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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Splatoon 2, Its Place Among 3D Platformers, and the Legacy of Super Mario Sunshine

I’ve been playing a lot of Splatoon 2 lately and enjoying it a bunch. One thing that I’ve done so far that I didn’t get to do as much in the first game though was play the story mode; I mostly just didn’t have time then, more than anything. Naturally, I decided to correct that with the sequel, and I found something interesting within: the level design is highly reminiscent of another game I had been thinking about recently.

I’ve had Super Mario Sunshine on my mind lately. There’s no specific reason, it’s just been a handful of small things that bring it to mind on occasion. It got a lot of flak at the time of release, some of which was due to changes it made to the beloved Super Mario 64’s formula, which is to be expected with Nintendo. They’re constantly tinkering with their franchises, and won’t release something unless they feel like it brings something substantial to the series.

I liked a lot of the new stuff, and unfortunately, there hasn’t really been a game since that quite capitalized on some of the things they introduced. The water/jetpack-thing that Mario wielded was one thing in particular that I minded a lot less than everyone else. The level design was also notably different than most subsequent 3D platform games. Sunshine built on Mario 64’s system of a hub world (Delfino Island in Sunshine, Princess Peach’s Castle in 64) with extensive connected levels, which was pretty ubiquitous to the genre at the time.

Sunshine seemed to almost build an entirely connected world; unlike in earlier games like 64, where levels were simply represented by paintings, you could see the levels in Sunshine from each other, way out on the horizons of the stages. Dummied-out data even reveals a planned train connected the world even more; were it not for size-limitations, the game might have been even more interconnected. But this aspect seemed to sort of dead-end with the game.

The one aspect of the game that many people at the time seemed to really like about Sunshine at the time though was the bonus levels. These were collections of floating platforms in a space-like void, stars in the distance, where you’d be stripped of your F.L.U.D.D. waterpack (for the first run-through, at least) to focus on precise jumps and maneuvering. It’s not hard to see how this fed into the design of the follow-up game, Super Mario Galaxy. Every level in the game was collections of planets floating in space, each focusing on jumping and maneuvering without the distraction of a waterpack.

Consequently, the main hub world of Comet Observatory was scaled back to a fraction of Isle Delfino, with a fraction of the areas to explore and tasks to navigate. This was something that the follow-up, Super Mario Galaxy 2, would take to even greater extremes, leaving something that was in total not even the size of the first section of the Castle from way back in Super Mario 64, with most of the navigation of worlds done via selection screens.

And this has sort of been the state of 3D platformers since. Super Mario 3D World got an overworld sort of similar to Super Mario World from way back on the Super Nintendo (maybe it's own topic one day, given my love of Super Mario World), but nothing quite like those original hub worlds of 64 and Sunshine.

And that’s where the Splatoon series and its story mode ties in, in my mind. These games seem to be going back to the days of Super Mario Sunshine and exploring a divergent evolutionary path from the Mario series.

The most obvious change is in the central mechanics of each. Given that people complained about the mechanic of an advanced water gun strapped to Mario, Nintendo apparently decided it was worth separating out into its own game, where it could be fleshed out and played with more extensively and without disrupting the core of the Mario series. In turn, that became a game centered entirely around the mechanics of a Super Soaker-esque water gun and tank strapped to your back, albeit with the ammo changed to ink to fit in with the squid theming of the new game. And, thanks to focusing on this mechanic, the game instead veered more towards the third person shooter genre rather than the 3D platformer.

But it didn’t totally abandon those roots. The level design in story mode is heavily indebted to the same bonus stages that inspired Super Mario Galaxy, as a set of floating platforms suspended in some sort of void that need to be navigated, the main difference being that this time the challenges are a little less based on deft maneuvering and more based on the this-time-included gun mechanic.

And of course, there’s the overworld system. Both Splatoon games moved away from Super Mario Galaxy 2’s primarily-menu based navigation. Instead, there’s a central hub world of a city plaza serving as the menu for each game, with the story mode getting it’s own set of “mini-worlds” in which you navigate to different levels by finding grates to travel through, and completion of a set of levels opens up new “mini-hubs” with their own sets of levels, much like Super Mario 64’s castle with paintings for individual levels and different sections of the castle with new sets of paintings to travel to. And in the case of Splatoon 2 at least, you can see other points from where you stand; the main square is off in the distance, as are the other “mini-hubs”. It’s definitely reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine’s set-up. It's still not quite on the level of Isle Delfino, which was set up to feel like a real place, while the hubs in Splatoon (outside of the main plaza) are still technically just floating blocks in space, but it's definitely moving back in that direction after a long time away from that design.

