New Super Mario Bros. U- Impressions.

I don’t quite know how this happened but I am trying to enjoy a New Super Mario Bros. game that just isn’t doing anything for me. I have played ever primary console Super Mario Bros. game to date. And I have loved every single one of them. Now to avoid confusion I am talking strictly the Super Mario BROTHERS games, the ones where both Mario and Luigi are playable and I am not talking the RPG games I mean the normal, side scrolling action games were all grew up with. I am also talking the primary games as in those released on the home consoles, not the spin offs on handhelds like Super Mario Land or the games on DS/3DS.

So it came as a surprise when I found one that I didn’t enjoy. I love Super Mario Bros on NES it is a classic that got me hooked on video games when I was a young kid. Super Mario Bros 2 and 3 are both great games that I enjoy very much and Super Mario World is probably my favorite video game of all time. When I picked up a DS I was excited for the return of “real” Mario games. I sat through Sunshine, Mario Party, Mario RPG, Mario and Luigi, Mario is Missing, Luigi’s Mansion, Mario Kart, Mario *random sports game* and even Paper Mario, for close to a decade it felt like Nintendo just forgot what made a Mario game so great, hint it isn’t about the title character it was the game play.

I recently began playing New Super Mario Bros U and New Super Luigi U for Nintendo Wii U. I have to admit I am just not getting into these two games like I thought I would. I loved the previous entries in the series, and Super Mario 3D World is an amazing game I played quite a bit of when I first got it. But for some reason I just am not feeling it with this New Super Mario U games. I have read criticisms online of the game being unnecessary to which I shrugged off as bitter writers who just can’t get over the SNES being a thing of the past.

There is no denying that nostalgia is what Nintendo does best and the game is certainly steeped in plenty of that. It plays very similar to previous New Super Mario Bros. games, it also features similarities to Super Mario Bros. 3, one of my favorite games of all time, so I expected to really enjoy this game.

Now I am not saying this is a bad  game, not at all it is actually a very well polished game. What I noticed is that it just doesn’t really live up to my expectations of a Super Mario game. I know that with each game the level difficulty usually is about the same, the first few levels are easy to get you familiar with all the new controls and then they slowly get harder as your character learns new tricks and abilities. I think the difference here does fall on the Wii U controls partially in that I had a hard time with the jumping mostly since the buttons are do not behave how I would expect. In previous entries in the series they add new abilities each game, but the button layouts mostly remain unchanged. This game the controls just felt  a little off, something I have noticed others complain about too.

The graphics are pretty good especially for a Mario game. They are in HD for the first time which is strange when you consider that Nintendo chose to make a 2D Mario game their first HD Mario game. And that is another problem. There is too much going on. I found myself distracted by the graphics for the first time since Super Mario 3, which was breathtaking when it was first released. This game it just felt like they had to go back to the drawing board and re-design the entire world from scratch. This lack of continuity is part of my other gripe, by now the Mushroom Kingdom should be well mapped, at least with a Zelda game you typically can figure out the layout pretty quick as Hyrule doesn’t change. They solved this problem with Metroid easily by having Samus exploring different planets each game. But somehow the topography of the world keeps changing from one game to the next. This is sort of explainable to some extent the layout of the individual levels changes because the inhabitants are constantly having to rebuild their cities and villages from constant attack from various monsters, but the geography changes from game to game are starting to become distracting.

To put it simply when you play any of the previous Mario games the graphic style of the hills changes as does the clouds, the pipes, etc, with the newer technology. Usually what happens is the artists use the newer hardware to make the features look smoother, have more details such as the trees and hills look more like trees and less like splotches of brown paint on a brick wall as in the NES games. But that stopped being an issue with the Game Cube, this is different they didn’t just make things look better for being in HD, they completely redesigned the entire concept almost as if suddenly hills don’t look like hills anymore now they look like these strange geometric formations that are protruding all over the place. If the game wasn’t in full HD this wouldn’t be such a problem but sometimes the backgrounds are so complex and have so much detail they often begin to blend in with the foregrounds making things harder to distinguish. Now this isn’t always a problem and once you begin to get used to it you start to shift your focus to the Mario character, but it was just a little too distracting for me at first.

