Before you punch my face in the face, Mario Galaxy as a whole game experience is amazing for the most part other than some control/camera issues that have lingered since Mario 64. No, I'm here to dissect one particular mini game from hell that will make you want to tear out your still beating heart and ram it down the windpipe of the person responsible for programming it. This journal is both a rant as well as an exercise on critical thinking for game development.
If you've played Super Mario Galaxy, you already know I'm talking about the "Garbage Dump" mini games in the Battlerock and Dreadnought galaxies (Because it wasn't bad enough to make you do this $#!t once, they put in an even harder one near the end of the game).
Platformers are my one of my favorite genres if not my absolute favorite if done well. And I grew up in the battle-hardened 80s-90s era of gaming where the term "NINTENDO-HARD" comes from. I cut my teeth on NES games like Castlevania, Mega Man, and Batman where only practice, Jedi/Spider-Sense, and the hardened will of a stubborn 10-year-old would get you to the next level. I'm no expert, but I'm good at these kinds of games and I love them. That said, and knowing that I've also dabbled in programming games myself, I know when something is broken or so obviously unfitting in a game that it needs to be fixed. The "Garbage Dump" mini game is one of those things.
The Gameplay and its many problems
As you can see, it looks easy enough. Pick up the bombs, throw them at the trash piles, and destroy all the trash before time runs out.
This is the the first thing that will make you angry, the insidious "Looks easy. How hard could it be?" factor, like a carnival game that is deceptively easy in concept but actually very specific, precise, and difficult to master.
Things they got right
The following is a list of things they did well that, if they didn't conflict with what they did wrong, would make the game challenging and fun:
- Bombs pop out of hatches, but the hatches themselves are in the way and you have to go around them at least once to get to your first bomb.
- Each hatch produces just one bomb and will not produce another until the bomb from that hatch has exploded.
- Bombs must be placed in fairly precise areas in proximity to the trash to be destroyed.
- Bombs chain off each other similar to Bomberman (just not nearly as well, with delays and proximity issues)
- Mario picks up the bombs automatically when he touches one instead of assigning a timed wii-action/button-press
- You don't lose a life if you fail.
Things they got HORRIBLY WRONG
This is the list of small things that make the game skew away from fun into masochistic self torture that will bring back memories of bygone years of un-playable LJN games. Changing any one of these things could make the game fun and exciting instead of a headache that shouldn't have made the final version of the game:
- The Timer - The most obvious enemy is the timer. Just adding 3-5 seconds to the 30 second time limit would make this feel a lot more winnable.
- Bomb Timers - The most evil things ever. Each bomb takes a whopping 10 seconds to detonate. Which means your last 10 seconds are worthless unless you're getting more bombs to chain with one you picked up before the last 10 seconds.
- False wins - You know in basketball, if a ball is in the air when the timer hits 0, you still score points if you make the basket? Not here. I've seen my bombs blow and destroy trash BEFORE the timer hits zero, but if that trash explosion animation isn't finished, it doesn't count. I've been robbed on these terms at least twice.
- No room for error - I know this is a Japanese game, a culture that has instilled practice-makes-perfect into its people. But if you don't get every single toss perfect, in the right order, with no mistakes or errors, you will not even come close to winning. They have given you exactly enough time and resources to succeed. "If you fail, it is only because you are not good enough. Hang your head in shame as you have dishonored yourself and your entire bloodline." (Insert High Expectations Asian Father meme).
- The Robot/Story - The story is that you're helping a robot destroy all the trash as a favor. He even thanks you for offering to help, but then he gets angry when you fail. "NO, NO! You gotta do it faster!" he says... Why? Why does the trash come back if I don't destroy 100% of it within the time limit? Why will the trash be forever cleaned up if I do destroy 100% of it in 30 seconds? Why does speed matter at all if there only ever appears to be the same piles of trash with no new trash coming in? Why are you yelling at me for doing your work for you as a favor? This is one of those things that doesn't break gameplay, but is just the usual gaming-logic that only makes sense in a game. I don't mind suspending my disbelief, but this could have been handled better like "I'm trying to beat the trash clean-up record, can you help me?" At least then it would make sense why the trash gets reset when you fail and why he needs it done fast. But this is the game that has called an Orca a "Fish" on at least 3 occasions, so *shrug* I guess you could blame it on bad translation?
How to fix it
Any one of these things could make this mini game a favorite instead of an unusual punishment.
- Start Closer - Have mario start closer to the bombs or even with a bomb already in his hand, saving 1-3 seconds of vital time.
- Longer Timer - Again, almost every time I've been remotely close to winning, it's always come down to the last second or two. Adding 3 or more seconds would leave a tiny bit of room for error.
- Shorter Bomb timers - Having the bombs explode after 5-7 seconds would make this just as fun, easier to complete, and make the bombs feel more dangerous.
- Remote detonation - Allow the player to detonate bombs by shooting star bits at them. It's been done with multiple other enemies, including canon balls. Why not here?
- Detonate bombs at 0 - Have all active bombs explode when the timer reaches zero. If you made the shot, why should that 10 seconds of wait time ruin your game?
- Detonate on impact - Have bombs explode when they hit the trash and/or floor. Either one works.
- Shorter animation - Mario's animation takes at least a full second and makes you immobile while he picks up a bomb. Shortening it or allowing the player to walk while he picks a bomb up would give you back 6+ seconds.
- Kick the bombs - Allow Mario to spin-kick the bombs to their destinations like he does with the coconuts.
I'm not saying it's the worst or most broken thing I've played, but I expect a LOT more from a brand like Nintendo, especially when it's their flagship game franchise.
I look forward to hearing your comments,
(It's times like these I really miss Bomberman Hero)