A brief history of… Mario

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I daresay that there are very few people out there reading this who don’t know who Mario is. The lovable little American-Italian plumber is arguably the most iconic gaming character in history and polls suggest he’s even more famous than the cartoon figurehead Micky Mouse. But what do you really know about Mario? Probably a lot more than me, I’ve only played a handful of his games, but for those also lacking, here’s a brief history of the moustachioed star.

Despite being the mascot of Nintendo for as good as three decades, the famous Mario actually started out playing second fiddle as an unnamed character (titled only as ‘Jumpman’) in 1981’s ‘Donkey Kong’ and it wasn’t until a year later he became Mario (in ‘Donkey Kong Junior’ – the only game Mario has ever been an antagonist).

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I have nightmares about this scene. I mean. Just. Another Castle…..

The Mario we know and love today came into being in the 1983 ‘Mario Bros’ which also introduced his long suffering younger brother Luigi. However it was 1985’s ‘Super Mario Bros’ that really expanded on the universe by introducing the Mushroom Kingdom and tasking Mario with saving Princess Toadstool. Today this single branch of the Mario series has sold more copies than any other complete games series.

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Seriously though, there’s something fun about wandering around cleaning things. Note: This is not Mario with an ASBO.

The games led to numerous sequels and spin offs (such as the delightful Super Mario Sunshine which I played on the GameCube where you basically go around cleaning pollutants and graffiti) and there seems little the plucky little plumber can’t do – he’s even been to space. There is literally nothing Mario won’t do to save Princess Peach, especially if it means beating arch-nemesis (and serial kidnapper) Bowser or his childhood rival Wario.

 

Mario has also had several successful trips into Sport-themed games taking on both friend and foe on the race track in the phenomenal ‘Mario Kart’ series, clashing with Sonic (the megastar of Nintendo former-rival Sega) at both the Summer and Winter Olympics as well as knocking seven bells out of other famous gaming characters (ranging from Pokemon’s Pickachu to the lovable ‘Kirby’) in ‘Super Smash Bros’.  As well as being an award winning sportsman in his free time, jumping and plumbing are far from Mario’s only skills and over the years he’s also worked as a soldier, demolitionist, Doctor, Baker and President of Mario Toy Company.

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I have all the Gold cups for every track on Mario Kart Wii. It is a ridiculously fun game.

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For a portly plumber, Mario doesn’t do too badly in the Olympics. Even against a Hedgehog well known for travelling incredibly quickly. Videogame logic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mario has been recognised as one of the most prolific characters in gaming. In 2009, the Guinness World Records found Mario had appeared in 116 distinct titles (not including remakes or re-releases) spanning every single year from 1981 until now (2014). According to Wikipedia, the Mario series of games is the best-selling of any game series with over 445,000,000 sold games; putting this in perspective, the next best-selling series is ‘Pokemon’ which has sold around 245,000,000 so it has a very healthy lead indeed. And all this is without even mentioning the comics, tv shows or film (yeah, FILM) in which he features.

And if you still don’t think Mario is cool, then you clearly don’t know he’s been on the side of lunch boxes for years. And that is the epitome of coolness.

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Post Script: Many thanks to Google for the images.

Post Post Script: I forgot to mention this in the actual article, but please have a moments silence for Luigi. Mario7

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The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: A Review

Being quite the ‘Holmesian’ (a fan of things Sherlock Holmes) this was naturally one of the few games I actually desired to get on release day, and what is there that can be said about the Testament of Sherlock Holmes? Well quite a lot as it happens.

Consider this your warning that there will be spoliers within this review

The game centers on the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, framed for all the crimes he’s ever helped solve, turned on by Scotland Yard, hounded like a criminal, and with only his (slightly faltering) loyal dog companion Dr John Watson by his side as he attempts to foil the dastardly plan of his nemesis Professor James Moriarty.

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For those familiar with Sherlock Holmes, the story/theme of Moriarty trying to discredit Holmes and his crime-solving prowess, won’t be particularly new as it was the focus of the final episode of Series 2 of successful BBC One program ‘Sherlock’ (and a fine episode it was too)*. And personally, I quite liked the story; the subtle hints and references for people well versed in the story of Sherlock Holmes come across very nicely. Personally, while I’d have liked to have seen Inspector Lestrade, the throw-away mentions were nice and probably more suited to the game.

