Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam – I Love Bowser Edition

Two Bowsers from Paper Jam

The premise of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is that Luigi accidentally knocks open the book that contains the Paper Mario universe, releasing all of the paper characters into the 3D world. This means there are two of (almost) everyone in the game – two Marios, two Peaches, and two Bowsers. This concept sounds like crack, and it absolutely is, but it’s a lot of fun.

The story and characterization are also surprisingly well written.

I love the easy friendship between the two Peaches. They immediately get along together, and there are several scenes of them indulging in girl talk, which is beyond adorable. The pair is also resourceful, remaining imprisoned and ignoring everyone outside their room when they want to chill out and escaping by surprisingly devious means whenever it suits their fancy.

This could just be my delusion talking, but I’m almost certain the Peaches allow themselves to be kidnapped at the beginning of the game. When they realize that the Bowsers are on their way over, they come up with a scheme that will allow them to escape; but, when it seems like their plan to evade capture has worked, one of them sabotages it, and the other immediately gets onboard with what’s happened. I get the sense that being kidnapped is like a vacation for them, and that they not-so-secretly enjoy it.

I also love the bittersweet friendship between the two Bowser Juniors. They enjoy each other’s company, but they’re also more self-aware about their situation than anyone else in the game. Namely, they know that their time together is limited, and so everything they do has a subtle air of manic desperation, like they want to have as much fun as they possibly can before the party is over. Both of the Juniors seem very lonely, and they never leave one another’s side.

In a crazy knife twist to the heart, the Juniors make fun of the Bowsers, but it’s also clear that they both really, really want their fathers to be proud of them. Neither of them is enthusiastic about fighting Mario, but they go ahead and do it anyway because they think it will make their dads happy. They then proceed to spend the entire fight challenging your party to silly games and healing each other if you hurt one of them. In other words, they are two tiny cinnamon rolls too good for this world, too precious and too pure.

Speaking of which, the fierce dad Bowsers are amazing. They obviously dislike each other, but they both adore their sons, and so they grudgingly work together to impress the boys. After the Marios trounce the Juniors, the Bowsers ignore them, hugging the Juniors and telling them how much they love them and asking them if they want to see something cool (they’ve rigged their castle to fly). It’s only when they realize that their kids have been hurt that the Bowsers begin to care that anyone else is in the room. Both Bowsers have always been violent and temperamental, but when the Juniors start sniffling their dads really start to fuck shit up in a major way.

The Bowsers are too narcissistic and self-involved to be “good” parents, but watching them cradle and comfort their sons before going on a rampage to avenge them is a sight to behold. The complicated yet genuine flow of affection between the two pairs of fathers and sons in this game kind of makes me want to become a parent myself, to be honest.

There are other cute touches of trope-defying characterization in Paper Jam, and probably the only thing I disliked was how mean the game is to Luigi. Seriously, it’s like how Family Guy treats Meg – the meanness is supposed to be a meta-joke, but the humor is too bitter and caustic to actually be funny. Meanwhile, Paper Luigi (who is the secret star of the Mario franchise) spends the entire game relaxing on the beach and listening to music, which makes me happy.

I like to envision Luigi as living in some skanky walk-up in Brooklyn and working a garbage job while dealing with his sociopath brother, and then suddenly he’s transported to a beautiful fantasy kingdom where he doesn’t have to worry about any of that nonsense ever again. I mean, honestly, who hasn’t wanted that at some point? You stay cool, Paper Luigi.

( Header image from the Polygon review of Paper Jam )

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Mario and Luigi Paper Jam

Some poor UPS courier made their way through last weekend’s to deliver this game to me, so I honored their courage and sacrifice by dropping everything else to mainline it.

So far, my impression of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is that it’s a cute game that fixes all of the annoying bullshit people hated about Bowser’s Inside Story and Dream Team while introducing a few new mechanics, such as the ability to dash. In comparison to the previous games, the textures are cleaner and the color palette is brighter. The battles move faster, and the player can now skip most of the dialog.