On the subject of level design, I barely made it through the first map in my first setting, it can usually take me a couple of tries but it was about as difficult as I expected in that only one level game me trouble, it was a tree top as they usually are the harder levels for me. Since  didn’t see much of the game I can’t comment much on the level design but I can say what I saw just didn’t jump out at me as spectacular like previous games. In each game there are levels I want to skip and never replay but this game doesn’t even feel like it has the kinds of fun levels that I do want to enjoy playing. Usually the first level in a new Mario game is pretty basic, they are used to introduce you to the new concept of the game, but by the second or third you should be having fun exploring the levels and discovering the secrets. This game it feels more like a chore to get through the levels. I didn’t find myself having the same amount of fun I am used to in a Mario Bros. game.

I almost had to force myself to finish the first map and only because you have to defeat a boss in order to save your progress, a major flaw in the Mario games since World on SNES, but I didn’t really feel that motivated so I almost gave up. I will go back sometime this week and try to see what the second world plays like to see if there is hope for it to be more enjoyable. There is a chance the New Mario well has run dry and it is now time for the Big N to go back to the drawing board. I have never been much of a fan of the 3D Mario games, I LOVED Super Mario 64, HATED Super Mario Sunshine, barely played Galaxies and refuse to play Galaxies 2 on principal, yet I found myself in love with Super Mario 3D World. With the side scrolling 2D games until now I had enjoyed very single one that I had played.

I don’t want anyone to consider this a proper review of the game, I haven’t really played enough of it for that, consider this more my first impressions, well actually second impressions this is my second time trying the game after not being impressed before, which is why I am now leaning towards it just not a very good Mario Bros. game. It was bound to happen sooner or latter they can’t all be perfect.

NeXt game console from Nintendo coming in 2016

Nintendo should reveal details of their upcoming NX game console in a few months. Here is a quick essay on why I think it will be the success gamers have been waiting for. In short what we know about NX is very little but has me optimistic. First it will feature a unified OS that ties console and handheld together, second Nintendo has consolidated their teams into a single unit, which means instead of Mario Team 1 making a hand held game and Mario Team 2 (not real names of teams) making console Mario there will be one team making one game that will work on both machines. In fact rumors suggest both machines will be sold as a single, detachable unit similar in concept, but not execution, to Wii U.

Second, the machine is reported to feature leading technology not only more powerful than PS4, it is rumored to require cutting edge computers just to begin development on. This is a good time table for Nintendo (think NES to SNES) to jump ship and release a console not just on par but more powerful than their competition.

Third, they have reported they are going to focus on gamers and games, with Amiibo and the success of Virtual Console and eShop I suspect Nintendo has finally figured out how to reach their primary audience and has an ace up their sleeve to get back the larger “core” gamer that has mostly abandoned them.

Zelda Open World is coming to NX not Wii U. I am sorry but there is no reason for a year long delay of what is surely to be the last big game for the biggest mistake Nintendo has made since Virtual Boy way back in 1994. An Open World Zelda fits perfectly with the needs of modern gamers who ate up a game like Destiny or Skyrim a few short years ago.

Nintendo has finally figured out how to merge console and handheld divisions meaning there won’t be a game released for the portable that everyone wants but no console equivelent this time there will be one machine getting all the games gamers want. This division of the userbase has been their greatest strength and worst weakness for over a decade. But signs point to them finally figuring out how to merge the two especially with Wii U being basically a hybrid already.

Last, Nintendo has always marched to the beat of their own drummer. NES was launched at a time when the North American video game console industry was declared to be over after the great crash of 1983. Many have made the case that the immense popularity of that machine is what revived the home console business in the United States at least. Then the world entered 16-bit gaming in 1987 with the NEC TurboGraphix-16 and one year latter with the Sega Genesis, Nintendo held off almost to the end of 1991 before launching their 16-bit machine the much praised Super Nintendo Entertainment System (often a contender for greatest game console of all-time) It was in 1996, over a year and a half after Sega, Atari, and Sony all launched the 32-Bit generation proper with the Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, and Sony Playstation game consoles, when they released their not 32-bit machine but leap frogged the competition and sold a 64-bit power house console. This is where the story gets complicated. Marching to the beat of their own drummer worked two console generations in a row with NES and SNES both taking number one positions in sales, marketshare, and games released during their time periods on the market. However N64 was a turning point for the 100+ year old Japanese toy company.

