Swimming in the Desert

Swimming is difficult.  It is propelling the human form through an unfamiliar medium using complex limb coordination.  Lessons and training are necessary to become a proficient swimmer, turning a leisure activity into mechanical exercise.  Most video games approach the water in a similar fashion.  Navigating an avatar through the digital depths can be just as involved and frustrating as making headway through the waves in real life.  Constant awareness of your virtual surroundings, along with a rigid routine of tapping buttons and manipulating analog sticks are necessary to keep your character from a watery demise.

Floating, on the other hand, is a less strenuous affair.  So many of us take to our local pools in the warmer months to simply cool off in a state of relative weightlessness.  We can ease our way into the chlorinated waters, overcoming an initial chill to bob along the surface with no pressure to speed through the shallows.  Even though there is no water to be found in Journey’s desert landscapes, the simulation of gliding through the air feels so similar to taking a casual dip in the summer; occasionally flicking a button to bounce upwards as one world lightly splash the water to rise.

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After trekking through several areas of parched desert and abandoned ruins, the robed protagonist in Journey arrives in a darkened tower.  Outside of the faint glimmer of sun cast from a small opening stories above, the only light in the room comes from three lanterns in an alcove.  As the player guides their character to the lanterns, a mosaic on the wall begins to glow and the lower floors of the tower are filled with hazy light.  This murky iridescence lifts the robed figure, giving the impression of weightlessness in the glowing fog.

With a slight push on the analog stick, the player moves their character effortlessly through the light.  A quick tap on a button lifts them through the air with even more ease than before.  Moving isn’t as difficult here, now that gravity’s grasp has been loosened.  The player can swim through this fog without a rapidly draining air meter or the constant threat of drowning.  There are no antagonists to impede her/his progress.  The robed figure can float through the air with the comfort of a casual swimmer; finding respite from the desert sun as their player would cool off in the water.

Ever since video games moved into a three-dimensional space, I have felt like any portion of play that involved swimming was a chore.  It reminded me of the mandatory swimming lessons I endured as a child, where a menacing twenty-something would bark at me to keep my form and try to hold my breath for extended periods.  These lessons turned my time in the water into exercise, breaking any illusion of freedom in my movements.  Just like those moments at the indoor pool, trying to move Mario or Lara Croft through the water felt sluggish and mechanical.  The virtual waters were not a medium to free myself from the earth- they were a hindrance that slowed my progress and made me feel like a novice.

Journey was the first game that felt like lazy summer afternoons at my neighbor’s pool, where friends could float along without guidance.  There was no need for complex arm flailing or mechanical breathing.  I could move in the water totally untethered and sublimely happy, just as the robed figure casually floated upwards towards the light.

Since the last swimming days of the season are counting down, this is an ideal time to enjoy the freedom of floating, both in the water and in a digital space.

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Taking Inventory

In video games, it’s important to regularly take stock of your inventory.  This is especially true of classic adventure games, where the items on your person are often the key to making progress (or surviving a minotaur charge).  Before the picture-heavy interfaces of the point-and-click games appeared, text-based adventure titles relied on a simple command from a player to see what they were carrying.  By typing “inventory” into the little command window, a list of items would splash across the screen, and a recent Twitter account is providing folks with the chance to check their virtual pockets once again.

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Andrew Vestal has created a Twitter bot that pulls from a list of over 1000 items to create lists for anyone who reaches out to the account.  Simply tweet “inventory” or “I” to @YouAreCarrying, and you will receive a random assortment of items as a reply.  All of these lists are made up of bits and baubles straight from old Infocom games, which can lead to a bit of confusion for those of us who haven’t played Zork before (get ready to Google).

A fantastic side effect of this digital delight is that so many people have taken the lists produced by the bot and drawn the results as a sort of self-portrait.  Mr. Vestal actively encourages people to share their labeled drawings with YouAreCarrying, which makes following the account even more enjoyable.  Laura and I decided to have a little bit of fun with our lists, by sharing our inventories and drawing each other’s picture.  Please enjoy the results below:

Laura’s Inventory, drawn by Chip: a white rod, a gun receipt, a large fly, a second seventeen-centimeter fromitz board, a pair of goggles, a laser, a lunch.

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Chip’s Inventory, drawn by Laura: a cannonball, a hatchet, plaster dust, a Remington, a small piece of vitreous slag, a bottle of Scotch, a zorkmid coin.

