Encore Extra Stage #15

Hello once again, and welcome to Friday! I’m Alex Williams, and we’re in for a short one this week!

Yes, this week’s column is a bit short, but everyone has one of those weeks where other things take precedence, like school and whatnot. So the topics for this week get skimmed down as a result.

I’m still mad at Microsoft for not putting up the new downloadable content for DDR Ultramix 2. It has been an entire MONTH since it was approved by the Live people, and it hasn’t shown up yet. What’s really sad about this whole deal is the fact that we in the DDR community managed to figure out what one of the songs the FOLLOWING song pack will contain. Konami put up a picture of the download icon for Song Pack #9, and a partial title for a song was in it. We figured it out as “Disabled the FLAW”, a new Bemani transplant song.

DAMMIT, HURRY THE HELL UP, MICROSOFT!

Anyways, I’ve been screwed. Just like Bret Hart. Read on to find out HOW!


WHY SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 4 WAS NOT ALL THAT GREAT

For those of you who read Widro’s Daily Pulse column this past Wednesday, you’ll notice that yours truly was chosen to go into his “Hot Seat” segment. It was a fun experience, as it’s always nice to work with my other staff members (and superiors for that matter) on these items.

However, it seems that my “boss” is still carrying some left over grudges from over a YEAR ago. One of the five questions was “Defend giving Super Mario Brothers 3 a 6.5 in 50 words or less.” Which was odd, considering I gave Super Mario Advance 4 a 6.5, as that was what I was asked to review, but I digress. I answered the question to the best of my ability, and answered honestly.

Then he thinks he can get some sort of super-ultra revenge for offending him like that and deduct 3 points from my overall Hot Seat score, even though it appeared I got every other question right.

So in a sense, I was screwed. It was the Montreal Screw-Job all over again, only reenacted by various members of the InsidePulse staff. Widro played the part of Vince McMahon, I played Bret Hart, and I’m sure Lucard (HBK) put him up to it.

Not that I contain Bret Hart’s uber-bitterness, mind you. Really!

But I am forced to devote some major column space this week to fully explain my actions, as HORRIBLE as they may be to some, as to why I gave a GBA cartridge containing one of the greatest platform games of all time only an “above average” score. This will put the issue to rest for GOOD.

To begin with, I need to clearly define that there are TWO games I’ll be mainly talking about. The first will be Super Mario Brothers 3, which is a classic title that debuted on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The second will be Super Mario Advance 4, a GBA remake of SMB3 to which Nintendo has added extra features. Original and remake are now separate. Got it? Good.

Okay, now, I consider Super Mario Brothers 3 to be a great game. I have nothing but fond memories of it when I first played it, and its one of my favorites from the NES era. It had been a long, long, LONG time since those days, and I hadn’t played SMB3 since. I was waiting for the GBA adaptation with baited breath. Not so much because I was getting SMB3 to take with me, oh no no no! I was getting SMB3 with the “Advance” treatment! The past three games in the “Advance” series all had something completely awesome to make them that much more special. SMA1, the remake of Super Mario Brothers 2, contained reworked gameplay, a new scoring system, and special missions that had you searching for hidden Yoshi eggs. SMA2, the remake of Super Mario World brought Luigi to the forefront, and practically reinvented him as a playable character. He could use his SMB2 flutter jump, he had different Yoshi skills, and he could make all the coins appear at once out of those “multi-coin blocks”. SMA3, the remake of Yoshi’s Island, added brand new levels to each world provided you met certain conditions. This, coupled with the reworked music and addition of voices, made each of these sequels worth having. I assumed SMA4 would be no different.

So the game is released, I tear open the packaging like a rabid madman, and play a bit. After about an hour, I find myself already in World 3. (Hmmm, that can’t be right. I just breezed through two worlds when it took three times as long my very first time through.) After another hour goes by, I’m on World 5. (Is this game too easy? Or are my latent SMB3 playing tactics kicking in sooner then expected?) I take a two-hour break to eat and write up a paper, and then I go back into it. After another two hours, I’m smack dab in the middle of the seventh World. I never once used one of those warp whistles either. I decide to turn in for the night after this. The next morning, it took another two hours to finish the game.

