Friday, August 22, 2008


Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

So the first problem with Mario vs. Sonic at the Olympic Games is that they're not fooling anyone, and they know it.


Mario vs. Sonic was an interesting rivalry back when they represented companies that were real-world rivals. But now look what's come of them. Mario has become Nintendo's jovial, but tired, figurehead, stepping up once per generation for a token adventure game before settling back into the comfortable rut of Parties, Sports games, and the occasional DDR. And Sonic? Poor Sonic. Year after year, he struggles to reinvent himself and give his career a kick-start. He makes enough money to get by, but he can't help thinking back to those glory days, when he had two cartoon shows and endorsements lined up down the block. Now he doesn't even have a console to front for.

It's less a clash of the titans, and more Vanilla Ice opening for The Beatles.

The other problem with Sonic The Hedgehog's Olympics With Mario is that it is not Ham Ham Games. Look, they have an opportunity to make a game that's about the Summer Olympics. But, give or take a gorgeous opening cinema, they present the events without any feeling of context or progression. The best they can offer is a "circuit" of events, where you earn points based on how well you place, and the highest scores get a trophy.

For as much as they play up the idea of Mario and Sonic "teams" on the back of the box, you don't get to see much of it in the actual gameplay. When you play as Mario, Luigi is just as much your rival as Sonic is. You never really get the feeling that Mobius and the Mushroom Kingdom are competing as different "countries".

And then there's the worst problem. Ham Ham Games will guide you through an entire season of Hamster Games regardless of your ability level, just like in real life. You still get to see the "end" of the game even if you never even manage a bronze medal in a single event. In Super Mario Olympics, however, the "circuit" system ensures that you will never, ever see the entire content of this disc unless you devote several frustrating hours to mastering its waggly game mechanics.

Why are so many events locked up from the beginning? Why do they make it so difficult to unlock them? Why do I have to break supposed World Records just to place in some of these circuits? What the hell is wrong with these people? Do they think that's fun?

That's Out of My System

Mario and Sonic Vs. The Olympic Games is a competent enough track and field game. In the tradition of track and field games, it represents Olympic events with brief gameplay experiences that involve timing and vigorous real-world activity. And since it's on the Wii, that means shaking the controller around.

The Olympic Games: Mario and Sonic Edition fills a niche that I wanted to see filled, but it's not necessarily the game I wanted. All well, at least now I won't have to buy another track and field game ever again.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Super Smash Brothers Brawl Characters

As an addendum to my hard-hitting review of Super Smash Brothers Brawl, I thought it would be important and necessary to tell the story that everyone else is scared to touch. That's right, it's time for an in-depth review of the playable characters in Super Smash Brothers Brawl.

This article contains spoilers for the people who wanted to play this game all damned summer but didn't.

Mario -- God fucking dammit. I was never a part of the chorus that cursed FLUDD for ruining Super Mario Sunshine, but it sure as hell ruined Mario in Smash Brothers Brawl. It'd be different if it was at all useful, but it turns out that there are moves in Mario's arsenal that will knock enemies away and deal damage, and most of them are a hell of a lot easier to use.

I'll still play as Mario, but it's quite a change from the first two games, where he was my default character of choice.

Ness -- Maybe it's the fact that this is the third generation straight without an Earthbound title (as opposed to the Japanese Mother games), or maybe it's the fact that there are so many super cool new characters to use in Brawl, but it's difficult to really get excited about seeing Ness again. And that's really, really sad, because seeing him in the first Smash Brothers was just about the most exciting feeling in my entire life.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad he's still here. I guess we've just sort of grown apart over the years.

Luigi -- I don't know what I was expecting Luigi's Final Smash to be like, but what we got was just plain incorrect. Seriously. They got it wrong.

On the other hand, it's nice to finally play a Smash Brothers game where they actually paid Charles Martinet for his Luigi voice rather than pitching up all of Mario's lines.

Toon Link -- Yeah, I guess you had to call him something, eh? Trouble is, without the cel shading, he looks more like Creepy Giant Eyes Deformed Link.

I don't care all that much about Zelda games, and I've never been especially interested in playing as Link in a Smash Brothers game, but Toon Link has accomplished an instant win in my heart for one simple reason -- one of his alternative color schemes is Link's original color scheme. The whole brown hair, light green tunic thing. And that's why I'll play with him from time to time.

R.O.B. -- I didn't think I would like R.O.B. For one thing, I somehow managed to survive the 80's without even knowing that he existed, and for another, he's a goddamned peripheral, and not an especially mobile one. How the hell he got into Mario Kart DS is beyond me.

But he's earned some serious respect from me with his appearance in Brawl. He's come to life in ways that I never would have expected, and his arsenal of lasers and rocket blasts makes him delightfully effective in combat. And I've got to say, it's quite a lot of fun blowing up the enemy R.O.B. units in the Subspace Emissary. Easily my favorite of the new characters in Brawl.

Mr. Game & Watch -- I wasn't really sold on Brawl until I knew for certain that he was coming back. The jerky animation, the ridiculous attacks, the annoying beeps -- what's not to love?

I like to imagine that he has a friendly rivalry with R.O.B. Drawn together by their status as Nintendo outcasts, they meet in the field of battle, the balance of power always shifting back and forth between them. But if one of them is threatened by one of these mascot upstarts, you know the other one has his back.

