[Feature] Stop with the cat-suits and spin moves: The dramatic presentation of non-difficulty and how it relates to modern Mario

Posted under Features, General Gaming, General Nintendo
November 9, 2013 by (@NE_Austin)
cat-mario-3d

Austin note: This thing is not meant to be viewed as a criticism of a game that is not out yet (SM3DW) that I have only played twice before. It is also not meant to be a criticism solely of the Mario franchise. It is, as I hope is clear, a discussion and analysis of gameplay motifs and design philosophies for many kinds of games.

Kenta Motokura is co-director of the upcoming game-that-you’ve-all-heard-of, Super Mario 3D World. In a recent IGN article he said the following regarding the development of the game:

“Going off of our monitor tests, we wanted to see what beginners thought was difficult about the game, and also what was fun about the game. We learned from those tests is that if you were a beginning player, when you come to a cliff, you might stop, think about jumping, then jump and maybe not make it and drop. But what if we added this element of sticking to the wall so you could prevent yourself from dropping down?”

So he brings up this simple question: What if you added an element that prevented less experienced players from falling down?

It’s a simple question and one many developers have probably addressed subconsciously, but Motokura-san is reservedly letting us know that the folks over at EAD– in their expertise and design-mastery no doubt– are thinking not only about these questions, but also their implications and the implications of their answers. By now, we can assume such internal pondering has ceased because the team settled upon adding in a cat-suit power-up facilitating the traversal of vertical walls as discussed. The interesting question for me: What are the implications of this power-up?

Superficially (that is to say, if you examine the matter quickly and without too much thought) the cat-suit in Super Mario 3D World is a really clever and nifty design apparatus that organically introduces variable difficulty into a game. Players who’ve yet to master the physics or controls of Mario can still beat the game due to the design of power-ups, rather than due to the selection of an “artificial” difficulty option from a menu. This is good. Organic things are better than artificial things in pretty much every case.

But the introduction of such abilities– be it climbing up walls, spinning to retain altitude, or floating via water-powered jetpack– has the great potential to quietly suppress (normalize, moderate, dampen) an otherwise confident and expressive experience: It can, when used poorly, devalue the players’ actions and serve to make the whole experience feel less meaningful for those that attempt to truly engage with it. It is not a phenomena exclusive to Mario and a quick observation would reveal that non-Nintendo cases of this are much more extreme, though often less damaging to the whole of the work for reasons we may get into later. For the time being, I’ll give this phenomena the name “God of War disease”, though it didn’t originate with God of War nor is it exclusive to that series.

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 10.38.24 PM

God of War, if you’ve never played, is a game that has your player avatar ‘Kratos’ (a stunningly angry and juvenile man, as it were) do a lot of things that look like they’re really impressive, even though what you’re actually doing as a player isn’t terribly impressive at all. Kratos leaps great distances, stabs some quite-large monsters in the throat, and kills creatures far more menacing-looking than himself; the player, conversely, merely hits a few buttons whose order matters only slightly at a pace that one wouldn’t exactly call “urgent”, much less “impressive”. Sure, if you were simply looking at it (and not playing it) you’d probably say something like “My goodness, that’s amazing! How are you doing that?”

But alas, such amazement is hollow, shallow, superficial, perfunctory, inane, inconsequential, superfluous, and illusionary. That last of those words is perhaps the most important.

Jonathan Blow, in his 2008 talk about ‘Conflicts in Game Design’, explained this idea with the following diagram:

tumblr_inline_mvx10gkuB21rwa2hg

The larger outline represents the challenge they are attempting to convey to you (e.g. “You just killed a huge God! Good work!”), and the smaller filled-in arrow is how hard the action actually was. (he extrapolates to how this effects the traditional storytelling of a game, whereas I will not)

The phrase “dramatic presentation of non-difficulty” is a much more succinct way of explaining what I just took a really long time to explain.

