Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Pale Blue Dot

Neil deGrasse Tyson is set to host a 'sequel series' to Carl Sagan's classic 'Cosmos'.  It will be produced by Seth MacFarlane (yup).
Additional details here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Super Mario 3D Land Review

Super Mario 3D Land is the first major Mario title for the Nintendo 3DS and has been said to be a perfect proof of concept in how stereoscopic 3D can positively influence gameplay.  Let's see what I thought about it.

As to be expected, the soundtrack contains many of the classic tunes and sound effects you would expect and want from a Mario game.  All the new tunes are fun and typical Mario fare.  None of the new material here is going to end up going down in video game history as great classic tracks that people will want to hear again and again but none of it is bad either.

Here we also have typical fare for 3D Mario games.  The dual-screen setup is used rather effectively in displaying your power-ups, coin and lives counters and quick touch-access to level selection.
The overall setup of the game is similar to Mario Galaxy 2 in that it has a very simplified world map level select and linear progression through a selection of levels.  The difference is that it is a bit simpler in that the world map is totally linear; there are no branching paths, it's just a straight line hub from one level to the next.
Toad Houses make a comeback from Super Mario Bros. 3 and serve a more simplified purpose of just providing you with the occasional power-up but no longer with occasional minigames.
The '3 Hidden Star Coins Per Level' feature returns from New Super Mario Bros. and, similar to Kirby Mass Attack, creates a tedious late-game fetchquest.  Following the apparent ending of the game, you're introduced to the Special Worlds which are effectually most of the game; just as many levels but with considerably upped difficulty which means you'll probably spend longer completing them.  Unfortunately, you need to pay your way into Special World levels with Star Coins and the later ones get pretty pricey.
Unlike previous 3D Mario titles, 3D Land does not feature a health meter and instead returns to the basics of the Super Mario Bros. series:  If you get hit while not powered up in any way, you die.

Mario 3D Land is to date the best-looking 3DS game I've played.  The models are nice and smooth, I never noticed any pixelation in the textures, it was just an overall eye-pleasing game.
The 3D effect is used to considerable potential in this title as well.  Certain rooms are displayed at an angle specifically designed to fool you if you have the effect turned off.  Additionally, you can switch between "modes" of 3D; where one is an extended depth view which seems to display the game entirely going into the screen, and the other places the action 'closer' to you to the point that many things really do look like they pop out of the system.  It's a very nice option to have.

The game's control scheme is very Mario Galaxy-like; refined 3D platforming as should be expected from the franchise.  The goals are just what they were in the classic Super Mario Bros. series; travel the levels, defeat bosses, jump on the flagpoles.
The truth is, nothing is inherently wrong with how the gameplay mechanics are designed.  3D Land is a fun, solid platformer.  However, there is an unfortunate feeling of "same old same old" throughout the whole game.
There are a couple new power-ups such as the Boomerang Flower and the Propeller Box, as well as returning classics like the Fire Flower, the Starman and, of course, the Tanooki Suit.
The Tanooki suit populates the game a bit too much and many of the levels are designed in such a way that the other power-ups are rarely more useful.  There are also new 'degrees' of the Tanooki suit.
A normal brown leaf will give you a Tanooki suit that allows you to slow your descent while in the air (effectively replacing the Raccoon power up from Mario Bros. 3).  A silver leaf gives you a lighter coloured Tanooki suit more akin to what the power-up originally did; the ability to slow descent as well as turn into a statue.
Then there's also a gold leaf which only appears in the non-Special Worlds of the game and only becomes available if you die several times on the same level.  The golden Tanooki suit gives you both of the previous abilities as well as invincibility.  Nintendo has incorporated similar features in previous Mario titles and even in Donkey Kong Country Returns.  I'm not really opposed to this idea as the power-up is entirely optional and hopefully, if you're skilled enough, you'll never encounter it.  The only issue I take with it is that it's yet another Tanooki suit.  Did we really need 3 of them?

All in all, Super Mario 3D Land is absolutely a good game.  However, I can't really endorse it any more than that.  While it did manage to make clever use of the 3D effect, it was't all that revolutionary in what it did.  This is typical Mario, which isn't a bad thing but if you've been with the series for as long as I have, this game is a particularly bland experience.  Previous iterations have usually managed at least one major change from their respective predecessors.  This is not the case with 3D Land, it really just is "same old same old".
It's OK.  Worth a rental at least if you want some on-the-go platforming for your 3DS.

It's a Rat!

Alright, so I should address why I didn't get to a review of Mario 3D Land yet.  Basically...the same reason it took me longer to review Kirby Mass Attack than it apparently should have.  Totally completing the game involves a tedious fetch quest.  I have finished the game now and am in the process of preparing notes for a review.