Super Mario Run Review — Sleepwalking

by Jed Pressgrove

Anyone who says Super Mario Run represents an admirable effort from Nintendo to reach a wider audience is either lying or not thinking. Super Mario Run can only be played on one’s phone with a sufficient Internet connection, a shortsighted requirement that betrays notions of reliability and accessibility.

One might pardon this sin by claiming Super Mario Run is good, but that’s not true, either. Director Takashi Tezuka and producer Shigeru Miyamoto, two men whose fingerprints appear on many classics (including Super Mario Bros. 3, the best Mario game of all time), have run out of ideas if judged by this game. The art direction in Super Mario Run is prefabricated; none of the level or enemy concepts stray enough from previous games to give this entry its own visual identity. This timid approach is exemplified by the embarrassing boss fights that imitate, rather than build upon, memorable scenes in Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3.

That Mario automatically runs across levels doesn’t make Tezuka and Miyamoto’s lazy oversight more tolerable in Super Mario Run. Although nabbing every special coin as Mario jogs along can be somewhat satisfying, the game drags compared to the pacing enabled by the run button in Super Mario Bros. It’s more than a bit odd that a 2016 game with “Run” in its title would feel slow compared to its 1980s counterparts, but this limitation also reflects how postmodern the video-game stratosphere has become: because fewer people care about historical precedent, fewer will know how running can and should operate in a given release.

But it’s the jumping, not the running, that feels the strangest in Super Mario Run, despite its low difficulty. You have to hold your finger on the phone for Mario to perform a higher jump, and even though this action can be consistently accomplished, it seems as if Mario is barely able to cut through the air. I am often surprised Mario is able to do anything that my fingers tell him to because of a fundamental disconnection between me and the avatar. For example, you might tap twice expecting Mario to do two short jumps in a row, but if you’re not careful enough, you will perform a spin move during the initial jump. Or you might tap the screen with foresight so that Mario can smash a flying enemy, only to run into the bad guy’s face. Yes, this type of failure could occur in previous Mario games, but Super Mario Run makes success seem as arbitrary as failure, as you can smash ground enemies with little precision. If you don’t want to know, or if you want to forget, how Mario can feel, sleepwalk with Tezuka and Miyamoto through Super Mario Run.

Inclusivity and Values in the Game Community

by Anthony Murray

The game community is working towards creating an environment that is open and respectful to everyone. However, rather than waiting for the fruits of diversity to sprout, we are breaking out the frozen dinners because we’re hungry now. The inclusivity rush has presented us with an interesting problem: where do we draw the line between our values and our inclusivity?

This question gnaws at the minds of game developers, journalists, gamers, and personalities concerned about appearances over understanding. Afraid to formulate an answer, they begin to form circles where inclusivity meets their values. While some circles are friendlier than others, a contradicting perspective could find a person bullied, shamed, and isolated by labels.

Recently Nintendo announced Tomodachi Life, a quirky life simulator parody, for the West. The game was attacked when it was found that it didn’t support same-sex marriage. Rather than digging further into the reasons why this decision was made, some members of the press had very strong opinions about the “beating, bigoted heart of Nintendo.” Despite evidence explaining why gay marriage wasn’t implemented as a feature and could not be changed so close to launch, the offended circles accused Nintendo and those who defended them of bigotry and shamed them. Interestingly enough, the person who wrote the most balanced piece about the situation, taking the time to find the truth over reacting blindly, was a gay married man — a person directly affected by the situation. Are our values about marriage more important than including people that have differing opinions about a company? Or is the line gay marriage in games?

Earlier this year when Bravely Default was announced for the West, we received news that some of the character outfits would be censored. Those that cried censorship were labeled pedophiles and perverts in comments. As far as some were concerned, those against censorship were just trying to find an excuse to justify wanting to see sexualized young women and didn’t matter. Are our values about how a person is represented in a medium more important than including those that may actually care about censorship in games? Or is the line sexualization in games?

Everyone has a line, and we have to admit to ourselves that our inclusivity is shaped by our values. These values drive how we think, act, and pick our social circles. When applied to art, music, writing, and content creation, these values color our content. This is why welcoming people from all walks of life into the industry is important; having a broader palette of perspectives means that we can paint more diverse experiences and look at things from more angles.

