Doing It Right
This week, I shared some of my thoughts on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the new and improved Nintendo Switch version of the stellar Wii U racer. Down in the comments, the conversation turned toward the legacy of the Wii U and its handful of excellent first-party games. One of those releases, and arguably the one that kicked off the console’s best run, was Super Mario 3D World, but when it was brought up, Statue Of Limitations mentioned thinking it was too easy. This started a great discussion about how difficulty has been handled in the Mario games. DrFlimFlam led the way:
Mario games are designed so that it’s relatively easy for anyone to beat the story. Extra stars, stamps, and levels are for the more dedicated, and a select few levels are real tests of reflexes and overall skill. I know New Super Mario Bros. U was a lot harder for me, and that doesn’t count the even tougher pseudo-expansion, Super Luigi U. I liked the overall difficulty curve of Super Mario 3D World just fine, but I’m also not great at most games.
I really loved the difficulty curve in Mario 64. You start out in the castle grounds, which is an almost completely safe environment. That allows you to teach yourself the basics of movement: running, jumping, climbing, and swimming. There are signs to help you, but there’s no directed hand-holding (apart from the intrusion of the Lakitu Bros. who lecture you on camera control.)
Once you’ve grasped the game’s basics well enough to get from point A to point B, you’ll find your way to the Bob-Omb Battlefield, and things get pretty frantic right away. There’s no time to stop and admire the scenery, because the cannons are constantly shooting down at you. In order to get to the top of the mountain and throw down with King Bomb, you’ll need to learn how to be nimble and quick. If you miss a jump, the game is still somewhat forgiving (you’ll lose health instead of dying instantly) but only to a point. The stars in this level are worth the same as the stars on Rainbow Ride or Tick-Tock Clock, so the game refuses to coddle you. If you stick with Bob-Omb battlefield, the next task it gives you is the Koopa race. This tests your basic movement skills a little more rigorously: You trace the same path as you did in Star 1, but now there’s less room for error. If you miss too many jumps, you’ll fail. Next you’ll learn a few more valuable lessons about cannons and red coins before you “need” the wing cap to go any further. This forces you to finally leave Bob-Omb Battlefield and venture elsewhere.
The next few levels teach you some new tricks and have one or two really nasty challenges, but you should be able to reach the first Bowser level with minimal difficulty. Beating the first Bowser level is another matter altogether, of course. It’s full of all kinds of danger, and it foreshadows what kinds of challenges you’ll face in the castle’s basement stages: fire, moving platforms, and zero tolerance for carelessness.
Once you’ve got the first key, you will inevitably need to do some very nasty challenges in order to open the upstairs door. You can skip stars (or even entire stages) that you find particularly annoying, but you’ll have to push yourself out of your comfort zone eventually. Then once you get to Dire, Dire Docks, the game starts to self-reference. You get Water Level 2.0 and Snow Level 2.0, which incidentally doubles as Lava Level 2.0. The game throws some advanced mechanics at you in Tiny/Huge and Wet/Dry worlds.
Once you finally unlock the top level, you have a choice. You can try two insanely difficult levels, Tick-Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride, or you can go back and dig deeper in the levels you’ve partially cleared already. The game lets you experiment, and find your own way to 70 stars. Beating Bowser for a third time has a sense of finality; there’s no pressure to get all 120 stars. And if you do, the reward is minimal. It just makes it easier to beat your coin high scores, or go back and replay your favorite parts.
And Wolfman Jew had this to add:
The number of “main” levels with bottomless pits is surprisingly small (Whomp’s Fortress; Cool, Cool Mountain; Hazy Maze Cave; Tall, Tall Mountain; Tick Tock Clock; Rainbow Ride) but slowly increases over time, which makes sense. They’re much more perilous in 3-D than 2-D. Each new kind of level—interiors, ice, water, desert, fire—introduces its ideas to you in ways that are safe enough to experiment. (It’s easy to escape after touching the lava at the start of Lethal Lava Land, for example.) The idea of the castle grounds as a garden playground is taken further in the first world, which conveniently sections off its map into these tiny segmented mini-areas of wooden pegs and rolling balls in which you can goof about. But you can see each of the early worlds have these cute little spaces just for that purpose or to introduce fun one-off ideas. This design isn’t just to teach you about learning Super Mario 64; it’s designed to teach you about moving and understanding space in 3-D.
And I also think it’s really important how the game plays with verticality. You can see it right from the start with Peach’s Castle, but you’re not really allowed to move higher beyond smooth elevation, which is still exciting. Climbing is your first mission in Bob-Omb Battlefield, though, and I think it’s important that it, Whomp’s Fortress, and Big Boo’s Haunt are all about spaces you primarily have to ascend. The basement levels are pretty much all straightaways, with Shifting Sand Land and Lethal Lava Land being more hazardous versions of those playful “garden” areas with their odd ruins and fences. And then, the top floor is based around both working in conjunction, with only three levels being primarily vertical or horizontal. The vertical orientation is the most striking element—and probably the hardest to fully grasp—so it makes sense to prioritize it first with smoother, softer ledges and basic “hill” shapes before the later levels get outright vertiginous. There are no spindly walkways like Clanker’s Cavern from Banjo-Kazooie, and most interior spaces are built to accommodate the camera first and foremost like the large hallways in Hazy Maze Cave and Big Boo’s Haunt. But space slowly becomes less stable as levels have more gaps than ground—Rainbow Ride being the ultimate example of this—with the Bowser levels adding useful difficulty bumps to provide a memorable challenge.
He’s Not Heavy, He’s Ryuji
Who would’ve thought a power-ranking billed as “inarguable” would inspire so many arguments? That’s what happened in the comments of this week’s installment of Clayton Purdom’s Persona 5 Game In Progress review, as he laid down his takes on all 21 of the game’s confidants. Butterbean offered some more nasty words for Yusuke, but stuck up for Ryuji, the first friend your character makes at his new school:
From a character perspective, Yusuke is the worst member of the party. He’s an oblivious, pretentious, bland creep who spends a lot of the game trying to convince Ann to pose nude when she has made it abundantly clear she has no desire to do that. It was played for laughs at first, and admittedly led to a funny sight gag with Ann showing up in 20 layers, but he brought up the subject several more times after that.
I also remember being repulsed at least three times by how he spoke to women. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember having some “What the fuck?!” reactions to some of his lines. He’s the worst. Ryuji’s constant yelling can be really grating, but at least he’s a ride-or-die friend who you know will have your back no matter what. Yusuke has virtually no redeeming qualities.
And Deasim offered up this brutal assessment:
I maxed out Ryuji’s confidant link super-fast, and then spent the rest of the game being an absolute dick to him. I seriously treated him like shit, and always picked conversational options designed to make him feel bad and let him know that I think he’s stupid. I never defended him when the rest of the group piled on him, and even when he made a good point, I refused to acknowledge it for the sake of contrariness.
But he always came back, and told me I was cool. Sheer guilt at my mistreatment of him, and sadness at how bleak his life must be forced me to acknowledge that yes, I probably am his best friend. Poor bastard.
Meanwhile, several commenters, including Drinking With Skeletons, pointed out one underdeveloped character that would’ve made for a great confidant:
Lala Escargot should’ve been a confidante—straight up. She’s charming, is one of the few adults in the game to both respect your character and understand healthy adult-teen dynamics, and she offers you the best part-time job in the game. I don’t know what she could offer as a confidant—maybe alternate costumes that let your team learn different skills than they normally would? (That would be a great Persona 5 Golden feature.) It’s criminal that she’s all but ignored in favor of Ohya.
That’ll do it for this week, folks. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!