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Mario and Movement- The Evolution of a 3D Platformer

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Movement in a platformer is probably something you don’t think about too much. Not necessarily things like how to make a jump, but rather how fun that jump is to make, or how that jump affects the design of the game world. Mario is one of the quintessential platformer franchises in both 2D and 3D, and Odyssey is one of the smoothest experiences I’ve had playing this genre, Mario or not. This is because Super Mario Odyssey builds itself on a 20 year legacy of experimentation, success, and failure in terms of design choices for 3D Mario titles. Each of the main 3D games brought something new or tried to experiment with things that previous iterations had not done yet. So, let’s take a quick look at how design and movement were used in the main 3D Mario games.

  1. Super Mario 64

super mario 64Super Mario 64 is like the Wild West for 3D platformers. It came out after many companies (including Nintendo) had already been experimenting with moving into the 3rd dimension. Classic franchises like Castlevania and Mega Man struggled to find their footing, but Mario made the leap into 3D with flying colors. 64 is one of the best games when it comes to control and fluid movement, which is funny since it was the first 3D Mario.

The biggest changes for the Mario formula are that our little Italian man can now dive, long jump, and wall jump. All of these add a lot to how you get around. Super Mario 64’s levels are not designed with linearity in mind, you’re meant to explore them, and sometimes you can find things off the path the game outlines for you. Mastering how to wall jump can get you into certain places early, or even let the adventurous push what boundaries the game tries to set. The long jump serves a similar purpose, and its most common application is to clear large gaps you normally couldn’t or to simply keep your momentum going.

Momentum is the keyword when thinking about movement in Mario games. Not stopping is pretty important, and you can beat a lot of older Mario games without halting your progression even the slightest. One of the worst feelings in a platformer is waiting, and Mario 64 tries to circumvent this by giving you ways to quickly travel across levels, and make you feel like you’re always going forward… unless it’s Rainbow Ride. Rainbow Ride feels horrible.

  1. Super Mario Sunshine

super mario sunshineSuper Mario Sunshine is the black sheep for the 3D Mario games. It did a lot at the time to try and push new ideas for Mario but at the cost of becoming a repetitive mess. The game’s starting gimmick is cleaning up messes with F.L.U.D.D, but I wouldn’t really call walking around and spritzing paint with water “platforming.” F.L.U.D.D does add a lot of new movement options to the game though, some of which are probably my favorite.

For starters, Mario can increase his ground speed by spraying water in front of him and diving onto it, giving him a short, frictionless, slide to get around faster. The rocket and boost nozzles for the F.L.U.D.D are also pretty cool and unique. Both give Mario a very crazy boost either vertically or horizontally. Stages are a lot bigger in Sunshine, mostly due to the amount of distance you can travel with F.L.U.D.D. It sounds great at first, but really this ends up slowing a lot of the game down. 64 is mostly compact levels that you can traverse in a few minutes, but you can spend 5-10 just scaling walls in Sunshine, and that’s if you don’t fall off.

If Mario 64 gives the player options to avoid awkward pausing, then Sunshine is built around it. The hover nozzle is by far one of the biggest offenders of this. It practically pauses you in mid-air if you don’t already have a decent amount of speed going. It’s primary platforming purpose is to serve as the early-game rocket nozzle and help you with jump height. It can also help you clear large gaps, but the more savvy Mario player will just make use of wall jumps or long jumps, which are still present in the game even though the F.L.U.D.D gives similar (but slower) options.

Sunshine offers a lot less independence to explore despite it being a much larger game. The shine sprites in Sunshine are tied to individual missions like the starts in 64. But 64 would often host multiple stars in a level, and you could accidentally find one early just exploring a stage. Sunshine will intentionally bar the player from areas until other requirements are met, and this is true at pretty much every stage in the game. There are a few outliers, but Sunshine corals the player to stick to its rules rather than give them the freedom they had before.

  1. Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2

super mario galaxyThe Galaxy games feel like a reboot in terms of movement. Sunshine slowed the series down, but Galaxy is meant to bring it back to where it started. Galaxy does a lot to separate itself from 64 and Sunshine mechanically. The game isn’t as “open-world,” as its predecessors, it’s a lot of going from point A to point B. It works out well here though. Levels are built to be linear and there’s there’s less to explore, but the challenges in each stage feel more fleshed out and less generic. There was a definitive pattern to the shine sprite missions in Sunshine, and neither Galaxy game feels that way.

Galaxy is also the first 3D game to feature traditional Mario power-ups like those in the NES games. A lot of the most memorable power-ups have to do with verticality. Most notable is the bee suit, which gives you the ability to quickly climb and also fly around. Yoshi also makes a comeback here as an interesting platform tool (He was in Sunshine as well, but his potential is squandered and he adds nothing). The tiny dino-companion can eat different kinds of fruit in Galaxy 2 to give him super speed or hovering capabilities.  Galaxy is a showy game, and it likes to make everything seem as big and grand as possible. That’s the main reason you’ll see Mario triumphantly fly from one plant to another when using a launch star.

  1. Super Mario Odyssey

super mario odysseySo, how does Super Mario Odyssey combine all of these things? Well, Mario’s basic jump skills from 64 are all still here, and they feel really tight and responsive. Cappy also adds a new way to jump in the game by giving Mario a free extra jump by using him as a platform. Being able to successfully scale a wall by using Cappy jumps is up there with diving in Super Mario 64 in how good it feels to do properly. You can sequence break a lot of things once you get this technique down, and Odyssey has the same open-world level design that 64 does. Power moons in Odyssey are hidden everywhere, and you’re not kicked back out to a hub after getting one. It’s obvious the design team wanted to make exploration and experimentation the most important parts of each level because they never want to break your flow while playing.

A lot of the experimental F.L.U.D.D stuff and Galaxy power-ups are level-exclusive now. This is a really good approach to this kind of stuff since it let the design team build whole levels around using a certain power-up rather than worrying about the player being able to use whatever they want. In particular, the Seaside Kingdom is the best example of this. The little squid enemies you can possess there have abilities very similar to F.L.U.D.D, and if you could use those powers everywhere it would make the game a lot less fun to interact with and slow it down. On the other hand, the Seaside Kingdom is built to make use of the power-up’s hovering abilities and even its boss battle is super fun to play (which was a thing that wasn’t always true in Sunshine).

Odyssey is without a doubt one of my favorite Mario games. I still think the polished and simple feel of 64 holds up the best, but Odyssey comes in a very close second. It’s a creative game, with lots of room to let the player just mess around in the world and have fun moving about. It’s hard to think of a game quite like Odyssey. It combines the simple freedom of Super Mario 64, the large sprawling levels of Super Mario Sunshine, and the odd and satisfying power-ups of the Galaxy games.

Taylor is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His passion for games extends across genres and generations. When not playing or writing about games, he's probably reading science fiction.

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale

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Yaga Game Review

Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?

From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.

Yaga Game Review

“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”

The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.

Yaga

Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.

However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.

Yaga

At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.

“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”

The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.

Yaga Game Review

On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.

Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.

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‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror

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Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.

RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.

resident_evil_3_psx_marvin_branagh_by_danytatu-d812bgk-768x480

Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.

The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.

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The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.

Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.

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