Month: November 2014

REVIEW: Mario in the First Person

by Jed Pressgrove

Note: This “review” is inspired by commentary on the obligatory first-person option in next-gen Grand Theft Auto V.

When Nintendo announced the rerelease of Super Mario Bros. with a first-person mode, I thought, “C’mon, you’re just trying to make more money by playing off of next-gen hype.” But now that the game is here, anyone can see what the $60 price is going toward. Playing as Mario for real, for the first time, only adds to the legacy of the original game and its world. Against all odds, a simple change of perspective has given us the definitive version of Super Mario Bros. Once you see the detail in the brick blocks you’ve been busting for years, you’ll bust something else.

A more intimate interpretation of the Mario classic wouldn’t have seemed possible five years ago, much less in 1987 when Super Mario Bros. came to the United States. This transformation of Mario the classic platformer to Mario “the life as you live it” suggests a rare intersection of artistic vision and technological advancement. Unlike the original, this game isn’t just about jumping on enemies, hitting question-mark blocks, or gaining the ability to throw fireballs (I’ll come back to this later!). Finally, you ARE Mario. This game is literally about being Mario and having face-to-face encounters with the enemies who want to stop you. What was once a delightful routine — approaching a Goomba to jump on it — becomes something more profound. You realize what it really means to close the distance between Mario and the Goomba, the latter’s teeth only a few feet away from you. With this added tension, jumping on the Goomba’s head is not a familiar action with a predictable end. You’re fighting for your life.

Indeed, what has been old for years is startlingly new. While the uncountable added details are jaw-dropping, it’s the shift in perspective that makes every classic idea and moment reborn. As you see everything from Mario’s eyes, the truths hit home. Yes, you’re in this to save the Princess, an unquestionably noble effort even in its trope-filled simplicity, yet you’re leaving behind your profession and livelihood to do so. In the traditional Super Mario Bros., the pipes of the Mushroom Kingdom were an oddly endearing method of travel. Here, they’re that and an ironic reminder that your quest has taken away your life as a plumber in Italy — a humble life of sewage and waste that informs your present heroism and sense of hope.

This new perspective rejects the tired label of platformer. Touching the Fire Flower to gain the ability to throw fireballs has always been exciting, but it’s always been claustrophobic in the sense that Mario is forever seen as a platforming mascot. That limitation no longer applies. With the Fire Flower ability in first person, Nintendo has dared to challenge all other first-person shooters. Neither Mario nor first-person shooters will ever be the same again after you watch the Mushroom Kingdom burn.

The ending doesn’t disappoint. For years and years, fans have speculated about some physical bond between Mario and Princess, a connection that goes beyond the tropes and the excuse for another quest. The climax of Mario’s newest adventure is a risky move, just like anytime two people come together and share their vulnerabilities. In a third-person remake, this updated bond might have seemed exploitative or silly. Thank God Nintendo knows that perspective precedes experience.

Screw the Hype, Be a Game Critic

by Jed Pressgrove

Hype is typically interpreted as positive coverage, while criticism is typically interpreted as negative coverage. People tend to overlook positive criticism, so they also tend to overlook negative hype. This reality allows negative hype to masquerade as criticism. As such, game critics often have an unchecked case of the hype.

Unchecked negative hype is associated with a know-it-all mentality, a mentality that most critics, myself included, must battle. The know-it-all mentality doesn’t respect the basic process of criticism, that is, engaging with art/entertainment to provide a critical and interpretative analysis of the art/entertainment. When we stoop to the know-it-all mentality, when we make definitive statements about a game without playing it, we are no longer critics. We are infected with hype and reduce the possibility of a reader gaining valuable perspective.

Game critics are supposed to play and analyze games. Unfortunately, they’re also expected to be PR stooges who care about and comment on every banal form of attention-getting from game developers and publishers. A recent case is the outrage over a publicity stunt from Destructive Creations, the developers of the immodestly titled shooter, Hatred. Along with a predictably violent trailer for Hatred, Destructive Creations released a politically incorrect statement that was designed to exploit the festering wounds of party politics (SJWs vs. Gamergate) in the Twitter game community. Even though any expert on video games should be aware of the medium’s countless examples of glorified murder, many game critics were shocked by Destructive Creations’ publicity stunt. This shock has translated to Hatred receiving quite a bit of attention for a random violent shooter, including but not limited to readers wanting to play the game because of the negative hype.

Game criticism faces a fundamental dilemma when, for the sake of a feeling of moral superiority, advertising and PR are treated as an artform rather than a method of brainwashing. Critics who want to play judge, jury, and executioner the easy way (i.e., by not playing the games) take for granted the difference between artistic intent and our interpretations as players. Indeed, the reason why we criticize, why we feel we have something to offer to readers, is due to the difference between intent and interpretation. To condemn or praise a game before playing it is to say our interpretations, our experiences and reactions as players, are irrelevant.

Screw the trailers, screw the PR statements, screw the positive and negative hype. Be a game critic.