Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wheel out the DS... It's time for New Super Mario Bros

I've decided that I need to play some more handheld games. I'm mostly going to play iPhone games, but I've also had some Nintendo DS games recommended to me recently that I figured I should try.

First up: the New Super Mario Bros. I was never a big Nintendo player as a kid. It really wasn't until I picked up Windwaker that I really played a Nintendo game for more than a few passing moments (I picked up a Gamecube the night I first tried WW). I disliked Mario Sunshine (the 3-d world and mini games ended up more frustrating than fun for me) and Metroid Prime (save points and losing all my powers 10 minutes into the game killed it for me). But I did love the Paper Mario RPG except for the end battle, which I gave up on because I couldn't stand replaying 15 minutes of movies each time I failed and had to try again.

Then game the Wii. The launch version of Zelda didn't really appeal to me. Okami was fresh in my mind and I couldn't get that excited about another wolf + child game. Super Mario Galaxy blew me away, though. I've referred to it in other posts -- but quite simply it was one of the most polished and fun experiences I've had in a while. Moment-to-moment game play was interesting, fresh, and fun. And the learn-as-you-play aspect to the game really set the bar as far as how to introduce players to complexity via fun building block puzzles.

New Super Mario Bros has also been a delight. The most interesting choice that I think the team made was to use the lower touch-screen in a very circumscribed manner. Basically, if you went exploring down a pipe, the game play switched from top screen to bottom screen. The touch pad was really only used for two purposes: Moving from one world to the other and as a place to store an extra powerup that you could use when needed. This meant that Mario still felt and played like other Mario games: You didn't need to use fancy gestures or blowing motions to get him to do tricks. All that was required was the d-pad, A button, and B button.

The game also seemed to be less hardcore in terms of difficulty and challenge than previous versions I played. Maybe I'm just getting better as a gamer, but it seemed like resources (to be spent on power ups, 1 ups, and the like) were plentiful and even though some levels seemed impossible initially, they could mostly be either puzzled through through skill or brute forced through grinding and acquisition of power ups.

One issue that I'm facing right now is that of content discovery. It's clear that there are a number of interesting looking areas that are inaccessible to me right now. Because I'm probably 2/3rds the way through the game, I'm left to wonder whether I've just failed to discover how to access this extra content or whether it will be opened up as part of the final third of game play. 

I think I've mentioned before the issue of "trust" when it comes to evaluating a game and determining whether or not to continue when the initial experience (or a later section of game play) fails to meet expectations. Because I "trust" the game designers at this point (the game so far has been well paced and fun), I trust that I'm not truly missing content due to bad usability or design -- and that I will gain access to these areas when the time is right.

At some point I'd like to delve into this issue deeper to understand the intrinsic (game quality) and extrinsic (marketing, friend reviews, etc) factors that lead to increased or decreased trust -- which will lead to an increased or decreased willingness to forgive a crappy first (or later) impression. 

No comments: