The Do-Want List | Arcade Archives: Vs. Super Mario Bros.

  • Developed by: Nintendo and HAMSTER
  • Published by: Nintendo

I have a lot to say when it comes to Super Mario Bros., but for the sake of keeping it relevant to the post at hand the thing I’d like to point out is how it’s become a total “comfort food” game. It’s concise, which makes it easy to get in and out of quickly, but the way it builds upon itself is like what I imagine a master class in game design would look like. It’s a reminder of why I love games, which sometimes you just have to go back to remember that fact.

That being said, I know the game inside and out so there isn’t anything that truly surprises me anymore when I play. I enjoy it for the experience, not the challenge. Which is why I love, love when I find variants on familiar games. I’m very much a second quest kind of guy.

Even using Super Mario Bros. as a springboard there’s been a lot of remixes. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for Game Boy Color added hidden Yoshi eggs and red coins that change up the flow of the game. NES Remix gave you specific challenges to try and beat certain scenes in the game as well as add newer ones that’ll take your sensibilities for a loop. As if that wasn’t enough of a mind melt, NES Remix 2 added a reverse version of Super Mario Bros. starring Luigi that had you going from left to right instead.

I know for a fact that when I was a kid a passed Vs. Super Mario Bros. right up when I saw it on a Play Choice 10. Not because it was a bad game, but because I assumed it was the same game that was packed in with my NES that I’d already played ad nauseum. The point of a Play Choice 10 wasn’t to play what you had, it was to play what you hadn’t. The fact that I now know better bums me out that I skipped it initially, but for some weird reason I get a second chance to give it a go.

Right from the start the familiarity will kick in as the flow of the game isn’t wholly unsimilar to vanilla Super Mario Bros. At first there’s a few deviations; power-ups in different spots, extra enemies here and there. But then you hit world 1-4, the first Bowser’s castle stage, and things take a turn into crazyville.

The game is much harder, perhaps for the sake of challenge but also to eat your quarters, which is something I’m looking forward to. I don’t want to breeze through the game, I want my mind and my reflexes tested by something new in a familiar setting. Apparently there are also stages from The Lost Levels mixed in for good measure, but I won’t complain because I’m one of the few that actually enjoyed that game for what it is.

It’s easy to overlook Arcade Archives: Vs. Super Mario Bros. because it has that samey feel; but for someone who adores the original game and is looking for something new to do with its brilliant design, this looks to be the most exciting of releases in Nintendo’s new arcade releases.

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A Return to 16-Bit Form: How I Am Setsuna Brought the Classic JRPG Back

It feels like I’ve been waiting over twenty years for a proper Japanese role-playing game to come along.

By waiting over twenty years I mean something that plays similar to Final Fantasy III (VI, for sticklers) just before game development moved on to CD covered pastures. While JRPG design has moved on over the coming years, my tastes have solely stuck to active time battles and super-deformed character sprites. I’ve tried things like Dragon Quest on multiple occasions in the hopes of recapturing that je ne sais quoi of the 16-bit JRPG design formula, but nothing sticks. Maybe I’m getting in my own way; it’s hard to compete with the nostalgia of Squaresoft’s output from the 90s. It felt like literally every release they had was a masterpiece without equal time and time again. From Final Fantasy II (or IV if you prefer) to Secret of Mana to Chrono Trigger, everything was grandiose, magnificent and the perfect time suck for a kid with a limited budget.

While I’ve given up on finding that game that would be a return to form a long time ago, I still hold out hope every now and again that I’ll find that something that scratches that itch again. Luckily I’ve found a truck stop back scratcher that goes by the name of I am Setsuna and it is gloriously retro in all the right ways.

If I were to say I am Setsuna has a passing resemblance to Chrono Trigger I’d be selling it woefully short. It follows the train of thought that enemies are visible on the field and your approach will dictate the first turn. The game will jump the characters around while keeping the battle contained in the area you’re in, although there’s no option to move your party anywhere for any advantage. You’re then treated to your standard active time battle where filling meters dictate turns while enemies are also beholden to a timer but not necessarily in waiting for you to complete your decisions. There’s even an option to set up combos with multiple characters by using their special abilities in tandem. In case you’re worried about any other pretenses to Chrono Trigger, there is literally a move called X Strike. It’s pretty much just Chrono Trigger.