That’s right, folks. In the span of 17 hours, I used 6.5 hours to beat a game that took me a week to do before. Was it because I had played it before and knew the stage layouts? Was it because I had nothing better to do outside of playing the game? Something about this was giving me a bad taste in my mouth, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it…

I went back into my save file, and found I could go back into any stage I previously cleared, which I couldn’t do in the NES game. That was a nice touch. I picked some random worlds, and to my surprise, I clear them in no time flat. I pick some later worlds, and I’m through the goal in less than two minutes apiece. Then it hit me like a sack of bricks: the levels were short. TOO short. Compared to the last three games, the levels were small and easy. Add the fact that they were hardly challenging, and I felt like I was cheated somewhat. Not ripped off, of course, but definitely cheated. And outside of the fact I could play levels I already cleared, I hadn’t encountered ONE THING new to the SMB3 experience that SMA4 claimed to provide.

So later that day, I back out into the main menu and finally take the plunge into the “e-World”. I knew that I would need an e-Reader to access some content, but I figured here I’d be treated to the new stuff promised. And after five minutes…I couldn’t access a damn thing. My e-Reader wasn’t handy, so I wasn’t able to access anything new. This REALLY pissed me off.

Going through the main quest gave me NOTHING, unlike SMA3. Luigi had all his moves from SMA2 taken away from him, making him an effective clone of Mario outside of the e-World. And none of the original levels in the game were reworked outside of some random block placement like in SMA1. So in order for me to access some “Advance” content, I had to not only be in possession of two GBA units, an e-Reader, and a link cable, but I ALSO had to pay MORE MONEY for card packs? And even if I bought the card packs, Nintendo decided not to release any more than TWO of them, so I couldn’t even access all of the e-World even if I tried!

This is why Super Mario Advance 4 is a disappointment.

If I had to rate SMB3 on its own, without any of the additional features added on to SMA4, I’d give the game between 7.5-8.5 today. The score would take a major hit in replay value and balance, but the other categories would remain pretty high. But since Nintendo touted this particular game as “SMB3 with extra features,” and after I found I couldn’t even USE the extra features without tons of hardware and my wallet, I gave it a 6.5. (In fact, in retrospect, I mistakenly rounded UP my final score instead of rounding it down. The score SHOULD have been a straight 6.0!)

Widro and I have been debating this score ever since I put up the review on October 27, 2003. He is SO blinded by childhood memories and such that he thinks any incarnation of the game is golden and must be worshipped by all those who play it. I was “wrong” in his eyes from the moment I opened my big mouth because my tastes in gaming, while still gravitating toward the classics, have been altered through various unique experiences. And because of them, I don’t hold SMB3 in as high of a regard as, let’s say, Super Mario World. It’s all opinion, Widro. ACCEPT MINE IS DIFFERENT!

Stay tuned for a Hot Seat REMATCH. I guarantee I’ll REVERSE the Montreal Screw Job…


PEOPLE WRITE TO ME AND NOT YOU. HAH!

The mailbox was pretty light this week, so only one letter to print. Tom Pandich writes to me again, this time addressing all the main points from my last article:

I have a couple of quick comments to make on your last column. First off, I’ve played In the Groove and was very unimpressed by it. The one great thing about DDR is that at its core, it’s a simple game. Step on the arrows in time with the music, and so forth. In the Groove at its core tries to be too complex and will never have the appeal that DDR does to both hardcore and casual players alike. If there is going to be a game that “takes down” DDR, it’ll end up being something like Pump It Up that has a slight variation on the game play of DDR that remains simplistic in design. Mods are fun but not the core of a game.

