Tag Archives: super mario 64

The Worst Super Mario

A friend on social media posed a simple question yesterday:

“What’s the worst Super Mario game and why? (Just talking about platformers; no RPGs or sports games allowed)”

At first this seemed easy enough to answer, but in doing so I ended up thinking deeper on the idea. Mario is, without a doubt, the progenitor and single most successful platform game series ever made, even if your personal preference lies elsewhere no other series has had such an incredible run top quality games. Sonic had his heyday and, as most people are all too aware, is more of a joke than a serious contender these days. Crash Bandicoot left us, Rayman faltered for a long while and most other contenders are far too recent to make the challenge.

So what is the worst entry in a fantastic series? There are several challengers I could think of in terms of a popular opinion. Super Mario Bros 2, the US and European version, is often mentioned for beginning life as another game and being so divergent from what is now the core Mario gameplay; yet it certainly isn’t the worst. The game itself is still fun to play, with certain character mechanics becoming established traits, and several enemies that are now beloved parts of the Mario roster originated here.

Super Mario Sunshine is popular pick as it came as somewhat of a disappointment following up Super Mario 64. Of course, in truth, there was never a way for anything to live up to the expectations that Mario 64 created; it was a landmark game that gave most players their first taste of truly brilliant platforming in 3D. Unless Sunshine could offer something similarly revolutionary it was always doomed to disfavour. Sadly it also had several issues of it’s own with its awkward camera, groanworthy cutscenes and some levels that just didn’t play as well as they should; even then it’s still not the worst. It’s a lot of fun, visually lovely and imbued with the charming spirit that is a part of every great Nintendo game.

That’s the key. In their best days many games companies have a certain feel to their output that is entirely unique to them. It’s something that is incredibly hard to define yet, when you look at it, becomes quite apparent. Take the Dreamcast days of Sega where they had bright, wonderful, crazy games that burst with life and experimentation; Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Space Channel 5, Crazy Taxi; all playing wildly differently yet all imbued with the same spirit. Konami’s action output of the 8 and 16-bit days, Contra, TMNT: The Arcade Game, Sunset Riders, Castlevania, all different yet all keenly Konami. Nintendo has, and continues to have, this to their first party titles; they’re joyous, polished and charming affairs that have their own sense of playfulness. This is true of the vast majority of the Super Mario games.

Except one, in my own experience. New Super Mario Bros on the DS is a Mario game in mechanics, a Mario game in look, but it lacks that Nintendo spark. I’m specifically pointing to the DS version because while the game was mechanically, and visually, similar in its Wii incarnation the addition of the 4-player mode gave it back some (yet not all) that charm that was missing. The DS game was clearly made well in most respects, the controls were fine, the levels worked and it gave you a polished platforming experience but these pieces lacked the soul that gives Nintendo games their unique appeal. Were it a separate entity from Mario, from another company it might be more forgiven, but as part of such a brilliant lineage it fails to live up to all that surround it.

New Super Mario Bros. You are the worst.

Block Rockin’ Beeps – Underwater Wonders from Mario and Ristar

Track Name: Dire Dire Docks – Splash Down
Track Composer: Koji Kondo – Tomoko Sasaki
Game: Super Mario 64 – Ristar
Platform: N64 – Mega Drive
Sound Chip/System: Reality Co-Processor and/or CPU – Yamaha YM2612

Games follow trends quite heavily, much like any media, and when one particular thing becomes enormously successful then there’s bound to be countless others following the path it’s set. Take the Call of Duty style of FPS, both in singleplayer and multiplayer, from release of Modern Warfare Infinity Ward essentially set down the formula that most FPS games would follow for a good while. Extremely-scripted corridor shooting galleries with bombastic set pieces and crashing helicopters became the SP norm and the perks and progression instant-death MP did as well. Even wildly different franchises took this up, with things like the odd reboot of Syndicate that copied the COD single player formula rather inappropriately.

Trends are strong and powerful and they’ve been there for a long time in gaming. Platform games were a strong, leading genre for over a decade across the eighties and through the mid-nineties and they developed a lot of trends and clichés that seemed inescapable. The most obvious were the level themes. No matter the character, no matter the setting it seemed like every game had to tread the same paths. Forest levels, lava levels, slippery-sliding ice levels, sewer levels (a trend that sadly continues to this day), levels made of food, the themes were explored again and again in the search for more cash. One of the most notorious was the underwater level which usually meant a slow, plodding swim that ground the action to a halt and made retrying areas incredibly frustrating. Often you’d have to continually come up for air, further delaying the gameplay.

Thankfully, not all underwater levels were like this and today I’m showing off two tracks that beautifully accompanied their respective sodden levels.

Dire, Dire Docks from Super Mario 64 is a good level. One of the true triumphs of Mario 64 was just how effective the control system was. 3D gaming was in its teething years and most games absolutely went to hell once you dropped into the water. Thankfully Miyamoto and his team nailed the controls and allowed the player to feel just as in charge in the water as they did on the land.

Koji Kondo provided the level with this wonderful, bright floating ditty and it shows off some of the characteristics that will also be heard in the next track. There’s a sense of roundness to the sound, an engulfing audio that evokes the idea of being submerged. The long decay on each note gives it that wavy, dreamlike sound. Over the course of the track it escalates from being purely calming to having a more energetic sound, but it never really raises intensity, it’s always happy and flowing. Whether you’re finding a sub or swimming after a manta ray there’s a sense of relaxation.

Now we’re jumping to the Mega Drive for this track from Ristar. A game released late in the console’s life span Ristar was hoped to be another mascot for Sega, sadly this didn’t happen as sales weren’t as high as expected, but Ristar has lived on through the many Sega collections. It’s a fantastic game with lovely art design and a set of extremely well designed levels, still it fell prey to themeing convention and the second world consisted of two underwater levels.

This music comes from the second level and like the Mario track uses long-decaying notes to create a round, enveloping sound. It uses a calm ambient feeling to portray the scenario but it’s not quite as constantly cheery as Mario. Using the percussion Tomoko Sasaki gives it a funkier beat and while not a dark track, per se, it’s little lower and a tad more serious. Still it’s very inviting and warm and suits the underwater adventures that Ristar has to be taken on. It also shows the percussive strength of the FM Synth that exists in the Mega Drive. Tomoko Sasaki’s most famous soundtrack is for NiGHTS into Dreams on the Saturn and there’s a clear stylistic link between the sound use and percussion.

It’s interesting to see in the music the similarities and differences that composers used to approach the same theme, giving each one a nice identity but tying very well the ideas and imagery.