I bought my cousin the New Super Mario Bros Wii edition for Christmas and we have been playing it on and off in coop mode since then. If you don’t get which game I’m talking about, it is this one:
It is interesting, because unlike most recent Mario games released by Nintendo, this one has no gimmick. It offers the same classic, 2D platforming fun that was featured in the original with few modern additions. For example, it fully utilizes the Wiimote controller allowing the players to perform actions by shaking and tilting it. It adds just enough innovation to the formula to make it seem new and refreshing. To put it plainly, it is a fun, cute little game.
Also, I hate it. Ok, hate is a strong word – I don’t despise it completely. I can pick up the controller at any time and still have fun playing it with others. For example, I thought the World 1 was a blast. I was able to stumble my way through the levels despite the fact my timing was off, and my aim was poor. I made mistakes, I died in funny ways and it was enjoyable. Then we got to the second world and ended up trying to beat the final castle level around 27 times in a row. And that was still fun, because when you play with someone else you can always joke about “LOL, look how bad we suck at this!”. Still, I was feeling the frustration starting to set in. And this was only world 2. It would only get worse from that point on.
This is precisely why I don’t play games like that on my own. Mario is a textbook example of a DIAS gameplay model. If you mess up, you have to start over. Granted, this incarnation of the series is nowhere near as annoying as the NES original. In TNSMBWii co-op mode both players have to die at the same time in order to be sent back to the beginning of the level. Most levels also feature a halfway flag which acts like a checkpoint. You have unlimited number of continues as well, and you only get send back to the begging of the current world if both players run out of lives at the same time. You can also save your progress at any time – though this is a Rougelike save & quit feature rather than a normal save game. Still, it’s something. All those features (that Mario purists probably sneer at with derision) act as life lines to help out inexperienced players and make the game more fun for everyone. And I still find it fucking hard.
The difficulty on the higher levels is grueling, and punishing to the point that it stops being fun – at least for me. There are other people however, who actually thrive on this sort of challenge. My brother for example excels at this game. When I handed him my controller, he basically beat the whole world on his own. He literally carried my cousin through some of the levels (yeah, in this game you can actually carry the other player and carry them) using her as a mobile fire-flower turret. It was actually a joy to watch them play this game. More fun than actually play it.
Whenever he got sent back to the begging of the level, it just made him more determined to beat it. The more he failed, the more fun he seemed to have. This reminded me the good old days when the two of us were trying to beat the original Mario and Mega Man on the NES. He would play, I would navigate. And by navigate I mean yell out things like “watch out for the guy” or “use that pipe, that’s a shortcut” – as if he didn’t know these things already. I was just not built for this kind of game play.
I noticed that when confronted with a DIAS scenario I tend to get discouraged. The more I repeat the same sequence of the game, the more disinterested I am and the worse I seem to be doing at it. I become frustrated, I stop having fun, and start getting annoyed – at myself, at the game, at everything. After some time, it becomes virtually impossible for me to progress – I just continue making the same mistakes, and I’m actually to stressed out to learn from them. The only way for me to make some progress at that point is to turn off the game, and do something else. Once I rest a bit and unwind, I can go back into the game with a cool head and try to beat it again.
This is precisely why I have never finished any of the GTA games. I would reach a point where I’d have to do a set of difficult missions in order to progress. Yes, all these games are sandboxes, but even in a sandbox you reach a point when all missions available to you are quite challenging. So you pick the easiest one, and hope to do it. I’d attempt that mission 5-6 times each day for a week or so, continue failing in spectacular ways and then just give up and uninstall the game from my computer. I no longer enjoyed it – I was playing the same content over and over again, and all I was getting out of it was frustration.
The DIAS model absolutely kills all enjoyment of a game from me. This of course doesn’t mean I don’t like action games at all, or that I do not enjoy challenge. I just hate playing the same thing over and over again. You see, the staple of DIAS is that it is not about perfecting a single jump, or winning a single boss battle. I don’t mind that. If you save my progress just before the challenging bit, I’d be happy to try it over and over again, until I succeed. But then I expect you to save again, afterward. Once I perfected a given challenge I want a new one. But games like Mario and GTA don’t do that. They tend to stack their challenges one after each other, and if you make a single mistake, you have to go all the way to the begging and repeat all of them.
When I play “normal” video games I tend to “save-creep”. Depending on a game, tend to save every 5-10 minutes or so. I never, ever want to re-play the same sequence unless I actually want it. If I lose more than 20 minutes of progress at any given time, I’m usually upset. That’s just how I roll. That’s the kind of gaming experience I personally enjoy.
How about you? Does DIAS game play energize or frustrate you? Do you enjoy playing ultra-hard platformers or do you get annoyed by them in the end? Let me know in the comments.