I am Setsuna is a love letter to a specific era that nearly borders on clone and I am perfectly OK with that. I’m all for progress, but there’s something to be said for comfort food gaming and it’s been a damn long time since I’ve tasted this chicken noodle soup. But that’s not to say that I am Setsuna doesn’t have a dash of contemporary design in it, just that it’s subtle and fits in well with what it emulates.

I’m the type of person who loves filling in a codex or journal, and I am Setsuna has a similar feature called the Snow Chronicles. It lists everything from your completion percentages pertaining to what you’ve seen, battle statistics and your stock standard bestiary. Not only does it give you minute details like item drops and health, but a nice little lore write-up that helps flesh out the world for those who love sinking time into that kind of thing. Which, you know, I am.

But what really sets I am Setsuna apart from the games it’s inspired by is its story. You begin the game as a mercenary who it tasked with murdering a girl on a small island only to find yourself on a journey to take this girl to her predestined death anyways. As monsters gather across the countryside in growing numbers every few decades, a “chosen one” must be sacrificed to placate whatever god decides to unleash said plague of beasts upon the world. Rather than end her life swiftly, the mercenary instead joins the girl’s retinue to save the world in the most unsavory way.

It’s a somber tale so far, one that’s driven home by the bleak and snow-covered world in which it takes place. Folk in the small isle town in which the sacrifice is chosen from are curiously unemotional about the whole thing as they feel they can’t change fate. A third party member, a woman who has been on more than one sacrificial pilgrimage, adds an air of mystery to the whole thing because she infers that there’s more going on in the world than a simple ritual belies. The writing is pretty average JRPG fair, but the hooks in the plot are there and worth exploring.

While I earnestly expected to like I am Setsuna if only on a fundamental level, I didn’t expect to be quite so smitten by it. Granted I’m only a few hours in, but even at this point I think if the game tows the line and holds even, I’ll be satisfied by the end of it. If the plot goes in interesting directions while doing so, I may have found a new champion in my love for old school role-playing games.

A Quiet Discovery

I think there is an imaginary check list that indie developer’s use when creating the plethora of Metroidvania games that seem to litter the landscape. You probably have to tick a set number of boxes to qualify as one, with an emphasis on exploration, item/ability gatekeeping and a 2D perspective rounding out most. Few tackle one the biggest tenets of Metroid that sets it apart from its brethren – an oppressive sense of isolation.

The thing that always made Samus Aran stick out to me wasn’t that she was a woman, but rather that she was this solitary bounty hunter traversing a literal alien world all by herself. It always felt as if it weren’t just the monsters that roam the corridors that were out to get her, but the environment itself. One assumed because she wore a space suit that Zebes was cold, unhospitable and perhaps even a little scary. I played Metroid at the best time — as a child, with a wondrous imagination that filled in the dreadful gaps that the technology of the time could never provide.

Damn it, I miss my imagination!

Forma.8 nails that feeling of aloneness. Playing as a little orb that the game happens to be named after, you are charged with finding an energy source on an unmarked planet, but you are quickly separated from your platoon in an accident that sends you careening into an obelisk-like tower.

The game is presented in a stark, minimalist design. There’s a sort of angular feel to everything, and a lot of the action is presented in the shadowy foreground as the world itself is has this subdued and dull look to it by contrast. It’s hard to describe, but it’s beautiful and haunting. There’s a quietness to the exploration; synth tracks play here and there, but for the most part its ambient noise that breaks up an otherwise deafening silence. Doors clang shut, the wind breezes in wide open spaces and flying aliens have a low thrum as their wings beat. It’s melancholic and mesmerizing.

The actual map itself probably isn’t that much bigger than your average Metroidvania, but at certain points forma.8 plays with your sense of scale as the camera will zoom out and you’ll see huge vistas in the background, large towers or just simply a sun high in the sky. There’s usually nothing to be found in these massive areas other than the sense that you are but nothing in the grand scheme of things. It plays with your perception in exciting ways.

There’s a lot that’ll intrigue you into pressing on in your little robot’s adventure, from challenging torch puzzles that earn you mysterious hexagonal nuts to thought-provoking boss battles, but for my money it’s that lonesome, you-against-the-world vibe that permeates forma.8 that compels me to help the little bugger find its way off this rock.