Friday, February 12, 2016

The Mario RPG Series

The Mario RPG series started back with the SNES with 'Super Mario RPG - Legend of the Seven Stars'. The series has expanded across multiple platforms, and is largely responsible for the Paper Mario series and the Mario and Luigi handheld series. What sets these games apart from both the Mario franchise games as well as RPG's of other franchises is it's gameplay elements. Where the Super Mario series of games is simply an action platformer with some puzzles thrown in; and most RPG's are a wander around, beat up enemies for experience while telling a pretty story; the Mario RPG franchise seems to be some odd mashup of the two. They have all the standard RPG elements pretty well down with the story telling, standard battle system etc., but they add these unique timing systems to the battle, as well as the ability to approach and attach enemies to get the drop before battle. This system keeps the game from becoming some tedius grind, and actually requires a fair amount of skill to battle effectively.

The World:
The Mario RPG games generally take place in The Mushroom Kingdom, usually with some cosmic or magic creating spell that wreaks havoc on the kingdom, usually heavily punishing the toads more than anyone. What's interesting about the Mario RPG worlds, is the standard enemies (goombas, koopa troopas, etc.) are commonly allies here. Not only allies, but in many of the games, they will even join your parties, causing a bit of a goomba vs. goomba mashup. To make it even more complicated, sometimes even big villians (I.E. Bowser in Thousand Year Door) will join up with you for a spell of the game. Only about half of the games start out as 'rescue the princess' as well.

The Paper Mario world is quite similar to the Mario RPG world with a few notable differences. First and formost, everything is made from paper, EVERYTHING. They have bits of the world showing cardboard edges, with everyone being flat as a sheet of paper. As the characters walk around in the 3D paper world, they have to flip back and forth. This also allows for some really unique mechanics, like Paper Mario turning himself into an origami boot or airplane.

In all of these games, everything is extremely vibrant and beautiful. The original Mario RPG holds up today. I also wanted to note, where Final Fantasy VII usually gets the props for being the first full 3D RPG, I truely believe that title belongs to Mario RPG.

The Characters:
The Mario RPG and Paper Mario worlds have a vast array of characters. Massively larger than the standard Super Mario world. You have your standards, Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser etc. But with each game comes a boatfull of unique characters to help you along in the game, as well as some pretty imaginative enemies to attempt to thwart your progress. I'm not going to go in depth in the characters or I'd be here for hours.

What really seperates these games from the pack, is they are likeable and funny. Not only are do all the characters have fun and likeable personalities, but with a quirky sence of humor and are willing to poke fun at themselves. You can tell the writers had a blast coming up with the stories and scenarios for these games. Something that I love in any game, is when you know it doesn't take itself too seriously, and these games have that in spades.

The Gameplay:
I'm going to break up the gameplay into a few parts to simplify it a bit. These games have quite a few variances and have multiple modes from the over-world, battles and in most of the games, include some special mode (which I will really only breafly go over).

The overworld mode is what dominate just about any RPG. What differentiates the Mario franchise from the others, is there's actually stuff to do here. Not only are the games in the RPG genre, but there's a pretty heavy platforming and puzzle solving element as well. The puzzles are usually on the simple side, like 'how do I cross this gap' or 'how do I open this door'. Usually most of the puzzles are on the simple side at the start of the game and grow in complexity as the game moves on (as you learn moves and techniques that add to the gameplay).

The battles are really where the strength of these games lie. To start, you can actually attack the enemies before entering the battle to get a jump on them. When while in battle, you acually have to play the game and have good timing for your attacks to have any affect. Most RPG's, you select attack, and the character does the attack with your standard random dice roll attacks. In most of the games, you also have the ability to react and/or dodge the enemies attacks. If you're good enough, you almost never have to heal in battle. With each character and villian having their own unique attack skills and attack modes, this allows for a massive variety within the games mechanics. Out of the lot, my favorite would probably have to be the latest in the long line of Mario RPG games, Paper Jam. This incorperates features from both the 'Mario and Luigi' games and the 'Paper Mario' games kinda giving this game a 'best of both worlds' play style.

Each game (apart from the very first) have unique game modes to enhance the gameplay as well. The most noteable are the 3D mode in 'Super Paper Mario' and the Dream Mode in 'Mario and Luigi Dream Team'. As there's been quite a few games in the franchise, I don't really want to go into detail, as again, it would make this retrospective far too long.

Final Thoughts:
These are some of the most beloved RPG's in Nintendo's line up. Genuinely funny, likeable and fun to play, these quirky games are some of best RPG's around. I know this has been a bit of a fluff peice, and not everygame is fantastic (I'm talking to you 'Sticker Star'). But they are well worth any praise coming to them. If you've never played any of these games, they come highly recommended from me, and most of the RPG gamer community.

Monday, January 11, 2016

New 3DS

Console Review - New Nintendo 3DS
Is it worth buying?

I'm going to break regulation and write about something new today, the New Nintendo 3DS. The original 3DS and 3DSXL are one of the top selling handheld consoles of all time. Not only is it backwards compatible with all of the DS and DSi titles released on the previous handheld, but with it's graphical upgrades and surprising useable 3D features, it's a pretty solid handheld. The New 3DS is classic Nintendo, release a game that requires an upgrade of some sort (Xenoblade Chronicles in this case). This time, however, you don't buy a peripheral, or a new memory unit a la Nintendo 64, but you have to purchase a whole new system. Many, including myself, balked at this as we already owned some iteration of the 3DS already. I've since upgraded, and will be letting all of you know how I feel about the new system.

First, I want to recap on the original 3DS, it's strengths and weaknesses.

