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NSMBW and L4D2 Impressions [Game Overview]
November 17th, 2009 by Dan

Last night was most definitely a game night, the likes of which I haven’t had in ages. Ian and Darek were both over to play some New Super Mario Bros. Wii and I was curious about whether or not I could ruin more friendships, so I started the evening with tomfoolery in mind.

In our marathon session (from about 1800 to 2300) we played through worlds 1, 2, half of 3, and 6-8. Like most Mario games, the first two worlds were pretty simple and there were few instances where we all died that weren’t caused by stupidity, so we really started to let our jerk flags fly. Some things we discovered while being tools:

– So long as there is one player physically interacting with the course, it will continue. That seems obvious, until you realize that at any time a player can press A to go into a bubble. Having taught that little trick to Darek and Ian, Darek was quick to learn a use for it that I hadn’t even considered. If I threw him off the level or he was about to die, he’d bubble up right away and float back to me. Ian and I picked it up soon after, but there were cases where we were all about to die, so we all bubbled up. Guess what, that’s a fail state. All players are returned to the world map, no lives are lost, but all power-ups are now gone.

– You can butt stomp another player off of their Yoshi to steal their ride. The stomp knocks them off and the continued downward momentum puts you in the saddle.

– While we’re still talking about Yoshi, he can eat almost anything. Shells, fireballs, hammers, other players, enemies, and berries. He can also hover.

– Butt stomping is a great way to kill a buddy. Depending on their reaction time, they probably won’t be able to bubble up in time to avoid falling off the platform you just knocked them into.

– Pounding down a chain chomp’s stake will launch it at full speed in the direction it was facing. Make sure it’s facing someone else.

– Fireballs are dynamic light sources in dark, cavernous levels. Great news, unless your partners are shooting fireballs alongside Fire Brothers and it becomes too confusing to tell which balls are safe and which aren’t

– The music in the game is so infectious that the enemies dance to it at certain times. Be aware of this if you’re trying to time a tricky jump.

That’s it for random things I noticed that aren’t completely obvious. A quick break for a coin battle after World 2 honed our competitive edge, but we quickly found ourselves teaming back up as we got closer and closer to World 8 and its mega-tough levels. One level, 8-5 or 8-6, had waves of lava obscuring platforms that we had to get across. A complex system was developed because I refused to just bubble up and let one person carry us across, so we ended up all trying to make our way as we lost tons of lives, but we had a lot of fun doing it and victory was sweeter at the end.

I won’t spoil anything about the final boss, but let me just say that it was appropriately awesome. We plan to team back up to take on the rest of the levels we skipped (along with the bonus world) soon. It’s just too good not to.

L4D2

I got less play time with this than I hoped, since Valve’s releases went in waves and my copy of L4D2 wasn’t activated until 0130. Since I had work today, I didn’t want to stay up too late, so I booted up a single player game (less chance of me continuing all night if there aren’t real people to guilt me into staying) and started in the first campaign, Dead Center. It’s been widely mentioned that there’s more of a narrative arc to this game and what I’ve seen so far seems to support that claim. There was no opening cutscene for the campaign, like I thought there might be, just the survivors all on the roof of a hotel watching a gunship leave them behind. With that, it was time to climb down to the ground floor of the hotel.

Unlike Left 4 Dead, the survivors start with next to nothing available to them. The opening weapons table contains only health, melee weapons, and a pistol. No submachine gun. No shotgun. In fact, this entire first campaign seems like it will be an exercise in absolute domination by the special infected. I think that the best move in this situation is probably to let the best marksman in the group dual-wield pistols by having the worst marksman sacrifice his pistol for a melee weapon.

The hotel plays out a little like the Mercy Hospital from the No Mercy campaign of L4D in that it’s littered with tons of rooms to explore and search for ordinance. There are some neat little easter eggs peppered throughout about the special infected, but not much beyond that, until things start to get real. Not content with letting the survivors calmly climb down to the ground floor, players are eventually forced to traverse the outer edge of the hotel by climbing through a window. The reason: fire. Somehow this hotel keeps catching fire in various places, conveniently blocking easy exits and forcing you onto ledges. I’m not sure how this will play out in versus, but it seems terribly unbalanced. A charger could easily knock guys off the edge, a jockey could ride them off, a smoker could pull one off, a hunter’s pounce could knock them off, or a boomer’s boom. Not to mention the tight spaces make the survivors easy bait for the spitter!

After finally spotting a working elevator, the survivors enter and introduce themselves. It’s kind of a neat moment and it shows how the whole narrative arc will play out (if I’m right). No cutscenes, just moments of calm where personalities will be expressed and fleshed out. Then I started to notice smoke creeping into the elevator…

That’s right, the entire bottom floor of the hotel is burning down. Escape is hindered by flames blocking paths and thick, suffocating smoke. I’m pretty sure the smoke does no damage, but it makes it almost impossible to see much of anything down there. It’s a special infected playground, provided they don’t set themselves alight. They’ll be murdering survivors like it’s their job.

The second map in Dead Center takes place in Savannah proper and has the survivors wandering through the city in the daylight, headed to a gun store that Ellis knows about. There’s a neat moment where Nick is a jerk and Coach tells him off and we’ve had our storytelling for the map. This level plays out a lot more like a traditional L4D level, but in the daylight. I suppose the increased visibility lowers the tension somewhat, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier. Witches wander in the daylight and AI partners are typically too dumb to leave them alone.

Broad daylight hurts the special infected more than anything for versus mode, so it seems that Valve compensated for this by creating tons of nooks, crannies, and tall buildings for the infected to ambush the survivors from. All that said, I still think this shifts the balance back in favor of the survivors after that first map. The gun store features plenty of tier 2 weapons to have some fun with and even a gun modification in the form of a laser sight. I’m pretty sure that these will randomize some, but it was a neat little thing to have with my burst-firing rifle. This is also where Valve is able to highlight their first “new” crescendo event. L4D had you mostly hunker down and defend against the horde until the craziness wound down. L4D2 makes you progress or the craziness will NEVER wind down. So call the horde I did and all to get soda for the guy who owned the gun shop so he would let me pass. Not the best motivation, but I guess it works ok.

The third map takes place within the aforementioned Center. Malls are a staple of the zombie repertoire, so it’s no surprise that Valve finally sent some survivors in to check things out. To recap: the first map seems horribly imbalanced in the special infected’s favor. The second feels pro-survivor, but the new crescendo events have the potential to end many a playthrough. This third level is definitely a special infected wonderland. Aside from a few spaces where a skylight shines in, the entire mall is pitch black. I’m pretty sure that a zombie could slowly follow you the whole way through and you’d never know it if he kept quiet about it.

Halfway through we found that we had set off a security alarm and had to climb to the third floor to turn it off. AI Director 2.0 must have been feeling particularly malicious, because she sent us a tank to help us get there stress free. Hoping that my buddies would survive long enough, I made a break for the room and was lucky enough to not get pounced along the way. As I made my way back, one of the computer-controlled players was dead, one was incapacitated, and the other was low on health. He was incapped soon after and I got pounced with a tank running right at me. Map over. Time for bed.

If there’s one thing I can tell you with certainty, it’s that Valve has not hit a sophomore slump with the L4D series. Dead Center is full of great new ideas and amazing refinements on the first game, which is a lot like NSMBW, when you think about it. Who would have thought that there were still so many good ideas left in both series to do such great work? The only complaint I have about the new campaign so far is that getting soda feels like an uninspired catalyst for a crescendo event, but I guess the apocalypse brings out the crazy in everyone.

More impressions as I actually play with people tonight. Maybe I’ll even try Realism mode.


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