Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! and Vs. Super Mario Bros (and NES Super Mario Bros)

Ugh. So yea, these aren’t indies. But I’m currently on a harrowing journey of self-discovery as I delve into the games that existed before my time. And it seems like the arcade is as good a place to start as any. You’ve probably seen those Arcade Archives releases on Switch and wondered if they were any good or not. I mean, for the price of $7.99 for old games, they probably should be, don’t you think? Hell, for that price you wouldn’t be out of line to expect the games to also suck you off. I selected one and chose Punch-Out because I’m such a fan of the series. Ready to have your mind blown? I think it’s probably my personal favorite Nintendo franchise. Yep, I went there.

For the second game, I narrowed it down to four options and let my readers choose. They chose Vs. Super Mario Bros.

What did I ever do to them?

Bull. Shit. There is *no way* someone can score that many points in five minutes in Super Mario 1.

First thing’s first: developer hamster has created a fairly minimal package here. Compared to other retro games I’ll be tackling over the rest of 2018, what you get when you purchase Arcade Archives leaves a lot to be desired. You get the main game and, in the two I bought, a “caravan mode” which is really just a five-minute scoring competition with online leaderboards. I was *blown away* by how far out of my reach the scores were. I’m guessing cheating was involved for the top scores because I can’t for the life of me imagine that you can legitimately score 1.7 million points in Super Mario in five minutes (and the timer doesn’t pause between levels or entering the pipe for level 1 -2). For Punch-Out, I didn’t even do particularly well and finished in the top 200. Oh yea, a top 200 finish for a game that is absolutely fucking shitty.

I don’t often get to use the term “disgusted” with how a game makes me feel, but I am fucking livid at how bad the arcade Punch-Out is on Switch. If I didn’t know this was the original Punch-Out that spawned the console franchise, I would swear it’s a bootleg. The dodge/counter mechanics I love barely seem to have showed up at all, replaced with a mostly mindlesss button masher. One that I couldn’t finish. Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! is barely playable, with possibly the least responsive controls I’ve ever encountered. I’m not exaggerating when I say I would often press a button to punch four times before a punch was actually thrown. The lag is especially noticeable with the blocking move, which is done by raising your gloves up and down. Well, sometimes the gloves needed a couple of seconds before doing the moving. Same with dodging left and right. It’s safe to say Punch-Out!! is kinda busted.

There’s two screens because Punch-Out!! was created as a means to dump excess monitors. Anyway, this is Kid Quick, but really your toughest opponent will be “Button Slow.” Just take my word for it.

I can only review the version I paid for, and so I can’t find a better version and say the game is great. Having said that, I went to watch a YouTube video to figure out what I was doing wrong and noticed some major differences between the version I paid for on Switch and videos seemingly taken from MAME or via Direct-Feed from an authentic coin-op. Most noticeable was on the videos, the referee counted slowly, whereas on the version I was playing, the count was *really* fast no matter if I changed the game’s timer to slow or fast or whatever. I happen to have a pretty sick MAME machine, so I busted it out and booted up Punch-Out!!. It made me realize most of my struggles on Switch were probably the result of bad emulation. On Switch, I couldn’t get past Pizza Pasta, the fifth (of only six) fighters even with the game set to “easy”. On my MAME? Without changing any default settings, I beat the game on my first attempt. It was night-and-day how much more responsive the controls were, and it made beating the back-three fighters (Kid Quick, Pizza Pasta, and Mr. Sandman) kind of easy. On Switch, I most often lost to Kid Quick by running out to time, because it’s hard to beat a guy who moves quick when button response time is slow.

By the way, if you’re curious, I wouldn’t give Punch-Out!! my Seal of Approval even with it working. All the stuff console fans associate with Punch-Out!!’s play mechanics are missing. It really just does feel like a button masher, nothing more. But it still sucks that the emulation is as crap as it is. And, given how short Punch-Out!! is in the arcade (six fighters? are you shitting me?) it really wouldn’t have killed them to have included both the arcade version of Super Punch-Out!! (which includes five more opponents) and Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! spin-off Arm Wrestling (which includes a cameo by Bald Bull) to give players some value for their money. I’d call Punch-Out a rip-off, but then I played Vs. Super Mario Bros. and learned what having a bonfire with your cash is really like.

I never came remotely close to beating Pizza Pasta and I still put up a respectable score. Though I should point out that everyone is placed in the same rankings even if you change the setting to “easy” and the timer to “slow” which seems kinda weird to me.

