Tuesday, April 17, 2012

World 6-3

by K. Jerry Peterson

Remakes pose a tricky dilemma. How do you find that perfect balance between giving people what they loved about the original while presenting it in a fresh way? How far can you take a remake before it no longer resembles the source material? For my purposes, I'm going to examine "Super Mario Allstars", a remake that did almost everything right, and what I learned from its one big misstep.

Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. In 1993 Nintendo compiled Mario’s major NES outings onto a single cartridge for the 16-bit Super Nintendo. Each game on the cart was given a graphical overhaul. The original Mario benefited the most, seeing as how its graphics were the most dated and blocky looking. The results were amazing.

From left to right: SNES 16-bit remake and NES 8-bit original.

Look at this first picture. Notice how, despite the graphical improvements and the addition of a scrolling parallax background, that all the core elements are the same. There’s the blue sky, puffy white clouds, and leafy green platforms. The color palette remains the same too: blue, green, white, and tan. You can look at this and immediately see how the remake is an enhanced version of the original.

The SNES sees the forest for the trees.

This picture taken from world 2-1 may seem to deviate from the original, but in fact, it is again taking the established elements from the 8-bit original and expanding on them. Each tree in the Allstars forest is the same shape as the trees in the original background.

Brick wall becomes Epic wall.

World 8-3 always stood out for its massive red brick wall that dominated the level. No other level was like it. The Allstars edition took this element and made it even bigger. Now it’s not just a simple brick wall- it’s a massive castle wall, complete with steel gates, loopholes, and crenels. Whereas the wall in the original was broken up into segments, the Allstars wall spans the length of the whole level.

Sunken ruins available at your local pet store.

This water segment from World 8-4 added a sunken ruin in the background. This addition doesn’t draw on inspiration from the flat, blue and green water segment of the original, but it doesn’t detract from it either. Being underwater made the water levels unique, not the ruins. The seaweed and wavy motion effects of the remake enhance that underwater feeling. Again, a nice improvement.


And then there’s World 6-3. The white brick of the castle, the night sky, and the off-white platforms were unlike any other level in the whole game. The lack of color was the one thing that made World 6-3 truly unique and memorable. I always thought that maybe everything was covered in freshly fallen snow, or the castle was made of marble. The platforms might be white trees or luminescent plants. It inspired my imagination. When I saw the remake's take on World 6-3, I was let down. They took the one unique feature of 6-3, the one thing that made it stick in my mind for years, and they got rid of it. In its place we have a level indistinct from other treetop levels like World 3-3.

Let's paint the Taj Mahal red while we're at it.

Barring this one level, I love the Allstars remake of Super Mario Bros. Graphically, it’s superior to the original in every way, and I would love to see what a remake on a next-gen console would look like. What I took away from all this was, hopefully, a little bit of insight as to why some remakes work while others fall short. When it worked, the game remained true to its roots, despite the improved visuals. It took the source material and expanded on the ideas and concepts and made them stronger. When it didn’t work, it abandoned core elements and replaced them with something entirely different. The Allstars edition of World 6-3 didn’t enhance what was already there. It replaced it with something completely different.

Remakes that work are following these simple rules: Explore, Enhance, and Expand on the ideas of the original, while staying true to its roots. Remakes that don’t work are likely changing things for the sake of changing them. Shaking things up and trying to keep old ideas fresh is great, but not at the cost of losing what made the originals worthwhile in the first place.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Jason Voorhees: Creampuff

by K. Jerry Petersson

Another Friday the 13th weekend has come and gone. For a lot of people, this is a good excuse to pop in a Jason flick and watch the hockey-masked killer rampage around Camp Crystal Lake. For gamers, it’s an opportunity to reminisce about one of the worst games ever made for the NES; Friday the 13th by LJN. There’s plenty of complaints to be made from the dull graphics to the repetitive music. Over the years this game has earned a reputation for being brutally difficult. If you watched Game Informers’ Replay segment this weekend, you no doubt saw four grown men felled by the merciless Jason. But I’m here to say that the difficulty of this game is a myth.

Here’s how I play Friday the 13th. First, of the six camp counselors you can choose from, pick Mark. He’s the fastest and can jump the highest. His agility makes it easy to jump over the roving zombies and other enemies. Most of the time, I just ignore them rather than fight them off. If you bother to explore the caves, Mark is an absolute must. The other camp counselors can’t jump high enough to make it from platform to platform. And if you run into Jason out in the open, you’re going to need Mark to jump when he charges you.

Mark is your go-to guy.

If Jason is attacking someone clear across the lake, and you don’t have the time to run there, just jump into the nearest cabin. From there you can take control of the other counselors regardless of location. Inside the cabins, everyone moves at the same speed, so using Mark exclusively isn’t necessary here. Now here’s the important part; when you’re fighting Jason in the cabins, it is absolutely vital that you dodge diagonally when he attacks. Running back and forth is pointless, because he will catch you. All it takes is about four good hits and Jason can kill one of your campers. But if you dodge, and then quickly counterstrike, you can beat him without ever taking a single hit. And that's all there is to it. It really is that easy! Jason's pattern never changes. He just speeds up a bit in later rounds, so this technique works all through the game.

Dodge and then strike back!

Friday the 13th is a bad game no matter how you look at it. Even when you master dodging and start winning with ease, the game just plods along at a sluggish pace. Beating Jason (and the game) becomes less of a nail-biting experience, and more of an inevitability so long as you’re willing to stick with it for the many, many run-ins with Jason. But for all the things this game is guilty of, jacking up the difficulty isn’t one of them.

Of course, there's no way to avoid this cheap shot.