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Video Games Weekly: Super Mario Maker

supermariomakerThis week, I’m reviewing Super Mario Maker, which I have been anxiously awaiting for weeks! Super Mario Maker is probably the most unique Mario game Nintendo has put out in recent years, and I’m looking forward to showing you why!

Platform: Wii U

Rated: E for “Everyone”, but don’t let that fool you. This game is rated “E” because there isn’t violence, gore, sex, etc. but that doesn’t mean that kids/teens will be able to beat every level they attempt. For example, there is a level called “Pit of Panga: P-Break” which is the most “difficult” level in Super Mario Maker [for now] that has made grown men cry when they FINALLY beat it. Watch this YouTube video if you don’t believe me (warning: turn down your volume) :

Single or Multiplayer: Single player. You can, however, have teens play with the same policy that my brother and I had while growing up: When you die, I’ll play.

Quick Synopsis: First of all, the video game character “Mario” dates back to the ‘80s. The first Mario arcade game came out in 1983 called Mario Bros. It was a sidescrolling platform jumper, which means Mario runs left to right, and can jump up and down. The goal was always to save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, and you have to beat levels in order to find her.

Since then, there have been many Mario themed video games, but Super Mario Maker has completely changed the sidescrolling platform jumper genre. Instead of players beating levels designed and created by Nintendo game developers, players create their own levels for other players to beat. This is genius for so many reasons! First of all, adult players [like myself] who have been playing Nintendo games since they were kids can experience some serious nostalgia. Second, Super Mario Maker never feels boring because players from around the world are constantly releasing new levels for others to play. Players can sort of “beat” the game by either defeating the “10 Mario Challenge”, where players are given 10 lives to beat 8 sample levels, or by defeating the “100 Mario Challenge” where they have 100 lives to beat a certain number of levels, but every time you fail a challenge, you have to start over with new levels. This gives the game a long shelf life since the game is always changing and is full of surprises.   Third, this is a great STEM learning opportunity for kids/teens, which I will get to later.

Controls:

Playing Levels: Players can either use the Wii U Gamepad, Wii Remote, Wii Pro Controller, or a classic controller. In a level, Mario can move right, left, jump up, or slam down. Mario can also change into different “costumes” if the they are available in a level. The goal for each level is to reach the “end”, usually by hitting a switch.

Creating Levels: Players who are creating their own level have to use the Wii U Gamepad to drag and drop items on a course. Players can use a variety of enemies, artwork, and items from previous Mario games to create their level. This is fun because players can also “blend” items to make non-conventional combinations. This makes levels interesting for both older and younger players because every time Mario approaches an item, the player has no clue what is going to happen! I should also mention that in order for a level to be posted online, the creator has to be able to beat it themselves. This is a great game mechanic because it prevents mean people from posting impossible levels! Once your level is complete, the level is posted to the “Course World” where other players can comment and rank your level.

If you’re interested in watching a player create a level, here’s a good YouTube video:

Amiibo: A quick note about Amiibos. Amiibos are tiny figurines that players can purchase to unlock special content from Nintendo, but they are not required in order to play the game. With the Wii U, you place the Amiibo on the Wii U Gamepad near the NFC reader. If you use an Amiibo in Super Mario Maker, it unlocks more costumes for Mario.

STEM Appeal: There is a lot of STEM appeal for teens who are interested in game development. In the video game medium, a game has to have a “balance” in order for it to be considered a “good” game. That balance is mainly between game mechanics and difficulty, although there are other theories/contributing factors that make a good game. By playing Super Mario Maker, teens get a quick introduction to learning that balance. A teen’s goal is to create a level that is challenging enough to make players have a difficult time beating it, but not TOO difficult where it becomes impossible and makes players give up quickly. Remember that “Pit of Panga: P-Break” level that I talked about earlier? That level has been widely popular with hardcore gamers because it nearly impossible to beat, but casual gamers such as myself haven’t even attempted it because I don’t want to invest the time/effort. So, teens have to think about their level’s audience, skill level, and difficulty when creating a level. You know, like a game developer.

Verdict: I definitely recommend this as a core purchase for video game collections. It may or may not do well at a Teen Game Night program because you can only have one player at a time, but teens can pass the controller around when they die. Alternatively, you can ask teens to create a level together and see how it does in the online Course World. Make sure you have an internet connection, otherwise you will not be able to access levels created by other players, nor post your own.