Surprisingly, the reviews I’ve read haven’t been that positive, with people complaining that the game is too easy. There are new features that allow the player to adjust the difficulty level of battles (such as a system that specifies the target of an enemy attack in advance), but you can turn most of them off and then never worry about them again. In addition, since enemies drop more money than they did in previous games, the player can buy more recovery items, which encourages the use of special attacks. Special attacks involve quick skill-based minigames, which gives battles more variety – or not, if you don’t care and can’t be bothered.

I am of the opinion that the shaming of “casual players” (or, as I suspect is often the case, younger players) is boring and stupid and needs to stop. When I read a professional review of a game, I really don’t care about how hardcore the reviewer is.

Probably because I am not hardcore, I found that Paper Jam gets difficult about ten hours in. The player can switch the entire game to easy mode, and I may eventually do just that, but the internet tells me that amiibos will break the battle system. I’m considering buying a Peach amiibo, which actually isn’t something I’d mind looking at every time I sit down with a game.

I am not and have never been a fan of games mandating peripherals, but I also don’t want to hate something until I’ve tried it at least once.

( Header image from Nintenderos )

Super Mario Land 2

Super Mario Land 2 by blueamnesiac

I want to play Super Mario World, but the latter half of that game is really hard, and I am out of practice. To work up to it, I downloaded Super Mario Land and Super Mario Land 2 onto my 3DS.

Considering the limitations of the early Game Boy technology, Super Mario Land is a brilliant piece of work. Unless you’ve never encountered a platformer before, the game takes about twenty minutes to play from start to finish. There are a variety of enemies, challenges, and secrets across its twelve levels, and the difficulty is perfectly scaled. The interplay between each level’s theme and design is striking in its simplicity. The scenery is cute, and the music is catchy.

Like Kirby’s Dream Land (which can also be finished in half an hour), Super Mario Land is the product of a very talented team of people putting an enormous amount of effort into a very small game. I love games like this, and I wish they were still high profile releases.

Anyway, I’m reading Blake J. Harris’s book Console Wars…

(And it is terrible. Harris is a screenwriter, and Console Wars reads like it wants to be a dramatized biopic. It’s almost like bad fanfiction, with real people described as raising eyebrows and – I swear to Cthulhu – chuckling.)

…and a major focus of the first third of the book involves the people at Sega of America gloating about how “slow” Super Mario World is.

I don’t think Super Mario World is slow. I started replaying it last night, and I’ve found that its level design encourages and rewards running, high-speed flying, and quick decisive jumps.

Super Mario Land 2 is legitimately slow, though. Not only are there frequent framerate slowdowns, but both Mario and his enemies move sluggishly through space. Since there aren’t a lot of environmental hazards, and since the rabbit ears power-up allows the player to bypass most of those that do exist, Super Mario Land 2 is nothing if not easy.

The game makes up for its lack of any real challenge by offering a ton of variety.

Almost every single level has its own special gimmick that appears nowhere else in the game. For example, in Area 2 of the Tree Zone, Mario can swim through sticky sap that functions like water with a higher viscosity. In the Hippo level that leads to the Space Zone, Mario can float through the air in a bubble that will pop if he touches an enemy. In Area 2 of the Mario Zone (a giant clockwork version of Mario), tiny vicious bears roll beach balls that Mario must appropriate if he wishes to cross the spiked floor. Area 2 of the Turtle Zone features an extended underwater pipe maze.

The game also has a lot of levels with one-off enemies. Area 1 of the Tree Zone has hopping frogs that occasionally stick out their tongues, for instance, and Area 4 of the Macro Zone has witches that will pop out of item blocks and run off with the power-up inside. My favorite level is Area 2 of the Pumpkin Zone, which has all sorts of Japanese yōkai creatures like tsukumogami (haunted daily-use objects like umbrellas and lanterns), one-eyed oni demons, and invincible kitsunebi balls of foxfire.

Like Super Princess Peach, Mario Land 2 is a platformer that I would describe as “low stress,” making it a good gateway for kids just learning to play video games. I was actually one such kid; Super Mario Land 2 is the first game I ever owned. I’m not too terribly interested in retro gaming for the sake of nostalgia, but I remember this game being surprisingly fun and creative, and it still feels that way more than twenty years later.