One weakness I did feel about the story is that Moriarty’s great scheme almost feels like an afterthought; something which only really takes notice in the very last part of the game. A large portion of time is given to what is, in reality, only a couple of crimes and Holmes’ deteriorating reputation. Although this does make for an engaging experience, the whole ‘master crime’ seems to be undone rather quickly; I almost wish that these were two games, one dedicated to fighting Moriarty, and another for really developing a ‘fallen’ Holmes.

Holmes turns on Watson

This scene makes for rather poignant viewing – especially with what happens the second time around!

One thing which can’t be understated about this game is the way it looks: very nice. It’s not perfect, and compared to games which really emphasis character looks, such as L.A. Noire, it’s soundly beaten; however for a game centered on its story it looks grand. This transfers onto the various different crime scenes which you have to explore; dead bodies and intricate puzzles look very clean and copacetic on the screen and this only adds to the experience. However, although the characters of Victorian London look good, the same cannot be said of the modern day children in the attic – at times, they look frankly disturbing!

The depth of the characters doesn’t rest with the appearance however, and the voice work for both Holmes and Watson works well; the jokes and humorous one-liners (usually at Watson’s expense) are sometimes actually quite funny. However I still finished the game feeling that it wasn’t quite as developed as it could have been, and I would have liked to explore that relationship a little more. While on the topic of John Watson, I can’t help but feel that he wasn’t put to his best use in this game. There were times when his only task was to simply walk around following your every step and, when prompted, offering nothing more to the scenario than the frustratingly unhelpful ‘What next Holmes?’.

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For the unobservant player, you may not even notice the point where you take over Toby the dog (a reference to Basil the Great Mouse Detective perhaps?) rather than controlling Watson.

One thing I will say is that the game does not transfer well from PC to console. I played the game on PS3, and there were points where it was so frustratingly slow and jumpy that I considered turning it off. Despite this, I did find the first person to third person camera switch a nice touch. The core mechanics of the game (investigating clues, exploring locked boxes ect ect) work well, but when it comes to actually moving around in the game it felt, to me, quite poor.

Talking about core game mechanics, I lost count of how many times I had a locked box which had to be opened in some such unique fashion. Don’t get me wrong, there was never a box locked in the same way twice, and every puzzle had its own way of being completed, but it doesn’t get around the fact that you are just trying to open yet another box. If one career was really flying in Victorian England, it was clearly being a locksmith. However, to complain about this would be churlish – you don’t pick up Fifa and complain about playing match after match; the puzzles are very interesting and there was more than one which boggled my mind enough I did have to sneak a look at a hint so it fulfills its purpose admirably.

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Personally, this was one of my favourite puzzles; it certainly broke away from the normal locked box/door/object routine

Now, as far as hints go, I must also say I did find it difficult to understand exactly what I was doing at some points in the game. Occasionally you may miss a crucial piece of dialogue and then spend the next 20 minutes wandering around the room and examining the box you’ve already emptied before you finally find out you were meant to leave the building. The jerkiness of the game, when I played it at least, also meant that a few items would be overlooked – as such, when it came to needing them I’d have to spend yet another half an hour re-examining ever room for that one thing I missed. Again however, while it may be irritating (bordering on boring) to have to do this at points, this is what you expect from a Sherlock Holmes mystery game.

Not to end on a slightly deflated note, one aspect I really enjoyed was the deduction board. This was the process of not only finding all the clues and having them pieced together in a cut-scene, you actually get to follow the logic and reasoning behind each conclusion; you are effectively actually becoming the detective. However, again this is something I think the game really hit on as being brilliant but underused! There were only three separate deduction boards – when Frogware make another Holmes game (which is highly likely, I think this is their seventh!) – I really hope they put this in again.

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The Deduction Board: Criminally underused, but fun to work out all the same

As such, to conclude, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a game for any fan of the Worlds Greatest Detective (Batman who?). It covers the ever-enigmatic Holmes as very few interpretations have ever tried to; beaten. Its not everyday you get a story of a brilliant mind who has been pushed from their position of grace, and the game covers the darkness and pressure of this fall perfectly. The puzzles are enlightening, the story line pitch perfect and even a few of the jokes come off well.
If you aren’t a fan of Sherlock Holmes, if you’ve never watched Jeremy Brett, then this game is most likely not for you, as the puzzles become slightly repetitive and the game jumps an lurches around you will probably tire rather quickly. But for the true aspiring Consulting Detective; this game is more than worth a look.