The 3DS was Nintendo's first steps into console quality gaming on a handheld. As beloved as the original NDS was, it had some pretty serious graphic limitations, along with some dev's creating games that were just too much for the little system (FFXII and Assassins Creed come to mind). The 3DS allowed for direct downloading of full game titles (the DSI had a little of this functionality), proper online game play, and of course the 3D screen on all models but the 2DS. The 3DS also had a fully analog joy pad which, in my opinion, is a massive improvement on Sony's for both the original PSP and the Vita. All of these are what allowed Nintendo to corner the market on the current handheld generation. Well, that and Super Smash Bros.

The 3DS isn't without it's faults however. First and foremost is the 3D screen. I very much like the 3D as it enhances the graphics considerably. But it's a giant pain to use most of the time. if you can't guarantee that you're sitting in just the right position, the screen goes all wonky and double vision, making game play impossible. The next issue is classic Nintendo, peripherals. Many games released (MGS3, MH3 & MH4, Resident Evil etc.) all are enhanced by a peripheral call the 'Circle Pad Pro'. A fancy little device that you attach to the 3DS to allow for a 'C' stick and 2 more shoulder buttons. This is both costly, and more importantly, not available for the American markets. Some might say that these games are playable without the circle pad pro, but..... and this is a big but, the game play without it is kinda crap. In all honesty, the Monster Hunter games are nearly unplayable without it, requiring you to use the touch screen for the camera, options, equipment and missions. Lastly is a personal pet peeve of mine, of which I seem one of the few that have it is the speakers. I don't know if the 2DS or the original 3DS have this issue, but the 3DS XL's speakers are woefully inadequate. Some games in particular (like a favorite of mine, Blazblue) almost need headphones in a quiet room. I honestly don't understand how a pair of Stereo speakers produce half the sound of most cellphone's itty bitty Mono speakers.

Enough on the old system, and onto the new. If you compare the New 3DS with the old, at first glance you barely notice any changes. They added 2 new shoulder buttons, and there's this little rubber nub sticking out next to the A,B,Y,X buttons. They also moved a bunch of the existing buttons around, most obviously the start/select buttons and the power button.
Let's go over these changes real quick. The extra shoulder buttons and the nub is Nintendo basically building in the circle pad pro into the new system. That little nub is a 'C' stick. The extra shoulder buttons are a little hard to reach for the small of hands, like myself, but still usable. So few games take advantage of these anyway, you'll rarely be too worried about them. The nubby little 'C' stick is a more intriguing upgrade however. The original Circle Pad Pro had a proper joypad, the same as the directional joy pad. The 'C' stick is a pressure sensitive nub that doesn't really have much feel to it. It most certainly doesn't have any give, or movement. It is surprisingly intuitive though. Once you get use to it, you just adjust the speed of the camera movement by applying more or less pressure.
Moving the volume was also a good choice. Where the volume was located before, on the side of the hand held, was easy to bump, accidentally turning the volume up or down while gaming. Now located on the screen, that's not a possibility any more. The speaker output has been increased to something more acceptable as well. They've also added Amibo support, which in all honesty won't matter to 90% of us, but for those who like it, one more plus.
Moving all the other buttons..... I'm not so sure about. They moved the start/select to a more traditional location under the A,B,X,Y buttons, where they use to surround the home button. I think their reasoning was to prevent the accidental hitting of the home button while pressing start, which sort of makes sense, but it's easier to bump the start/select buttons by complete accident now. The worst move was the power button. They moved this to the bottom of the device, where it use to be a flush button on the face of it. The button is hard to find, harder to push, and just in a stupid location. I know most of us don't turn the 3DS off too often, but this was a stupid decision from Nintendo. 
They also moved the headphone jack and charging location a little, but those are insignificant in all regards.

They did more than that though. They upped the power on the hand held by a significant amount. You won't notice this in most cases, but where it is noticeable is with load times, and on rare occasions when games framerate would drop, this system doesn't seem to anymore. Another upgrade with the wireless modem. The original 3DS systems wireless was painfully slow. The New 3DS's has has a pretty major upgrade, allowing for about twice the original speed.
The biggest and best upgrade was to the 3D system. They've added an infrared head tracker to keep the 3D working, even if you move about. And as it's infrared, it works in the dark too. I will point out, it works quite well. You can sometimes see the system working, the screen will go double for just a moment, and then correct itself, or a periodic flicker, but it's seldom and not that noticeable. I've even tried screwing with it, turning my head, even fiddling with the screen, and it seems to be able to keep itself straight most of the time.

At this time, there are only a few New 3DS exclusive titles released (excluding the SNES virtual Console Games), most notably Xenoblade Chronicles. There are announcements of more to come. I actually see most of the exclusives probably coming from the indi game market, as this new system gives them more to play with. Now with only 2 games currently available, is the upgrade worth it? This is where is gets incredibly objective. Xenoblade Chronicles is a good game, and on it's own merits, I can understand purchasing the console for that game alone, and if you're new to the system, easy choice, just buy the new one. It's not that much more and worth it.... but, for those who aren't interested in JRPG's I can see the upgrade being a tentative one at the very least.
The cons are very simple, full price for a system (that doesn't even come with a charging adapter I might add). There are only 2 exclusive games. And most of the added controls aren't even usable on most games.
The pluses are good ones though. The upgraded processing power makes almost all 3DS games run more smoothly. Yes, many games don't use the added buttons, but those that do greatly benefit from them. And the head tracking makes the 3D actually usable.

Anyone on the fence for purchasing the New 3DS will have to weigh out their options. As someone who actually uses the 3D, I'm quite happy with it. And I do want to add, Xenoblade Chronicles is a solid game in it's own right (which was actually my main reason for picking up the system in the first place).