——–

As I alluded to earlier, this problem is not limited to games like God of War, the aforementioned Fable, or Call of Duty, and it is, in at least two of those cases (I’ve not played Fable), less of an issue than it would be in something like Mario: Experiences like Call of Duty: Ghosts‘ single player campaign or God of War– unlike such games as Braid, Super Mario Bros., or Deus Ex– do not rely on satisfying gameplay in order to achieve a sense of greatness; their focus is on polished visuals and great sound design to convey a sense of awe, rather than direct, gratifying player interaction. (this is not to say that such games aren’t gratifying, though: they just get their gratification from elsewhere, and I may argue it’s a less gratifying gratification than when a game harnesses the power of gameplay)

So, what about Mario? Motokura presents this problem he and his team came across:

“if you were a beginning player, when you come to a cliff, you might stop, think about jumping, then jump and maybe not make it and drop”

While I would argue the validity of calling this a “problem”, let’s follow him down his line of thought: Beginning players can’t make it over some pit on their first try, and they, in the mind of Motokura and co., should be able to. The pit should not be something that you can fail at, and their solution to this is to add a cat-suit that lets you climb up walls and correct for your poor understanding of the in-game physics/reflexes/whatever. Now nobody, with any luck, will fall in the pit unless they really don’t know how to play!

Being the observant and curious people that we all most certainly are, we can’t help but ask the (loaded) question: In this new paradigm of cat-suits and other such corrective tools, why is the pit there, exactly? What purpose does a pit serve in this kind of game game?

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t terribly joyous: The purpose of the pit is no longer to be a challenge, but to create the illusion of a challenge. It’s Mario‘s version of the massive god that Kratos may take down in God of War, or the death-defying leap you make to a helicopter with one button-press in Call of Duty. The game is telling you that you did something impressive rather than actually letting you do something impressive. This is, to repeat: hollow, shallow, superficial, perfunctory, inane, inconsequential, superfluous, and illusionary. One may go so far as to say it is disrespectful to and patronizing of an engaged player. I would agree with that assessment.

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 10.39.47 PM

These types of mechanics– things that, at face value, make something easier– aren’t always a hindrance to a gameplay-driven game’s vision though: It’s quite easy to imagine a game that uses a mechanic like this and incorporates it into the core design so it comes across as a flavor of gameplay rather than something inserted afterwards to help less-skilled players along– 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine is a prime example, but even better is 2007’s Portal. And on top of that, something like this existing isn’t actually entirely bad, even in the case of something like New Super Mario Bros. U. After I published the infant version of this article on my blog, someone commented via Twitter that the introduction of mechanics like this is the only reason why players of different skill-levels would be able to play together; the example he used was him and his father, if my memory serves. (Which it may not.)

So, should the focus of a game be on the local multiplayer experience (which isn’t conducive to being engaged and attentive anyway, due to the focus on real-life interactions with others), then these sorts of mechanics are completely excusable. It’s not always clear that Mario is about multiplayer though– particularly in the case of 2007’s Galaxy, but also in regard to the New Super Mario Bros. series on Wii and Wii U– so whether it’s totally excusable there is another matter.

Let me clarify though: Mario games are not devoid of merit of satisfying gameplay because of this phenomena. The games still do provide players with a challenge– a reason to be engaged– after the main quest is completed and more difficult, special missions open up; indeed, even the main quest often provides moments of difficulty– pits included– but it would be incorrect to conclude because of this that the level of engagement required from a player is not diminished by the inclusion of a fast-acting correctional device. You needn’t pay as close attention to what you’re doing when mistakes don’t have consequences, and adding to the problem (though it’s sort of a separate issue) is the fact that if you do manage to die in a modern Mario game there still isn’t much of a consequence. Perhaps things would be different if there were.



Such illusion has become a staple of many mass-market games these days– publishers (perhaps even developers) are scared that someone will think their game is too hard, get frustrated, quit, and never buy another game in that series. This is why the spin-move exists in New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy. It is why the phrase “games aren’t as hard as they used to be” gets thrown around a lot. It is why most games can be beaten by being disengaged (I call it “auto-piloting”) and ignorant of your in-game surroundings. You no longer need to pay attention and engage yourself because mistakes are correctable before consequences are laid upon ye.

The game expects nothing of the player, and gives much less of value to the player in return.



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  • ecoutercavalier

    First of all, this is a discussion I want to have and I’m glad you brought it up. Thank you.

    Now my first question pertains to Super Mario 3D World and the inclusion of the cat suit. Why is this power up that makes the game easier any different than the tanooki suit? The tanooki suit’s main purpose is to make it easier to traverse through levels. Does that mean that it should be removed because it makes the game less satisfying? I’m just trying to understand the difference between that power up and the cat suit, especially with the given understanding that developers will create levels that are crafted around these power ups.

    My second question is less of a question, but I wonder if you would reconsider some of your comments in the The Wonderful 101 review from a month ago. You seemed to have struggled with some of the game’s challenges and felt that it was the designers fault. I would argue that the challenges that you considered “unfair” may have been perfectly acceptable to others. In this case, would you have preferred to be given a “cat suit” if it meant that the game seemed more fair?