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Why not shoot a tweet to @YouAreCarrying right now and see what’s in your inventory?  The contents of your virtual backpack may surprise you.

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Go and Play: The Counting Kingdom

Some time ago, I waxed philosophical on the things I have learned from video games.  While the origin of this article came from a dopey poster from Hot Topic, the meat of my musings centered on the educational games of my youth.  These titles were formative in my educational experience; providing a wonderful supplement to the historical texts and multiplication tables of school.  From these life moments, I have come to appreciate how video games can be a strong tool in educating our youth and reinforcing the learning process.

These days, gaming technology is in the pockets and backpacks of nearly every person in the world.  Laptops, smart phones, and tablets have become so mainstream, and with these devices comes an onslaught of games that aim to distract, engage, and immerse players.  Educational games have endeavored to keep up with the times, creating all sorts of games to inspire young minds.  Ideally, these titles would use a popular genre of play and combine it with a field of study to make a worthwhile game for all players.

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From Little Worlds Interactive comes The Counting Kingdom, a game that mixes mathematics with tower defense gameplay.  Players take control of a young wizard’s apprentice who must protect their castle from attacking monsters.  Each turn of play, the young magician selects a group of monsters that corresponds to the spell that can be cast.  The educational bit of play comes in the form of numbered spells and enemies.  The apprentice has a refilling selection of three numbers that serve as spells to be cast.  The waves of monsters that arrive in front of the castle also have numbers upon their scaly bellies.  The player chooses a monster or group of monsters whose sum equals one of the spells at their command.  Thus the monsters are destroyed and the castle is saved!

On top of the base gameplay of mathematical magic, there are potions that can be used to reduce or increase monster values, along with a spell book that can provide the player with a fresh numerical incantation to cast.  The game features a very storybook art style, with cute monsters and colorful landscapes.  The entire experience comes off as a sort of Plants vs. Zombies meets Number Munchers, which is certainly high praise in my circles.  I would recommend this game to players looking for a fun and cerebral distraction, as well as an educational title for younger children looking to not-so-secretly enhance their math skills.

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The Counting Kingdom is currently available for PC and Mac via Steam Early Access, so be sure to check it out!  The game is quite fun and engaging on these platforms, and I look forward to the inevitable iOS release that will enable touch screen controls- the form in which The Counting Kingdom will truly shine brightest.

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SNES A Day 32: Joe & Mac

I have recently become aware of the fantastic blog, SNES A Day. Here is just a sample of the great content on this site. Joe and Mac was a co-op staple in the household of my youth. Be sure to follow SNES A Day and revel in the glory days of the 16-bit era!

Enemies have a lot of personality and react colorfully when hit

Comic Books, At the Library?!

It’s certainly been a while, faithful readers of GIMMGP.  Laura and I have been working the weeks away on some super-secret projects that we hope to unveil soon, so look forward to that day (whenever it may be)!  In the little bit of spare time I manage to scrape up at a day’s end, I have been reading plenty of comic books which I borrowed from the library.

Thanks to the massive catalog at our local branch, I have discovered several superhero one-shots that slipped under my radar during their initial release.  These paneled pages have been a soothing balm for my electronics weary eyes after a long day of technology-filled work and play.  Allow me to share some of my favorite titles from these library excursions.

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Superman: Red Son

Let me be frank at the commencement: I don’t care for Superman comics.  Perhaps it’s the overly good-natured character, or simply the idea that at his power level, no foe should be too great yet the Man of Steel keeps getting subverted by evildoers.  Something about his nigh-invincible abilities laced under the tropes of classic superhero comics has made the character and the stories around him rather uninteresting to me.  In spite of this, there are some titles starring Superman that I find to be genuinely engaging and Red Son is one of these tales.

RedSon2The premise of Red Son is a seemingly simple twist on the classic origin: instead of landing in Kansas, what if Superman happened to land in the Soviet Union?  From this basic idea, an alternate history of the Cold War unfolds with Kal-El going from benevolent Russian super-citizen to paranoid Big Brother-esque dictator.  On the side of the Americans is famed scientist Lex Luthor, whose attempts to balance the power between nations leads to the creation of major villains from the Superman universe.  Just as there are analogues to villains like Brainiac and Bizarro, there are alternate versions of heroes like Batman (a disenfranchised KGB agent) and Hal Jordan (leader of the Green Lantern Marine Corps).  All of these intriguing characters and twists on the traditional Superman story are wrapped up in fantastic artwork, full of highly detailed backgrounds and colorful character redesigns.  I would recommend this comic for anyone who has given up on the Man of Steel, or for those who love the Last Son of Krypton and are looking for their next fix.