That’s actually a good point. The inclusion of “mines” as a main gameplay mechanic is nice and all, but it really takes away from the simple arcade tasks of hitting arrows with your feet. It takes a lot more brain power to process mine icons along with the arrow icons, and while its a fun idea in theory, I’d probably turn the mines off and focus on the song I’m playing.

The idea isn’t without merit, however. The “mines” idea is a GOOD one, and I’d like to see it implemented in dancing games in the future. However, a modification like that should be best relegated to home releases as an extra gameplay mode. You know, having the choice between mines and no mines before you play. (If this particular option is present in ITG without having to go into the mod menu, than I’ll retract this statement.)

Oh, and here’s an interesting fun fact in the same vein. When DDR was first released for the home markets in Japan back in 1999, there were two main gameplay modes: Arcade and Arranged. In Arranged Mode, an extra step grade was added called “Ouch!!” You would get an “Ouch!!” every time you stepped on an arrow that WASN’T the one you were supposed to step on, limiting the movement of the player significantly. Anyway, people complained loudly about this, especially since the first generation of home pads often led to arrows being hit without actually pressing the button you wanted. So, we never saw Arrange Mode again. You could say this was one of the “precursors” to the mines found in ITG.

Alright secondly, I’m very happy to hear that Nintendo is still turning a profit. I truly hope that they can continue it in the future. They do need to put out more then two new franchise worthy games per console though. Creating excellent games with fun characters has always been Nintendo’s strongest point. I do believe that Revolution will be the make or break system for them though.

People said the same thing about the GameCube four years ago when it was announced. Lo and behold, Nintendo is still making money, and is going to continue to hang in the console business. Something tells me Nintendo won’t give up so easily. Sega themselves were pulling losses year after year when the Dreamcast was released.

Third, the sale of Visual Concepts saddens me greatly. When Sega went out of business, one of the biggest comforts I took was that Sega would dominate the third party sports market. Well…… that obviously didn’t happen, but somewhere deep down in my heart I still believed that things would work out. I’m so far gone caring about Take Two’s licencing agreement and am just upset with the obvious state that sports video games seem to be heading to. On a somewhat humorous note, have you seen that EA is putting out their “classics” line from Jacks with a Genesis controller? Color me amused.

The Take Two agreement, in retrospect, is not AS bad as EA’s super-monopoly agreements, but still bad nonetheless. At least first-party developers can still develop MLB games, and I fully intend to support them instead of Take Two’s future endeavors.

And yes, the EA “classics” is humorous. I’m almost tempted to buy one and set it on fire in protest or something. Care to go halfway with me and make a statement?

And since I addressed pretty much every point other point you made, might as well go for the hat trick…um plus one. I disagree with your advice that newbie DDR players should try to stay in the center for the simple reason that they are more likely to play three arrows with one foot 90% of the time. Also, by staying in the center, it takes longer for a person to get a feel for the distance on the pad.

Believe it or not, this is how I learned to play the game. In the early days, I stuck my left foot either in the center or on the Left arrow while using my right foot to hit everything else. I still do the same when playing on the easier difficulties, trying to AAA things. Of course I change strategies when I get to the harder stuff, but I still go by what feels comfortable to me. And that was the main crux of that particular tip. People can lecture you on proper foot placement until doomsday approach(eth), but you gotta play the way you feel comfortable.


PLUGS & SHILLS THAT PAY THE BILLS

Bryan Berg points out how games are made for money, rather than solely for gamers to enjoy. I have to agree with many of his points there.

Liquidcross remarks on how evil EA is, so I didn’t have to devote an entire section to it this week.

Widro is still mad at me, and won’t let the issue go. THE PAST IS OVER, MAN! ON WITH THE FUTURE!

Orange Lounge Radio is still awesome. You know, just in case you were wondering…


PARTING THOUGHTS

Another week down, another Friday covered. Tune in next week when I might have more pages devoted to this article again!


Alex Williams, The Norwegian Athlete