Because I’m hilariously immature, one of my favorite things to do is color with crayons. I do it all the time, way more than I’d like to admit. And you’d think, as much as I do it, that I would be halfway decent at drawing. But you’d be wrong. I’m awful at drawing, and most of the things I come up with are so bad that they’re an embarrassment to everyone involved. So, due to my masochistic love of making myself look stupid for your amusement, I have taken 3 of my recent drawings and viciously torn them apart, like a vindictive art critic, except that, unlike your typical art critic, I understand why art exists. So, we start off with…
One of my biggest problems with my drawings is that no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to draw a person. I’ve never, ever, ever been able to get a regular human being’s dimensions down. So, even when I stick to video game characters, I have to draw things that have the simplest shapes possible. So drawing a Black Mage from Final Fantasy should be easy, right?
Am I ever correct about any hypothetical questions? This looks like a racist depiction of a black guy peeking out of a blue sock. Anybody who is familiar with the series will be able to tell exactly what it is, but they’ll also laugh at me and banish me from any groups they belong to. Also, check out this picture of this drawing before it was finished:
Here he looks like a sock with bodacious, if oddly angled, jugs.
I just played through Mario RPG again, for like the 50th time. I think I may have beaten it more than any other game I own. I always feel kind of bad, because immediately upon gaining a 4th party member, I always take Mallow out of the party and he never ends up back in it again for the rest of the game. As part of this guilt, I decided to draw him.
I know he’s a fictional character, and that moreover this is a crayon drawing that I made myself, but I can’t help but feel like he knows how insulting this drawing is. It’s like, he’s smiling, but you know secretly he wishes he didn’t look like a bizarre piece of popcorn with 2 club feet and an arm that was mangled in a factory press.
I looooove Magnemite’s design. I like very simply drawn characters, and especially weird looking ones with one gigantic eye, and Magnemite fits the bill. Actually a lot of the Pokeymans fit that particular bill, but Magnemite probably does the best. But I’ve demonstrated in the past that I can’t seem to draw even the simplest of things. Is this in that category?
Actually, as far as my drawings go, I don’t think this one is too bad. I mean, it has its problems, but it captures the essence of the original Pokemon. Right? Maybe not, those screws on the bottom look awful. But I still like my little electric-type, poorly-drawn screws aside. He is SO going up at my desk at work.
So that’s really the best I can do. Any ideas as to what I should try to draw next?
I’ve always had a really hard time keeping a steady list of my favorite things. Which of a series of things is my favorite is often decided by a number of factors, but, as sad as this is, the most constant one is which one I happen to be using at the time. For example, if you asked me at a time when I’m not listening to music, I’d probably cite Jellyfish, Puffy Amiyumi, or Steely Dan as my favorite band. But, if you caught me while I was listening to, say, Miles Davis or Pink Floyd, I could just as easily name them as my favorite. I’m especially bad about that with games. My favorite Final Fantasy jumps from IV to VI constantly, with occasional jumps to V or VII. Likewise, I think I’ve named every Zelda game except Majora’s Mask and Twilight Princess as my favorite at some point.
So why would I even attempt to make a list of the Mario games I think are the best, which can be a very contentious issue? Because I love to make lists. I make them compulsively, in fact. I have a spiral notebook with many, many lists in it, counting everything from favorite snack cakes to favorite cartoons. This, coupled with my terrible handwriting, leads most people to think the lists were made by a surprisingly sophisticated 6-year-old, and these people are usually a bit worried when they find that a 22-year-old man has a list of his favorite spaceships. Nonetheless, I find making these lists a lot of fun, and that spills over into this site quite a bit.
Anyway, let’s get started. (Keep in mind these are in no particular order.)
Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996, Nintendo)
Super Mario 64 marked an absolute landmark moment in gaming history. Just like with Super Mario Bros. before it, it marked a turning point in the industry, and marked the moment when 3D games really reached the “next generation” we’d been promised for so long. It’s impossible to overstate what a massive impact this game had on the industry. After it came out, every 3D platformer had to control tightly and allow you control over the camera, or else it would end up like Bubsy 3D, the shitting-room floor of the outhouse of bad 90s 3D platformers.
But none of this really matters if you’re reviewing the game itself. So how does the game stand up if you review only on its merits as a game?
Pretty fucking well. There have been quite a few games I loved in my adolescence that I have recently returned to playing. Some, like Mario Kart 64 and Wave Race 64, are (naturally) exactly as fun as I remembered. Others, like Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball and Doom 64, simply don’t hold up as well as I remember. But Super Mario 64 manages to still inspire the exact same level of fascination and wonder that it did the first time I played it, craning my neck to look at a screen 4feet above me at a Wal-Mart kiosk, trying to use all 5 fingers to control the thumbstick.
But this isn’t just nostalgia; every single element of this game still holds up. The music, the sound, the graphics, the level design, the controls, all of it is still absolutely stunning, although perhaps not technically so. The graphics look jagged sometimes and there’s a lot of clipping problems, but despite that, the game still looks quite impressive. Although a lot of later N64 games, particularly platformers, had a lot of problems with color contrast (my wife still has trouble playing a lot of games she loves just because the colors give her such a headache), Mario 64 had a beautifully lush palette and a lot of really well-designed characters that manage to be every bit as iconic and recognizable as characters in previous Mario games. The same goes for the sound; I love the music in all the Mario games, but I would say hands down the best song in the series, if not necessarily the most iconic or important, is the Dire Dire Docks theme from SM64. I never really noticed it when I first played the game, but when I started listening to game music as a genre, I really noticed how spectacular this song was. It’s incredibly atmospheric, and there’s something that is just indescribably beautiful about it.
Probably the biggest key to SM64′s success, however, is how incredibly fun it is to control Mario. To this day there has never been a game more fun to control than this one. The controls were just tight enough, and the range of moves Mario had was just big enough to allow you an extreme degree of freedom of movement without feeling too complicated. Honestly, I’m not sure there will ever be a game that will be more of a blast to play than this one.
Also, I just realized that not a single thing I just said was funny. So, in lieu of my own comedy, here’s some made with Super Mario 64. Mario sliding backwards at 90 miles an hour up those stairs is maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen:
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES, 1996, Nintendo/Squaresoft)
God, 1996 was so awesome.
Super Mario RPG was far, far more than just Mario in a Squaresoft RPG. In fact, in terms of gameplay, it’s probably the most innovative RPG to come out since, well, Dragon Warrior. For some reason, it’s also one of my absolute clearest memories of purchasing a game. I remember my grandmother (who also really likes RPGs) brought me to Wal-Mart on the way home from her house to my parents’, and had me go ahead and pick it up. Then, I finally got home, and found that my parents weren’t home, and I had no key. So, I ended up having to wait for what felt like hours riding around with my grandparents waiting for them to get home. I don’t know why I remember that so clearly, but I can remember every second of it, everything that was on our deck while I was waiting, what was in my grandmother’s car, everything. I don’t even remember my first girlfriend as well as that. Mostly because she was a bitch.
I know it seems like I’m giving out perfect scores like candy, but I really think it’s justified here. SMRPG is one of the most unique games ever made, in terms of gameplay, story, and even the way it interprets Mario canon. It’s also a very fun game, and it has a surprising amount of depth and replay value.
One thing that really stands out to me about the game is how entertaining the characters are. The characters created specifically for the game are very entertaining (and are graphically really well-designed SMRPG has given me some of my personal favorite characters ever, like Booster, Belome and Jonathan Jones, and even the minor characters, like Croco and Punchinello, are very memorable. The Mario series characters are given new twists that manage to both fit in with the characters’ established personalities and provide endearing new twists to the characters – for example, Bowser’s hidden emotional side. This is another high point about the game: it’s hilarious. It’s actually genuinely funny, on purpose, which is still really rare in games. The story is also really entertaining, despite its (on the surface) generic “collect the 7 somethings” storyline.