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Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Before I realized who wrote this title, I had little interest in reading it.  Captain Marvel was never on my radar, save for the occasional shouting of “SHAZAM!” as a sort of pseudo-inside joke.  Then I heard that Jeff Smith, the fantastic author of my beloved Bone comics, penned this superhero tale.  And so began the rapid devouring of The Monster Society of Evil.

Shazam2Mr. Smith’s take on Captain Marvel is a perfect jumping-off point for any novice to the classic superhero.  A fresh look at young Billy Batson’s encounter with the wizard who would tie him to his magical alter-ego provides a proper origin story at the start of this four issue series.  From this not-so-chance meeting, Billy Batson gains the power to utter a magic word and become Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal!  This comic is chock full of heart, featuring plenty of bombastic superhero moments that frame a touching story of an orphan who finds a new family in the city he dares to protect.  In addition to the great story and emotive artwork, the collected trade of Shazam! features a making of section that glimpses Jeff Smith’s production notes and compares his work to the original comics from the 1940s.  I would recommend this comic to kids and the adults who still have a spark of childhood joy from comic book magic.

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Kingdom Come

Now we come to the biggie, the crème de la crème, the best superhero comic I have read in years.  Kingdom Come is from the DC Elseworlds imprint (read: the fun comics that don’t interfere with their oddball continuity) and details a story from a future universe where a conflict grows between the Justice League and their mostly amoral offspring.  What results is a fascinating tale that unfolds around a seemingly simple character: a sullen minister named Norman McCay.

KingdomCome2At the outset of Kingdom Come, Norman McCay visits a dying Wesley Dodds (the original Sandman) and the passing superhero transfers grisly visions of impending doom to the minister.  Shortly after, Norman is visited by The Spectre, who recruits him to pass judgment at the approaching superhuman apocalypse.  Norman is whisked behind the scenes as the old guard of superheroes (including a mourning Superman, a sullen and aged Batman, and the ever battle-ready Wonder Woman) deals with the destruction and chaos of a new breed of superhumans, many of which are their own children.  An interesting parallel between the scriptures of Revelations and the acts of these titans is made, and Norman (along with the reader) is caught in the background; merely a spectator to the oncoming tragedy.  This comic features the amazing artwork of Alex Ross, whose painted work feels like a glimpse of photographs from another reality.  I would highly recommend this comic to everyone, particularly those who think that superhero comics have become silly and childish, with no message of hope to be had in their overly dark pages.

There you have it, fair readers.  While I have managed to ingest other solid comic books from our library, nothing comes close to these three great stories.  If you are looking for more articles to scratch your comic book itch, be sure to pop over to Geek Force Network, where I have recently highlighted several great indie comics (and video games!).  While you’re at it, why not check out your local library?  It might surprise you to see how much sequential art is nestled right beside the summer reading program lists.

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Co-op Recommendation: Battleblock Theater

BehemothThe PAXEast Expo Hall is something of an anxiety-producing beast.  There are legions of people packed into a convention center that has been lined with hundreds of booths, and each of these booths is filled with tons of mesmerizing media.  There are cardboard cut-outs and statues, fabulous prizes to be won and little tchotchkes to be gathered; every company and studio wants to grab your attention and get you stoked about their latest products.  Needless to say, attending a video game convention can be quite overwhelming.  Fortunately, Laura and I learned from our very first PAXEast to always visit The Behemoth booth every year, as it is the most inviting and honestly fun place to be on the convention floor.  Besides the neat merchandise and friendly staff, every demo station is built into a faux arcade machine where delightfully cartoony games may be enjoyed by a pair of friends.  It was here that my good friend Bobby and I first encountered Battleblock Theater.

