Galaxy out – Back to the roots (not THE roots)

June 25, 2010

Just recently, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released, the sequel to one of the critically best-received video game-titles ever. And just as its predecessor, SMG2 is as fantastic. Well, almost. Some mean-minded people called SMG2 a “mission disc for SMG1”, complaining about its similar nature. But while it´s true that all the basics are the same, almost each and every mission of SMG2 offers a new challenge that hadn´t been seen before. But I have to admit: A hypothetical Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably bore me.

Imagination at its extreme

Two 3D-Mario-games, both of the highest quality that can be met in this industry. But nearing SMG2´s end, I couldn´t help but think that a lot of those galaxies featured a very similar style, be it the gameplay or simply the visual premise. Not only that, but SMG1´s ending was by far superior to SMG2´s. Here, you just keep playing and playing, and suddenly it´s all over. Whereas in SMG1, the game really pushed a a whole firework into the player´s face, celebrating the finale of that grand piece of gaming. Still, SMG2 managed to build on SMG1´s strengths, such as not to overuse items. And it certainly one-upped the difficulty to please “hardcore”-gamers. Two fantastic games. But now it´s time for something new. Or should I say: Something old again.

Let me assure you that I know that most gamers consider SMG to be the “new” entry in Mario-evolution that they wanted to happen to the Zelda-series as well. I, however, think differently. And I already wrote an article on that. SMG isn´t new at all. It took the nature of 2D-Mario´s gameplay and perfectly mixed it into 3D-Mario´s basics; thus resulting in the linear, short and fun missions we all know by now. But that´s neither new, nor is it the only option for the Mario-franchise.

Exploring Isla Delfina - Fun without direction

It could be argued that Mario 64´s focus on adventure and exploration wasn´t very Mario-esque, but that´s far in the past. Now, I like that style. I loved Mario 64 when it came out, and, while featuring some reeeally annoying missions, I also loved Mario Sunshine. I loved it because it offered me such big places to explore, jump around, climb upon and find out secrets just about everywhere. Isla Delfino was a super fun place to run around. In both this game and Mario 64, missions weren´t always as clear as in the Galaxy-games. Sure, you were always given a certain objective, but you could also stray away from the original path and explore the level – only to find out that there´s another star to get. It´s this non-linear structure that made 3D-Marios so much fun back then. I very well remember the times when I started Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine only to run around the island or castle. The same can´t be said about Galaxy 1 and 2, where both hubs are completely devoid of secrets.

So, after having greatly enjoyed two of the best Mario-games, it´d be nice to see something new, something fresh: A return to 3D-Mario´s roots. Give me one big, open world to explore. Considering that a new home console-Mario might see its release on the next Nintendo-system, with all the extra power Nintendo could even attempt to create a completely seamless world, without any “levels”. We got the extreme of 2D. Now show us the extreme of 3D, Nintendo.

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Emphasis on animations

November 7, 2009

Most games´ focus in terms of visuals lies on the pure impression of the picture you get at a certain point while playing the game. Focus is the ability to present the game as well as possible to the media masses. One aspect that cannot be shown on a picture or not even in videos are games´ animations.

There is no doubt that video games animation have come a long way, and while we´re not yet on Pixar-level, video games are capable of outputting gorgeous animations. Games look fluid, smooth and natural. Still, if you actually play those games you come to realize that it´s not as great as you thought it looked to be. Obvious examples of video games that don´t give a thing about believable, natural feeling animations are first person shooters. It´s simply not something to sweat about when you´ll never see your character anyway. And who cares about perfect animation in a game like Unreal Tournament 3, where all that matters is to shoot the enemy.

The majority of today´s games DOES have good animations, though. At least well-looking animations. That´s where the next split between good and bad (oh well, “not so good”) happens. Dead Rising looks great, but its animations are completely capped. As are Monster Hunter 3´s. You have these stunning moving monsters, but if you keep watching them you realize that it´s one set of animations over and over again. And no matter how you hit them with your weapon, they always react the same.

ico_15

There is a small minority of games, though, that is doing it perfectly right. For one, there is ICO for Playstation 2. Key-difference to most other games is that animations aren´t just pretty, they also feel great. Or to be more precise, they are combined with gameplay-related physics. When you run on a path and it has small obstacles, you can feel those obstacles and you can see your ingame-character moving accordingly. Another even older example would be Super Mario 64. That is in stark contrast to Super Mario Galaxy, where animations became actually less responsive to the gameplay. In the Nintendo 64-Mario, you have to gain momentum, you have to plan your next move or it´s game over. In Galaxy, you can heavily change the course of your jump even when already in midair. The 64-Mario moves, jumps and stops and you can feel and see it. That´s what made this 3D-introducing title the popular game it is even today.

I believe that there is an important connection between responsive animations and a “good feeling”, which in turns leads to higher levels of immersion. The following may be one hundred percent subjective, but I can still play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time today, and enjoy it, even enjoy its visuals. In contrast, I don´t have that much fun with re-playing Twilight Princess, where animations have become less responsive, where Link jumps in such a weird, stiff way. A detailed blockbuster-game may be nice to look at, but I strongly think that animations are a key-element in the world of video games, that is the connection between visuals and gameplay.