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Where ‘Super Mario Maker’ Fails




Super Mario Maker is a fantastic game. Very few would argue against that, despite its shortcomings. Sure, the menus outside of the level creator are a bit clunky and hard to use, and the online experience has the classic Nintendo lack-of-charm, but the actual gameplay is solid. The level editor is easy to use and surprisingly powerful, and the gameplay feels like the classic Mario we all know and love. Mission accomplished, it seems. Those are all good aspects, but this article is about failure, so let’s complain!  

There is a defining mechanic behind not just every Super Mario Bros, but most every 2D platforming franchise. This genre of game relies on education through level design. There are no tutorial or text fields filled with hints here. The player learns through play. The levels are designed in such as way as to teach the player how to overcome the events ahead. The original games which Super Mario Maker draws from are divided up into worlds, sets of levels all following a specific theme. The ice world, the desert world, and so on. These stages don’t just follow a visual theme, they also exhibit design cohesion. 2D Mario games are hinged on this very simple and effective design.

The unifying aspect of all the 2D Mario games is their steady implementation of game mechanics. A world in a classic Mario title starts out simple, introducing a new gameplay concept in a low pressure and easy to understand manner. As the player progresses, they find the same concept being used in new and more challenging ways. The stages are meticulously laid out as to teach the player how to overcome the new challenge, then ramp up the complexity and difficulty over the course of not just one, but a set of stages delineated as a “world”. Players learn new skills along the way, becoming better as a whole in the process. Each level establishes a concept, then moves on to gradually combine these designs into a challenging level. Teach the player how to complete a challenge, ramp up the complexity, establish a new design, then finally combine them into a final test of skill.

Here’s a platform, it swings back and forth. Now, here are 2 platforms swinging over a gap. If you fail, you can run back to the left and try again. I hope you’ve got that figured out now because the next section has 2 platforms swinging in a different pattern, suspended over a lava pit. Missing this one will kill Mario. Overcome the challenge, move to the next iteration, and repeat until you finish the level. The next level will teach you a new design, and so on, eventually combining everything you’ve learned into a final stage at the end of the world. This is the basis of a difficulty curve, a hugely important aspect of all gaming genres.

Super Mario Maker

After teaching the player the basic concept behind pendulum platforms, the level then presents a difficult challenge to the player like this one in Lemmy’s Swingback Castle, from New Super Mario Bros. U

This is where Super Mario Maker fails. This game is based entirely around the “level”, not the “world”. Creators are locked into building one level at a time, now forced to jam this progression into one short play experience, or eschew it altogether in favor of brutally difficult stages with little to no difficulty curve to speak of. The player is assumed to be of a high skill level, in the know about the high-level techniques of Super Mario. This doesn’t bode well for the more casual audience, of which there are many, who look for content fitting into their skill set. It becomes difficult for him or her to find content they can complete, and there isn’t much improvement to speak of. It’s either levels which they can finish with their current level of experience or stages far above their pay grade. The middle ground is lost to limited design options. This is “level design”, not “game design”.

This problem could be solved by looking back on the aforementioned principles of Mario games throughout history. Allowing creators to build, not just a level, but instead, a set of levels meant to be played in a specific order would open up the game to real progression, as opposed to playing a set of unrelated and lightly curated levels in 100 Mario Challenge. This form of play does little to teach a player how to actually play Mario. Here it’s more about pure content than progression. Levels are provided under difficulty settings automatically generated based on the number of players who have completed the stage, with the ability to skip a level to avoid frustration. Most players take advantage of this skip feature quite liberally, as they continually run into content they are not equipped to handle. Players are not encouraged to practice or learn new concepts, instead just skip around until they find something in their wheelhouse.

Sets of levels designed to be played one after another would widen the appeal of Super Mario Maker while helping to teach and hone players skills. As it stands, Super Mario Maker is mostly for high-level players. The majority of levels created after the first few months of the game’s lifespan are of the “kaizo” variety. These levels have a very small audience due to their difficulty and use of abstract concepts. Kaizo is great for those who can overcome its challenge (and those who prefer to watch instead of play), but there are far more people who can’t and have no interest in doing so.

Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker’s editing tools are vastly powerful and easy to use. Let’s hope Nintendo doesn’t throw away this innovation in level design.

Super Mario Maker has thrived long after its release thanks to Twitch and YouTube. “Worlds” would further this aspect by allowing creators to put together level packs made specifically for video content creators. Themed sets of stages and speedrunning packs would generate even more excitement, bringing in even larger audiences. It would improve the game’s longevity as well, by providing cohesive content for a longer lasting play session.

Worlds would open up more creative freedom without adding in new level editor tools. Now the creator can stretch and iterate on a concept across several levels, pushing an idea to it’s limits. Continuity through a long-running theme is established, rules are set and then broken, and a steady difficulty curve is implemented. Players are much more comfortable and motivated to keep playing as a result. Now the game is giving the players the opportunity to expand their skills, which opens up even more content. Over time, the players build up the skill set to tackle the more difficult stages. You’re grabbing consumers at the entry level, providing content to keep them playing, and opening up even more content over time via experience. That is how you build, expand, and retain an audience.

The biggest issue with Super Mario Maker is content distribution. Searching out quality levels which fit into your specific demographic is a frustrating experience, and 100 Mario Challenge does little to rectify the problem. It’s difficulty settings are less than consistent and the inbuilt search tools are lacking. Worlds would help out here as well, providing self-curated content designed for longer play sessions. No longer are players forced into playing one level at a time, then searching for a new experience through the provided online tools. Now a player can sit down and enjoy an hour long Super Mario Bros experience with little work required.

There really isn’t any drawbacks to including level packs in Super Mario Maker. Creating worlds would not be mandatory. Designing one level at a time is less daunting for a creator to be certain, but why not let those who envision something larger do so? Both audiences can be satisfied without sacrifice.

Implementation of content packs could be the standout innovation in a new Super Mario Maker entry. Nintendo operates on a “big innovation” principle. Unlike many other studios who approach sequels with smaller design iterations, Nintendo mostly sticks to the big ideas. Generally, they don’t make a new game in an established franchise If there isn’t a new idea to justify its existence. Ask any Pokemon Snap fan, they’ll tell you all about it. We waited a very long time for a new Star Fox game. Nintendo was waiting for a big idea, in this case, new hardware which could change the game at a fundamental level. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out so well, but they took a risk on a big idea. That’s what Nintendo does, and they are successful more often than not. Super Mario Odyssey wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without its capture mechanic. If it was a typical 3D Mario game we would be happy but not nearly as jazzed as we are now.

Worlds might not seem like a large innovation on the surface, but it’s effects are long reaching and nothing but positive. New creative freedoms, audience expansion and retention, more convenient content distribution centered around long-form play while still allowing for short experiences made perfect for a handheld. That sure does sound like a big change to me.

Big enough to justify a Nintendo Switch entry though? I certainly hope so. Super Mario Maker has already made its way to both the Wii U and the 3DS and sold well over time. Adding a world building mechanic, complete with a simple overworld designer for good measure, could be the next big push towards creating the idyllic Super Mario Maker experience. Now let’s hope someone at Nintendo reads this article. If so, feel free to contact me for credit and residual payments. The best designers don’t work for free, you know.

NSFW – Strong (celebratory) language – In the video below, the great CarlSagan42 completes a “Kazio” stage based on exotic uses of the classic POW block. Kazio is a term used to describe complex and highly difficult Mario stages, first used by Super Mario Bros ROM hackers in the early 90s. Interested in ROM hacks? GoobmaStomp has you covered there too with a recurring series of articles all about the subject, written by yours truly. 

Why hello there. I write about the video game industry. I usually write features about the history and state of the industry, and dive into topics like game design and tech. I'm also a competitive fighting game player and speedrunner. I talk about old fighting games and Mother 3 too often for most people's taste. Money match me in WindJammers if you don't mind losing. Aside from gaming, I work as a professional musician and do a bit of stand-up comedy. You can find me writing jokes and retweeting fan art @PfhorTheWin.

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019



Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming



Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.



max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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