BehemothGameAt the time, we had no idea what sort of game we were playing, or even what our motivation was in this strange world.  There were two adorable characters on the screen, one for each of us, and we led our little heroes through strange obstacle courses filled with acid baths, deadly spikes, and evil kitties.  There was no tutorial, save for a few signs that explained some of the button functions, so much of our time playing was spent experimenting with the game.  The first thing we found was our heroes could fight each other, which led to a few “accidental” deaths (a punch into acid here, a misplaced fireball there).  But not to worry, our characters would respawn immediately, bright, shiny, and new (thank goodness).  Then we noticed that we could stand on each other, as to reach higher items and areas (or to just sit on someone’s head while the other player had a nice nap).  From these simple yet unexplained rules, Bobby and I started to do everything we could to break this game.  We were tossing each other around the maps, bouncing off our heads to grab collectible items, and using our own projectiles to create new combos to destroy our enemies.  In short, this game was awesome and we wanted to play it all day.  But with a growing line behind us and plenty more to see in the Expo Hall, we pulled ourselves from the arcade machine and moved on to other booths.

Two years passed between our initial glimpse of Battleblock Theater and its public debut, but our fevered desire for this silly and fun game never faltered.  I purchased the game from the Xbox Live Arcade on the day of release, eager to find out the story behind our little cartoon friends.  I was not disappointed:

Battleblock Theater has the sort of story my friends and I would make up on the fly while chilling out and enjoying a couple of beers (read: drinking heavily).  I can only imagine how the pitch meeting went over:  “So, there’s a dapper gentleman, and he wants all of his friends to go on a cruise, but then they get shipwrecked on an island of evil cats.  And the cats, see, they put a cursed hat on the gentleman’s head, and then force his friends to compete in death relays for feline amusement.  What do ya think?”  And the narrator, good gravy, let’s talk about this guy.  An over-caffeinated storyteller (who does not pull his punches) comments on the player’s performance and provides all of the dialogue for Battleblock Theater.  So much of the game’s humor comes from the high-spirited and sarcastic comments being force-fed to the player.  These elements perfectly compliment the frantic gameplay and make for a colorful and manic cartoon world.

In an industry that emphasizes the need for high-rez graphics, gritty storylines, and massive online skirmishes, it is nice to see that some studios remember what first brought people to video games: discovery and fun.  The Behemoth makes games that are easy to learn, but they don’t bash the player over the head with rules and tutorials.  This allows each player the opportunity to discover new styles of play hidden within the basic rules of a game.  As Laura and I made our way through the many stages of Battleblock Theater, we continued to find novel ways of getting around and collecting items.  There was no single way to complete a level, and by carving our own path, the experience of play became much more personal and endearing.

In other words: stop what you are doing, grab a friend, and play Battleblock Theater.  It’s a fun time.

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When Attending PAXEast: Some Advice

gimmgp:

Even though Laura and I will not be attending PAXEast this year (those tickets and rooms sold out fast), we wanted to share some advice to all the folks who will be spending their weekend at this massive convention. Please to be enjoying!

Originally posted on Games I Made My Girlfriend Play:

Since it’s creation in 2010, Laura and I have been attending PAXEast, and every year our Video Game Pilgrimage seems to get better.  Now many of you may be asking, “But Chip, how can I personally improve my Penny Arcade Expo experience?  Surely all of the responsibility falls on Masters Gabe and Tycho to make my money seem well spent!”  While it seems that most of the good times you will be having do rely on the coordinators of this convention, we here at GIMMGP have learned many lessons along the way that have made every year at PAX just a little bit better (read: SO MUCH BETTER).  Now we will share these lessons with you, the faithful reader!

Lesson 1: Don’t drive when flying is so much easier.  Laura and I learned this the hard way during our first trip to PAXEast.  From GIMMGP Headquarters, it is a roughly…

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Guest Post: Life With Spoilers

Today on GIMMGP, we have the joy of sharing a post from Cary, the talented writer behind Recollections of Play.  Outside of sharing nostalgic moments in music and gaming on her own blog, Cary also contributes to Geek Force Network and serves as an admin at United We Game.  Please be sure to check out her work at each of these sites; it’s good stuff! 

by Flickr user –nanio- (http://www.flickr.com/photos/nananio/)

by Flickr user –nanio- (http://www.flickr.com/photos/nananio/)

When other gamers learn that my husband and I, two mostly-regular gamers, don’t often play games together, the tandem question that sometimes follows is “what do you do when you both want to play the same game? How do you avoid spoilers?” My answer varies, but it generally boils down to with planning, but it depends on the game. When we get a game that we both want to play, one of us will usually “call” it first (because occasionally we’re still in grade school, haha), or sometimes we debate about it, depending on what other games we have to play at the moment.  If one of us is trying to finish a particular game, then the new game automatically goes to the other person.  And when the new game is played, the other person simply avoids watching. It’s pretty simple (mostly) and it works for us (mostly).  But honestly, that’s only because rarely do our gaming interests cross.  We have about two dozen games in the wings, and of them, there are only a couple that we’ve wanted to play at the same time.     But every now and again, games come along that one of us wants to play while the other remains on the fence. Red Dead Redemption, Sleeping Dogs, Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham Asylum…these are just some of the games that come to mind where one of us made the purchase with all intents to play while the other stayed at arm’s length. And as bristly as I can get about spoilers, I’ve learned to live them to a certain degree because they’ve often opened my eyes to great games that I might have otherwise missed.