Ice Climbers -- Popo and Nana caught my attention for the novelty factor of playing two characters at once, but I really fell in love with them because of how effectively they captured the pure and simple joy of smashing people's brains out with giant mallets.

Here's a fun recipe! Build a custom stage that's nothing but a single platform, four blocks long. Start a Giant Stamina fight on that stage with four (eight) Ice Climbers. It's like peeking in on some sort of amoral bloodsport.

Bowser -- It's hard to remember what Smash Brothers was like before Bowser entered the picture. Mario had to have all of his epic battles with Luigi or Donkey Kong, and that's hardly the same at all, is it?

Bowser has a pretty low win record in my save data because it's more fun to beat him up than it is to actually use him. And that's the way it should be.

King Dedede -- I'm not a big Kirby fan, but when Kirby 64 gave you the opportunity to play as King Dedede, I knew that I wanted him in the next Smash Brothers game.

The actual character is a little too slow and clunky to really enjoy playing with, but I have to give credit where it's due and thank them for finally succumbing to the inevitable and giving us our King Dedede.

Wario -- You know... Wario was in video games before Wario Ware. I mean, it was a classy move to give us the overalls version as an alternative costume, but I rarely bother to use it because... Well, he just never feels like classic Wario.

Months later, I'll still press the B button, expecting to see that trademark dash attack from the Warioland games. Or maybe some of the wrestling moves he learned for Wario World. But no. Instead, we get Biker Guy Wario, with an annoying bike-riding move and a farting move that requires an impolite amount of buildup time. So I tend to play as Mario for my epic Mario vs. Wario showdowns. So sad.

Pokemon Trainer -- Way too cool. I wanted to see the Pokemon Trainer since the first Smash Brothers game, but I never thought they could implement him in a way that made sense. But here he is -- and he's even the original Pokemon Trainer! With three iconic Pokemon in his arsenal!

The best thing about the Pokemon Trainer is watching him follow along in the background, especially as you're playing through The Subspace Emissary.

Olimar -- Captain Olimar has no business whatsoever being in a fighting game, which is what makes his appearance in Brawl so utterly delicious. The guy's a space pilot the size of a quarter who can't even survive without an army of mobile plants to back him up.

What impresses me about Olimar is how they managed to make him a completely playable character while staying true to the Pikmin game mechanics. He can do a bit on his own, but it's not like they felt the need to give him a laser blaster or a rocket pack or anything stupid like that -- he's mostly the same old Olimar, just chucking plants around and trying to get by.

Lucas -- Nintendo is never going to bring us Mother 3. So no, I actually don't care.

Sonic -- I feel real bad that I don't like Sonic more than I do. I mean, I can appreciate the fact that they had to get permission from a whole 'nother company just to get him included in this game. I can appreciate the love that went into his move set -- the Down + B dash charge move feels deliciously elegant to fans of the classic Sonic games. And I adore the fact that his appearance gave me an excuse to use "Open Your Heart" as the background theme for my homemade stages.

But when it comes down to it, Sonic just doesn't feel like he belongs here. This isn't his world. Ten years ago, it might have been cool to see a fighting game where Mario and Sonic duked it out, but nowadays? Sega and Sonic are ghosts of their former selves. The crossover appeal just isn't what it used to be. It feels more like a guest appearance from a former celebrity who's starving for work than a true meeting of titans. Sorry, Sonic.

Lucario -- Okay. Much as I enjoy my pokeymans, the Smash Brothers series has only featured two worthwhile characters from the series: Pikachu and Pokemon Trainer. Jigglypuff? Pichu? Mewtwo? Whatever importance they have in their native games is trumped by the fact that they're a waste of space in a Smash Brothers game.

It doesn't help that Lucario is one of those newfangled whatchamacallits that they dreamed up long after Gold and Silver established the true final, ultimate Pokemon experience. No offense to the kids who still eat this stuff up, I'm just saying, combine a character who's not immediately fun to play with a total lack of recognition value, and you've pretty much lost me.

Solid Snake -- The announcement that Snake would appear in Smash Brothers Brawl was a symbolic victory more than anything else. To me, anyway. I guess it was kind of cool to hear that Nintendo would consider inviting third party characters to its orgy of self-congratulation, but it's not like I was in much of a hurry to unlock this guy.

He just feels sort of out of place. I never played much Metal Gear, but I could appreciate that the guy's strengths were tied closely to avoiding direct combat. I just don't get it.

Wolf -- And here's a little something for the furries -- space hunk Wolf O'Donnell, ripping the competition to pieces with his feral fighting style. His taunts, his declarations of victory -- he's 100% lupine, more beast than you can handle, every fanboy's wet dream.

What? What?

Peach -- Who the hell played the first Smash Brothers game and thought, "You know what would make this game even better? If you could play as Princess Toadstool."

The floating and the vegetables are pretty cute, I guess, but for the most part, I sort of have this blind spot that keeps me from seeing her on the character roster. Would've been cool if they'd given us a classic color scheme with brown hair like they did with Toon Link. Unless they did and I've just never bothered to look.

The Rest of 'Em -- Meh.


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