One big thing that made the game so memorable and enjoyable to me that never seems to be mentioned by most reviewers is the absolutely spectacular music. Yoko Shimomura is really underrated. She’s done great work, especially with Capcom (where she worked on Breath of Fire, Street Fighter II, and several classic Capcom beat-em-ups), but Super Mario RPG is probably my favorite thing she ever did. She really brings Koji Kondo’s music from the Mario games to new heights as an arranger and goes far beyond just remixing them. These arranged tracks, combined with her original music, really brings together the atmosphere of the game – fun, upbeat, and entertaining.
The gameplay, though, is what sets the game apart for most people. SMRPG is a perfect example of how fresh you can make a traditional JRPG seem without utilizing confusing, over-complicated, or just downright shitty battle systems. Mario doesn’t just veeeeeery sloooooowly walk 1 tile at a time from conversation to conversation; you jump, run, dodge, and interact with everything around you. You even get to do the slide-under-the-block trick from level 1-2 of Super Mario Bros. in the Pipe Maze section. The battles are also really entertaining, retaining the fight-magic-item system from traditional JRPGs, but involving you in the battle via “timed hits.” This simple timed-press trick makes it very fun to fight, and finding a new weapon or learning a new spell refreshes the battles before they have a chance to get stale.
SMRPG is charming, innovative, unique, and just a blast to play; in short, everything an RPG based on the Mario series should be.
Super Mario World (SNES, 1991, Nintendo)
It was a tough decision between this and Mario Kart 64, but SMW won out by a small margin.
I know that everybody considers SMB3 to be the best of the 2D platformers, and I understand why. It’s phenomenal. It’s such an incredible game and really presaged the future of games, arguably more than the original. There are few games that bring more pure, unadulterated fun directly to your face.
I said “few” for a reason. SMW is, in my opinion (which admittedly is a bit off from the rest of the world) anyway, more fun than SMB3. As great as SMB3 was, SMW controlled better, had superior level design, and had even more depth than its predecessor.
Funny story about SMW: Shigeru Miyamoto was disappointed with it at the time. He felt that it was incomplete and that he didn’t get to do everything with it he wanted to, which was apparently a recurring theme with the early Mario games (for example, he had wanted to add Yoshi ever since the original SMB). That’s right – Shigeru Miyamoto was disappointed with what is generally considered to be one of the absolute greatest games of all time. Kind of like how John Lennon threw away songs that were better than anything most bands spent their entire lives on; that’s why Miyamoto is one of the greatest creators of our time, and why I favor just giving him the Moon, as a gift. Seriously. I’ll present it to him; I’ll be like “This is for Mario. And Zelda. Seriously! You can keep it.”
That’s right; three ten out of tens. And honestly, there are probably several more games in the series I would give a perfect score in this series.
Super Mario World is just one of those games that did everything right. It’s still one of the prettiest 2D games ever. The graphic design is top-notch, and undoubtedly influenced the look of many other games from the same time, and even now. The music did the same, and really showed off Koji Kondo’s skills as an arranger as well as a composer; nearly all of the music in the game is a variation on one tune, and most people I know don’t notice that until I tell them. Having bongo drums added to the music while you’re riding Yoshi was a neat touch as well. SMW is also one of the biggest Mario games, and has a mind-boggling amount of things to do, especially if you consider that the concept of having so much to do in a platform game was nearly unprecedented at the time. It’s also just a tightly made platformer; I still don’t think there’s ever been a game in the genre that controls so well and encourages so much exploration of the physics and momentum of the game. As an example, check out this awesome fucking video. It’s made entirely with sounds and objects in the game (although they’re arranged with a level designer, which just hacks up the ROM as it exists with no modifications). It doesn’t really make my point very well, but isn’t it fucking awesome?!?