Hey, all. So, I’ve been thinking lately about why I never connected with Super Mario Bros. I mean, I had a Genesis as a child as opposed to an SNES, but I played lots of SNES games later, and in fact my favorite game – Donkey Kong Country – is on SNES. So, it has to be more than that. After lots of thinking, I think I finally figured it out. What do I think? Read on, loyal readers, read on...
To put it simply, I feel I never connected with Mario (as I did with Mega Man, Donkey Kong Country or other games like that) is because Mario games have at their core ‘punishment-based’ gameplay, as opposed to ‘reward-based’ gameplay. What do I mean by that? Let me walk you through it.
You start every level as little Mario. If you find a mushroom, you become big Mario. Hurray, you’re stronger now. Then, if you find a fire-flower you can shoot fireballs. Hurray, you’re even stronger than before. However, if you get hit once, you’re taken all the way back to little Mario. It’s two steps up to get the fire-flower and one step backwards to little Mario. This feels *shockingly* unfair to me. I’ve had people explain to me that that’s just how the game works, but I still don’t like it. The game is saying, “Play well or we’ll take things away from you.” That’s punishment. Cave Story did the same thing. If you played that game well, your weapon got gradually more powerful. However, if you got hit, your level would drop down and your weapon would become weaker. That’s punishment.
Which leads to the crux of the issue: giving the player something cool – AND THEN TAKING IT AWAY – really makes me lose interest in a game quickly.
Come to think of it, Transistor did the same thing (and I couldn’t get into that game either). You had four functions (or abilities) in that game, but if you died, it would take one of your abilities away. If I couldn’t beat the level with four abilities, how in the world am I supposed to beat it with three? Especially if I’m playing the game for the first time and now learning how to play it. It’s like I’m being punished for not doing something that I haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to do – and that feels unfair.
Mario games are so completely devoted to the idea of ‘punishment-based’ gameplay that in Super Mario Word 2: Yoshi’s Island, you literally hear a baby cry every time you get hit. I laughed out loud when I saw that. It’s as if the game is saying, “Hey! This really sucks doesn’t it? Isn’t that crying baby annoying? Oh, you don’t want to hear it? They try sucking less.”
The thing is – if I’m now learning a game like this – I’m spending the majority of the time in this ‘punishment state’. I haven’t learned when or where to jump yet. And when I fail – which is normal since I haven’t learned this game yet – instead of quickly restarting and trying again (or taking away a bit of helath), the game forces me to play in this ‘punishment mode’ – a ‘lesser state’ – where it takes away abilities and forces me to play in a mode that’s less than what I had before. It feels terrible. It’s absolutely not fun. To put it simply – it’s punishment.
To which, you might be saying, “Hey, doesn’t every game do that?” No, my friend - not at all. Take Mega Man, for example. If you’re now learning a level in a Mega Man game, if you get hit, it just takes away a bit of your health bar. No abilities lost. No baby crying. No slowed movement. No progress lost. It’s as if the game is saying, “Hey, you got hit, but that’s okay. The next time you play this part, jump a little differently to avoid this. Cool? Okay, keep playing.” See what a different experience that is? It’s not only fun to play the level in an excellent manner once you’ve learned everything – it’s fun to learn how to play the level. That’s the key right there. I think Mega Man and Donkey Kong Country games do this exceedingly well – the games are fun to learn. That’s a reward. Also, once you beat a boss in Mega Man, you have their ability – permanently – for the rest of the game. That’s also a reward. It really feels like progression and advancement – which encourages you to play more. Metroid and Castlevania games have a similar form of progression that feels amazing.
I’m a big proponent of the following: games should not feel bad and then feel good. They should feel good, and then feel great.
This basic truth – that I’ve felt for a while but only recently learned how to articulate – is why I’ve never been able to get into Mario games. I love the music, the aesthetic and the light-hearted feel –especially of the later games like Super Mario 3D World – I’ve just never been able to connect with the gameplay.
What do you think about all this? Are there series that everyone likes but you’ve never been able to get into? What have you been playing recently? Comment below, let me know!
Much love, y’all. Talk to you soon.