    I hope you continue this topic in more detail. I’d especially like to know your thoughts on the macro causes for the decrease in games that offer challenge to the player.

    • Austin

      Thank you! Here’s a big post for you:

      Alright, so: I can’t speak to the cat suit, right? The game isn’t out yet, and we don’t know exactly how levels are going to be designed, so it may end up being more like FLUDD where obstacles and gaps are placed with reference to the fact that your mobility is expanded. I’m doubtful since the cat suit is optional and FLUDD wasn’t, but I certainly hope to be proven wrong!

      To the question of why something like the cat suit (or, say, the squirrel suit in NSMBU or the propellor suit in NSMBW) is different than the Tanooki suit: It probably isn’t. The Tanooki suit likely falls in this same category (it’s been too long since I played SMB3, so I can’t speak certainly) but on a shallower end of the pool. Fewer lives, a tougher game, no wall-jumping, etc meant that the Tanooki suit wasn’t as proportionally off-setting to the overall package as the Squirrel Suit or Propellor Suit.

      Also consider that the Tanooki suit gives you no way to escape a pit once you’ve entered it. You may enter fewer pits as the result of Mario’s longer jump/floating ability, but if you do the consequences are still serious so you can’t zone out.

      But I do want to stress: My problem isn’t so much with the cat suit (which I can’t judge since the game has yet to release) as it is with the design philosophy Motokura-san was talking about here. That philosophy may end up applying to the cat suit, but it also may not.

      Now, regarding The Wonderful 101: No. My problems with the difficulty in Wonderful 101 were relating to things that were “unfair” rather than simply “hard”. In hard games you die a lot, you know why you died, and you know what to do to fix it. In unfair games, you die a lot, you may not know why you died, and you’re unsure how to fix it. Technically, as I’m sure you know, this is a matter of scale: Maybe my reflexes just aren’t good enough, or maybe my eyes simply aren’t adept enough. You’d be right, but that seems to be a hollow argument at the end of the day, sort of like arguing that a movie with scenes each half a second long is good– your eyes just aren’t fast enough to see it.

      Now, regarding The Wonderful 101: No. My problems with the difficulty in Wonderful 101 were relating to things that were “unfair” rather than simply “hard”. I felt that the game did not give you a reasonable amount of time to identify and respond to enemy attacks when there was more than one enemy on the screen. If we wanted to boil it down, the amount of time between when an enemy “wound up” his attack and when he unleashed it was about equal to the amount of time it took you look from one enemy to the next. If they are going to expect the player to block an attack from an enemy while looking at another enemy, they have to make the signal that the enemy is “winding up” obvious enough to be seen with peripheral vision. If they expect the player to block an enemy attack without the indicator being see-able through peripheral vision, they have to give you enough time to look from one enemy to the next, adjust your eyes, identify the attack, and then react. They did neither of those things.

      Technically, as I’m sure you know, this is a matter of scale: Maybe my reflexes just aren’t good enough, or maybe my eyes simply aren’t adept enough. That would be right in a concrete sense, but that seems to me like a hollow argument at the end of the day.

      This is also ignoring the fact that the camera wasn’t good enough to keep two enemies on the screen most of the time. I needn’t explain why that’s not fair if they’re expecting you to fight two enemies.

      • ecoutercavalier

        Thanks for the swift reply.

        And I guess it’s tough to address my questions regarding the cat suit, as it’s based on many assumptions. I really can’t wait to play this game and judge for myself.

        That being said, I hope you noticed the correlation between the two games that I was trying to create. You’re apparently unsettled by the thought that a franchise like Super Mario Bros. would become less challenging by, for exampling, adding a cat suit that causes pits to lose their meaning. I share this discontentment.

        That’s why I find it strange how you can so quickly assume that The Wonderful 101 is “unfair” based on the things that you find inaccessible. You did point out in your review that you thought it was possible that someone could be capable of, using your example again, “block[ing] an attack from an enemy while looking at another enemy.” Your answer for this is that you would like the developer to make the game…

        And the Dark Souls 2 beta is about to start.

        I’ll return to this in about 3 hours with an edit. Maybe you can already see where I’m going with it.