Pros
– Immersive story with a unique ending
– Genuinely interesting puzzles
– The characters do look very nice

Cons
– The game mechanics struggle occasionally (at least on my console they were evident)
– Watson did, at times, feel a tad useless just following you around
– It does fall into several of the pitfalls of being just like the traditional adventure/crime game

Score out of 10? A strong 7.5

* I do know ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ aired after this game was released; however I would imagine the show is a tad more successful than the game and as such more people will understand the concept from it.

Six of my most anticipated games from E3 2013

Six of my most anticipated games from E3 2013 – In no particular order

1) Watchdogs:
Ok, so not strictly first announced at E3 2013 (instead being first revealed in E3 2012), this year has still whetted my appetite for this game. I mean, the level of control you look set to have over things via that little mobile device – It’s staggering.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqoQG_XYF-8

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2) Murdered: Soul Suspect
Think L.A. Noire, but with the twist that you’re a dead, ghost detective. I really enjoy puzzle, crime solving games, and with the added twists this game is going to have (such as possessing other detectives and walking through walls) its looking very interesting indeed. And SquareEnix is involved! – Whats not to want?!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CeWsTEOZYo

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3) Batman Arkham Origins

As a fan of both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, I was very excited when Origins was announced, although slightly dubious as to if WB: Monteal could pull off the brilliance of Rocksteady. However, all gameplay released so far has put to bed those worries; the game looks mighty impressive. I personally can’t wait to see how Batman reacts to his enemies in this early setting, especially considering the Joker is re-appearing! (Although unfortunately not with the amazing voice acting of Mark Hamill).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6AoJB54Y2o

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4) Star Wars: Battlefront 

Despite it being only a 30 second trailer which reveals NOTHING more than that the game is in development, the mere mention of this game is exciting enough. I mean, imagine it – Star Wars! On the Frostbite Engine!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NksLPEWj5lw


5) Kingdom Hearts 3

It has been far too long since a Kingdom Hearts game was on a proper console. The first two games, which I played on the PS2, were truely fantastic games that meshed the seriousness coming from the creators of the Final Fantasy Series with the comical aspects of Disney. Despite the fact I was rubbish at the first two and haven’t played any of the ones released on handhelds (so probably won’t get the story), I am still VERY much looking forward to this game.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npjBHFb0fZM


6) The Order: 1886

This one is still in the very early stages for me. The trailer is intriguing, I like the idea of this Steam punk-Esq world where the Knights are London’s protectors, hunting down evil-doers. Whether or not they pull it off is another matter entirely, so I’m going to wait until gamplay is released before passing more judgement on it. But from the opening trailer? Not a bad idea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CeWsTEOZYo

Other games which didn’t quite make this odd list of 6 but should still be looked for:
The Division, Thief and Ryse: Son of Rome.


My biggest let-down of E3? 

No Fallout 4 announcement!
The trailer for the new Mad Max game is horribly tantalising considering no one knew what the game was before the trailer ended and it was INCREDIBLY akin to Fallout, just with cars.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBpDO45cJms

E3 News Flash! Star Wars Battlefront Announced!

For those who have not been keeping up with E3 (or are reading this without reading the title) STAR WARS BATTLEFRONT HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6wL7wA1R6Y

Now, perhaps it’s an extreme over-reaction to a 31 second video in which we learn absolutely nothing we couldn’t already guess (That Hoth would feature, that the Empire would feature or that it would be set in the SW Universe).

Since Battlefront and Battlefront 2 (released in 2004 and 2005), the Battlefront series has been pushed into the handheld gaming market with Renegade Squadron (2007) and Elite Squadron (2009) and while they were very good handheld games (or at least Renegade was – I enjoyed it anyway), they didn’t bring the magic of the first two games.

