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Show and Tell

My friend Laurie visited in December to bake cookies, and it became my duty to entertain her six-year-old daughter. I don't consider this a bad thing; I like children, believe they are the future, and want some of my own, but I have very little recent experience interacting with them.

I took the easy route. I went to my wall-of-video-games-that-looked-interesting-but-I-never-had-time-to-play, and tore the plastic off Super Paper Mario; henceforth SPM. I believed this game would be age-appropriate in terms of both content and game complexity. SPM plays like a 2D Super Mario Bros. game, but allows you to switch to a 3D perspective. This is either a clever idea implemented poorly, or a poor idea implemented as well as can be expected.

Despite the concept's apparent potential, it boils down to this: Play 2D Super Mario Bros. Reach a dead end. Switch to 3D. Bypass obstacle. Return to 2D. Perhaps it gets more involved in later stages. The 2D sections I played were dull and uninspired. The 3D sections weren't any better, suffering from poor controls and a perspective that made it difficult to do basic things like jump on enemies.

If that wasn't enough, SPM is also a Role-Playing Game. RPG is a genre I sometimes love, but they are too often allowed to be absolute shit because, regardless of quality, fans will play them to see their favorite characters. I could make a game where people play leap-frog while holding a vibrating controller in their ass, and it would be successful as long as it was a Final Fantasy crossover featuring a gay love triangle between Cloud, Cecil, and Donald Duck mixed with lots of level grinding and cross dressing. I could be rich if somebody hadn't already made Kingdom Hearts.

In the case of SPM, the RPG elements resulted in you and the enemies having hit-points which necessitated stomping on basic enemies multiple times, and you could take countless hits and still clear a stage. The excitement and tension of a traditional Mario game was replaced with tedium and sloppy play. Even worse was all the talking. Blah blah blah. You'd have to read six paragraphs of crap to get a door unlocked, and there were minutes of bad-guy banter before each stage.

The talking wasn't a big deal at first. I've played many modern games where the developers attempt to add depth by having everybody talk too much. They weren't so cruel as to deny me the courtesy of a skip button, so I might have clicked through it without complaint. Then something happened.

That six-year-old girl, remember her? She asked me to read the writing aloud. I tried to paraphrase because most of the dialogue was long-winded nothingness or sounded like innuendo. "The black void is exchanging implied potty humor with the talking turtle?" Having to take it all in, the writing soon reached a level of stupidity I could not ignore.

I walked across a desert, found a temple, and went inside. Then the game narrated as I will paraphrase now: "Mario crossed the desert and went into the temple."

NO FUCKING SHIT! I just spend the last fifteen minutes crossing the desert so I could reach the temple. Did they really need to tell me this?

One thing that separates video game stories from book stories is that portions, preferably all, of a video game story can be told through the gameplay. One thing every writing instructor will say is "Show, don't tell." When I walked across the desert and entered the temple, that became a part of this particular princess-rescuing tale. It was shown. If telling is worse than showing, showing AND telling must be the ultimate literary crime. Did they think, perhaps, that somebody playing this game would not be cognizant of their actions?

I later realized that SPM showing and telling the story is a lot like reality TV.

Sara watches a video of her boyfriend Billy banging all three of her sisters. Sara walks up to Billy and slaps him. Sara runs away crying. The scene is shown. Then there is an aside where Sara is crying and tells the camera, "I am sad because my boyfriend Billy had sex with all three of my sisters and posted the video on YouTube! I clicked dislike! I am mad at him for cheating on me, so I slapped him!" Well, duh.

Another reality show might have people bidding on storage units so they can resell the items for profit. It is entertaining to see what sorts of items are in these storage units. Unfortunately, half of the show is asides where people say things like, "I came to this auction so I could bid on stuff and win! Yeah!" Thanks, now I know why people attend auctions.

I'm not sure if the purpose of these asides is to pad a 30 minute show into a full hour for ad revenue, to cover for the character's inability to properly act and show emotion, to satisfy a public demand for cry porn, or because they think their viewers are dumb and cannot interpret a character's mood and motivation without being explicitly told. Whichever reason is most correct, it doesn't say much for this form of entertainment, and I was disappointed to feel the same way playing SPM.

To continue the theme of restating the obvious: Super Paper Mario sucks. Do not buy it.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Erica Marceau
May. 4th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)
Interesting that Super Paper Mario got good reviews. Maybe they didn't read or remember the text and just evaluated it based on the rest of the game. Kind of like how people don't read the quest text in World of Warcraft and just care what they have to do and what rewards they get.
May. 5th, 2012 02:34 pm (UTC)
Well, here's the Metacritic data:


The pro reviews are all good, but I could say lots of bad things about a lot of games with good review scores. The video game press is largely bought off, grades on an 8-10 scale, and many pro game writers don't even discuss a game's mechanics and simply rate everything like a movie.

You will notice a cluster of negative Metacritic user reviews. Granted, a lot of user reviews are illiterate nonsense, but you'll see some of them are well written and point out some of the things I was complaining about. NeilB. for example. I did not look at the metacritic for this game until just now.

I do not consider my post to be a review, just a quick look. Maybe I will like SPM better if I play it more. However, with so many games where I can immediately have fun, (Dark Souls, The Witcher 2, StarCraft 2, Hero Academy, Deathsmiles, Metal Slug 3, King of Fighters XIII, Ninja Gaiden 2, Bangai-O Missile Fury), I don't see myself playing this game again soon. I don't have time to do a bunch of not-fun stuff in the hopes that there might be some enjoyable elements later.

This is probably my last video-game related post on Live Journal. I've started a video-game specific blog. Hopefully it will find an audience of passionate video gamers to discuss with that I cannot find within my small Live Journal circle. The URL is here if you are curious:


It's currently just reposts from my Live Journal, but I intend to finish configuring it and begin writing new content soon.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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