GDC: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4 – User-Submitted Amendments

August 19th, 2014

Not long after I released Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4 a handful of readers emailed in and gave suggestions for amendments. I’d like to share them here.

Quest Hawthorn had a theory that Aerodent’s biggest weakness is Large Lips because in Japanese “kiss” shares the same sound as a mouse squeaking.

Rowan Divey found a small mistake in Mario and Wario – A Character Comparison:

“You claim that the act of Mario taking away the golden princess statue is an example of Mario going against his do-gooder nature.

However, if you had read the manual for Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, you would know that the statue had belonged to the mushroom kingdom before Captain Syrup had stolen it, and that Wario was planning on holding the statue for ransom when he had succeeded in obtaining it. Ergo, Mario’s action are not an act of spite, but an act of securing someone’s property before further crimes could be performed with it. This is even discounting the possibility that Mario was aware of Wario’s efforts or presence during that time.

However, it is still an embarrassment for Wario, as his greedy nature sees the inability to obtain any potential material reward as a failure, despite how many rewards he may already have obtained at the time.”

CM30 wanted me to add a bit more context to some sections in the Need to Know chapter:

“Okay, one more thing. On page 70, you talk about the flowers in Wildflower Fields and say:

‘wither up and be attacked for a few loose coins’.

This is technically right, but it’s also a bit misleading. The game actually gives you a different amount of money depending on how long you wait before breaking the flower bud, with the larger ‘bud’ giving the most money and the broken one (which occurs if you wait too long) giving you the least.

You might also want to mention that Robo Bird enemies are one of the very few monsters that actually respawn in this game, which adds another layer of challenge.”

Thanks for the submissions and thanks to everyone who continues to email and tweet in to let me know how the book is helping them better understand games. :)

A Few Comments on Mega Man 1-6

May 12th, 2014

Over the Christmas break, I burned through Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the PS2. It was the first time I’d ever played Mega Man, and now I’m a big fan of the series. A lot has been said about the original NES games, so I’m just going to focus on a few key observations.

Since the platforming gameplay is fairly static, most of the trials (think trial and error) that the player makes are in the robot master battles. That is, testing to see whether a certain beam will take off more damage, whether a new tactic will help you dodge a certain move, etc. This is why the pre-boss checkpoints introduced in Mega Man 3 are so great: they remove the redundant repetition that occurs when the player is learning how to beat a boss. So there’s no need to repeat half the level when you’ve already done it once.

The robot masters get wackier and more obtuse much earlier than I thought they would. And as such, it becomes hard to figure out the their weaknesses, which means more hypothesis testing and trial and error. Since there’s only a handful of beams, though, the player can find out which attacks work best relatively quickly. Like the clues in crosswords, you want the answer to seem intuitive without being too obvious. Usually the combinations make sense, but sometimes they’re a bit less elegant (Plant Man is takes more damage from a Blizzard Attack than a Flame Blast?!).

The original series isn’t as difficult as internet folklore would have you believe. The extra beams and abilities (Rush Coil, Rush Jet, etc.) allow players to scale the game’s difficulty, so there’s plenty of wiggle room.

Besides the inclusion of Proto Man in Mega Man 3, which mixed up the progression structure a bit, the elaborate stories of the later games don’t really complimented the gameplay a great deal. They just pad out the opening introduction.

The warp pads that teleport Mega Man out from the individuals rooms and into the robot masters selection room in Wily’s castle should require that the player press down to exit. Several times I accidentally left the rooms before I could pick up the health pellet.

In Mega Man 4, the final few bosses and levels in Wily’s castle are quite short and easy, throwing the difficulty curve out of whack. It’s nice that they added more content, with the second phase of Wily’s castle, but it could have been better placed.

The charge shot in Mega Man 4 contributed a great deal to the series. The mechanic allows the player to suspend gameplay over multiple areas, allowing them to remain more consistently engaged in the game.

As a kid, I imagine that I would have played a very pure game of Mega Man, focusing on my dexterity and reflex levels. As an adult, I move some of the stress onto my knowledge skills. So I’ll look for patterns or internalise timings.

After beating a level, you’re given two options, “continue” and “level select”. The “continue” option always confused me as instead of allowing you to continue you’re game, you’re put back in the same level that you just completed. It should be relabelled as “retry level”.

Although the series ran out of fresh ideas around Mega Man 4, the later games still had some glimmers of innovation here and there. Gravity Man’s stage in Mega Man 5 is a great example. I think of it as a precursor to VVVVVV.

In Mega Man 5, many of the enemies die after taking a hit from a fully-charged beam, so it’s easy to defeat enemies as soon as they come into view. Since the enemies have no way to counter, the mechanic is overpowered. Some simple dodging or reflecting moves could have gone a long way to making the enemies more effective.

In Mega Man 5 and 6, tank reserves are suspended across game overs, so it’s possible to stock up supplies for the final boss battle. These games are also way too generous with the distribution of tanks. What was once a reward became a right. Find a spot at the start of a level where there’s a free energy tank and go crazy.

Readers Request: Wario Land 4 – The Subjective

May 6th, 2014

A number of readers have requested that I do a write up on my personal opinion on Wario Land 4. So this post is going to be just that, a bit of an indulgence. But before I out what I think of the game, I want to explain why I’m sometimes reluctant to discuss subjective in my writing.

On the subjective 

All my ideas for writing come from my gut. I play a game, feel something, and want to make sense of that feeling. So I take notes and let the ideas stir around in my subconscious for a while, waiting for the eventual click to happen. Sometimes it comes straight away, other times I need to gather more evidence from the game, and every now and then it doesn’t come at all and I’ll try and fill in the pieces by talking to others or doing research. Once the insight hits, I’ll start drafting, which brings some of the implications out and forces me to expand on the details, if I haven’t already. Editing then tightens up the argument, and I’ll be left with a nice summative piece that explains how it is that I came to have that original feeling.

It’s through this process of putting in the hard work to make sense of your opinions that you realise that what you’ve unearthed is far bigger than yourself. In other words, I don’t feel that knowing what I think is half as interesting as having the means to understand what you think.

Of course, opinions are helpful and I have no problems using them in my writing. It’s just that it’s important to keep our ideas grounded for the sake of clarity. I like to think that someone who totally disagrees with my ideas should be able to read one of my posts and understand how it is that I came to form my opinion.

Here’s what I think of Wario Land 4: 

There you have it, my opinions of Wario Land 4. I told you it wouldn’t be terribly exciting, but I hope it adds a bit of context to the book. I’m always happy to answer any questions that you might have about the game or series, so if I haven’t addressed something you were hoping I’d cover, then feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get to it.