Vs. Super Mario Bros. was designed to capitalize on the success of the NES game and starts off just like the home version does. But then it slowly starts to warp with remixed levels designed for absurd difficulty. I’ve been told to think of Vs. Super Mario as being somewhere between NES Mario 1 and the Japanese Super Mario 2, which became known as the Lost Levels in the US. And yea, that’s probably a good comparison. Vs. Mario isn’t as insanely unfair in its level design, but there are tons of blind jumps and single-space ledges you have to jump to and from. It’s ridiculous, almost as if it were a modified version of a classic game designed not to be fun but to steal quarters from children one by one. Oh wait..

And it actually controls like ass. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that the original Super Mario was slippery, but Vs. Super Mario Bros. takes that to a new level. Movement feels imprecise and unrefined. It’s very subtle but it’s there and noticeably different from the NES version. I know this because I booted up four different versions of it, for Wii U, for the NES Classic, from the Switch Online’s NES program, and from an actual, authentic NES that we even had to blow on the cartridge to get to work. In all four of those versions, movement was consistent (which actually shows just how good Nintendo can emulate the NES). For Vs. Super Mario? Movement was *this close* to being like the others, but just enough off to be directly tied to a few deaths, especially with precision jumping and those aforementioned single-space ledges. I had my family play it too just to make sure it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just me. Though about half my family said they felt it played better on MAME, while myself and a few others felt the MAME version and the version on Switch using Hamster’s emulator felt identical. We all agreed that the NES versions control better though. And if you knew my family, you’d know we can barely agree on what time to eat dinner, let alone how accurate a game controls. So there’s that.

A lot of the tweaks are subtle in the early stages. In later stages, levels are lifted directly from Super Mario 2 in Japan. Levels made when Miyamoto was on his man-period or something because the game was so prohibitively hard that Nintendo of America asked for a different game.

By the way, while sitting to do this review, it came to my realization that I had never purchased any version of the original Super Mario Bros. before. I was born in 1989 and by time I started playing games, Mario had come a long ways. I think my first time actually sitting down and trying to play Super Mario 1 was on Animal Crossing for the GameCube. This apparently comes as something of a shock to my older readers who hold the title in reverence, but I didn’t like it. I had better Mario options by time I started playing games. I already owned and finished Super Mario Advance 1 & 2 by time I unlocked (via Action Replay cheatery) Super Mario for Animal Crossing. And I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t hold my attention at all. Which, granted I have a short attention span. It took me four days just to finish this sentence.

So actually, Vs. Super Mario Bros was the first time I bought any version of Super Mario Bros. out-of-pocket. I think the one on my Wii U I just got somehow, because I never would have bought it. Not even for a dollar. Some of my fans are aghast that when I finished the Switch Online version of Mario 1 this morning, it was the first time I had ever beaten Super Mario Bros. (By the way, I did it without using save-states!) Some people can’t comprehend that I, a relatively famous indie gaming personality, had never finished what is probably the most iconic video game. But I hadn’t, because it was a “before my time” game. Over the last 72 hours, I’ve had people tell me they’ve legitimately lost respect for me and my opinions on games because I never beat Mario 1, or that all my previous reviews were now invalidated in their mind’s eye. Nobody I respected, thankfully. And besides, I can now say I’ve beaten Mario 1. And hell, I even did the Minus World trick afterwards for good measure. Oddly enough, I don’t feel like my gaming life has been altered now. I’m still the same person I was before. I just have beaten Super Mario Bros. now. I don’t feel particularity validated. Should I be glowing or something? Will I get a membership card in the mail? Will someone show up and teach me the secret gamer handshake?

I don’t get it. Because at no point did I ever say any of them were stupid for liking Mario 1, nor did I take away from what Super Mario Bros. accomplished in 1985. Like everyone else, I probably owe my gaming existence to it. What I’m am saying is that I can’t play the game under the context of it being a new, fresh idea. Because it wasn’t for me. Based on the games I played before I played this, Super Mario had no reverence to me from a gameplay perspective. Controls are sloppy. Level design is basic. Not a lot of strategy really. And those opinions in no way take away from how important the game was for history. But saying Super Mario Bros. is the best game ever or still as good today as it was in 1985 is every bit as absurd as the AFI naming Snow White the greatest animated film of all time. Which they did. That’s why they had to quit making those AFI 100 Years, 100 Films specials. Because nobody can take anyone who would say Snow White has never been topped and is still the best animated picture ever seriously or respect what they think about movies. And honestly, if you’ve played games for the last thirty years and still think Mario 1 is every single bit as fun today as it was when it first came out and the BEST GAME EVER MADE, I respect your belief as much as I respect a Flat-Earther’s belief. Which is to say, not at all.