I don’t mean to worry people, but this game IS in the hands of Electronic Arts. The infamous EA have got their hands on the rights to make a game people have been waiting almost a decade for. While EA may not have the best reputation, I live in hope that they get a sharp kick from someone every time they try and do something stupid. Last thing I want is them putting Jar Jar Binks in it. Although, I trust DICE, and the Frostbite 3 Engine to make a very very good game here. How could they go wrong? It’s a non-Kinect STAR WARS GAME.

This is something to be happy about. Finally, we (hopefully) get another decent Star Wars game!

The Xbox One

The Xbox One is an upcoming gaming console from Microsoft and is the successor to the Xbox 360. Announced yesterday, it is first in the line of Xbox consoles to feature a Blu-ray Disc drive, as well as 8 GB of unified memory and a 500 GB hard drive (although it’s unknown if this will be the basic model).

The Xbox 360, Microsoft’s last console release, was launched in 2005 (with the Kinect following in 2010) to much critical acclaim. Over the last 8 or so years, over 74 million have been sold (compared to the 100m Wii’s out there and 77m PS3’s).

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The Name
Now, I must admit, when I was discussing the console prior to the announcement, I was quite looking forward to the announcing of the Xbox Infinity. I’m not quite sure why Microsoft didn’t go with it; in my opinion it’s a considerable improvement on Xbox One. I understand where Microsoft is coming from mind you. I think the idea of an all in one console where you can flick from TV to gaming or the various other social aspects which the Xbox covers well is a pretty interesting concept. But I’ve also read people more knowledgeable than me saying the processing power which is going to be needed will either harm the gaming prospects of the console or increase the price.

Technology
Technically speaking, there is no denying that the Xbox will be a powerful console. And it’s going to be the introduction of Blu-ray into the Microsoft corner of the sales battle, which puts it on par with the PS4 (continuing on from the PS3). However there is no backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games and this was a bit of a downer considering how it was included in the 360 for the original Xbox’s games.

Something else that has worried me is the aspect of the console which could require it to be permanently online. Supposedly, the Xbox One’s internet-based services mean that the console does need to get online at least once a day, but doesn’t have to be permanently connected.

I think the plan appears to be for Games and media to be stored in the cloud, so you’d need to connect to access them, and Microsoft wants users to be able to synchronise games between different devices, such as phones ect ect, which will only work if those products are online.

Kinect
The new Xbox will have a brand new Kinect to go with it. The device will come with the console, the microphone will always be on, and will need to be plugged in for the console to function. Not so sure about the fact that it will a) always have a microphone on and b) that it will be needed in order for the console to work. I just hope that it isn’t something which will be integrated into all gameplay. I’m not a fan of flailing my arms around while fleeing from a Super Mutant or sneaking around the city of Dunwall.

Price
Although no price has been announced, it is expected to be up to £399 and it is due to launch before the end of the year. With the Nintendo Wii U already on the market, and Sony’s Playstation4 in the pipeline, it’s looking like Microsoft and Sony will be going head to head in Christmas market (and as hopeful as I may be it will drive prices down, I doubt it will).

Overall?
Despite misgivings over the name, and the fact that is attempting to become a living room hub rather than a gaming console, I still think it looks quite nice. The 15 announced games upon release is something to be looked at with interest, especially since 8 of those are going to be new franchises. This is the Xbox doing what it does best; bringing the social aspect of gaming to the forefront.

Should more information be released, I’ll try and collate it into another post. Also, I hope to pick bits and pieces from E3 next month for more gaming news.

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Also, I think the new remotes look really quite cool. Unlike the new PS4 one *shudders*

Europa Universallis 3: England 1399 to 1589

Is it just me, or are games based on Alternative Histories just brilliant?

Let’s take Europa Universallis 3. In my current campaign, starting at 1395, its been about 155 years and England has used Colonialism to conquer most of the Northern and Western Africa as well as a chunk of Eastern South America. I also control parts of Northern France (Brittany and Calais). It’s funny the way things work out. The English Empire is growing larger than it ever actually did.
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Here be England – you’ll see I’ve left Scotland alone to the North, but for political reasons I have also been forced to leave parts of Ireland unconquered. 

Unfortunately, Portugal beat me to most of the available areas on the coast of eastern North America, but using my place in South America, I’m going to try and take the area where Mexico would be and dominate the southern hemisphere. I don’t fancy a war with one of the largest nations in the world which has been a loyal ally for over a century and a half, so I’ll leave Portugal be as long as possible. In a couple more years, I should be able to integrate the Spanish Crown into my own and combine our Empires – makes me wish I hadn’t blocked Spanish expansion in the Americas.

