November 2007


I hate Spring Mario.

There, I said it. I hate something about Super Mario Galaxy.

If I posted this on a forum, I’d be flamed. My opinions on gaming would no longer have any validity. I’d probably be called an anti-Semite racist for good measure too.

It’s amazing how much of a free pass people give Nintendo, especially a Mario game. If anyone else released this exact game, every review would be full of criticisms: Too little health, too much “try and die” gameplay, too linear, etc. Instead, it’s mostly, “Best Game Ever Made!”

Let’s use one example. You have three health, with an occasional red mushroom that doubles it. (These are usually found before a boss battle.) To offset the decrease in health, Galaxy has occasional save points within a galaxy, and there are plenty of ways to get an extra life. (By the end of any session, I’ll typically have twenty or more… of course they reset back to five every time you reload. Bah.)

But let’s say another game does this, say something with space marines or a dude with a gun. People would be screaming that repeatedly killing off the player isn’t gameplay or game design, it’s sadism. Why isn’t it more next-gen? What about letting the player save anywhere? Where’s the open-endedness? Why is there no player choice? Where’s the branching narrative?

None of these are particularly great criticisms of Super Mario Galaxy, but no one would dare raise any of these kinds of issues for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s never had these features. Of course it never was in 3D until Mario 64, so I’m not sure why we don’t expect it to evolve more with the times. Super Mario Galaxy isn’t exactly a re-imagining of the franchise for the Wii—it’s merely a better version of Super Mario Sunshine—but no one would accuse Nintendo of resting on its laurels, of not challenging its players, of not pushing gaming forward.

You don’t dare criticize a big Nintendo game. You would receive so much hate, threats, people saying you hate gaming (and possibly Jesus), and attacks on your overall credibility for daring to offer (possibly legitimate) criticism.

Like Spring Mario. I fucking hate Spring Mario. Yeah, a spring wrapped around Mario. It’s cute. But who thought it was a good idea to take the best thing about a Mario game—running! jumping!—and throwing it out to make the movement horrible, and the jumping even more horrible? And why would you build entire levels around horrible movement and jumping?

So can you love Super Mario Galaxy and hate Spring Mario? Probably not. Clearly I hate gaming. And freedom. The terrorists have won.

09count600.jpg

So, I started my Saturday morning with a lovely, 11:20AM showing of No Country For Old Men, which is as bleak a movie as you may see this year. It’s about mythology, or at least how bullshit most mythology really is. It’s about romancing a past that doesn’t exist. It’s about fate, or at least its cousin dumb luck. It’s a movie about a guy who finds money, but it’s really just about a bunch of shit that happens. It’s about random violence, and horrible, horrible planned violence.

And it has Javier Bardem giving the year’s most chilling performance. And Tommy Lee Jones giving a profoundly sad one. And Josh Brolin giving a surprisingly subtle and fantastic one. And Kelly Macdonald doing an amazing job hiding her Scottish accent behind a thick Texas drawl, and breaking your heart in the process.

I’ve read the book (by Cormac McCarthy), and it’s a pretty faithful adaptation by those lovable pranksters the Coen brothers. But it’s by far their most straightforward movie in years. It’s not clever, it’s not snarky. It has black humor, and it looks gorgeous. It moves slowly, lingering over every pool of blood. And it has almost no music, just a lot of ambient sounds, like someone unscrewing a lightbulb. It’s full of tension, but has little action.

So, go see it, friend-o.

Thank god someone’s still doing big, dumb, and a fun muzak. Here’s “Tick Tick Boom” by The Hives.

(We’ll see how long this embeddable video lasts; for some inexplicable reason, Universal Music doesn’t let you embed “official” versions of its videos. Weenies.)

Also, I’m buying as much music as possible from amazon.com’s MP3 service. If emusic didn’t require a monthly subscription, I’d be buying it there. Support non-iTunes (or non-DRM) music stores.

What the hell? I suddenly find myself with all three consoles right now. It’s the first time I’ve had every console since, uh, the Atari 2600.

So, here’s what I’ve been playing:

Wii: Super Mario Galaxy. Yeah, it comes out on Tuesday. but I got it Thursday because a co-worker’s wife works at Nintendo. I’m as skeptical as anyone about everything from Nintendo being god’s gift to gaming, but it’s pretty damn terrific despite the fact it’s way easy. (Though not quite as easy as Super Paper Mario.)

It’s probably the most 3D game ever made, even more than Descent. It’s constantly shifting perspectives, flipping the world, fucking with gravity. If you have problems navigating in 3D space, you’re screwed. But for those who can manage, it’s crazy good.

Xbox 360: Conan. I have reasons for playing this beyond fun, but after a fairly weak start, it’s sort of growing on me. It’s a total B-game; the graphics sorta blow, it’s overly linear, and it’s just a God of War clone. But the combat is oddly satisfying and over-the-top violent, with decapitations, arm chopping, stabbing, flipping, etc. There’s topless girls you need to save, and after you release them, they present themselves… it’s very 15-years old.

PlayStation 3: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. I haven’t played this that much yet, but whoa… it’s gorgeous. I missed this series on the PS2, but so far so good.

I also downloaded some demos (currently downloading the one for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune). Heavenly Sword is gorgeously vapid, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma is… well, it’s Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox, only prettier. MLB 2K7 for the PS3 has the most retarded hitting scheme using the Sixaxis; you “push” the controller forward to hit. Thank god it can be disabled.

Of course I’ve also been playing some PC games. Hellgate: London, for example. It’s a bit of a mess (the interface, yikes), but I haven’t experienced a single crash so I can’t totally get my hate all over it. (I know everyone else is having all sorts of problems; guess I have the magic compatible machine.) It’s just full of loot-y, randomized goodness.

I also picked up Gears of War for Windows. I didn’t care much for it on the 360, so I figured I’d give the PC version a go. I set up Live for Windows, though I haven’t seen PC achievements appear on my 360 gamecard. (Anyone know if they’re supposed to appear there?)

I’ll be picking up Call of Duty 4 soon (though I may just borrow someone else’s 360 version to blast through the single player, since I have little interest in multiplayer), and I’m somewhat interested in The Witcher.

But it’s Crysis that’s got me all hot and bothered. If you haven’t tried that demo, it’s absolutely killer. It’s basically a remake of FarCry with dudes in powersuits and with less sucking (the last third of that game.) Yeah, it’s gorgeous, but it’s all about the open-ended gameplay, tons of amusing ways to kill people, and a physics engine to die for. Every time you say, “I wonder if I can do that?”, you try it and find out you can. It’s my most anticipated game of the year right now.