Does this mean that circles are bad? Absolutely not. It’s human to surround ourselves with people that we feel safe around. In fact, having small circles can help reduce the noise of having a ton of people share the same space and create an environment for more intimate discussion.

But being complacent in our circles and allowing one perspective to dominate without opposition is unhealthy. We have to understand what makes us uncomfortable, defensive, angry, and the reasons why. We have to accept that while we may not be able to tolerate everything, we can respect a person’s right to have an opinion or create content, and that maybe, just maybe, we prefer and esteem people who think like us and accept us for who we are. Civil conversations, not knee-jerk reactions based on subjective values, are the foundation for creating thriving, sustainable, and inclusive communities.

Does this mean that we have to accept bigots? Well, that depends on your interpretation of the word. A bigot isn’t someone who has a strong opinion you disagree with; a bigot is a person who refuses to consider other people’s opinions to the point of being completely unreasonable. We must understand this difference as a community. If a person isn’t willing to consider the possibility of another opinion, that person is not worth your time. Why would you waste your time trying to reason with someone who doesn’t want to listen?

Inclusivity is making a color wheel out of perspectives, not making everything muddy. Inclusivity is about building bridges between circles without the fear of being treated like you can’t belong. Inclusivity is a seed that needs patience, love, and care to thrive in an industry that’s still struggling with its identity. If our inclusivity is based on the values of people who would rather shame than consider opposing perspectives, how inclusive are we really? And are we letting people draw lines for us?

Anthony “Mister Armory” Murray is a game designer with a fascination for all things game development. His goal is to provide practical pieces of information to aspiring game developers and to lend a helping hand to those that he can as he moves through the industry. Follow him on Twitter (@misterarmory) and check out more of his writing on his personal website.

Attack of the Nintendo Clones: Shipwreck and Blue Beacon

by Jed Pressgrove

Video game clones inspire intense debate and create political platforms for busybodies. A reasonable critic, however, plays the clones and specifies what makes them good or bad clones (only phonies decried Flappy Bird for “ripping off” Super Mario Bros. after a cursory glance at graphics). In the wake of numerous mobile and Flappy Bird clones, Shipwreck and Blue Beacon have arrived to PC and Xbox Live Indie Games as classic Nintendo clones.

Shipwreck, developed by Brushfire Games, is a Zelda clone whose female protagonist and autosave address modern gaming concerns. Some will point to Link’s Awakening as a significant influence, but that’s a bland thematic observation: Shipwreck is more of a riff on Zelda as a genre, which helps explain our reactions to its incomplete cloning.

While Indie Gamer Chick and The XBLIG criticize the lack of enemies and the lack of a map for Shipwreck’s overworld, I welcome the lack of sleepwalking through dumb enemies and marked objectives. Shipwreck operates more as a maze than a world. The game lacks personality (townspeople parrot each other like idiots) and exploration (don’t bother looking for secrets), but this design gives more attention to a strength: dungeons.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of A Link Between Worlds, the dungeons in Shipwreck feel dangerous. This danger can come from things that you might find unfair, such as taking damage when falling to a lower floor as part of a puzzle. Is that unfair because the design severely hampers the player, or is it unfair because the game deviates from what we’re used to in Zelda? Even the idea of a bat taking two hits with your sword acts as a line in the sand. Shipwreck might have the dullest denouement in recent memory, but its minimalist defiance toward Zelda makes it a worthwhile clone.

AdamTheOtaku’s Blue Beacon is a stranger game, partly because it’s a clone of the weird Super Mario Bros. and partly because it’s goofy anyway. Like Magicians & Looters, Blue Beacon makes death funny, providing comic relief from the slippery controls. As in Mario, you bust blocks that might contain diamonds (rather than coins) or power-ups that grant suits and powers (this time of the insect variety). Goomba- and Koopa-like enemies abound.

The catch is that using special powers puts you in danger. Charging as a beetle to kill an enemy sends you flying into the air. Fly too long as a butterfly and you’ll drop like an anvil, possibly to your death (no gliding as in Mario). You don’t feel empowered in Blue Beacon so much as careful that you don’t kill yourself.

With no continues, Blue Beacon can be a frustrating experience. Thankfully, the game is brief, with the ending evoking the domestic satisfaction of eliminating pests. Oddly enough, nothing in Mario felt as real.