By Alanna Graves
Twitter: @LannaLibrarian

Pricing

$59.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=super+mario+maker

Video Game Weekly: Terraria

This week, I planned to review Super Mario Maker for the Wii U (which I am extremely excited about), but my copy has yet to arrive in my mailbox! So, I am reviewing an older game that I have played for over 100 hours (believe it or not, this is pretty normal for hardcore gamers). It is like Minecraft’s distant cousin.

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Platform: This game is available on many platforms, including some of the older game consoles, and it’s pretty cheap (pricing and pruchasing info at the end of this post)!

Rated: T for Teen. There is mild blood, and the game has cartoon violence. For example, when your character dies, your character does kind of explode into body parts. Also, there are some “adult” references that may or may not go over teens’ heads. For example, you can craft ale that will give you character boosts, and there are jokes about licking mushrooms for stamina.

I should also mention the world has a “Hell” area, which is accessed by digging as far down as possible. You can fight demons in Hell, mine “hellstone”, etc.

Single or Multiplayer: Both! The game is way more fun when playing with friends.

Quick Synopsis: Terraria came out for the PC in 2011 when I was in undergrad, and I spent many weekends playing it with friends instead of doing my homework. After its initial release in 2011, Terraria became so popular that it was revamped for other platforms.

Terraria is a survival side-scrolling game with a sandbox feel (if this sounds like gibberish, you can view my definitions post from last week. You begin Terraria by creating a 16-bit character (male or female), and you can personalize everything from their hair to skin color. Each color is selected on a rainbow spectrum, so theoretically, you can have a female character with red hair and purple skin.

After you are done creating a character, you can choose the size of the world you want to explore as well as your difficulty. “Softcore” mode means when your character dies, you only lose half of the money in your inventory, do not lose any of your items, and you will respawn at your home base. “Mediumcore” mode means your character will lose all of the money and items in your inventory, but you will respawn at your home base. “Hardcore” mode is the most difficult mode, because when your character dies, you cannot respawn. Your character becomes a ghost, and will be deleted when you exit the game. I am a wimp and only play on “Softcore” mode, because I like NOT losing everything in a cave.

You can also select the size of the world, and what biomes you want. There are many different biomes and layers to the world, which means there are different enemies, resources, and bonus items.

After you are done selecting a world and difficulty, you are dropped into a forest biome with only a copper pickaxe, copper axe, and copper shortsword. You also have a computer character known as an NPC, who helps you figure out the controls and crafting items.

There isn’t a goal in the game per se, other than survive and kill boss enemies. Players begin with these three tools as a way to start collecting resources from the world. As you collect resources, players can create items ranging from bricks, furniture, swords, shields, armor, potions, etc. The idea is the more resources you gather, the easier it is to make better stuff.

Controls: Terraria is a 2D side scrolling game. This means that your character can only run left, right, jump up, or dig down. The controls vary because it depends on what platform you are using. I play Terraria on my computer, which means I use my keyboard to move my character and activate items in my inventory while I use my mouse to click on objects.

When I say “activate” my items, what I mean is you can only “hold” one object at a time, like a sword or a potion, but you can have “activated” items that affect your character’s health and strength. Take a look at this picture below:

This is a sceenshot of a player’s “inventory”. The top row functions like a shortcut. For example, if I want to hold that awesome pink sword in the top left hand corner, I only have to hit “1” on my keyboard. This is useful for when you are fighting enemies like giant floating eyeballs, and you have to quickly change from holding a sword to holding a health potion.

STEM Appeal: This game is very similar to Minecraft where there is some STEM appeal, but it not as obvious as Minecraft. For one thing, Minecraft lets you download modifications (also called “mods”), which means you have a lot more flexibility to create a STEM focused world for teens to play in (or download it from MinecraftEdu link: http://minecraftedu.com/) . You can download mods for Terraria on the PC, but I personally have not done this. You cannot download mods on other platforms.

Like Minecraft, teens can learn a variety of STEM skills like geometry, circuits, engineering, strategy, teamwork, communication, and physics. While there is no “goal” in Terraria, players often build elaborate home bases both for fun and to protect themselves from enemies. Take a look at this giant castle that I found on Google.

In order to build something this elaborate, players have to collect resources from their world in order to craft “better” objects. So, this castle probably took forever to build because the players had to gather the appropriate resources to create bricks, walls, doors, furniture, etc. Or, they used cheats, but let’s pretend they didn’t.

The one huge difference between Terraria and Minecraft is the inherent reliability on teamwork in order to progress in the game. If you are playing with other people in Terraria, you absolutely have to work together in order to survive fighting enemies and collect resources. Although you don’t have to work side by side in the game world, you naturally communicate your goals, actions, and findings to your teammates. This is what makes Terraria fun to play with friends!

