Backloggin’ – Metroid Prime, Super Mario Bros 2

Dudes! Guess what? I did it. I made it through to the end of my first ever college term, and now I have the entirety of December all to myself. This is the best! I skipped last week’s update because I was caught up in exams, which usually means I’m not playing much of anything. But now that I’m free from the restraining shackles of school and assignments? Ha! It’s a whole month of seasonal gaming, my friends.

Let’s kick things off with a statistical look at my backlog progress:

Current statistics:

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 2.15.51 PM

Last week’s statistics:

Screen Shot 2012-11-28 at 3.02.09 PM

Changes:

  • Beat count up 0.2% (1 game beaten)

Beaten games since last update:

  • Super Mario Advance (GBA)

New games since last update:

  • Conker: Live & Reloaded (Xbox) – yesssss, so happy I own this now.

Continue reading for a rather in-depth look at what I’ve ben up to gaming-wise!

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Super Mario Advance (GBA) I had a friend over recently who loaded up my save file on this game just to try out the new GBA he had just bought. Having not played this game in forever, I had totally forgotten about how far I was in it. But as it turned out, I was on the second-to-last world. That close to a :B: and I didn’t know it? Well, in that case, time to revisit some Mario and his magical adventures in The Mushroo – er… Subcon. Whatever that is.

What can be said about this game that hasn’t been said before? Well, there’s this – it’s easily the weirdest Mario game out there that isn’t also totally shit. I’d say it ranks up there with the other classic Mario titles, but it’s definitely not as good as say, SMB3. The weirdest thing about this game is also what makes it the biggest departure from Mario’s other 2D side-scrollers – the combat. Instead of jumping on the heads of your enemies and shattering their vertebrae in the process, in this one, you, uh… throw vegetables at them. Yeah. It’s weird. That’s probably why a lot of people don’t like this game. Throwing vegetables? That’s not Mario! And you’re right. This isn’t actually Mario – not how you’d imagine it would be, anyway. I’m sure must of you reading this are well aware of SMB2’s dark secret, but here goes. SMB2 is what it is, because it wasn’t originally designed as a Mario game – rather, it was a totally different, seperate project never released in North America called Doki-Doki Panic. The game we got – Super Mario Bros 2 – is simply a re-skin of Doki-Doki whatever with Mario characters in it.

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See? I love how Toad automatically becomes the large Turban-wearing guy.

But the game, to be fair, does have its strengths. For one, the enemy variety is great, and there are way more enemies in this game than most 2D Mario games. In fact, you won’t even see a single Goomba in this game – they’re all totally exclusive to SMB2, and many of Mario’s more memorable foes – Bob-ombs, Shy-Guys, and …Birdo *shudder* – had their debut here. I also really like the level designs. As the difficulty gets harder towards the end, there’s some nice, challenging sequences in there that don’t go too far into being frustrating. Once you get the hang of it, clearing levels in this game can be pretty satisfying. But in comparison to other Mario games? Eh. Vegetable-throwing just isn’t as fun as quickly dispatching foes with a good ol’ stomp to the head. Going around grabbing things also slows down the game, which is probably the main reason why the whole mechanic makes SMB2 feel weaker gameplay-wise to other classics like SMB3.

Other than that, though? It’s pretty okay. I hold some nostalgia for it, since it was one of my first Mario games for GBA all those Christmases ago. But clearly, it’s rather inferior to other Mario titles. And that ending? Gaaaaah. Reminds me of a story I wrote in fourth friggin’ grade – and even realized that “twist” was lame at the age of ten. But don’t get me wrong – this is probably the best vegetable-throwing game out there. Worth checking out if you’re going through the Mario series, too – just don’t expect anything super amazing.

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Metroid Prime (Wii trilogy edition)

As a person who considers the Metroid series to be his favorite Nintendo franchise, I’m loooong overdue for beating this.

Funny enough, I’ve owned the damn game on the Gamecube since 2004. Fusion – another Metroid game I didn’t finish at the time because I was like that – was one of my favorite GBA titles, so naturally upon seeing Prime featured in a Nintendo Power magazine, I told my Dad to pick it up for me. That’s what I did back then when I wanted new games – asked my Dad and hoped he would warmly comply. What a concept!

He did, and soon I held a brand-new copy of the Player’s Choice edition in my hands. At some point, I popped it in, played through the first space station area, got to the first boss of the game, and…

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The first boss of Metroid Prime, the snarling, drooling Parasite Queen.

… Promptly got my ass handed to me.

Looking back on it, especially now that I finished Prime all these years later without it really being much of a challenge – was I really that shitty at video games? I mean, damn, this first boss is really easy by my standards today. Just keep dodging and shooting, and you win. No real problems there.

But I guess as a kid I couldn’t really get the dodge-shoot thing down. I also remember finding it really weird that the shoot button was mapped to the “A” button, having played shooters like Halo and Metal Arms previously.

