Elevating Dysfunction To A Whole New Level

by Jeff Akervik on Jul 02, 2010 at 09:33 AM

It's becoming more and more obvious that I'm the guy at GI who plays games months, if not years, after everyone else. When the editors were all aflutter about Heavy Rain's engrossing story back in February, I was busy sailing the seas in Phantom Hourglass. And when everyone turned their attention to the grand Western vistas of Red Dead Redemption, I figured it was time I finally found out what this whole Gordan Freeman hullabaloo was all about via Half-Life 2 (which is insanely good by the way). Throw in a little Loz: The Minish Cap for good measure and I'm gaming like it's 2004. Not too shabby. So it should come as no surprise that I'm writing a blog about a game that, by all intents and purposes, received more than its fair share of coverage months ago. Late to the party once again, but I guess that's just the way I roll. One of these days I'll write a timely game-related blog. But until then, please revel in my tardiness.

Case-in-point, my wife and I finally got a Wii this past Xmas to sit alongside our PS3. While the PS3 has been my gaming platform of choice for a good couple of years now, I figured the Wii would be able to garner some love with the, albeit few, superlative titles in its roster. And one of those superlative games I was quick to pounce on was New Super Mario Bros. Wii (SMB Wii). It was a fairly big hit here around the office and, having grown up on the first three Mario titles for the NES, I figured SMB Wii was a no-brainer. If anything, the multi-player component was compelling enough of a reason to take the plunge. I mean, how could you not love the idea of traipsing around Mushroom Kingdom simultaneously with up to three other players? Just imagine how engaging and flat-out fun it would be to work as a team to take down Bowser and his cohort of evildoers. Sounds like pure gaming bliss. And in the beginning it was.

You see, we didn't actually get around to playing SMB Wii for a good month or so after picking it up in early January. A little late, yes, but nothing egregious by any stretch. Anyways, one fateful evening after the Vikings demolished the Cowboys in the NFL playoffs, my brother and I decided to give the game a go. Things started out well enough to be sure. Once we got the hang of the Wii controls, it was like being transported back to our youth. Everything about the game just clicked for the two of us. It's analogous to learning how to ride a bike, I'd say. Once you learn how, you never really forget. The same was true for SMB Wii. Within minutes we were running through World 1-1 like it was 1988 all over again, New Kids on the Block and all. Granted, the first level of most games is generally quite easy, but that's besides the point. It was heartening to be experiencing – and, more importantly, enjoying – a game that, by and large, was really nothing more than an updated replica of the NES Mario classics that came decades before it.

What made SMB Wii special was that we were partaking in the adventure together at the same time, working as a team to defeat any and all obstacles/enemies while sharing in the spoils of victory. Even what at first appeared to be dorky little mini-games turned out to be quite entertaining (gotta love the game of power-up memory). Yes, everything was going along smoothly. Sure, one of us would die here and there, but it was par for the course. Little frustrations that would crop up via a missed step or crafty enemy maneuver would quickly melt away with every power-up gained and subsequent world traversed. There's nothing like revisiting the charm of the games of yesteryear to tighten that good ol' brotherly bond I tell ya. Yes, things were good. But then a disturbing trend started to manifest itself bit by bit as we continued to play through the evening. The light-hearted joy we were experiencing early on with SMB Wii was about to come crashing down.

At some point during the evening our general tone of playful adulation began to wane; our competitive nature was, for better or worse, starting to take hold. Now this isn't entirely a bad thing, mind you. I mean, we wanted to beat as much of the game as possible. It's just our overall mindset changed from that of "enjoy the ride" to "dominate and take over the son of a *****". Every death was now followed by silence or, even worse, an expletive rather than the laid back laughter heard so often earlier in the evening. What was once a solid team effort based on unity and communication (sharing power-ups, working relentlessly together to obtain any and all star coins, devising game plans for taking down bosses, etc.) was now slowly melting into a quagmire of utter dysfunction. No proactive talking, only baseless accusations of purposely stealing power-ups, forcing the other player into untimely deaths, and, more or less, just getting in the way. If we both died and failed to pass a level, we'd immediately replay it not because we were necessarily have a good time, but because we had to A) beat it and B) enact revenge on each other for "obvious" previous transgressions committed. How fun. And so it went until we finally had our fill of SMB Wii for the night. We got through almost three worlds that evening. By and large, it was a fun time. We're just two competitive brothers who let a new game get the best of 'em. We've been through worse. Surely this wasn't a trend? Or was it?

So back up on the shelf SMB Wii went for a good month before being picked up again. This time it was my wife and I embarking on the journey to rescue Princess Peach from the dastardly clutches of Bowser. One thing I knew going in was that things wouldn't get nearly as heated as they did with my bro. My wife is a casual gamer, and that's putting it lightly. She might get frustrated with a game, but she'll never react in a way that would make one think it's getting the best of her because ultimately she doesn't care. So hey, this time around should be just as fun if not more so, right? And so it began.