        • Austin

          Not quite: I’m unsettled by the thought that the designers of the franchise are consciously subverting the game’s traditional design to create the illusion of consequence rather than real consequence. The cat suit may play into that or it may not. Wall-jumping (in the 2D games), spinning (Galaxy, 2D games, etc), an excess of lives, no consequence for death, etc etc are the biggest problems right now.

          Again regarded W101: Yes, it’s tough-but-satisfying to block if you’re looking at the right enemy, but they give no indication of what enemy to be looking at. You (effectively) have to just happen to be looking at the right enemy to have any reasonable chance to block, which makes your ability to succeed or fail random in practice, which is not in line with the game’s over-arching vision of letting your dexterity, visual acuity, reflexes, etc be the judge of your success or failure.

          On the other hand, if your argument is that my reflexes simply weren’t good enough, I would point to the disparity in difficulty between the two-on-one boss battles and the one-on-one boss battles. There’s such a huge gap between how tough it is to beat one boss (which is tough, but satisfying) and how tough it is to beat two that either the designers are bad at setting a smooth difficulty curve/balancing bosses/pacing, or they added an extra boss to certain battles because “that’s how you make it harder” and they weren’t being observant enough to notice the problems this created. I’m betting on the latter, because they also didn’t notice the camera issues.

          Just an overall point: None of what I’m complaining about ruined any of the games we’re discussing wholly. I loved TW101, I’m sure I’ll love SM3DW, and I’ve loved NSMBU/NSMBW in the past. I’m just curious why I don’t love these games as much as I could, or, more broadly, why these games don’t feel as close to their ideal form as they could.

          • Thomas_NE

            I by and large agree with you (although I’ve yet to play W101). That being said, I feel your article has highlighted 2 different changes in the matter of games becoming easier:

            – an expanded moveset/abilities that makes not dying easier
            – the actual illusion of any challenge: cut-scenes where you are prompted for button presses to perform moves you haven’t been able to do at that point (God Of War)

            The former is something Nintendo is very guilty of, as highlighted by your examples. As you mention, it allows you to play (more so) on automatic pilot, though not entirely. But the not dying requires timing, it makes sense in context. It just makes the game a lot easier. The spin move and the wall jump work the same throughout the entire game, you are aware of their limitations: the spin move can be used once, the wall jump only works when connecting with a wall (and can only save you if the walls are close enough).

            But it’s the second change I despise. Quick-time-events, one-button-fixes all. The game is actually being played for you, taking things out of your hand. I think you can overly long cutscenes to this problem as well, your character is off doing things in cutscenes that you haven’t been able to do in a game. They’re turning games into movies.

            While I feel these two occasionally overlap, they still feel different enough to make a distinction.

          • CommonSense

            You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about at all, whatsoever with the wonderful 101, you just havent learned how to properly play, which is ironic considering the article you just wrote.
            You dont need to be looking at ANY enemy to block its attack with guts (you do realize however, that guts only blocks CERTAIN KINDS of attacks? its the hammer that blocks the attacks guts cant.) The attack tells arent just visual based on enemy animation, they are also ambient, utilizing subtle changes in real time lighting, so you can ‘see’ the area an attack is coming from even if its off screen, and they are auditory as well, I can block attacks spot on with my eyes closed, or looking away from the tv/gamepad (No, thats not an exaggeration).

      • Elem187

        I don’t want to sound rude, but,Wait, can’t you see you are being a hypocrite?

        A newbie is playing Mario for the first time and has the cat suit and is having fun. You are over there in the corner scoffing because the game is no longer challenging you enough, because the developers are holding the newbie’s hand, easing them into the game, and it’s ruining your enjoyment.

        There is nothing unfair about Wonderful 101. You need to use all of your senses to learn all the tells of the enemies and which strategies work the best for every encounter…… Some enemies make a noise before doing a certain attack, sometimes they make a quick movement signalling they are about to use a certain attack. It’s your job as a skilled gamer to pick up on those cues and executive a proper response. You not willing to learn it tells me you are complaining because the developer isn’t holding your hand and teaching how to deal with every encounter…. You know the very same thing you are getting mad at Nintendo for doing: holding that newbies hand a little with a cat suit…… Yet here you are complaining that Platinum. Games isn’t holding your hand

  • Matthew Wesley

    While I can understand where the writer of this article is coming from, I think it’s unfair to use Mario as an example. Believe me when I say that most Mario games start out easy, but once you get into it, you can find out just how hardcore Mario games can be… if you don’t believe me, play any of those ”comet” levels in Super Mario Galaxy 1 or 2… if you thought some of those were easy, you’re out of your gourd.

