This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Super Mario 3D Land and Rayman Origins.
This may sound odd to those of you who were born in one of the shittier decades, brought up on games in which heavily-armored main characters trundle along like the fat kid running the obstacle course on school sports day, but there was a time when a game would be ran out of town on a moving train level if the hero couldn't jump at least seven times their own height. Yes, the platformer was the go-to genre in 2D times; it was what the third-person shooter is today: the default option whenever someone wants to hash out a quick movie tie-in.
But when the big, rowdy child that was 3D gameplay muscled onto the playground, platforming was one of many children he just couldn't get along with. An awkward transitionary phase in the PlayStation era illustrated that bouncing around in three-dimensional space was like using a space hopper to dismount from a trampoline, and everyone got really down on jumping puzzles in FPSes after the last level of Half-Life had you swinging between suspiciously-proportioned alien phalli. So in today's mainstream market, pure platforming games are a wee bit marginalized.
Unless, of course, your name is Mario. Mario, as ever, gets a free ride on this one because there are more products carrying his likeness than statutory safety labels, and the latest chicken bone he's thrown to his followers from atop his mainstream platforming monopoly is Super Mario 3D Land, or Super Mario Land 3D, or Land Mario 3D Super, or however you're supposed to say it.
Since you're all no doubt very busy procrastinating on the Internet, I won't waste your valuable time recounting the plot of the game. Suffice to say that Bowser has started issuing his ransom demands in the form of unlockable 3D pictures, sadly missing the glaringly-obvious opportunity for Princess Peach cheesecake shots. I mean, might as well, Nintendo, while you're still trying to convince us the 3DS wasn't a bad idea. But no, I guess they're following the usual Nintendo post-cockup policy, which is to keep desperately hammering away at it until either reality somehow spontaneously alters to fit with their deluded vision of it or they come up with another stupid new idea they can beat into the ground with a Mario-branded shillelagh.
You know what? I'm already bored of talking about Mario. Let's talk about something else. Like Rayman Origins, a Ubisoft platformer released for other, less dumb consoles.
The plot of this one isn't that much more considered than, "Bowser have princess, collect stars for inadequately explained reason." From what I can gather from the intro sequence, a bunch of evil subterranean beings are being annoyed by Rayman and his mates snoring too loudly. And rather than sewing tennis balls into the backs of their pajamas or maybe just putting more insulation in a dividing wall, the evil monsters conquer the world.
What with platformers falling out of favour in recent years, Rayman is a character Ubisoft have never really known what to do with. Never quite breaking out popularity-wise - because honestly, who could like a character whose hands and feet have no visible connection to their torso? - they had him emceeing that Raving Rabbids business for a bit, but he just ended up getting more overshadowed than Keanu Reeves in a high school amateur dramatics society and was eventually quietly dropped from the billing. Perhaps it can be said that the Karmic wheel has finally come around again for Mr. Man, because Rayman Origins is actually pretty good!
All right, I think I've calmed down enough to talk about Mario again. 3D Mario Land Super is a Mario game in which you jump on things in covetous pursuit of stars and coins, like you didn't already know that. How does it differentiate itself? Well, the standard policy with a new Mario game seems to be to write down every feature from every previous Mario game on Post-it notes, stick them all to a wall and throw a fucking dart. And in the case of Super Mario 3D Mario Super, it landed on the raccoon tails from Mario 3, a dart that everyone was so fucking pleased with that they felt they had to base the whole game around it, handing out raccoon tails to half the enemies and statutory objects, too. Although considering the original Japanese Mario 3 was more faithful in its depiction of the folkloric tanuki, I'm hoping there's a version of this game knocking around somewhere where every enemy has a big, hairy scrotum dangling underneath, in which case it's the Thwomps I feel sorry for. Oh yes, and they try to make something resembling a game mechanic out of the 3D gimmick by having these fixed-perspective puzzle rooms where you need the 3D on to see the platforms, but there's maybe three of them in the entire fucking game, so that's one for every eighty-odd bucks you paid for your special 3D handheld. Hope it was worth it.
Okay, gonna have to go back to Rayman Origins for a bit. It plays most similarly to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, right down to the four players, two of which are named characters and two of which are passing woodland creatures that walked in the wrong door by mistake. Crucially, though, players do not bounce off each other like they did in Nesumbwii, so you can actually get through a level without disowning three friends or family members. Another difference is that Rayman ditches the lives system, a very stupid and outdated concept that Nintendo have to stick to because of an ancient voodoo curse that will make their bellends explode if they try to think for five minutes. When the challenge ramps up - and by golly trousers does it ramp up! - then each failed attempt immediately flows into the next, never wasting thirty seconds of your time watching your character contemplate taking up self-harm while being beaten around the head with aggressively-cheerful music or kicking you back an arbitrary amount of gameplay time to fleece quarters that don't exist, allowing Origins to find that elusive sweet spot of being challenging without being frustrating. Ahh...
Right, back to Mario. The other way 3D Land differs from other Marios is that there's substantially less of it. Virtually every level is a random collection of floating blocks like someone called it timeout halfway through an explosion at a Duplo warehouse, but not in the Mario Galaxy way that actually has consistency and epicness. (Christ, I hate that word!) There's something like ninety-odd stages with enough unique material to fill maybe ten. Large sections and even entire levels get choppied and copied like Dr. Frankenstein's ill-fated speed dating business. The game reeks of halfheartedness, like Nintendo developed the whole thing by lying on a couch idly smashing a computer keyboard with one hand and dropping grapes into their mouth with the other. Grrrr!
Back to Rayman. What I find most encouraging is that an entirely 2D game has somehow swung a full-on boxed console release. It shows that the industry has woken up to the fact that demanding full-on, cutting edge polygon parades cripples developers with nailguns to the shins, and a game that just looks great and sounds great and brims with personable charm is ultimately the sounder proposition. Ahh...
Back to Mario. Grrrr!
Back to Rayman. Ahh...
See you next week.
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Is it called Rayman Origins because it's a prequel or because they really wanted to sell it over EA's digital distribution network
More Mario games should let you bounce off massive scrotums
Super Mario 3D Land