( header image by blueamnesiac on DeviantArt )

BOXBOY!

BOXBOY!

Boxboy is thoroughly charming, and I loved it.

The game is able to teach the player about its mechanics without becoming rote, and its puzzles are clever yet fair. Even the trickier ones can be solved with trial and error (as there are only so many permutations of the number of blocks allowed in each stage), meaning that the player is never going to become stuck or frustrated. That being said, there are more elegant ways of solving certain puzzles, which can net extra rewards. The rewards don’t mean anything (although you can give your little boxboy a superhero cape), so there’s no drive toward compulsive completionism.

I really enjoyed the soundtrack, and I set up a few of the songs on an infinitely looping playlist, which I’ve found works well as focus-inducing background noise for writing and editing.

It’s kind of weird how much I love Boxboy and Thomas Was Alone, the latter of which was an exercise in finding an answer to the question “Can rectangles and squares jumping around in a minimalist platformer make me cry.” (SPOILER: Yes. Yes they can.)

Back when Crispy’s was trying to get money to develop Tokyo Jungle, one of the execs at Sony was worried that players wouldn’t respond well to nonhuman player characters. I’m not sure where this was coming from, but I actually suspect the opposite is true – I think many players might in fact respond better to abstract avatars. It’s the act of controlling the character that engenders affect; not the character’s design.

I’m also a huge sucker for stories about artificial intelligence being joyously born and overcoming trials through friendship, which is how I interpret both Boxboy and Thomas Was Alone. Apparently nothing melts my heart like the singularity.

( Header image from the Nintendo website )

Super Princess Peach

Super Princess Peach Banner

I’ve been putting a lot of intellectual labor into my playthrough of Twilight Princess. This has been a lot of fun, but I’ve been getting cravings for a brain-free playing experience. My usual go-to when I want to veg out in front of the tv for two or three evenings is A Link to the Past, but I’m already up to my chin in Zelda, so that’s not going to work.

I recently came across an interesting essay on gender and gaming briefly referencing how Super Princess Peach is not considered “a real game” in some circles because it’s too “casual.” That sounded like exactly what I was looking for, so I ordered a copy.

Here is the game description taken from the instruction manual:

This is Vibe Isand, located a short distance away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser got his hands on the Vibe Scepter hidden here and used its strange powers to capture Mario and his friends.

So Bowser got his hands on Peach’s “vibe scepter.” Haha, wow, okay.

Innuendo aside, this game is cute and charming. It feels more like Yoshi’s Island than Super Mario in the sense that its focus is more on exploration and less on not dying. I want to say that the graphics look charmingly retro, but I guess this game did actually come out almost ten years go. Ugh, what happened, how did I get old.

Some people might consider this game to be “easy,” but I’d rather label it as “low stress.” There are two reasons for this. First, the levels are more like interactive mazes than obstacle courses, and there’s no timer, so the player is free to take her time to explore them. Second, Peach starts off as powerful and gradually becomes even more powerful, so the obstacles the game does throw at the player can be overcome by creative problem solving instead of by platforming prowess. (Of course you can treat the game like a platformer if you want to challenge yourself, and it’s really fun to do speed runs.)

The main thing about this game is that it’s adorable. Here are two examples…

When Peach invokes her anger powers, she goes balls-out batshit; but, when she un-invokes them, she shrugs her shoulders and brushes herself off before returning to normal. She is such a badass.

When Peach beats a level boss, she frees a Toad, and she and the Toad clasp hands and spin around before doing a victory pose. At the end of the seventh level, Peach frees Luigi. When she tries to spin with him, he messes it up and goes flying before falling to the ground. Peach looks at him to make sure he’s okay before doing the victory pose by herself.

I love these characters so much. There’s no helping it; I just love them.

This game is awesome. Now where is the sequel? WHERE IS THE SEQUEL.

I’d like to conclude this post with an epic Nintendo princess battle:

And then they were best friends forever and lived happily ever after. ❤

( Header image from the Everybody Plays review of Super Princess Peach )