    • Austin

      I addressed that in the article.

  • Thomas_NE

    I realise you’re going for something deeper here, but you could always challenge yourself by… not picking up any power-ups.

    • Austin

      It’s still (very very slightly) bad design, even if the player can work around it.

    • Jumwa

      When I was a kid and a game became too easy for me after many playthroughs, for example Megaman X, I would then challenge myself by going through the game without collecting the powerups. Believe me, beating Sigma with no energy tanks, heart upgrades or suit pieces (other than the obligatory boots) is no easy task.

      I still play like that on occasion, though being an entrepreneur I rarely have time for beating my head against games difficulty walls anymore, and when I do I prefer to relax. I get all the challenge and meaning out of life I could want through my work these days.

      Also, I really dislike the notion that there is one ideal difficulty setting/curve for everyone. There isn’t. There are so many levels of experience gamers can have, and some people just won’t be that good no matter how much practice they take.

  • ezquimacore

    Some nice points, I love difficult games but theres something about mario that make love the game even with 0 difficulty… the level design, the art, the music. although I think that is not as easy as you make it sound. remember, like me, you are probably playing Mario more than a decade. Mario is a franchise for everybody, for the hardcore, the casual and the new blood, so they need a balance to maintain the fun because every Mario game is the first Mario game for some kid.

  • Mr. Foogy

    I really liked this article, and I think it’s a very important discussion to have. I sat through the first half preparing a response, but you kind of adressed what I was thinking of towards the end. You see, I don’t believe it’s justified to look at games only from this one axis of how much it dares to challenge you, and ignore the other that deals with accessibility. Someone might design a game that’s just a wonderful experience once you get into it, but it has such a high entrance point that no one can ever get a grasp of the game mechanics, meaning what would be just perfectly satisfying for someone that is into the game would be frustrating enough for a new player to never get over this treshold. Now I haven’t played SM3DW, but I would imagine that the cat suit to a degree fills this purpose. This new wall-climbing ability means people will be spared from any threat from falling down pits, I agree, but it will also mean that new players will get an easier time aquainting themselves with the game mechanics, meaning that they soon will be able to jump over that pit like any experienced Mario player. From that, It all dependends on how the game progresses, and I’ll get back to this later.

    So I don’t believe that a game with more challenge necessarily makes it better, and I can take the example of Skyward Sword vs Twilight Princess where in SS the dungeons were always perfectly balanced for me in that they were challenging but never frustrating, whereas in TP I found nearly all of them to be too long and frustrating. And similarly, I don’t think that you can say for sure that a game that treats the player more gently is necessarily worse. It all depends on the person playing it as well as what type of game it is: something like “Journey” is basically purely “auto-piloting”, but I still found it to be a very enjoyable experience. Of course though, as you have discussed on the podcast, there are some ways of teaching the player that work better than others. I’m also not suggesting that what you were saying was that a more challenging game is better, this was more of a flesh-out from my part.

    One thing I have to disagree with you on though is the use of the spin move in Super Mario Galaxy. As you touched upon, something that may at a glance look like an addition to make an already existing formula “easier”, might actually end up improving and refreshing the game if this already existing formula is optimized for the inclusion of this new gameplay element. Personally I would consider the spin move in galaxy being one of those cases. With the new and often confusing gravity mechanics, I found the spin move essential for helping yourself out of dangerous trajectories. You also use it to interact with the environments in various ways, so I do not think it’s a slapped-on thing to the same degree as in NSMB Wii.

    Furthermore, I found the part about illusion in regards to challenges in games very interesting. I do certainly agree that the trend these days seems to be about making things more and more extravagant, when what you are actually doing in the games might actually be getting less challenging. However, I don’t think that you can judge “extravagancy” as being purely bad, since some games will naturally have themes that depend on the implications of what you are doing being more or less superficially “great”, depending on this theme.

    If I make one game about cutting paper with a pair of scissors and another about fighting giant demonic bosses, and both games use only rapid button presses of one button, can you really say that one of them is, from the standpoint that we are discussing, better than the other? I don’t think so, because after all both of these themes are really just “superficial”. However, if the paper-cutting game progresses in the way that you have to do more complex button presses to cut some nicer paper shapes, but the other game just keeps giving you “mightier” weapons and “grander” bosses to fight when you are really doing exactly the same button presses, then yes, I would say that the paper-cutting game has more merit. It really comes down to what I mentioned before: the progression of the game, and wether it manages to aviod getting the “Dragon Ball Z syndrome” (where everyone always gets superficially “stronger”, but the battles play out in pretty much the same way every time).

