Community Post: The Duck’s Top 5 Mario Levels

For the last week or so I’ve been putting up a community post every day, each one written by an awesome UWG contributor on the topic of Mario levels. You can also check out these posts (and others) UWG and the blogs of the other participants: Niall’s RamblingsRecollections of Play, Games I Made My Girlfriend Play and Gamer CrashSo check them all out! Today’s post and the very last community post is by The Duck from The Duck of IndeedEnjoy!

United We Game’s February community posts continue, with today being the day the Duck will present you all with my entry on the topic of levels in the “Mario” series.  Gamer or not, pretty much everyone’s heard of Mario, and there’s a reason this squat plumber is so popular even after people have been playing his games for over three decades.  Because the games have something in them for everyone. They have good, old platforming goodness through a wide variety of environments, an innocent charm that people of all ages can enjoy, challenge (and boy, can they be challenging), not to mention princesses to save and big Koopa Kings to toss.  There are so many “Mario” levels out there, and yet they still manage to find ways to do something new with each one and make them stand out from the rest.  So I decided for my post that I would list my top five “Mario” levels, and to make it fair, I am going to list my top level from each of my five main “Mario” games in order from least favorite to top favorite.  The games I considered for this post span 1991-2010, “Super Mario World”, “Super Mario 64”, “Super Mario Sunshine”, and the two “Super Mario Galaxy” games.

5. Okay, this first one is not strictly my favorite level from a particular game.  I chose it more because I have some good memories associated with this level that I can’t really claim to have with the others.  This level is Stand Tall on the 4 Pillars, which is found in Shifting Sand Land from “Super Mario 64”.  In this level, you go into the pyramid and fight the boss, called the Eyerock (consisting of two hands with an eye on each palm, a surprisingly common boss in games), for a star.  As I hinted at before, the level itself is not that exciting, but the last time I played this game was the very first time in about 10 years of owning it that I finally got 100%. And this particular playthrough consisted of my very first time through this level.  Ever.  So, for one thing, getting to play an entirely new level in a game I had been trying to beat for a decade was pretty exciting, which is one cause for my fond memories of it.  The other reason is what took place while I was playing it.

I remember I was relaxing in my most comfortable chair one afternoon playing this game.  It was quite a peaceful time, and for some inexplicable reason, my cat, Alex, decided to jump onto the chair with me, which he had never done before and never did ever again.  The chair was much too small for the two of us, so he had to settle with largely laying on my lap, making it that much more fun to play the game.  And this happened to be during this very level, which was also a surprise, considering it was my first time through it and my first time ever seeing this boss.  And so I will forever have pleasant memories of playing this level one lazy afternoon with a comfy chair and a cat on my lap.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RF2i8dSpjuk

Video from Youtube user: MrGamingZone

4. My next favorite level comes from “Super Mario Galaxy”.  This level, despite not being a fan of the fiendish creature called the bee one bit, is Bee Mario Takes Flight, a level in the HoneyHive Galaxy.  And I just love it, for many reasons.  To start, it’s just such a cute level.  It’s so bright and colorful, with cute, cheery music.  And then there’s the bees.  Not just Bee Mario, but the regular bees in the level.  While most bees are terrifying and evil, these bees are just so darn adorable!  I’m not kidding you!  They are so cute!  They are plump and fluffy, and they make adorable sounds when you go up to them.  Honestly, it’s mainly the adorable bees that make me love this level, not just Bee Mario, even though he can be pretty useful, the way he can fly and climb around on certain surfaces.  But, I guess in the end, it’s really the adorable bees that make this level great.  This level and the bees that populate it are the bee’s knees.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUI1Z3XKu-k