So why am I talking about their past achievements in 2015 when their current console, the Wii U, is largely considered a dud, and the NX isn’t even supposed to be officially announced until sometime next year? Well the answer is not as complicated as you might think, see over the years Nintendo has had success when they play to their strengths and failure when they ignore the larger trends. N64 dismissed the multimedia needs of the PSX/Saturn generation by ditching CD Rom in favor of outdated, costly, and more importantly, restrictive, cartridges. This cost them many of their loyal 3rd party partners that have yet to rebuild strong relationships with to this day.

I have heard many arguments over the past couple of years why it is not a good idea for Nintendo to engage in what console gamers call an “arms race” with Microsoft and Sony. The argument always points to Game Cube, the last console supposedly on par graphically with it’s competition. While technically this is true, many people tend to forget that both Xbox and PS2 had 2, not one but TWO major advantages over the Game Cube that is always left out of the discussion but really when you get down to it, are the root causes for its failure. First it didn’t play DVD’s, but more important than that it didn’t utilize DVD roms so large scale multimedia games yet again had to be custom tailored to fit the smaller storage capacity of the Nintendo unit that the other two were using industry standard tech on.

I don’t have the document on this computer but I ran the numbers on and it was close to 65% of the games that were on GC that were multiplatform were missing major content from their PS2 and Xbox counterparts. This was not the case with Dreamcast to GC ports because Dreamcast actually used smaller capacity discs than GameCube. The point is it costs a lot of money to rewrite code, compress files, and basically rebuild a game from scratch more than it does to build a game on par with the others. This is why Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance was a day and date release but latter games had major delays to accommodate the Game Cubes flaws. Other examples include Far Cry, Call of Duty, several 007 games, and countless sports titles either missing out right or really stripped of content. It was somewhat acceptable on N64 because hey everyone had an SNES and N64 had some really great games, but Game Cube took things in a weird direction that many felt just didn’t suit their tastes.

So then why was GC a bomb if it had the best 3rd party support goes the argument where Wii was a major success and it had weaker hardware and less support? Because Wii had a “killer app” that sold everyone right up front on the concept, don’t act like you didn’t spend hours customizing your Mii to invite the grandparents over to play some Wii Sports, we *all* are guilty of that. N64 at least had *One of the Greatest Super Mario Games of all time* , GameCube had Luigi’s Mansion (a kindergarten Mario Knock off of Casper the friendly ghost) and a Super Mario game where you use a water gun to clean up graffiti. N64 had the greatest Zelda experience imaginable, whereas GameCube gave us a children’s cartoon with a kid who had snot hanging from his nose for crying out loud.

So why am I excited for NX if I was disappointed with Wii and knowing Wii U is a dud? Well because Wii U has a host of problems caused by Wii’s very existence which was really just Nintendo’s half-assed attempt to rectify the Game Cubes problems which only existed to fix the problems they had with N64. In other words, Nintendo has had almost 20 years to learn from their mistakes and with the passing of two of both of the men responsible for those mistakes, and with them openly admitting they are trying to retake the market “they created” they have instilled much confidence in me.

I will save my full preview of what I suspect the NX to be for a post shortly when I have a little more information. What I will say here is that the tidbits of information I have regarding the machine so far have me not just optimistic, but actively excited because I have always been good at predicting what is going to resonate with games and what won’t because as a life long gamer, well I get what we want. Nintendo has, apparently, figured this out and suggestions are indicating they are working to finally bring out a product their loyal fanbase and lapsed but still hopeful remnants can all agree on, and I am convinced that will be the NX.

The world is changing, time to change with it.

“When did I get old?” I ask myself. I look in the mirror, see my hair trying to run away from me and I think wait a second I am not old I am only 33.

When I was 15 I kept current on all the latest technology, science news, entertainment gossip, latest movies and TV shows, you name it I was on top of it. Today I found out about a decade old technology that I would have thought was still science fiction. I read an article on a science blog about things NASA has already moved away from that I didn’t even know they were even considering, and one of my favorite NBA players is all over the news and I didn’t even find out about it until someone on Facebook pointed it out, and I work for a newspaper. Granted it’s a local community paper still I should be more on top of current events at least.