    I also thought I’d add another thing to the discussion by mentioning that “illusion” can also cause problems, albeit not as major, in the opposite direction as well. My example here would be the Zelda series. In, for example, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, you have Ganondorf who is this great evil guy that deserted the whole land and turned Hyrule Castle into a zombie-infected wasteland. When you fight him however, you end up playing tennis with him. The game presents him as being capable of doing incredibly powerful things and destroying the world, but when you fight him it feels very set-up, meaning that he then doesn’t give the impression of being very powerful at all. Now, I really appreciate that Zelda is a very gameplay-focused experience, but this always stood out to me as somewhat of an annoyance, and detracted a bit from the experience in my opinion.

    Hope that you could get through this quite long reply, and as I said, I think the article was a great read and I think this is a very good discussion to have!

  • cleidsonlourenco

    I think Nintendo always introduces this kind of movement or tool that negates something that was a fundamental challenge in the past, but the path introduces new design in ways to negate this advantage or make it a vector for a greater challenge. See the wall jump, for example. If applied to the old Mario games it would give an advantage unthinkable, but in today’s games it’s just essential to advance in the game and meet certain challenges that are only possible thanks to the new mechanics. Nintendo already gave tips on how you can override an advantage of Cat Suit, as walls impossible to climb. Let’s trust in her ability to create interesting phase’s design,interesting challenges await us using this tool, I’m sure.

  • Colin McIsaac

    “But alas, such amazement is hollow, shallow, superficial, perfunctory, inane, inconsequential, superfluous, and illusionary.”

    Good lord. Verbose, much?

    Anyway, I’m just teasing. This was a great read! If I may ask, though, what it the mechanic you’re referring to in Portal? Super Mario Sunshine obviously added F.L.U.D.D. to the mix of Mario gameplay, but as far as I’m aware, Portal wasn’t building off of anything—the mechanics were always there.

    • Austin

      The aspect of Portal that I’m referring to is just the ability to create two portals in and of itself. In a vacuum, that ability is extremely broken– add it to plenty of other games and it’d make things extremely easy and boring– but Valve designed levels with certain restrictions (no-portal walls, moving parts, physics puzzles, etc) that bring out different aspects of that ability in order to turn it into a flavor of gameplay rather than a tool for cheating.

  • ronin4life

    … is that “ye” at near the end intentional?
    ^ ,^;;;

    Anyway, something I always wonder and can’t help but ask when the argument is made for some games being “dumbed down” is this: Why keep making it harder, or keeping it too similar, if all you are doing is providing a similar experience as before to a group who has mastered such difficulty already, potentially at the exclusion of others?

    This won’t apply to all games, but my theory about some is this: could it just be YOU, the player, after years of gaming have simply gotten better at games making them easier anyway, and so devs have started to try and bring in new players by adding features conductive to begginners? After all, why purpousely limit your audience to a small group you nay always see diminishing returns from anyway as they just become more and more skilled?

    • Elem187

      Gamers, such as this author believes game designers are making games solely for him, so because a game is more inclusive, he feels the designers are ignoring his wants… Poor Nintendo having to deal with stroking this guy’s ego with every Mario.

      Look, Mario games have always been easy….. In the beginning. It progressively gets tougher the closer you get to the end. The new Mario game will be no exception. I expect it to be super easy for the first half and get much trickier towards the end….. And if Mario games are still too easy, than don’t use the power ups, they are optional anyways.

  • Andrei

    I agree entirely with this article, hand holding has become almost a staple in modern gaming on any game that intends to be mainstream. Only games that don’t go into this philosophy of no challenge are games with no intention of being blockbusters.

    For exemple Pikmin 3, it isn’t a really hard game, but either you play through all its challenges or you don’t play at all, there is no moment where the game offers you power ups that simply end the game challenge.

    So when you mention that a organic solution is better, i’m not so sure about that, in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D they added easy mode, artificialy, selectable from the title screen, but that allows me to play original mode, with all its difficult and challenge, and not be pestered by stupid jetpacks saving me from dying all the time.

    So I obviously don’t mind everybody being able to play, but when the game is leveled by the lowest skilled player it becomes meaningless for the most skilled.