It’s worth noting that the Splatoon games may just be a preview of things to come for Nintendo. This fall, they’ll release Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch, and while we don’t know the exact specifics of how it will play, it looks like it might take the design of Sunshine a step further, with small worlds serving as both the individual levels of the old games and the hub worlds. So instead of one major central area with a bunch of different “spokes” coming off it, instead we may get several interconnected worlds that are both their own “hubs and spokes”, with their own missions and goals throughout.

If so, I couldn’t be more excited; it’s been a decade and a half since Super Mario Sunshine, and things like Splatoon 2 seem to indicate Nintendo is itching to return to their old ways. I can’t see what big ideas they can bring back to the 3D Platformer; I've missed seeing this genre push itself in new ways.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Music Monday: Getaway Car Playlist (Inspired by Baby Driver)

Edgar Wright might be my favorite director of all-time. Naturally, I was super excited when I found out that he had another movie coming out this summer, but even more exciting was finding out that it was going to be a musical about car chases.* Sure enough, Baby Driver lived up to all my expectations when I saw it earlier this summer.

*A lot of the initial weirdness one assumes when hearing this conversation dissipates once you remember that The Blues Brothers exists. Apparently, this is a much more natural combination than it first seems.
I wanted to write something about the movie, but I never quite got a better idea than just a page of me just cycling through all of the synonyms for “really cool” that I know. So I finally decided that maybe the best thing to do would be respond to it.

Most of the film’s soundtrack caught me off guard, in a way. For those who haven’t seen it, the main character, “Baby”, is a getaway car driver who is obsessed with music, and needs to sync up his drives with carefully-selected songs. It’s a neat conceit, and I loved it. But thinking back to the movie afterwards (as well as looking over the soundtrack), I sort of had an epiphany: my idea of songs I would use in his place was totally different.

I mean, I had never really thought too hard about what made something a good “getaway car song” before Baby Driver, but my first clue was how little of the soundtrack was something I personally would have picked. Not that any of it is bad; it’s mostly just a matter of taste and frame of reference, if anything. But outside of maybe “Radar Love”, my hypothetical list would have little overlap.

So I put more thought into it: what would my “Getaway Car” Playlist look like? After thinking it over for a while, this is the result. It’s not one of my normal playlists, in that there isn’t really a flow or an “order” to this, and I didn’t spend hours honing the song-to-song transitions; by nature, it’s supposed to be a little stop and start, something you can listen to on shuffle (because, you know, a car chase probably shouldn’t last long).

I’m pretty happy with the end result. Despite not being one of my original “themes” or ideas, I think I put my own distinct spin on the subject. A full text list can be found below as well.

Run with the Bulls-Smallpools
Sins of My Youth-Neon Trees
Stolen Time-Gemini Club
Started a War-Gemini Club
Sex-The 1975
Let’s Make a Lot of Money-Junior Prom
Dance, Dance-Fall Out Boy
Kill V. Maim-Grimes
Next to You-The Police
I Will Follow-U2
Got to Get You Into My Life-Earth, Wind, & Fire
You Dropped a Bomb on Me-The Gap Band
Mirrored Sea-Passion Pit
Something’s Bout to Change-Strange Talk
You Will Leave a Mark-A Silent Film
I Love You to Death-Five Knives
North American Scum-LCD Soundsystem
Leave the Lights On-Mainland
I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor-Arctic Monkeys
Turn It On-Franz Ferdinand
Hang Me Up to Dry-Cold War Kids
All of This-The Naked and Famous
Let It Go-Dragonette
Help Me Run Away-St. Lucia
Paddling Out-Miike Snow
Drive It Like You Stole It-Sing Street
Bounce-Calvin Harris ft. Kelis
My Type-Saint Motel
Try to Lose-Penguin Prison
Making the Most of the Night-Carly Rae Jepsen
Mr. Brightside-The Killers

Friday, August 4, 2017

What Would a Hypothetical Backyard Baseball 2017 Look Like?

I'm not going to repost the whole thing here since that seems a little redundant, but I wrote an article about one of my favorite video games growing up, Backyard Baseball. It's more the type of thing that goes over on Hot Corner Harbor, but I figured since it was a video game post, it deserved at least a mention here, so go check it out!