Jimbob's Game of the Year: Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker? Game of the Year? In 2015, the year of giganto-open world sandboxes? Why yes, for a couple of reasons:

  • Firstly, I haven't had time to play any of the big games this year, thanks to the last year's backlog (can Fallout 4 be my game of 2016? No, of course not. I won't have finished it by then.)
  • Secondly, for the same reason everyone else my age* likes it. As a kid - and forgive me if you've read the next sentence in many other places around the internet - I used to draw mw own Mario levels on paper.

Yeah. I know. You've seen loads of other people write this. But Super Mario Bros. was an absolute revolutionary revelation.

As a very young kid, I was first introduced to ye olde British computers. Don't get me wrong, they were really exciting at the time. But this meant loading games from cassette tape (which could take several minutes), often the result of which was a "game" which was often designed with little thought as to how someone other than the developer might need to learn how to play it. There weren't difficulty curves or second chances. So an instantly-loading, side-scrolling, actually fun to control game, that was deliberately designed to show you how to play in its opening scenes, was treated as the holy grail.

*Everyone who counts

 See that giant Piranha Plant? That's your girlfriend, that is.

See that giant Piranha Plant? That's your girlfriend, that is.

I played it over and over again. And because I knew the 32 levels by heart, I longed for new ones. For the sake of historical accuracy (and, I guess, in complete conflict with the point of the first few paragraphs here), being a late adopter of the NES, I got Super Mario Bros. 3 soon afterwards, and that's got 90 of the buggers. But even then, I wanted more. So, being just about young enough for this kind of imagination to be acceptable, I drew out my own Mario stories, on paper (sometimes squared paper - prestige). I think I started off drawing Mario 3 levels, with slopes and flying and Toad Houses. But after a while, I think I appreciated the original's level style more. It's probably an early example of appreciating an older game as being "stylised". Now, in 2015, suddenly I'm able to make my childhood dreams a reality. Super Mario Maker provides a simple, intuitive interface, allowing you to construct a Mario level of your very own, and upload it to the (Jugem's) Cloud (if you got that reference, leave a Like at the bottom of the page).

There are of course some disadvantages of having to wait 25 years to be able to do this. My 8-year-old self would've gone absolutely mental, dragged any old crap across the screen, and published about 500 levels by now. It certainly would've done this:

 *Snort* *chuckle* I'm the king of comedy

*Snort* *chuckle* I'm the king of comedy

Alas, the above didn't make the cut. Having got the game 4 months ago, I've finished making precisely 7 levels. Now I'm a working adult, very conscious about the quality of my creative output, I can't just rush these things. I make sure I have a theme before starting. I tinker with jump difficulty and enemy placement. I try and follow the 4 step theory as explained in the creation of Super Mario 3D World levels. I upload it after playing it through at least twice without editing the content. And occasionally I get maybe 2 stars.

 Another level is in progress! See?

Another level is in progress! See?

There is another reason for the pace of my creativity. I'm too busy playing other people's levels!

In perspective: There were 32 Super Mario Bros. 1 levels. There were 48 Lost Levels… levels. There were 90 Super Mario Bros. 3 levels, 76** Super Mario World Levels, and I think 80-odd in New Super Mario Bros. U. That's quite a lot of Mario. But now there are HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of levels.

It's always fun to see if your follow-ees have made anything new; it's like Tumblr but with Super Mario Bros. instead of erotic fan art. You can try a Hundred Mario Challenge, where you're given 16 random levels from around the world. In short, you can never run out of Mario! OK, sometimes you hit a wall in the road of fun; some people insist on making levels with "last world of The Lost Levels" difficulty, or a puzzle based around a mechanical quirk that Nintendo wouldn't let past the play-testers. Another complaint is that you reach the last level of your random 100-plumbered quest, only to discover it's a "don't move, we've made an automatic Mario Rube-Goldberg Machine" level. But, more often than not, it's great. Perhaps the designer's made a level based on a famous building, or a shape, or a concept, or an idea that you've never seen before in a Mario game.

**Not 96

 Did you know that Bullet Bill cannons were affected by gravity? I bet you didn't before Super Mario Maker.

Did you know that Bullet Bill cannons were affected by gravity? I bet you didn't before Super Mario Maker.

In the interests of criticism, and the avoidance of blind fanboy-ism, what concerns are raised? Some people, presumably raised on Doom WADs, say it's too simplistic. I'd argue that it does a good job of streamlining things, and makes sure that it does what it does very well. It's just classic Mario-ness; the system that defined how 2D platforming should work, and how it should feel. Take, as a comparison, Little Big Planet. I really wanted to love that game; it had a lot going for it, from the cute and cuddly protagonist, to Stephen Fry's charming narrative, to the quirky selection of audio and visual objects. But it takes far too long to create anything that feels remotely like a finished level of any meaning. More importantly, Sackboy himself doesn't control well at all. Bar a few mechanical tricks with the environment, it becomes a plodding also-ran platformer very quickly; the kind of nonsense we dealt with on the Amiga in 1993. Super Mario Maker avoids all of the faff, and makes it possible to have something half-decent finished within a reasonable amount of time (this is an important thing as far as Nintendo is concerned, and it probably means - as someone who used to mess around on Zelda Classic*** - you won't get a Legend of Zelda Maker).