    At least on other consoles you can try to go for achievments/trophies playing on higher dificulties, beating without losing lives or speedruns. It bothers me that either you play the kiddies game of NSMBU or you have to create your own challenge and the game gives you nothing for doing it. It feels like the desing simply doesn’t care about the hardcore player, at least give us a crappy medal for beating the game without the cat suit and it’s already something, but since the game gives us nothing I don’t know why would we care at all, I’ll end up playing Maro 3D World for the amazing fun with my family and friends, but when I want to be challenged I’ll have to play other games.

    • Andrei

      Adding one more exemple, Fire Emblem is a series known for its challenging gameplay, in Awakening they added Casual Mode, where your units dont die forever. I played the game on Lunatic/Classic, cause I have played every game in the series and the challenge is where i find the game fun. But my wife played on casual.

      I think that is a much better solution than simply creating some sort of church where you can revive your characters or something like that, didn’t screw the game for me and allowed her to play. So sometimes the inorganic solution may be the best.

      • Mr. Foogy

        Sure, something that artificially alters the gameplay might be the easiest route for developers to take, but if you can do exactly the same thing in an organic way I would certainly prefer it. I think this is how the idea of the “sidekick” characters in Zelda was concieved. Even though their execution might always have been somewhat flawed in that they keep pestering you even if you already know what to do, in theory having an in-game character give you tips if you need would still be much preferable to something like a FAQ or an in-game guide that you could just pop out from a menu.

        This might just be me, but as soon as I see a difficulty select screen in a game some of the immersion is lost. I don’t know why you don’t like the idea of having a church revive fallen characters, sounds pretty cool to me! I guess the problem is that experienced players would be faced with this option even though they don’t want/need it, but I’m certain that could be solved somehow in an “organic” way as well. I think the reason that we don’t react to difficulty select screens in the many games that have them, is that we’re so used to them. But imagine something like Zelda, if you could all of a sudden fine-tune every part of the experience: puzzle difficulty, enemy toughness, life bar etc. To me that would just be a lousy way of keeping everyone “satisfied”. I might be extrapolating your opinions a bit here though, sorry for that :p

      • Austin

        Actually, that’s a great point, and I think I agree with you. I’m playing Hero Mode in WWHD and I love it– but such an option isn’t available for the upcoming ALBW until you beat the game once.

        So yea, maybe they need to forfeit the concept of one-size-fits-all and start adding in a chosen difficulty setting. A “Hero Mode” for every game, as it were, that just gives you fewer lives/potions/hearts/etc.

        • Andrei

          I Agree we lose immersion with those options, and integrity as a piece of art, that’s a really open point and hard to discuss, but yes i also agree. Games like SMB3, Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Sonic 2, Mario 64 are what they are, they aren’t easy version for some people and hard version for others, they can be easy or hard deppending on your skill level, but still their level design is the same for everyone.

          But regarding immersion, at least in my opinion I don’t play most of those games for immersion. I don’t play mario or donkey kong for immersion, that’s why i think the choice between classic and casual mode on DKCR3D only adds to the game, doesn’t subtracts.

          And regarding integrity, well, maybe we can call it a lost battle, in the end they need to make money by making their games avaliable to everybody, and I would rather have a game that’s challenging and fun on at least one difficult level than a game that’s integral but devoid of challenge.

          Sure, when you achieve both you have a true masterpiece, I guess that’s what Mario Galaxy is about, you have some easy challenges, but later on you get some very though and challenging stars and you also get a reward at the end for doing everything, that is masterfully done, even with the spin jump added for casual gamers it is a game enjoyable by everyone in it’s single form.

          But we have to agree that most games aren’t masterpieces, most developers aren’t genius, even at Nintendo where there are some of the best, and even at Nintendo sometimes they make bad choices, so it may be better to have the difficulty choosing options instead of failing at trying a one-size fits all gameplay.

  • clouds5

    Amazing article. And I fully agree. Games need to be hard. Not frustrating, hard and challenging. If you “master” everything on the first try without having to think about anything, or strategize you might as well watch a movie.

    The great thing about games IMHO is that it is an ACTIVE experience. You don’t just breeze you have to concentrate, think and adjust your actions. Perfect example of this is something like Super Metroid. Or Dark Souls.
    There are many ways to make a challenging game btw. It doesn’t always have to be combat. I love calculating and balancing my gear and skills in Action RPGs like Diablo2 for example, that is challenging and very rewarding.

    I REALLY hope the game industry and especially Nintendo will start to release more challenging games in the future and that stuff like Dark Souls will continue to find alot of support.