For example, let’s take Arkham Aslyum. While it was a game that excited many, it was one that I wasn’t sure was really for me. I didn’t know much about Batman, I was unsure about the combat system.  I’m bad at stealth, and it just didn’t seem like a game that I’d enjoy. But, in my own wishy-washy way, I also didn’t want to watch the game because, what if, maybe, it was a game that I should play because everyone else said so? I didn’t just want to go and spoil it! Right? After way too much silent debate, and at my husband’s behest, I finally watched him play through a level; one that he thought wouldn’t spoil things too much. Turned out that I ended up watching him finish the game. It was so fascinating and mindbogglingly good that I couldn’t not watch. I didn’t take the opportunity to play Arkham Asylum, but I was well setup to play Batman: Arkham City, which I did quite eagerly and immensely enjoyed. And now, even knowing how Arkham Asylum ended and the Joker’s fate, I still want to play through it. The spoilers didn’t ruin anything, they just heightened my interest.

A similar thing is happening now with The Last of Us, which my husband is currently playing. It’s won many accolades and plenty of acclaim from players, but I’ve kept my distance. Though I do love a good story, I’m not a fan of survival horror. I have almost zero patience for dealing with extremely difficult situations in games — not having enough at my disposal, constant death, painful progression. Whatever that says about me notwithstanding, when we got TLoU, it seemed like a game that would constantly keep me on the edge of controller-flinging. So I started out just watching it, and this process, spoilers and all, has allayed a number of my fears. Yes, I now know Joe and Ellie’s beginnings. Sure, I know the state of the world in the game. And I know what’s expected of the player throughout. Though I’ve only been a here-and-there spectator, I now know that it’s a game I want to navigate. As I watch, I’m constantly thinking about how I would get through a particular level or what I would craft in a given moment. The spoilers I’ve witnessed don’t matter much to me because I’m pretty sure that my experience would be completely different from that of my husband’s, especially since we each have different approaches with story-driven games.

I’m not going to get to TLoU any time soon, so my knowledge of it will probably fade by the time I do, but I’m grateful knowing that it’s not a game I should avoid just because of my own preconceived limitations. I’ve come to term with game spoilers, and I generally welcome them if only because they sometimes help to expand my horizons, which is always a good thing, even when my mind tells me otherwise. It doesn’t know everything, after all.

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Community Post: The Duck’s Top Five Mario Levels

To close the month of February, a handful of writers from United We Game are going to be sharing a series of community posts focusing on the fun and fantastic levels from the Super Mario games.  Every day this week, a new post from a different author will show up here on GIMMGP.  Additionally, all of these posts will hit across other blogs like Recollections of Play, Niall’s RamblingsCheeese Toastie and Video GamesGamer Crash, and The Duck of Indeed.  Today’s post comes from The Duck of Indeed.  So jump on in and enjoy the Mario Mania all week long!

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United We Game’s February community posts continue, with today being the day the Duck will present you all with my entry on the topic of levels in the “Mario” series.  Gamer or not, pretty much everyone’s heard of Mario, and there’s a reason this squat plumber is so popular even after people have been playing his games for over three decades.  Because the games have something in them for everyone.  They have good, old platforming goodness through a wide variety of environments, an innocent charm that people of all ages can enjoy, challenge (and boy, can they be challenging), not to mention princesses to save and big Koopa Kings to toss.  There are so many “Mario” levels out there, and yet they still manage to find ways to do something new with each one and make them stand out from the rest.  So I decided for my post that I would list my top five “Mario” levels, and to make it fair, I am going to list my top level from each of my five main “Mario” games in order from least favorite to top favorite.  The games I considered for this post span 1991-2010, “Super Mario World”, “Super Mario 64”, “Super Mario Sunshine”, and the two “Super Mario Galaxy” games.

