Saturday, November 24, 2007

Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)

Super Mario 64 is one of the holy grails of video-gaming. Or is it? Mario finds himself in trouble again, as a friendly visit to Princess Peach's castle turns to a rather hefty 3D adventure. Bowser is at it again, and he has kidnapped Peach and stolen the stars which give the castle it's magical power. It's up to you to get them back and save the day by entering various separate worlds via gateways in the castle.

So far so good. As the videogaming world was entering it's 64-bit phase, this game was hailed as a masterpiece. Never before had there been a 3D platformer with such a fluid camera system, such elaborate and varied worlds, and such a dazzling array of moves. This game was the Nintendo 64's flagship title, and it was enough to kick Sega Saturn's sorry butt, and trouble the Sony Playstation somewhat (though not too much).

But is it really that great? No doubt this is a pivotal title, and the game that, more or less, defined the 3D platforming genre, but the truth is that it was quickly surpassed by other games. Games like Banjo Kazooie took everything that was good about Super Mario 64 and enhanced it, and also erased everything that was bad about it.

So what was bad about it? Well, first of all the camera system might have been good for it's time, but now feels jerky and troublesome. No doubt you'll find yourself going for that perfect angle in vain, as the camera gets stuck time and time again. The controls aren't that smooth either. Also the levels are pretty small, and a lot of them don't feel natural at all. Some feel like laboratory experiments, very artificial, they don't make much sense. The more organic levels, like Whomp's Fortress, Cool-Cool Mountain or Tall-Tall Mountain are by far the best. They're the ones that really draw you into their worlds.

This doesn't mean of course that it's a bad game. It's a very nice 3D arcade-adventure which will keep you occupied for quite a while. And later on in the game we encounter some novel ideas, like the level which you can enter either as a giant or a dwarf, or the one with the variable water levels, and also the nightmarish clock one. But if you really want to see what a 3D platformer can offer, better play something like Banjo Tooie.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Commodore Format 9 (June 1991)

And yet another CF issue, number 9 from June 1991. People say there was no good C64 software in the 90's, but I think that both 1990 and 1991 were quality years.

All credit for this issue goes to Mort, who very kindly provided the scans. Mort has scanned an impressive array of retro computer mags over the years, and provides DVDs of them at very reasonable prices at the Zzuperstore. Check it out.

In this issue there's reviews of Heroquest, Gauntlet 3 (which was never officially released), North And South, I Play 3D Soccer (a very misunderstood game), Death Knights Of Krynn, Ultima 6 and others.

Gordon Houghton was also doing an ongoing and very interesting feature, dealing with C64 classics. If you want to convert someone to C64 gaming, you won't get far wrong by using this feature as a guide. A good issue overall. Get it here.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Super Mario Land (Gameboy, 1989)

The Gameboy really shook the videogaming world back in the early 90's, didn't it? It's interesting to note that, for one reason or another, it managed to beat two superior competitors (at least in the hardware department), the Sega Game-Gear and the Atari Lynx. Quite why it beat them is a story best examined another time, but I'll just say that the Game-Gear and Lynx were both more expensive and power hungry. I'm just mentioning this to underline that the philosophy behind the Gameboy was "simpler and better".

And so it is with Super Mario Land, one of the classic titles released for the machine. You might be surprised by the very high rating, but there is a reason for that. This is the quintessential videogame. It's the game that's going to convert the most unlikely person to the gaming habit. It's the game that your girlfriend is going to play and love it. The simple "jump and run" formula is executed brilliantly, and the game has a special atmosphere, despite the limitations of the hardware. The simplistic black and white graphics convey the sense of a quest in a splendid way, and the tunes are super catchy retro-videogame style.

There is no need to deal with the plot or read any manuals or anything like that. Mario's damsel in distress, Princess Daisy, is in trouble again and you must go and save her. That's it. What matters is that the moment you get on with this, you're hooked. There have been so many platformers, yet the charm of this back-to-basics game is something else. Oh sure, they perfected the formula with the elaborate Super Mario World for the SNES, but like i said in the beginning, sometimes simpler is better, and also immortal.

And to end with an anecdote, I was in highschool when this was released back in the day, and one classmate was among the first to get a Gameboy and also this game. It wasn't long before he brought it in school to brag about it. Alas, he made the terrible mistake of sharing it. Pretty soon, every guy was waiting for his turn to play. In class during lessons that is! Well, eventually the teacher found out and seized the machine. Now that's an unnecessary complication. -)