    • Austin

      Games do not need to be hard, but they do need to be honest. God of War, for example, gets along just fine without being terribly difficult because it’s trying to give you a different sort of experience. Mario, on the other hand, tries to have its cake and eat it too: It sometimes– lately– presents challenges and then circumvents those challenges with enough subtle trickery that you don’t notice unless you’re paying attention. That’s dishonest.

      If you want to test a players’ reflexes and dexterity, do that. If you don’t, don’t do that. Mario is trying to somehow have both instead of taking a firm stance and executing it.

      • clouds5

        You are right, this is just my personal opinion about games in general ;) I haven’t played the new Mario title so I won’t judge it yet.
        But I enjoy being challenged by games. Otherwise they are usually just boring. There are exceptions though, especially with games that tell a good story.

  • Sebastian

    looking at the pure massiveness of these comment, i can see that this is a topic that bothers many people. i see two sides of the story:
    my view(highly experienced player who loves games that punish mistakes like Monster Hunter, many FE games or I wanna be the guy),
    and the view of e.g. my wife or her little brother who are barely into gaming and due to the white tanooki suit even he can complete the bowser levels on SM3DL.

    but then i think. wow i felt so extremely pleased when i finished the third boss of the original super mario land on the gameboy the first time. today i can play that game without losing a life, but back then i worked for every level, i reached before getting a game over and it meant something to beat that boss

  • Nat

    There’s a simple solution to this problem. You see, Nintendo just wants to make their games accessible to casual/very young players but that makes it technically impossible for the same exact game to offer more hardcore/skilled players the challenge and depth that they desire. The solution has been around forever- it’s called the difficulty setting. Nintendo needs to just hide this feature out of the way and default it at the easy setting and make the only other settings “hard” and “insane” so no one’s playing the “baby” easy mode.

    No size fits all. Nintendo needs to learn this already.

    • Th3PANO

      lol. you would be surprised at how good kids are at mario and how bad adults are….

      • PattonFiend

        I don’t know… Most kids I see are pure garbage at Mario games, including my own and my twin nephews.

    • Austin

      They really are trying to make one-size-fits-all games, and they’re doing way better than most people at it. It’s still imperfect though, you’re right.

      • Nat

        Get the word out- Let’s tell Nintendo to start implementing variable difficulty modes that can dramatically affect the game mechanics, adding and/or removing features. Tell them to hide the setting so you must seek it out to change it from the default casual difficulty and then no one will have any legitimate problem with it. It’s the only way to move forward for Nintendo so they can gather the largest possible gamer base.

        • Mr. Foogy

          I don’t agree, but I feel I have written too much on this topic already, so I won’t explain why right now unfortunately.

        • PattonFiend

          They are, they have been incorporating them into the recent Zelda games.

      • PattonFiend

        Hmm, go back and play Mario 3 and then Luigi U… Mario 3 doesn’t seem so tough after all, huh? Lol…

    • Elem187

      The easy difficulty is completely optional. If you don’t want the game to be easy than don’t use the power ups, it’s that simple. The power ups are there to help the terrible gamers, if you want something harder, then stop relying on the tanooki suit.

  • Mr. Foogy

    There is one completely fool-proof method of making sure a game can be played by anyone regardless of experience: Make something unique that no one has played before.
    A very difficult request, sure, but I do wish Nintendo would try more. :P

  • PattonFiend

    Most games hold your hand, especially games like Uncharted and the likes. They may look good, but all of the fun is taken out of them because there is literally zero challenge to the actual game itself… It is really too bad. I grew up playing practically “unbeatable” games like Ghostbusters and Wrath of the Black Manta and now, you can beat a game with one hand typing on a computer and the other holding the controller while thinking yourself as a badass (when in all reality, it is probably harder to die than it is to beat the level.)

  • Jeremy Carrier

    And if you make the game hard, you got people complaining about how “unfair” it is, like W101, when they’re not willingly to put the time to learn the mechanics and nuances the game designers put a lot of thought into and are clearly present in the game.

  • Elem187

    This article is silly.., 1. Making the game more accessible leads to more sales, more sales leads to more profit, publishers are a business, and making money will always be their primary goal.

    And 2. The power ups in Mario games are 100% optional. If you feel it ruins the difficulty, then don’t use it. It’s not very hard to do. After I completed Mario 3D Land, I played again without the tanooki suit and it was a lot of fun ( but much much harder)