer – either of a review, a Let’s Play or the cut-scenes in isolation – who is getting the best experience.

The idea of good-bads to be ‘celebrated’ rather than watched/played brings us on to ‘manufactured’ examples, things designed to hit those notes of silliness on purpose. In movies, this is Sharknado, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus and the like. By some reports, Sharknado did better on twitter than it did on television. People were so enthralled with the idea they skipped watching and went straight to celebrating.

However, the movie itself is by The Asylum, who also produced the aforementioned Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and Snakes on a Train. They are competent cheesemongers who know what they’re doing, and their productions lack the necessary grand pathos of a Birdemic or a Sonic ’06.

In video games we have Goat Simulator. Every physics glitch short of game-breaking has been diligently not fixed, and some (the way the goat climbs ladders) it’s hard to believe were not put in on purpose. What’s more it has reasonable controls, is quite cheap, and everything is pretty much instantly accessible. Thus it sidesteps most of the issues that put people off true good-bad games.

On his first impressions video, John ‘Totalbiscuit’ Bain commented that the game—amusingly buggy by intent and highly focused on emergent interactions—seemed more designed for Let’s Players  than a general audience. Indeed, the Game Grumps and PewDiePie have both played Goat Simulator multiple times, nearly always garnering many more views than their average. Though still apt, this criticism seems addressed somewhat by the update adding a much larger second map and multiplayer functionality, though these things of course benefit the Let’s Players as well as the general ones.

As of August 2014 Goat Simulator has “almost 1 million” sales. This is a hell of a lot. It has been proven that Let’s Plays increase sales so it was a shrewd move by the developer to make a game so perfect for them, as this will have shifted a lot of copies. Still, PewDiePie’s first Goat Simulator video has over 9 million views (he averages around 3-5 million), some subsequent ones have over 6, 7 and 8 million views respectively. It seems Bain was right on at least some level, many more people would rather watch the game than play it.

Perhaps, if we go by the above Ideas Channel quote, this is all that’s necessary. A Let’s Play or even a 20 minute ‘review’ are enough to show us the game’s most egregious aspects.

Whether good-bad games (for playing) will ever take off is a question that’s hard to give a sweeping answer to. There are too many variables; the situation will be different for each game. Yahtzee (him from the beginning of part one) said of Ride to Hell: Retribution “It’s bad. It’s explosively apocalyptically bad and you should totally buy it. I’m serious; you have to see this shit […] this could be our Plan 9 from Outer Space.” though he does admit at one point that ‘adorably bad’ sometimes starts to stray into testing the patience. Ride to Hell (metascore 13-19) is £8 on Steam, less if it’s on sale.

I sure as hell don’t know if it’s worth the time, money and frustration. But maybe it doesn’t need to be when it gives sixty-six thousand results on YouTube, and every video on the first page has over a hundred thousand views…

Image: Coffee Stain Studios

Literally Taking the P*ss: Ten New Faces That Should’ve Been in Smash Bros 4

In the run up to the new Smash Bros., it seemed like everyone who knew that Smash Bros. is a Nintendo-ey crossover fighting game and not an obscure 80’s band was reeling off lists of characters they’d like.

Thankfully this is over. Let’s celebrate with another list.

(This nonsense was inspired by the wording in the title of Ewan Moore’s list from right after the Villager/Wii Fit Trainer/Mega Man reveal in June 2013. Remember, to quote my own ‘about’ page: “…likes wordplay, perhaps a little too much”.)

It starts off relatively sane and gets sillier as the list goes on…

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Can So-Bad-It’s-Good Work for Games?

Realistically, everyone knows that its infamous reputation is the only reason this game is on Steam and the blurb should have read ‘Roll up, roll up, everyone come and see the freak.’” – Critic Yahtzee Croshaw.

So John Romero’s notorious ‘misstep’ (to put it politely) Daikatana is now on Steam. Which leads us to ask, can what has for a long time worked for movies work for games? Can ‘bad’ games be enjoyable?

Certainly, we enjoy watching others suffer these games. Since the Angry Video Game Nerd began it, watching people talk about bad (or sometimes just downright weird) games for ten to twenty minutes is now so popular a genre that multiple practitioners make their living from it, even discounting Let’s Players.

But playing them, perhaps less so. One key factor is time. A movie takes a couple of hours to watch. Even short games are usually longer than this. How long before the mistakes stop being funny and become painful?

How then do we explain Game Grumps Sonic ’06 play-through being both their most popular series and clocking in at over 20 hours total run-time (longer than it would take to play through many games yourself)?

So-bad-it’s-good relies on the gap between what something is trying to be and what it actually is: the bad acting, writing, and general oddity (tux football?) of intended tragedy The Room for example. This is also why comedies are rarely so-bad-they’re-good, a failed joke is just either sad or painful. Movie 43 isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s so bad somebody should be prosecuted.

Of course, being bad is not enough alone; it is also how often and how passionately often a movie is intriguingly bad.

Further, if no-one cares, we don’t care. A good-bad must have delusions of not necessarily grandeur but at least competence, relevance or importance. It must, in short, be earnest. This heartfelt earnestness makes just how hard the thing fails a little tragic, and the schadenfreude resulting from this has in some cases been enough to spawn cult followings and packed screenings.

At least he isn’t folding his arms

Sonic The Hedgehog 2006 certainly fits the ‘ambitions of grandeur’ requirement. The grandiose CG opening and closing cut-scenes, the ambitious multi-character gameplay, the epic scale of the final boss – and fails to deliver on all but the last. Is all this enough to keep us engaged for the whole game?

It is if someone else plays it. Sonic 06 certainly has enough badness spread throughout it: whether it’s the next act in the fate-of-the-world drama about an awakening god of destruction that is its plot being played out by short, big-headed furries; bizarre NPC quests that contrast that story’s tone; questionable vehicle sections, physics powers or level design; Sonic 06 keeps delivering.

But games are active, and so are their frustrations. Watching rather than playing glosses over anything unpleasant. The Grumps’ pain is not ours, in fact we enjoy it. We don’t have to deal with awful controls, poorly explained mechanics or having to repeat the same sections over and over, sometimes because of unfair deaths. While the run time of the Grumps’ Sonic 06 is over 20 hours, they often fast-forwarded when they were stuck and skipped some bits entirely, things the player would not be able to do. What would be repetitive for the player is less so for the viewer as the commentary changes, unlike the gameplay. Badness that may raise a brief chuckle for the lone player provides multiple laughs as it is disbelieved, discussed and mocked.

Besides time two other factors limit the entertainment value of bad games for the player – cost and effort. Is it really worth slogging through hours of poor controls and difficulty spikes to experience for yourself the few entertainingly laughable bits when you could just watch them? In the case of Sonic 06 – is it worth £12 (around $20), the price at Cex and seemingly on eBay too, to do this?

Sometimes this is less of an issue. With its 79p price tag (frequently on sale for under 20p) Bad Rats almost invites you to see for yourself just how bad it is. In rare cases like this, good-bad perhaps can work for the player: most of Bad Rats’ badness is evident right from the start (or shortly after) – they player has to invest little time or money to experience it.

But do good-bad games even need to be played, or do they reach the same potential as good-bad films just by watching?

Continued in Part Two.

Image from sonicgifs tumblr. Copyright Sega I assume.