You may remember that back in June, I was contacted about winning one of those Xbox "Download & Win" Sweepstakes. You know the type - you see it on the dashboard from time to time, where an advertising something wants you to download a set of gamerpics with their branding and that counts as your entry. I won "a lifetime supply" of Xbox Live Gold and 32,000 Microsoft points, which came out to be roughly $1,900 worth of stuff. It arrived in August, to the tune of a bunch of cards in individual blister packs. Given that I didn't really need all of what they gave me, and the rules said nothing about being forced to keep my prize, I sold the bulk of it. Selling it was a slow, painful process, as the only place I could actually make sales was Ebay. Just before Christmas, a friend came to me and offered me an alternative place to sell the cards, but even that was sluggish, as by then, Holiday discounts had kicked in and nobody was interested at the prices I was asking. A couple weeks ago, that finally changed, and I ended up selling pretty much all of my remaining stock in around 48 hours. That meant I was sitting on nearly $600 - which was spent on the bounty you see above. It was almost like a second Christmas. (as an aside, I had actually shot a bunch of video of me opening these boxes, but they were incredibly dark and the microphone on my camera is absolutely trash - nevermind the intense guilt I felt actually recording something like that; ignore the fact that I'm now doing it in text form).
I haven't gotten around to putting my new processor or graphics card in (I need to back up some files first since I am pretty sure I will have to re-install Windows), but one thing I can talk about is my newly acquired Wii. Believe it or not, I had not ever really sat down and had a go with a Wii, not until I played it over at Ashuku's house a little bit before Christmas. It was there I finally had a go at Wii Sports Resort, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Sonic Colors and saw about an hour's worth of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The takeaway was that yes, I still do need a Wii - and despite the fact that I still consider myself a Sonic fan, it was actually Silent Hill that captivated me the most.
So here we are. I've had my Wii for a solid week as of today, and though the bulk of that week has been spent setting up various gray-area aspects of it (it's now a more robust media player than my Xbox 360), I've spent a lot of time with three specific games: Sonic Colors, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Donkey Kong Country Returns. Sonic Colors is, well, Sonic Colors - perhaps one of the most thoughtfully-designed 3D Sonic games ever produced. When people describe a game as "Going through the motions", what they're actually describing is a lack of being taught anything. Whether you're aware of it or not, all good videogames are constantly teaching you how to do something. They are teaching you how the controls work, how the enemies work, how to manipulate the world, and testing you on what you know with increasingly complex "lessons", for lack of a better term. When that learning experience is absent, you get the sensation that there's something "missing". Even if the level designs themselves are challenging, if you aren't learning something new from the experience, you can feel that lack of cerebral stimulation. On a long list of other problems, this is something that had effected Sonic games for a long time - and any time those games would teach you something new, it was done in a very dry, text/dialog-heavy manner by simply explaining the solution to every "lesson", even before you knew there was a "lesson" to begin with. This began to change a little bit in Sonic Unleashed, where you could genuinely see the game occasionally making efforts to teach you specific gameplay lessons and testing you on that knowledge. Sonic Colors on the Wii finally takes the plunge and goes full-tilt in that direction, as every level is chocked full of lessons and tests - almost as if it was competently designed by people who actually understand how a videogame is supposed to function! Unfortunately, there's something else wrong with Sonic Colors - something I can't quite put my finger on just yet. Sonic Unleashed's levels were incredible, remarkably intense thrill rides that blew past at speeds that almost felt too fast.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is a surprisingly retro game. That's not some pun on the fact that it was developed by Retro Studios, or anything. I mean that, for better or worse, they don't make games like this anymore. Now, I haven't made it very deep in to Super Meat Boy, so maybe I'm lacking "teh skillz", but DKCR does not play around. This is the kind of game that is, right out of the gate, immediately challenging, and it only ramps up from there. By the end of the first world I was kind of surprised how frequently I was dying, and by the middle of World 3 I've found myself actually shouting "OH COME ON! SERIOUSLY?" at the TV screen. There is a shockingly large amount of trial-and-error to certain elements of these levels, where things can and will damage you (or even kill you!) without really warning until it's already too late. On top of that, many of these levels are incredibly long - take a look at this speedrun video for a level that made me want to throw my controller at the screen called "Itty Bitty Biters". Despite zooming through the level as quickly as possible, it still takes the guy almost four and a half minutes:
You may also notice the fact that "Itty Bitty Biters" there, despite being as long as it is, only had one or two checkpoints. This is the case with most DKCR levels as far as I can tell - your first time through a stage like Itty Bitty Biters can take well over 10 or 15 minutes, with most of the time soaked up replaying the same 2-3 minute chunks over and over and over again. I was planning on happily unveiling DKCR to my Mother, because she loved DKC1. Unfortunately, she was never good enough to pass the first world in that - and considering I can 101% DKC1 with my eyes closed, she'll probably start the first level of DKCR and end up breaking in to tears before even making it to the first checkpoint, or something.
And that brings us to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I was extremely disappointed with the Nintendo DS verison of NSMB; in comparison to the other 2D Marios like Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3, NSMBDS took little effort to beat. Not only did it suffer from the whole "going through the motions" syndrome, but the game practically refused to be difficult, not even a little bit. I sleep-walked through the game and came away underwhelmed. NSMBW seems to dial up the challenge a little bit and introduces more new elements to spice things up, but I can't get over how heavy Mario feels. This is something I noticed while playing DKCR, too. It just so happened that around the time I was playing these games I also happened to play bits of Super Mario Bros 3 and Donkey Kong Country 2, and this ended up giving me a very solid basis to compare the old entries in these franchises directly to the new entries.
The conclusion is that NSMBW, DKCR, and to a certain degree even Sonic Colors favor momentum far more than their forefathers did. Momentum is an important part of any game - without it, controls feel stiff and over-responsive. Momentum lends a degree of smooth movement to characters, and, especially in Donkey Kong Country and Sonic the Hedgehog, momentum and flow was a big component of how levels in those games were laid out. But while DKC2 and SMB3 had momentum that lent the games a tight, snappy feel, in NSMBW and DKCR, our characters feel big, lumbering, and heavy. While that may fit the description of Donkey Kong, it actually makes controlling Mario feel almost like a chore. Once Mario gets moving fast enough, it's hard to get him to slow down, and though I consider myself a person who mastered the old Mario games, I'm finding myself missing jumps in New Super Mario Bros. Wii with alarming frequency, either by overshooting them by a huge distance or not going fast enough and falling short. It actually makes me not want to play NSMBW, because the game feels genuinely difficult to control. It's almost like playing a Sonic game, in a way, except without the high-flying, rollercoaster style antics that typically surround a blue-hedgehog adventure. Instead, you just get a platformer with sluggish, and dare I say downright unresponsive control - something I never thought I'd say about a Mario game officially developed and published by Nintendo.
Now if you will excuse me, I have to go VIDEOGAMES VIDEOGAMES VIDEOGAMES ARGH ENTERTAINMENT OVERLOAD