Just as I thought, things started out very smoothly indeed. We were laughing and having an all-around good time together. While not as skilled as my brother, my wife did just fine making her way through the pitfalls of Mushroom Kingdom. Her favorite tactic is to try and collect all the coins she can get to without dying while I attempt to dispense of any and all enemies. Fairly straightforward, no big deal. Good times were being had by all. Then came the first fortress level and I hear my wife mutter, "I don't like castle levels in Mario games." Huh? Yeah. And so it began – the deaths.

Try as she might (and bless her heart for doing so over and over again), but the baddies of the first fortress continued to get the best of her. And as she was doing her best to avoid the impending doom around her, I was trying to not only help guide her through the level, but do so without putting myself at risk at the same time. Not an easy feat, let me tell you, what with all the loot to be had. After much trial and tribulation, we emerged from that dastardly first fortress victorious and moved on to world 1-4 – the first underwater stage in the game. Upon seeing this predicament my wife states, "I'm no good at water levels either." Oh no.

And so it went. She tried her best as we made our way through the aquatic stage, but to no avail. The burden of having to constantly watch out for her eventually took its toll on me. Either I had to sacrifice her safety in an attempt to score us some power-ups or I had to play it safe and act like an escort, thus relinquishing any chance of us maximizing our potential throughout the course of the stage. She started feeling like a dead weight and I felt sorry for her every time she bit the big one and re-emerged in that lame bubble waiting for me to pop her free. And that's right around the time she stated she had had her fill of SMB Wii. We have yet to play the game since. Don't get me wrong, it was fun, but the sadistic side of SMB Wii reared its ugly head once again. I'm sensing a pattern here.

Cut to this past weekend. My brother was over at our house for a visit and what happens to find its way into Nintendo's little white (or black) console? You guessed it. Time to get back those feelings of unadulterated joy we once experienced way back when. Time to right all the wrongs of our last SMB Wii binge. Time to let the game prove to us its nothing more than harmless, simple fun. It was time...

Unfortunately the sense of calm lasted a mere 15 minutes before those feelings of unadulterated joy flew out the window. Here we go again.

It seems as though this time around certain enemies really got under our skin; namely the infamous Lakitu and those damned Porcu-Puffers. Or maybe it was the Hammer Bros. or the Sledge Bros. Or the Cheep-Comps. Or the Cooligans. Or the Rocky Wrenches. Or maybe it was all of 'em. But I swear at one point I wanted to pull out a gun so I could blast that stupid Lakitu out of the sky. Lord knows how many times he made one, of not both, of us lose our Yoshi by dropping an endless supply of Spinies on our heads. Not cool man.

And as these certain Bowser stalwarts continued to grind on our patience, our own mischievous deeds (intentional or not) started to get the best of us as well. Running through a stage too fast and thus causing the other player lagging behind to meet an untimely demise? Done. Using your Yoshi to inadvertently (or not) swallow the other player only to spit them out into a bottomless chasm or oncoming enemy? Yep. Taking your sweet a** time crossing those dreaded pulley platforms only to have them completely fall away, thus trapping the other player and forcing them to more or less take one for the team by jumping a gap they'll surely never make? Good times. As the evening wore on, it seemed like my brother and I were almost intuitively trying to seek out every single conceivable way you could kill yourself in SMB Wii. The possibilities, it seemed, were endless. What kind of a game is this? Where Mario games always this seemingly hard?

Needless to say, as the death count continued to rise. so did our panache for not only raising our voices, but uttering the absurd as well. Now granted, part of what was said was definitely rooted in our love for sarcastic wit, but there was definitely a communication breakdown thanks to the madness SMB Wii was throwing our way. If others were to hear the words we uttered that night, one would have to assume we belonged in an insane asylum. That or we just flat out hated each other. I've never seen a game so diligently marketed towards kids turn a bunch of seemingly composed adults into blathering morons. Has Mario always been this way? What happened to the light-hearted adventuring plumber I remember from my youth? And why has he been replaced by his cutthroat doppelganger Bif? It seems like the more players you add into the mix, the more twisted and insane SMB Wii becomes. After three hours and struggling to battle our way through world 6, we threw in the towel. The game had once again gotten the best of us and we decided to surrender for the night rather than risk any more shame and abuse. So much for the laid-back days when you each took turns playing as Mario and Luigi in the original SMB.  

Don't get me wrong, SMB Wii is a fantastic game. And yeah, there is a definite smattering of good ol' sarcasm running through this post. But that doesn't change the fact that SMB Wii, while all cute and cuddly on the outside, has a sinister streak running through its core. It will tear you and those you play it with to shreds if you're not careful. What starts out as a playful romp through Mushroom Kingdom between you and your friends – or even worse, family – could very well end up becoming your worst gaming nightmare. Friendships will be tested, family relations will be strained, and your Wii remote will endure a gluttony of physical abuse the likes of which haven't been seen since you last broke your NES controller playing Ghosts 'n' Goblins. But hey, it's all in the name of fun.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some unfinished business with Lakitu to take care of.