Video from Youtube user: Overhazard

3. My next favorite level kind of bends the rules a bit.  This one comes from “Super Mario Galaxy 2”, and my favorite level from this game is, without a doubt, Return of the Whomp King from the Throwback Galaxy.  I’m kind of cheating here because, oh, my gosh, this is actually a level from “Super Mario 64”!  A bit ironic, as I honestly was not a huge fan of “Super Mario 64” (it was so darn hard, and that’s why it took me a decade or so to beat!), but this level was just so great because of the pure nostalgia.  This level is a replica of the second world from “Super Mario 64”, complete with the same delightful music and everything.  And it makes me happy because it was a world I actually liked from “Super Mario 64” (because, unlike most of the game, it was much easier).  Then, you get to fight some Whomps.  I like Whomps.  They look goofy.  (Even though we all know Thwomps are better.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LE95kLdYZac

Video from Youtube user: omegaevolution

2. My second favorite level comes from “Super Mario World”, the Donut Ghost House.  I always liked the ghost houses.  They were creepy, with the spooky music and the dark interiors, not to mention all the ghosts (the big ones were so freaky!), and they were confusing, with all the doors and the strange order in which you had to go through them in order to escape, but that was what made them fun.  And I just love those old-fashioned Boos.  Adorable.  Except the ones that follow you when you look away.  That’s rather scary. And so, since these levels were my favorites from the game, I just chose this one because it’s the first and because it’s the easiest.  Easy is good.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IolmNwRemkY

Video from Youtube user: BURTTtv

1. And my favorite “Mario” level, as you’d expect, comes from my favorite “Mario” game, “Super Mario Sunshine”, despite this one being the most different, but maybe that’s why I liked it.  I love this game, and I always loved Noki Bay most of all, a rather beautiful place with peaceful music and towering cliffs (which are, oh, so fun to climb), and I actually found the water to be even prettier when it was purple and polluted.  This level was so lovely and had such fun platforming that I always loved visiting it.  And as odd as it is, my favorite level in this place was Eely-Mouth’s Dentist, where you go underwater and clean the teeth of this giant eel.  The boss music in this game is quite awesome and epic (even when you’re playing dentist), and I just found it so darn satisfying cleaning up all those filthy teeth (except it was gross when some of them came out).  Maybe I’m a weirdo for getting such a rush from cleaning eel teeth, but I did, and that’s why I found this level to be awesome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBz77QQzWug

Video from Youtube user: Anon7906

Duck, Dentist of Eel Teeth

Community Post: Mario, You Lead and I Shall Follow

Image by ManuelSagra

Image by ManuelSagra

As mentioned, until Saturday I’ll be putting up a community post every day, each one written by an awesome UWG contributor on the topic of Mario levels. You can also check out these posts (and others) UWG and the blogs of the other participants: Niall’s Ramblings, Games I Made My Girlfriend PlayGamer Crash, and The Duck of IndeedSo check them all out! Today’s post is by Cary, one of the UWG admins and blogger over at Recollections of PlayEnjoy!

No matter how many times Mario’s adventures are hashed and rehashed, games that prominently feature that famous plumber, his princess, and that evil dinosaur we call Bowser, remain fresh, fun, and playable dozens of times over. Mario games are level-driven games — you’ve got to make your way through stages or levels in a series of worlds in order to reach the final battle with Bowser. And only a few games, like Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG, have deviated from the platformer tradition started by Super Mario Bros. Despite that fact the games usually contain worlds of similar themes, each is unique in presentation and design. Even so, I will never cheer upon traversing a snowy/icy world because Mario is already slippery enough, no matter how many penguin suits he owns. I will never get excited for those pre-Bowser, fire worlds, as I will never have enough patience with lava and fireballs. So when it comes to my favorite Mario levels, there will be nary an ice storm or fire waterfall in site. But there will be something “big.” Curious? Read on!