5. Okay, this first one is not strictly my favorite level from a particular game.  I chose it more because I have some good memories associated with this level that I can’t really claim to have with the others.  This level is Stand Tall on the 4 Pillars, which is found in Shifting Sand Land from “Super Mario 64”.  In this level, you go into the pyramid and fight the boss, called the Eyerock (consisting of two hands with an eye on each palm, a surprisingly common boss in games), for a star.  As I hinted at before, the level itself is not that exciting, but the last time I played this game was the very first time in about 10 years of owning it that I finally got 100%.  And this particular playthrough consisted of my very first time through this level.  Ever.  So, for one thing, getting to play an entirely new level in a game I had been trying to beat for a decade was pretty exciting, which is one cause for my fond memories of it.  The other reason is what took place while I was playing it.

I remember I was relaxing in my most comfortable chair one afternoon playing this game.  It was quite a peaceful time, and for some inexplicable reason, my cat, Alex, decided to jump onto the chair with me, which he had never done before and never did ever again.  The chair was much too small for the two of us, so he had to settle with largely laying on my lap, making it that much more fun to play the game.  And this happened to be during this very level, which was also a surprise, considering it was my first time through it and my first time ever seeing this boss.  And so I will forever have pleasant memories of playing this level one lazy afternoon with a comfy chair and a cat on my lap.

4. My next favorite level comes from “Super Mario Galaxy”.  This level, despite not being a fan of the fiendish creature called the bee one bit, is Bee Mario Takes Flight, a level in the HoneyHive Galaxy.  And I just love it, for many reasons.  To start, it’s just such a cute level.  It’s so bright and colorful, with cute, cheery music.  And then there’s the bees.  Not just Bee Mario, but the regular bees in the level.  While most bees are terrifying and evil, these bees are just so darn adorable!  I’m not kidding you!  They are so cute!  They are plump and fluffy, and they make adorable sounds when you go up to them.  Honestly, it’s mainly the adorable bees that make me love this level, not just Bee Mario, even though he can be pretty useful, the way he can fly and climb around on certain surfaces.  But, I guess in the end, it’s really the adorable bees that make this level great.  This level and the bees that populate it are the bee’s knees.

3. My next favorite level kind of bends the rules a bit.  This one comes from “Super Mario Galaxy 2”, and my favorite level from this game is, without a doubt, Return of the Whomp King from the Throwback Galaxy.  I’m kind of cheating here because, oh, my gosh, this is actually a level from “Super Mario 64”!  A bit ironic, as I honestly was not a huge fan of “Super Mario 64” (it was so darn hard, and that’s why it took me a decade or so to beat!), but this level was just so great because of the pure nostalgia.  This level is a replica of the second world from “Super Mario 64”, complete with the same delightful music and everything.  And it makes me happy because it was a world I actually liked from “Super Mario 64” (because, unlike most of the game, it was much easier).  Then, you get to fight some Whomps.  I like Whomps.  They look goofy.  (Even though we all know Thwomps are better.)

2. My second favorite level comes from “Super Mario World”, the Donut Ghost House.  I always liked the ghost houses.  They were creepy, with the spooky music and the dark interiors, not to mention all the ghosts (the big ones were so freaky!), and they were confusing, with all the doors and the strange order in which you had to go through them in order to escape, but that was what made them fun.  And I just love those old-fashioned Boos.  Adorable.  Except the ones that follow you when you look away.  That’s rather scary.  And so, since these levels were my favorites from the game, I just chose this one because it’s the first and because it’s the easiest.  Easy is good.

1. And my favorite “Mario” level, as you’d expect, comes from my favorite “Mario” game, “Super Mario Sunshine”, despite this one being the most different, but maybe that’s why I liked it.  I love this game, and I always loved Noki Bay most of all, a rather beautiful place with peaceful music and towering cliffs (which are, oh, so fun to climb), and I actually found the water to be even prettier when it was purple and polluted.  This level was so lovely and had such fun platforming that I always loved visiting it.  And as odd as it is, my favorite level in this place was Eely-Mouth’s Dentist, where you go underwater and clean the teeth of this giant eel.  The boss music in this game is quite awesome and epic (even when you’re playing dentist), and I just found it so darn satisfying cleaning up all those filthy teeth (except it was gross when some of them came out).  Maybe I’m a weirdo for getting such a rush from cleaning eel teeth, but I did, and that’s why I found this level to be awesome.