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Here are my few possessions in Continental Europe. Luckily, France isn’t too bothered about Brittany or its Western Coast. But by God they don’t half want Calais back.

So, what’s my diplomacy looking like you might ask? Well I am allied to Spain, Portugal and a couple smaller nations across Europe. France hates us, the African nations don’t trust us and most of Europe don’t care about us. Brittany keeps demanding the ‘return’ of Calais, even though four successive wars over it have failed. Scotland is proving to be something of an oddity. They quite like us, and we have a Royal Marriage, however they refuse to accept any closer diplomatic relations. The only way I will be able to form Great Britain is by taking them over through war, however they are allied to France and I think another nation in Europe – I’d rather not lose my foothold in France just yet, which would most likely happen if I started a war on two fronts.

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As you can see, I also hold pretty much the entirety of the African West Coast. I also hold the tip of the South, and parts of Madagascar. I’m planning on using it as a jumping point between myself and Asia, but don’t tell them!

Financially and technologically we aren’t doing too well. Our tech is lacking behind the other leading European Nations by a few levels which could be important should we ever go to war. The English treasury isn’t exactly low, but it’s weak and could be considerably increased if I didn’t need to fund such a large empire for the time period. I think my lack of decent tech is the reason I’ve only been making minimal increases in Northern Europe – if we were equal, I have little doubt Burgundy would now be within my grasp.

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I’m also a majority shareholder in South America. This means not only to I have the monopoly on slaves from Africa, but also tobacco, gold and sugar cane!

Next step troubles?
France and Burgandy – I have a feeling Calais is going to cause more strife in the later half of the 16th Century. I am also in a predicament in I don’t know if I should integrate Spain, or risk it and hope I eventually inherit the entire country. As it is, I am going to try and avoid war for as long as possible – I am technologically outmatched and as such I think its far more profitable for me to keep investing in a large colonial Empire. South-North America is under my control, Portuguese expansion is slowing and I hold more of South America and Africa than any other state.

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And here is the jewel of my Empire. My very large North American colonies. Sure, they kick up a fuss every few decades, and wheat (their primary product) isn’t too useful, but it gives a huge base of operations in the West. Okay, it’s not that useful. I just want to make sure 1776 never happens. Pity Portugal got in there and snapped up the 13 colonies before I even knew what was happening.

Overall, I’d say the future looks bright for the English. And this is a bloody good game.

Post Script:
I should get around to actually reviewing this game soon. Its somewhere on the list anyway.

News Flash! Batman: Arkham Origins

Beware fans of the Arkham Series, this news flash will contain information as to the up-and-coming game Arkham Origins!

Warner Bros. has announced the next title in the Batman: Arkham franchise, currently in development for the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. It’s currently slated for release on October 25 this year, but there’s no mention of the game appearing on next-gen consoles. I think it’s more than likely that the game will be released on both current and next gen consoles.

The game, which is the subject of Game Informer’s latest cover (see image below), will not be developed by Rocksteady this time around, instead being worked on in-house at Warner Bros. Games Montreal. The new development team will be using many of the assets that Rocksteady has used in the past, including its Unreal engine to try and avoid any discrepancies in the aesthetic of the franchise.

The game will apparently take place long before both of the existing Arkham titles, when a young and inexperienced Batman will encounter many villains for the first time. Deathstroke will be one such foe, making his Arkham game debut.

Personally, I am incredibly excited for this game. Arkham Asylum and City are two of my favourite games and I think they are two of the best superhero games on the market. It does slightly worry me that Rocksteady are not at the helm for this one, but they seem to be confident In WB Montreal, hence why they are allowing the use of the Unreal engine. I’m also glad screenshots have seen Penguin will feature in the game (one of my favourite Batman villans) and I hope Scarecrow and Riddler appear again.

Can’t help but wonder if Joker will be making an appearance considering he isn’t, you know, dead anymore. I’m not sure if he should though. As amazing as the Joker was, I think a lot of it was down to Mark Hamill’s brilliant voice acting, and with him not doing it anymore, I hope they find someone equally brilliant to take his place.

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