Big Island (Level 4): Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

You’re going to find a recurring theme in my list — I like oversized Mario things. I really can’t explain why, but I’m almost certain that the seed for this quirk was planted upon first playing around in Big Island in Super Mario Bros. 3.  So like the moniker says, everything on Big Island, is …well big. The koopas, the goombas, the piranha plants, heck, even the clouds and backdrops are larger than life. I simply find it highly enjoyable to be a little Mario running around a land of giants, and being able to squash those giants as easily as anything!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh7QSjT7wTE

Video by YouTube user MegamanNG

Yoshi’s Island (Level 1): Super Mario World (SNES) 

Last week I wrote a post for UWG on the importance of any given game’s first mission or level or quest (embed link: http://wegameunited.com/2014/02/20/you-never-get-a-second-chance-at-a-first-level-impression/), and in it I mentioned how most Mario games have great lead-in levels. Yoshi’s Island in Super Mario World is a perfect example of this. Not only does this level contain a plethora of Yoshies (my favorite Mario character), but it’s a fun place to be generally. The individual worlds aren’t extremely difficult to traverse and there’s plenty to stomp on and collect. Plus, it introduces some of the best Mario musical theme renditions available.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnzkeG6e3ug

Video by YouTube user bpblu

Tiny-Huge Island (Level 13): Super Mario 64 (N64) 

Following in my preference for all-large-things-Mario is Tiny-Huge Island from Super Mario 64. But as much fun as it is to take on gargantuan enemies, this level is especially wonderful because it can be played in two different ways, with or without the giants. And it’s not just a matter of choosing to play one way or the other, you must play the level both ways, often switching between the tiny and huge, in order to get all the stars. Tiny-Huge Island occurs somewhat late in the game, and after repeatedly going through static level after static level, the notion of working through a level that changes, if only through the size of the enemies, is refreshing and welcome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-4b3dH5l8o

Video by YouTube user Nintendo64Movies

The “Invincible” Tubba Blubba (Level 3): Paper Mario (Gamecube)

I hold the two Paper Mario games I’ve played in pretty high regard as I enjoy not only the turn-based style of combat and the games’ stories, but I simply adore the graphics. It looks like the characters were all colored in and cut out of a coloring book — so cute! The “Invincible” Tubba Blubba level sticks out in my mind because it contains friendly boos. Little, ghostly boos have been haunting and taunting Mario for years, but in Paper Mario, Mario has to help save their town from the clutches of the ghost-eating Tubba Blubba. One ghost even helps you along the way! I love the role reversal, as it was something so in contrast to the traditional enemies in Mario games.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6IwI_PBPIE

Video by YouTube user luigifan64d

Soda Jungle (Level 5): New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U) 

Did you think I wasn’t going to end with yet another ode to the oversized?? I recently completed New Super Mario Bros. U and I think it’s the best interpretation going of Mario’s original Princess-saving story.  The Soda Jungle is a perilous place with acidic seas and other things to avoid, but it’s also got one level with  huge enemies and one level with an enormous wiggler that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s also a level with lots of variety, spanning from above ground to underground challenges. But by and large, that introduction to Giant Brick Blocks, Grand Goombas, and Gargantuan Koopa Troopas really made my day; and I love going back to that level simply because it brings me joy to do so.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O26yW8fyiNw

Video by YouTube user At the Buzzer

Community Post: A Mario Level for Every Player

As mentioned, until Saturday I’ll be putting up a community post every day, each one written by an awesome UWG contributor on the topic of Mario levels. I’m participating too of course, so you’ll be able to check out my post on Wednesday. You can also check out these posts (and others) UWG and the blogs of the other participants: Recollections of Play, Niall’s RamblingsGamer Crash, and The Duck of IndeedSo check them all out! Today’s post is by the Chip from Games I Made My Girlfriend PlayEnjoy!