Anyway, the game kicked my ass and continued to. I remember I finally got past the Parasite Queen, only to be greeted with the classic Metroid trope of OMG PLACE EXPLODING GET OUT. Being me, I failed to get out, got lost, and panicked. Then I died promptly after.

By the way, I should mention that Metroid Prime has one of the best game over screens ever.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnsY1HV-qLI?rel=0]

Creepy, huh?

Actually, looking back on it, I did find this game pretty scary. Halo had the Flood, sure – but this was a different kind of creepy. The kind of being alone in a dark place with no other human contact kind of creepy. The combination of its freaky, desolate atmosphere and getting stuck very early on in the game is honestly probably what turned me away for good.

Playing it now, of course, is a totally different story. While Prime is amazingly atmospheric and excels at making the player feel uneasy, lost, and generally creeped out – it’s about as scary as a Goosebumps book for me now that I’ve played games like F.E.A.R. Oh man, that game would have absolutely traumatized me as a kid.

But let’s get back on track. I’ve repeatedly tried in the past to get back into Prime, but I never could. For one, the controls continued to throw me off, especially on the Gamecube where you’re essentially playing with one analog stick. On top of that, I just didn’t “get” what the game was trying to do. But most of all, I never got into Prime because I didn’t give it enough of a chance.

Once you get a good 2-3 hours in, Prime really starts to shine, because that’s when the exploration really kicks in. Suddenly, you’re traversing through these wonderfully detailed planetary environments, scanning things for clues and data, shooting away at stuff that gets in your way, and solving puzzles. The shooting really takes a backseat to the other mechanics in Prime – like other Metroid titles, enemies are only there to slow you down, meaning you can breeze right past them if you so desire. But even so, the entire thing works almost flawlessly, especially with the Wii version motion controls – it basically makes the game feel as if you were using a dual-analog controller.

I have to hand it to Retro Studios, because Prime is so damn polished that it makes other current-gen triple-A games with larger development teams behind them look bad, and that’s saying something. Not once did I run into a visual oddity or immersion-breaking bug. On top of this, playing as Samus and just moving around feels great. There’s a certain weight to jumping, morph-ball sections are a fun little change of pace, and the platforming – despite it being first-person – actually works really well.

It’s a totally solid conversion of everything than made 2D Metroid games so great. There’s that same constant feel of progression and allure of new areas and upgrades. Prime’s progressive feel is compelling – but it doesn’t beat down on you in a way that feels forcing or blinding. As you wander through Tallon IV’s various environments, taking the sights in and unlocking new areas, the whole thing just feels fantastic. It’s exactly what claims to be – an exploration game.

For me, however, this causes some problems. When I play video games, I like to have my objective clearly outlined for me. I don’t need to be told exactly how to get somewhere or exactly how to do something, but I want a little reminder of what I’m supposed to be focusing on, just to keep me on-track. And Prime? Well, it does this. Occasionally you’ll receive a friendly little hint that opens up your map and shows you what room you should be heading for, but that’s it. No directions or pathway outlined for you – find it yourself.

That’s great. I can respect that. It makes Prime feel like it’s really letting off, like it wants you to just go about things yourself. What I didn’t like, however, is that these hints are delayed. I don’t know why they are, but whenever you collect an item or defeat a boss, it takes a while for the next hint to show up. I’m not talking seconds or minutes here, I’m talking like, half-hours.

I’m not sure why Retro chose to set up the hint system this way – really, the hints are subtle enough that they could pop up instantaneously without sacrificing Prime’s unmistakable hands-off approach. And even still, why not make it so the player can enter the menu themselves to manually trigger the hint instantly should they so desire, for people like me?

I realize this is a 10-year-old (wow) game I’m criticizing here, but that kinda irked me a bit when I played it. I was occasionally using a walkthrough anyway, but I just felt like that was an odd design choice.

The other problem I have with Prime is the lovely fetch-quest it gives you before you can move on to the final boss fights of the game. After defeating the Space Pirate boss in the Phazon mines, you have to go run around through the entirety of Tallon IV all over again, collecting 12 artifact keys that will open up the final boss fight. This… sucks. I was okay with most of the backtracking in Prime – I mean, it’s inevitable, seeing as how the game is set up to be a hub world of sorts. But this? Pure bullshit. I don’t see how anyone could find enjoyment in running back through the same environments and getting shot at by the same newly-respawned enemies all over again. It’s like Retro needed a way to lengthen the game. Really though, the artifact collecting makes Prime’s last few hours kinda groan-worthy and lessens the chances that I’ll be coming back to re-play an otherwise fantastic game.

But those two issues aside, Prime is really, really good. I can see why a lot of people like it, and I’m glad I gave it the chance it deserved.

That’s all for this week’s update. Thanks for stopping by, and happy gaming to ya!

Next time:

  • Conker: Live & Reloaded
  • Skyrim

-rav4ge

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