Verdict: I highly recommend purchasing this game for Teen Game Night programs if your teens are tired of Minecraft. Teens will still learn STEM skills like they do in Minecraft, but it has a different world environment that is fun to explore with friends. I also recommend this as a core purchase for video game collections.

by Alanna Graves

Pricing and Purchasing Options:

Available on PlayStation 3 (digital code only) $19.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-PlayStation-digital-game-download-card/dp/B00L2FGTA2/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671282&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+playstation+3

PlayStation 4 $19.99 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-PlayStation-4/dp/B00MEXP5BK/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671328&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+playstation+4

PS Vita $19.99 on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-PlayStation-Vita/dp/B00XR3Z7W8/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671454&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+ps+vita)

Xbox 360 $19.54 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-Xbox-360/dp/B00IXMF5CU/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442671561&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+xbox+360

Xbox One $19.88 on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Terraria-Xbox-One/dp/B00MEXP5KG/ref=sr_1_1?s=videogames&ie=UTF8&qid=1442672010&sr=1-1&keywords=terraria+xbox+one

Apple Store $4.99 https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/terraria/id640364616?mt=8

Google Play Store $4.99 https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.and.games505.Terraria&hl=en

PC Download on Steam $9.99 http://store.steampowered.com/app/105600/

Video Games Weekly: Video Game Genres 101

videogamesweeklyThis week, I wanted to reach out to those of you who are not very familiar with video games. So, I thought it might be helpful to write out a list of video game genres and definitions! I will probably be linking to this article frequently, and will update it as new genres/terms emerge in the video game realm [and the ones I accidentally skipped].

Video games, like books, can be broken down into different genres. Video game genres, however, tend to represent either the story experience or game play mechanics, but a game can have many “genres” assigned to it. These two factors create endless combinations, and are what makes the video game medium so unique!

Story Experience Genres

Action – This is a broad term for a game that has an emphasis on physical challenges. Action games usually have a player controlling one character, and navigating an environment while battling enemies or obstacles. Many “action” games are also “adventure” games. One example is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

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Adventure – This is a broad term for a game that has an emphasis on puzzles and interactions with the game environment, and do not require quick reflexes. Typically, there is less violence compared to shooter games, but that is not always the case. Many “adventure” games are also “actions” games.

Party – Party games are created intentionally for groups of people to play together. They’re often simple to learn, and have a variety of “mini games”. Think of any Mario Party game.

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Role Playing – Also known as “RPG”. It’s a broad term for a game where the player controls one or more characters in a well established world. World exploring is key to this genre, and usually the character has to complete “quests”. In a way, you can think of it as Dungeons and Dragons, but in a video game! One example of a role playing game is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

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Simulation – This game tries to emulate a real life experience, or a fictional reality. There are subgenres like sports, real life, and construction simulation games. An example of a popular simulation game is the Sims franchise.

Sports – This game can fit into “simulation”, but even then sports games can be broken down into more genres. There are sports games almost for every sport, ranging from football, baseball, to racing, even including Quidditch!

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Strategy – These games have an emphasis on planning and skillful thinking in order to win the game. The game is usually slow paced so players can carefully plan their moves. There are subgenres such as “turn-based strategy”, which means players alternate taking turns to move their pieces. A popular strategy game is the Civilization franchise.

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Game Play Mechanics

Massive Multiplayer Online Games – As the name suggests, this is a type of game where many players play together online. There are subgenres like “massive multiplayer online role playing games”, also known as “MMORPGs”, which are the most popular. The best example is the game World of Warcraft.

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Platform – Also knowns as “platform jumper” games, where the player has to navigate a series of platforms to reach the end, often with enemies in their way. Well known platform jumper games are Super Mario and Donkey Kong.

Sandbox – This type of game takes place in a “free world” where players can do whatever they wish. A sandbox game can have goals or objectives but at its core, players are meant to roam free without any restraints. The best example is Minecraft.

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Shooter – This is the oldest genre in video games. As the name suggests, players have to destroy a target or enemies using a weapon. The game continues as long as the player survives. Players develop quick reflexes due to fast paced gameplay.
First Person Shooter – Also known as “FPS”. This is a sub genre of shooter games, where the game is experienced from the character’s perspective. This point of view is useful for players who want to focus their aim, and have a “real” gameplay experience. Well known FPS games are Call of Duty and Halo.


Third Person Shooter – Also known as “TPS” or “3PS”. This is a sub genre of shooter games, where the game is experienced outside of the character’s perspective, i.e. players can view both their character and their surrounding environment, as if the camera is behind the character. A well known 3PS games is Gears of War.

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By Alanna Graves