***If you don't know, don't ask

It's also nice to see that Nintendo aren't afraid to mess around and subvert their own rules, either. Giving mushrooms to things and making them giant? Stacking baddies? Retro-fitting Bowser Jr. into the original Super Mario Bros.? And the mystery mushrooms, with the ability to play as an army of amiibo-based Nintendo legends (albeit re-organised to run and jump like an Italian plumber)? What's more, like all of Nintendo's Wii U success stories, they keep adding more good stuff to it. Checkpoints!  Super-fire-y clown-mobiles! Bouncy rings! And of course, many more mystery mushrooms. You can play as Princess Daisy for crying out loud!

 Or Captain Toad! It's the Captain Toad level! Ready for adventure! D'aaaw!

Or Captain Toad! It's the Captain Toad level! Ready for adventure! D'aaaw!

The only other concern - and admittedly it's one that I do have myself - is that, by allowing people to write their own versions of the classic Mario stories, they may be destroying the sanctity of the original games. In the future (when we're playing Super Mario Maker Multiverse 3 Alpha on the Trump-Nintendo X-Station) will the original NES and SNES games be seen as a "starter pack" for the infinitely-expanding Mario universe? Probably not; if there's one thing that you can say after playing  a multitude of Mario missions (award please), it's that you appreciate how clever the original level designs are. And more importantly, it's got everyone talking about Mario again. Hurrah, I say. Hurrah.

Zero's Game of the Year: Runbow

I've been a gaming man for over 25 years; that's longer than some of my esteemed colleagues here at Gintendo Namer Castle have been alive. In that time, trends have come and gone like the changing of the fashion season: light guns, virtual reality, motion controls... virtual reality is almost back again, that's how long I've been into the scene. In short, it takes a lot to surprise me, a lot to get my blood pumping and, almost, remind me why I got into games in the first place.

Enter Runbow.

On the face of it, the game is really simple. You control a generic platform hero/ine who jogs across a level that is usually so small that Mario could triple jump to the end. What sets it apart is that the colour of the background changes: if a platform/door/other object of that colour was on the screen, it blends into said background, essentially as if it were never there, until the colour changes a couple of seconds later. What results is a frantic race to land on a platform that's still there and judge the rhythm of a level: it's really unlike anything else you've played, even with the 2D platformer having a bit of a renaissance.

Firstly, let's talk something I don't usually spend much time on: music. The first two pieces of music you hear are this one on the menu screen and, for single players, this one in the first level. Infectious and unlike most videogame music, the latter in particular would fit perfectly with a montage of two people falling in love in a 60's screwball comedy (which is what they were going for, I'm sure). Aesthetically it's as bright and brash as you like, given the colour gimmick. You might argue that it's a bit simplistic but there's a style to it and everything works.

 Some achievements unlock other indie characters - here eShop darlings Juan from  Guacamelee!  and Shovel Knight from  Le Chevalier De Shovel  duke it out. And Hue's still in the lead.

Some achievements unlock other indie characters - here eShop darlings Juan from Guacamelee! and Shovel Knight from Le Chevalier De Shovel duke it out. And Hue's still in the lead.

The single-player campaign boasts over 140 levels, some boss battles (which are a shade disappointing) and a ranking system based on your time. Getting golds throughout unlocks in-game art and concept art, which is not uncommon, but at least a nice touch. There's also the dank dungeon of despair and despondency known only as 'The Bowhemoth' - a series of challenge levels strung together that will turn the air from rainbow-coloured to pure blue. Seriously, it's, like, well 'ard.

However, to only play Runbow in single player would be like only driving a car in first gear: there's so much more that it is capable of. Up to nine players can join in the race to the finish, at which point the fun levels go from 'high' to 'intergalactic'. Only seasoned Smash players will be able to absorb the levels of chaos that even five-player Runbow unleashes on your poor TV screen. In addition to being able to punch and kick your opponents, beautifully judged power-ups keep every on-screen player in the game (here's some footage). It's slick locally and on-line, which I like: it means there's something for the single player, something for the local multiplayer fan, and something for the on-line souls.

In short, I've ended up gushing about Runbow again, instead of maintaining any kind of reviewerly objectivity. It's a game made with real love and real craft (though thankfully no real Lovecraft) and a true jewel in the Wii U eShop crown. All this and it's the studio's first game, too. Immense.