Duck, Dentist of Eel Teeth

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Community Post: Mario, You Lead and I Shall Follow

To close the month of February, a handful of writers from United We Game are going to be sharing a series of community posts focusing on the fun and fantastic levels from the Super Mario games.  Every day this week, a new post from a different author will show up here on GIMMGP.  Additionally, all of these posts will hit across other blogs like Recollections of Play, Niall’s RamblingsCheeese Toastie and Video GamesGamer Crash, and The Duck of Indeed.  Today’s post comes from cary of Recollections of Play.  So jump on in and enjoy the Mario Mania all week long!

by Flickr user ManuelSagra (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manuelsagra/)

by Flickr user ManuelSagra (http://www.flickr.com/photos/manuelsagra/)

No matter how many times Mario’s adventures are hashed and rehashed, games that prominently feature that famous plumber, his princess, and that evil dinosaur we call Bowser, remain fresh, fun, and playable dozens of times over. Mario games are level-driven games — you’ve got to make your way through stages or levels in a series of worlds in order to reach the final battle with Bowser. And only a few games, like Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG, have deviated from the platformer tradition started by Super Mario Bros. Despite that fact the games usually contain worlds of similar themes, each is unique in presentation and design. Even so, I will never cheer upon traversing a snowy/icy world because Mario is already slippery enough, no matter how many penguin suits he owns. I will never get excited for those pre-Bowser, fire worlds, as I will never have enough patience with lava and fireballs. So when it comes to my favorite Mario levels, there will be nary an ice storm or fire waterfall in site. But there will be something “big.” Curious? Read on!

Big Island (Level 4): Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

You’re going to find a recurring theme in my list — I like oversized Mario things. I really can’t explain why, but I’m almost certain that the seed for this quirk was planted upon first playing around in Big Island in Super Mario Bros. 3. So like the moniker says, everything on Big Island, is …well big. The koopas, the goombas, the piranha plants, heck, even the clouds and backdrops are larger than life. I simply find it highly enjoyable to be a little Mario running around a land of giants, and being able to squash those giants as easily as anything!

Yoshi’s Island (Level 1): Super Mario World (SNES)

Last week I wrote a post for UWG on the importance of any given game’s first mission or level or quest, and in it I mentioned how most Mario games have great lead-in levels. Yoshi’s Island in Super Mario World is a perfect example of this. Not only does this level contain a plethora of Yoshies (my favorite Mario character), but it’s a fun place to be generally. The individual worlds aren’t extremely difficult to traverse and there’s plenty to stomp on and collect. Plus, it introduces some of the best Mario musical theme renditions available.

Tiny-Huge Island (Level 13): Super Mario 64 (N64)

Following in my preference for all-large-things-Mario is Tiny-Huge Island from Super Mario 64. But as much fun as it is to take on gargantuan enemies, this level is especially wonderful because it can be played in two different ways, with or without the giants. And it’s not just a matter of choosing to play one way or the other, you must play the level both ways, often switching between the tiny and huge, in order to get all the stars. Tiny-Huge Island occurs somewhat late in the game, and after repeatedly going through static level after static level, the notion of working through a level that changes, if only through the size of the enemies, is refreshing and welcome.

The “Invincible” Tubba Blubba (Level 3): Paper Mario (N64)

I hold the two Paper Mario games I’ve played in pretty high regard as I enjoy not only the turn-based style of combat and the games’ stories, but I simply adore the graphics. It looks like the characters were all colored in and cut out of a coloring book — so cute! The “Invincible” Tubba Blubba level sticks out in my mind because it contains friendly boos. Little, ghostly boos have been haunting and taunting Mario for years, but in Paper Mario, Mario has to help save their town from the clutches of the ghost-eating Tubba Blubba. One ghost even helps you along the way! I love the role reversal, as it was something so in contrast to the traditional enemies in Mario games.

Soda Jungle (Level 5): New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)

Did you think I wasn’t going to end with yet another ode to the oversized?? I recently completed New Super Mario Bros. U and I think it’s the best interpretation going of Mario’s original Princess-saving story. The Soda Jungle is a perilous place with acidic seas and other things to avoid, but it’s also got one level with huge enemies and one level with an enormous wiggler that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s also a level with lots of variety, spanning from above ground to underground challenges. But by and large, that introduction to Giant Brick Blocks, Grand Goombas, and Gargantuan Koopa Troopas really made my day; and I love going back to that level simply because it brings me joy to do so.

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