My earliest experiences with the Mario Brothers were not spent playing, but reading the instruction manual while watching my younger brother play the very first game on our Nintendo Entertainment System.  As I scoured over the game controls and characters, my brother would play through this relatively new experience with the ease of a much older gamer.  All of Mario’s moves seemed natural to him, as if he had traveled these fantastic worlds for years.  The reality of the situation is that my brother has better eye-to-hand coordination than I do, but the level design of Super Mario Brothers had something to do with his genius as well. Continue reading

Community Post: The Levels Make the Plumber

I’m back! And I told you something good was coming! From today until next Saturday, I’ll be putting up a community post every day, each one written by an awesome UWG contributor on the topic of Mario levels. I’m participating too of course, so you’ll be able to check out my post on Wednesday. You can also check out these posts (and others) UWG and the blogs of the other participants: Recollections of Play, Games I Made My Girlfriend PlayNiall’s RamblingsGamer Crash, and The Duck of Indeed. So check them all out! Without further ado, here’s Hatm0nster, one of the admins of UWG!

Image by Flickr User: daveynin

Image by Flickr User: daveynin

Mario has been Nintendo’s flagship franchise since they first burst onto the scene with Super Mario Brothers for the NES (Or with the Donkey Kong arcade game if you want to get technical). It takes quite a bit to maintain that kind of staying power for more than 25 years, and we can rest assured that it’s not the portly plumber himself who’d the cause for the series overwhelming success. No, instead it’s always been Nintendo’s ingenious ability to consistently push the boundaries of level design as we know it. Nearly every main series entry has shown us new ways to explore the world with our mustachioed friend, and has left long-time fans with a lifetime’s worth of memorable locations that we can’t help but mentally revisit from time to time. The following are but just a few of my personal favorites. Continue reading

Guest Post: Spooky Games To Learn From

Image by JBLivin

Image by JBLivin

This week the awesome Hatm0nster of My Two Caps and one of the admins over at United We Game has written an extra spooky post for all you CTVG readers to celebrate Halloween. This also concludes Simul-Tober, the month long post swapping between me, Hatm0nster and other fellow contributors Chip, Duck and Cynenway. Remember to check out their blogs for the rest of the posts in the series and many other awesome gaming articles for you to peruse. I hope you guys enjoyed our horror themed blog swaps and remember to check back later on in week for the post I wrote for UWG. Happy Halloween everyone!  

Awkward camera angles, jump scares, deformed creatures, and good old-fashioned explosions. There are so many things a survival horror game can throw at its players in to order to deliver the thrills we’ve come to expect from the genre. Indeed most horror games are very capable of delivering thrills, but not always the right ones. A true horror game’s goal isn’t just to excite and wow its players; it wants to scare them, to fill those poor unfortunate souls who dared to play it with an almost unbearable sense of dread as they wander its dark passages and fend off its twisted denizens.

Halloween for all intents and purposes is a celebration of everything that causes us to shake with fright. So why not take a moment to venture a glimpse behind the curtain at the dark secrets of those games that inspire that true, spine-tingling terror that we love so much about the survival-horror genre. It is these games that the future generation of horror needs to learn from if they’re going to keep those horribly-awesome scares coming!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

This teaser actually gets the idea of Amnesia across pretty well. You’re a man; just a normal, frightened little man, who quite literally finds himself right in the middle of a haunted castle. As he makes his way through the empty, yawning halls, it becomes more and more apparent that unspeakable things have taken place within the castle’s dark and imposing spaces. More than that, the castle itself has taken on the bloodthirsty aura of those who performed those horrid acts; its vile nature having spawned infernal aberrations to stalk the now-vacant halls. These are creatures that our “hero” cannot hope to resist, and so must cower in the darkness in the hopes of escaping their gaze.

Atmosphere and lack of power are the strengths of Amnesia. The castle is dimly lit, filled with hints of detestable acts and signs of encroaching madness, and is populated by unsympathetic fiends that the player has no choice but to fear.  The story is good and adds to the horror of it all, but it’s the utter lack of control in a foreign space that inspires the terror the title has become so famous for. It may be a simple idea, but so far only one game has managed to get it right; let’s hope others follow it’s example more closely than the sequel did.