And that’s basically how I feel about Super Mario Bros. Being important to gaming history isn’t the same as being fun to play in 2018. And Super Mario Bros. isn’t fun to play in 2018. At least for me.

Anyway, Vs. Super Mario Bros sucks and I think even the most drunk-on-nostalgia fanboy would be insane to shell out $7.99 for it or any Arcade Archive title. They might be the worst values in all of gaming. For an extra $12 you can subscribe to Nintendo’s online service for a year, get a better version of Super Mario and a lot of other games. Including Mario 3, which withstands the test of time better and is still genuinely fun today. I paid $8 a pop for these and I honestly I might as well have wiped my ass with the bills instead.

Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! and Arcade Archives: Vs. Super Mario Bros. were developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Punch-Out!!, Vs. Super Mario Bros.

$7.99 each said “great bitching! You’re an up-and-coming critic!” in the making of this review.

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IGC on Gaming: June 4, 2017

Informed Access

The July, 2017 issue of Game Informer magazine has a special feature on gaming accessibility. I was interviewed for the piece by the very generous Javy Gwaltney. Mega thanks to him and Game Informer (and my good friend Ian Hamilton for recommending me to GI for the piece) for the opportunity. I was given an advanced copy of the feature and was very happy how it came out.

My stance on accessibility often surprises people. Being a gamer with epilepsy is tough, and sometimes missing out on a game because it’s a risk for my condition can be demoralizing. But, I’ve always strongly advocated that a developer’s creative vision has to come before anyone’s accessibility needs. Once that vision has been met, accessibility options can then be added in a way that doesn’t compromise it. A lot of times people don’t understand why that’s important. Isn’t playing any version of the game enough?

No. It’s really not.

I have the perfect analogy to prove this. When I was twelve years old, long before I developed epilepsy, I had the rare privilege of riding Space Mountain at Disneyland with the lights on and the special effects turned off. For those that don’t know, Space Mountain is an indoor roller coaster with the gimmick being that you can’t see the track in front of you. The actual ride itself is fairly tame as far as rollercoasters go. Relatively slow. No inversions. It’s sort of neat to see how well-used the space the coaster is set in is, but otherwise it’s kinda boring. The thrill of Space Mountain is entirely dependent on the darkness and the special effects.

The sense of speed with the lights on is almost non-existent. It leaves one of the most thrilling experiences in the park a toothless bore. For some games, the types of accessibility features needed for specific medical conditions can completely alter the intent of the developer. I’ve often wondered why some disabled gamers would want to play a stripped-down version of a game that doesn’t remotely reflect the developer’s vision.

I have epilepsy now. I’ll probably never be able to ride Space Mountain again (insert Ric Flair joke here). Disneyland actually does accommodate multiple disabilities. They can help people in wheelchairs or other mobility-related conditions to have access to most of the rides in the park. Some rides have features for the hearing-impaired. But, when it comes to Space Mountain, Disney can do nothing for my specific condition, epilepsy, except make the ride experience worse. Now here’s my question: wouldn’t I just be making more problems than I need to for the people at Disney to say “I still want to ride it” when I can just ride something else? Some people say that it’s up to game developers to include accessibility features, or else. Or else.. what? If you have a disability that prevents you from playing a game, and that game can’t possibly be tooled to suit your specific needs, well I’m sorry but not everything is accessible to everyone.

Despite what haters might believe, I’ve been a diehard Golden State Warriors fan my entire life. I never in my wildest dreams imagined we would play in three straight NBA Finals. How much does it suck for me that I can’t ever attend a game, see Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in person, because indoor sporting events are like epilepsy dirty-bombs with all the flashbulbs and strobey team introductions? It sucks quite badly. But the Warriors can’t ban flash photography for the other 20,000+ fans in attendance so that people like me would be able to attend. If you would even think to ask that, I’d actually consider you a bit of an asshole, ya know?

My mascot Sweetie has her game-face on.

I advocate for developers to include accessibility options. But that’s not always possible or viable. Sometimes those options would add significant time to the development cycle, which costs money. For something like survival-horror games themed around bright, flashing lights, the options I would need would completely remove the game’s atmosphere. And ultimately, even if they cover my specific triggers, which are the most common in the world, they’ve only lessened the risk for about 25% of the photosensitive-epileptic population. Nobody can possibly include features for everyone’s specific disability. If you get pissy at a developer for that, I’m sorry but you’re the asshole, not them. Ask for accessibility OPTIONS, but if they can’t be included in a way that retains the developer’s intended experience, find something else to play. Having epilepsy does not entitle me to play any game, nor does anyone who has any disability have any entitlement to demand anything of any game developer. In the immortal words of Frank Underwood, you are entitled to nothing.

