Hello there, LusiSolutions. My gaming experience this week essentially consisted of watching my girlfriend play Skyward Sword all weekend and then stuffing in a little portable gaming of my own. That is it, really. I am all out of preamble.
The Problem With NSMB 2
I was confused by all the lukewarm response to New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS. Even if it was uninspired, it was still more Mario, right? I bought it a few months ago, but did not give it a proper shot until this past week and I continued to be confused, although in a different manner. The levels seemed well-designed and I liked the way it felt like its DS predecessor and not the similar console iterations, but something was indeed off. The finger-pointing tended to rest on the “collect lots of coins” gimmick, but I am inclined to believe that while it is closely related, it is not quite as simple as that.
I feel that New Super Mario Bros. 2 fails in a way that is indicative of Nintendo’s greatest failures over the years in their attempts to reconcile their two greatest strengths. Their first strength is recognizable brand rooted in proven mechanics. Mario games are not just about the way they look, but are far more importantly about the way they play. While physics and items shift slightly, the centre of Mario gameplay remains the same.
Nintendo’s second great strength is their ability to innovate, a strength that is often obscured by the stubbornness that is an unfortunate by-product of their first strength combined with their need to survive as a business. NSMB 2 is one of Nintendo’s more obvious examples of a negative clash of these strengths.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 uses the “collect lots of coins” mechanic in ways that were surprisingly interesting to me based on the expectations I had received by reading reviews. It encourages improving technique by providing coin-based challenges and special levels and it changes the replayability of levels in exciting ways. Maximizing coin scores encourages skill and creativity out of the player, a feature that defines Mario games at their best.
This innovation falls entirely flat however because Nintendo refuses to change the foundation of Mario to adapt to these new mechanics and it ultimately renders them meaningless. One hundred coins still equals a new life and while NSMB 2 adds another digit to its life counter to account for all extra coins and therefore lives the game stuffs in, it does not acknowledge that this removes any semblance of difficulty the game might have had. Having save points only available at major locations makes sense from a challenge perspective, but it is incongruent with a game that – in its design – expects its players to have lives in the triple digits. There is no impetus to explore the new mechanic and that is why it ultimately feels so empty. So I suppose I reach the same conclusion as most reviewers, but from a different angle. I do not think the coin-collecting mechanic itself is flawed, but I do think it is an incredibly flawed implementation. Nintendo is at its best when it reconciles these elements and at its most arrogant and boring when it does not. Careful innovation can be a great way to bring important new perspective on tried mechanics and to use their timelessness as a platform for new ideas, but the opposing elements do not engage in such a dialogue in this game and it suffers noticeably because of it.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is an overpriced level-pack that I will continue to play because I have already paid for it. And at the end of the day, the core Mario mechanics are still there and they still work very well, even if the game has no real reason to exist.
The Problem With Skyward Sword
I have spoken at length about Skyward Sword on this beautiful site, LusiLofts, although I have mostly focused on the positive. I still firmly believe in what the game does right and it continues to impress me each time I play through it or watch somebody play through it, but it would do my opinion a disservice to pretend that I think that the game is flawless. Skyward Sword is a victim of what I expect will eventually be a relic of game design, and that is the extended hand-holding tutorial. Introduced in the early days of 3D gaming (by which I mean 3D models and environments not 3D TV technology), the extended tutorial was originally meant to manage new complicated controls along with the growing popularity of gaming. Whether or not it was necessary then, it has unfortunately stuck around in a horrible way and the last two iterations of the console Zelda series are two of the worst offenders. Skyward Sword has a more interesting location and premise to work from at least, but these elements could have been exploited in a far more interesting and natural way than forcing the player’s face into everything. The joy of discovery is one of the great forces in game design and the extended tutorial is its antithesis.
And then there are the motion controls which Nintendo has made its own worst enemy. I still stand that the motion controls are well-designed beyond what they are given credit for, but at the same time, I cannot blame the public for not taking the time to become properly skilled at them. This is not only because Skyward Sword is one of the few games to use the control scheme well, but also because it came out 5 years after the launch of the console. Launching Twilight Princess with waggle controls set the tone for years of waggle-based shovelware that is decidedly anti-gaming. It is akin to quick-time events. It is a replacement for creating an environment which encourages its users to discover and eventually master its mechanics. It is empty instant satisfaction instead of earned satisfaction. Fans were willing to give motion controls a legitimate shot when it launched, but Nintendo squandered this opportunity by launching a product that did not do what was promised and then charged its users for the fix.
Skyward Sword gave it its best shot, but it was too late and game design has proven that motion controls are not necessary for its progression. The whole game has motion controls at its centre and understanding them are essential to getting the most out of the game, but the series will be better off without them in the future. Good riddance.
Skyward Sword stands tall in its own right, but it is still weighed down by hefty reminders of a dark period in Nintendo’s creative history. I see it as a bright promise of the future, but I feel like returning to it might become difficult in the future. It all depends on if the Wii U Zelda is truly being designed with the philosophy Aonuma is detailing when he speaks about it. I was very pessimistic after Twilight Princess but Skyward Sword and Link Between Worlds are significant steps in the right direction in the face of their flaws. Will Nintendo emerge from the other side of the Nintendo Wii disaster? Tune into reality to find out!
Well that went in a different direction than I expected. Talk to me in the comments, readers. I am lonely.