Dark Souls

“I remember the first time I died.” Is a quite fitting tagline for this trailer (which, if one looks closely, is comprised almost entirely of player-death scenes). It’s a statement that likely rings true for many a player of this purposefully difficult game. Dark Souls manages something that very few, if any, horror games can claim. It allows the player to have what would normally be considered a very powerful character. A character that follows the normal growth arc of the action RPG until, under normal, gaming circumstances, they would be an unstoppable juggernaut. It then proceeds to mercilessly destroy that character again, and again…and again. Even though there is an immense amount of power available to the player, death is always around the next corner.

It’s likely not the scariest game in the traditional sense, but from a gameplay perspective, there are few games that manage to keep the tension a very present and real part of the game even after one’s character has reached their peak. Hopefully someday a game will be able to maintain this kind of gaming tension without making it almost punishingly difficult. Until then, best do as the tagline says and “Prepare to Die”…a lot.

Silent Hill

Silent Hill is a fixture of the horror genre. It and especially its sequel, Silent Hill 2,demonstrated a mastery of horror in the gaming medium that even the series itself hasn’t quite been able to live up to since. And though Silent Hill 2 would eventually perfect the now trademark series formula it is the original that deserves special consideration. Silent Hill was produced at a time when video game visuals, while vastly more expressive than they had been, were still not very effective tools for building atmosphere. So, in addition to its macabre plot and population ghastly, static-generating monsters, its designers decided to use the Playstation’s weaknesses and use them to the game’s advantage.

Since graphics could only go so far, instead of going the Super Mario 64 route and trying to build a fully 3D world, the game was instead developed with a mix of 3D environments and pre-rendered scenes, both of which were handled in a way that made sure the player’s field of vision was limited. The low draw distance in the 3 dimensional town streets gave the town its iconic and otherworldly fog (which was usually hiding monsters) while the fixed, indoor angles ensured players would be easily caught unawares by stray monsters. Combine that with a deliberately slow and awkward combat system to emphasize the character’s lack of combat experience and reinforce the idea that they’re just a regular person just trying to stay alive, and we have a chilling game where the tension is hard-wired into the gameplay itself rather than reliant on the story.

In this age of cinematic visual quality, we would do well to remember that a horror game doesn’t (and honestly shouldn’t) rely on said visuals to deliver an intense experience. Not when there is ample opportunity to use good gameplay design to achieve the same effect.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Featuring Lovecraftian –horrors, claustrophobic spaces, paranoia, madness, and even some 4th wall breaking surprises, Eternal Darkness was truly one of a kind. A game that truly lived up to its title, Eternal Darkness constantly kept its players questioning which things that happened in the game and which were not. It threw curveball after cureveball; villains would turn out to be heroes, other heroes would die, and those that lived would be reduced to blabbering madmen. Even when removed from the stories contained in the “Tome of Eternal Darkness”, players would encounter ghosts, find themselves in upside-down rooms and indeed find the so-called real world descending into the very same madness witnessed in the book.

The game is scary because it operates on the principle of madness. The plot revolves around the return of unfathomable evil, no one in the game is safe, and the world works according to its own rules. In short, the game is unpredictable. And it is by being unpredictable, that it keeps its players on edge. Since there are no established safe zones and we know that anything could happen at any time, playing the game becomes a truly tense and even frightening prospect.

It doesn’t take long for a gamer to recognize the formulas and patterns in plots and level-design. It would truly be a breath of fresh air (albeit a likely horrifying one) for a future horror game to throw out all the establishments of games and try instead to keep us on our toes rather than letting us get comfortable.

There are many more successful horror games out there besides these, but these are the paragons. They’re the ones that, by one means or another, sear the experience into the player’s memory rather than give them a short-lived thrill. If future horror games take away anything from these paragons of horror, we may just be in store for a new golden age of horror gaming!

What was your experience with these games? What horror games would you want future entries in the genre to take inspiration from?

Happy Halloween all!