Questions and Answers

I love doing these.

My amigo David Jagneaux asks: What are some of the most common, but easily avoidable, mistakes or mishandlings you see in modern indie game development?

Poorly handled difficult curves. I’ve editorialized on this before but it’s been a while.

Indie developers often forget they’re the best players at their own games. They play their own stuff over and over, get really good at it, forget that they’re making a game for everyone, and ramp up the difficulty to challenge themselves. This phenomena isn’t exclusive to indies. I was contacted by someone involved in the production of the original NES Battletoads who told me that game’s notorious difficulty spike was a result of that very issue.

The solution is simple: do whatever you need to do to get third-party testers. Do NOT offer them help playing your game. Just sit down, shut up, and watch. Offering them solutions defeats the point unless you plan on including a clone of yourself with every copy you sell at retail.

Runner-up is spongy enemies or busy-work design. Don’t mistake sponginess for difficulty. There’s no reason why a first boss in a platformer should take 20+ hits to kill. It’s padding. Inadequate checkpoint systems, lack of saving, forcing players to start full stages over, etc. There’s more to a game’s pace than level-design, and stuff like I mentioned kills the flow of a game.

Guacamelee! is probably the worst offender I’ve played in terms of busy-work combat. It could have, SHOULD HAVE, been one of the best indies I’ve played. Good level-layout, inventive story, fun upgrades. It’s everything you want in a Metroidvania. But the combat is a spongy, cheap, aggravating chore. It turned what should have been an all-time indie great into a frustrating slog.

Gorkon666 asks “All time favorite horror game?

Horror games are sort of a tricky thing with me. I was one of those kids whose parents didn’t allow her to play M rated games as a kid, afraid that they would turn me into a foul-mouthed, blood-thirsty psychopath. The results speak for themselves. By time I was old enough to play such games, I had epilepsy, which is about as compatible with horror as Pixy Stix are for a diabetic.

If Resident Evil 4 counts as horror, that would be it. If not, Eternal Darkness. I haven’t gotten to play stuff like Five Nights at Freddy’s or the Fatal Frame games and probably never will get to.

@DJ_Link asks “Can you name one or more things that games try to borrow from older games as nostalgia/homage but doesn’t suit well nowadays?

Lives systems are kind of pointless, and always have been for home video games. They make sense for games that cost a quarter-per-play at the arcades. At home, they’re busy-work sinks at best.

Rabite890 asks “What series (any company or system) is the most abused and which is the most neglected?

Most Abused: Sonic The Hedgehog, obviously. Hell, I’ve done my share of it myself with my Sonic CD and Sonic 4 reviews. I didn’t grow up in the Sonic era, when the games were revolutionary and 2D platformers ruled the day, so I can’t play them in the same context they were cherished under. If I had grown up when Genesis was new, I’m sure I would have enjoyed Sonic. I know this is probably true because ten-year-old me liked Sonic Adventure and 12-year-old me liked Sonic Advance. 20+ year old me? Not so much. Sonic’s last gasp of relevance was when he was announced as a tackling dummy in Smash Bros. Brawl, but really, has there been a consistently worse 3D platform series than Sonic’s games? Maybe the character’s speed-gimmick doesn’t lend itself to good 3D platforming, but actually I think the second stage of Sonic Adventure shows there is something resembling potential there. Sega really ought to pull a Tomb Raider and give the franchise’s 3D reins to someone with an inspired idea, and the 2D reins to an indie developer like Image & Form that knows what the fuck they’re doing.

Probably doesn’t help that they keep remaking the same game over and over. Nintendo does that too but at least the games they remake were good to begin with.

Most Neglected: I have never played a Punch-Out game I didn’t love. So why the fuck are there only three? Now granted, Punch-Out is a series based entirely around punching ethnic stereotypes in the face. We now live in an era where college students scream profanities at their professors for suggesting that Pocahontas Halloween costumes aren’t necessarily racist. Shit like Great Tiger or Piston Honda is not going to fly in 2017.

If only there was a solution. I mean, in theory Nintendo could remove all the possibly offensive ethnic caricatures and replace them with their iconic franchise mascots (the most famous of which is a possibly offensive ethnic caricature but hey, I’m going somewhere with this). This would actually make the Punch-Out!! concept much more desirable if Little Mac was facing Link or Kirby in a boxing match instead of Disco Kid or Mr. Sandman. But Nintendo obviously isn’t going to release a game based around their cash cows beating the living shit out of each other so that idea is a non-starter.

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