It was a few years ago that I realized I not only didn’t care about the fast approaching technology like I used to, a self described techie mind you, but that I actually preferred antiquated technologies the true techies of today were scoffing at. I was watching a TV commercial the other day for a new Apple Watch. A year ago I wanted one so bad not because it was a cool gadget but because it meant watches were coming back. I love time pieces, watches, clocks, you name it I am very fascinated by these sorts of time measuring devices. Almost to the point of obsession. But what made me really question my right to claim myself as a techie was that the ONLY thing that interested me about the Apple Watch was the watch part, all the fancy apps and internet stuff actually has me disinterested. So much for being a true tech nerd right?

Then I realized I was wrong, I am a true techie or technophile if you prefer, I just don’t follow fad technologies much. Maybe I have become more of a luddite than I realized.

Let me explain my position. What fascinates me about technology is not so much how cool does this device make me look but how does it make my life better, easier, or in what ways does it improve upon what I already have. See I own an iPod Classic, because for my needs it is superior to the iPod Touch. And that is the difference between a techie who loves technology and a hipster who just follows the latest trends and fads. See for all intents and purposes, yes that is the correct English phrase look it up, the iPod classic is superior to the iPod Touch in EVERY. SINGLE. WAY. PERIOD. The only advantage the touch has is it can play games and run apps. Why is it inferior? Because ALL it is is a stripped down iPhone with less features. If you ALREADY own a smart phone, which even I do have an iPhone, then there is no need for an iPod Touch because literally every single feature that a Touch supports an iPhone has and then some. BUT there is still a use for an iPod Classic, first the touch never got larger than 32GB of space, my iPod classic holds 160 GB of space and my previous one had twice that. The point is as a separate device an iPod Classic is superior even though it is older tech because it actually serves a unique purpose the newer “fad tech” does not.

I felt that this is not the same as the transition from VHS to DVD as an example. I was all in when it came to DVD because it was superior to VHS in every single way, even recording if you had the proper equipment which I did. So why am I so hesitant when it comes to Blu Ray? Well for starters I backed HD-DVD over Blu Ray at first so there was a small amount of disparity there. As a technology Blu Ray is superior to HD-DVD and normal DVD. Don’t get me wrong what has kept me buying DVD’s and less Blu Ray movies comes down to a variety of factors.

The first is price, I can get an entire series of my favorite TV show on DVD for less than what one season costs on Blu Ray more often than not. Also most of the TV shows I buy were done in SD so putting them on Blu Ray would be redundant as DVD is already SD. What really bothers me is that as a technology Blu Ray is inferior to Streaming/Digital in every single way but the streaming/digital options are limited by OTHER outdated technologies. See if I want a movie in FULL HD Netflix is not an option because there does not exist an internet service that can stream at the same data rate a a BR Disc. What makes me enjoy Netflix more is the cost to content ratio. Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Trek alone more than pay for the service as getting those shows on DVD, or even Blu Ray itself, would cost me a fortune.

So are my preferences changing with age? Would that explain why I am not as interested in Smart Watches now as I was a year ago when they were just concept? I did pick the PS4 over Xbox One partly because of the technology aspect but also because PS4 ha the better games, for the most part. But I still picked up a Wii U on the side. In fact I got my Wii U before I got the PS4. Okay just a month before but still. Despite the downside in graphics the Wii itself was a technological feat that neither PS3 nor Xbox 360 could fully mimic completely. And the areas they did manage to get it right it took them several tries.

So when did I go from a techie who had to have the latest gadget to a guy that let nostalgia persuade into buying a dead game console like the failing Wii U? When I got Wii on launch day I knew it was going to be a phenomenon because Wii Sports alone made that machine a total party machine. How did I let nostalgia talk me into buying what is essentially a PS3 with a broken ipad attached as a controller playing nothing but souped up Super NES remakes?

I recently started watching Heroes Reborn and despite it being inferior to the previous incarnation of the show, I can’t bring myself to stop watching because I find myself seeking the familiar more these days than the unfamiliar. I suppose some of his could be my aging. Is there an alternative explanation though? Could it be that I have reached a point where the technology of today isn’t fascinating because it just isn’t fascinating? It just doesn’t pique my interest as much?

I guess I knew I was aging when I realized I would rather sit and watch re-runs of That 70s show or Home Improvement then bother checking out what is even new on the TV. Either way life moves on, the world keeps changing there is nothing I can do to stop it so might as well enjoy it while I can and try to make the most of it.

Maybe I will look into getting one of those Smart Watches after all.