Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Checking In + Tomita Interview Update

Finally, after seven years, The Legend of Zelda gets reviewed on Leave Luck to Heaven!! Considering the number of years, what an amazing coincidence that it's Ocarina of Time.

After more than three years, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is nearly upon us, and it's looking primed to set a revolution on par with the N64 classic. To celebrate, I'm planning on reviewing every major 3D Zelda before its March 3rd release! Will I make it?!? Well...my previous track record says no, but I've been feeling mighty inspired this new year, and I've already begun planning out Majora's Mask. The remaining four games all vary in opinion, so they'll be must-reads for any Zelda fan.

Oh, and I'm certain you're all wondering what's going on with the Tomoya Tomita interview, so I'll give an update. Most of it is complete barring a couple questions, but Tomita-san wanted to clear it with Nintendo as of late last week and we're still waiting on that (seeing as how he had to take down his music remasters on YouTube, it only makes sense he's suddenly wary). In the meantime, you can check out another interview he had with Video Game Music Online, where he goes into his time at Konami.

Just to reiterate, however, my interview for Hey Poor Player will focus exclusively on his works for Nintendo, which includes the likes of Kirby's Epic Yarn, Yoshi's Woolly World and Wario Land: Shake It!. I cannot begin to emphasize how interesting and humble his answers are, and it's a huge honor speaking with him. The moment it's all ready, I'll share it here!!

See you soon!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Has there been any Nintendo game, nay, any video game as critically acclaimed as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? As beloved, as revered, as worshiped? The likes of Super Mario Bros. and Pac-Man may have deeper permeation in popular culture, and it can be argued other 3D Nintendo masterworks like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime have long since usurped its throne, but Ocarina of Time's reverence is just a tad more special: that being, it hails from a period where the once-stunning transition from 2D-to-3D is now as dazzling as a two-week old moldy sandwich.

Make no mistake: Ocarina of Time is not infallible to the aging process -- even Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto believes it looks rather rough now -- but I dare any one of you to tell me its opening title screen still doesn't possess that awe-inspiring calm of late '98. The clomping of Epona's horsesteps greeting Hyrule Field's sunrise, the game's title slowly materializing into focus, the accompanied piano/flute rendition of the NES Zelda's Fairy Flute fanfare introducing Link's much-awaited transition into 3D are all still a feat of attention-grabbing magic in everything from camera direction, music and the sense of grandeur involved.

Let us dispel any doubts; nearly twenty (twenty!) years later, Ocarina of Time remains a stellar high-point for video games, for Nintendo's library, and, in the relevant constrains of this review, within its legendary source series. The extent of its perfection remains debatable; to my mind, it is surpassed by both its offbeat, poignant sequel Majora's Mask and SNES predecessor A Link to the Past, but Ocarina of Time surpasses its brethren in what perhaps matters most in any action-adventure game: rock-solid pacing.

Whereas future Zelda games got too caught up in constantly spoon-feeding context and mechanics, Ocarina of Time doesn't spare a moment in capturing our attention: we're introduced to a boy without a fairy, nightmares of runaway princesses and evil horsemen, prophecies of destiny, and a wondrous bird's-eye view cruise through the skies of the enchanted Kokiri Forest.

This is all done in less than five minutes. Yes, there is a quest ready to be started, but there's no overbearing NPCs or dumb mini-games stopping you from exploring the enchanted forest at your leisure. Haven't you ever noticed how the Lost Woods is just sitting at the back, begging to be explored? What about marveling at how you can chop up signs every which way? Okay, there's no point to that, but what's wrong with a little mayhem? Regardless, the way it's set up, you're actually encouraged to explore; you wouldn't be able to nab the Kokiri Sword and Shield, otherwise.

Right from the beginning, Ocarina of Time gives just enough breathing room to familiarize ourselves with the world, all the while taking care not to distract us with pointless trivialities. There's not the thrilling, if not slightly weary dungeon rush of A Link to the Past, nor the bloated in-between-dungeon antics of Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword; the game is supported by relevant setpieces to ease into the mechanics without being overbearing or coming across as pointless padding. Just look at how it's even sly enough to include mini-dungeons along the way; be it the Ice Cavern or the haunted well beneath Kakariko Village, we're continually discovering fascinating facets of Hyrule.

The true heart of Zelda--an open, personal garden to do whatever one wishes--beats harder here than any 3D Zelda hitherto thanks to its organic sense of discovery. Who hasn't messed around with playing the titular Ocarina? Experimented with masks from the Happy Mask Shop? Leapt off ledges and rooftops with Cuccoos to see where you'll land? Placed bombs in the most inconspicuous of places to find hidden caverns? Rolled into trees to see if a Gold Skulltula would fall out? Caught bugs in bottles and planted them anywhere just to see what would happen? Hyrule Field and its fellow provinces are designed not merely for exploration, but also of enticing experimentation (all of which expands two-fold with the game's second-act twist of time travel, but we'll get into that later).

Part of why this is so effective is the seamless camerawork: taking lessons from Super Mario 64's foray into 3D paved the way for Zelda's own transition, as simply flailing your sword about in third-person would be woefully awkward without some careful camera precision. In response, Z-targeting was devised to simultaneously shift the camera behind Link and any one targeted enemy. That it extends to beyond battle--NPCs, landmarks and even signs are applicable--awes in its simplistic intuitiveness; there are no barriers in engaging with the game's world, as you can efficiently "point" to any interactive target while still on the move. It's little wonder such a mechanic was carried over to future Zelda titles, even now.

There are many other elements I could cite, but any discussion of Ocarina of Time simply isn't complete without its immaculate dungeon design. Current series directer Eiji Aonuma made his Zelda debut in their design, yet you'd hardly be able to tell they were the work of a newcomer. The best Zelda dungeons enthrall not merely in their beautiful set-pieces or the creativity involved, but in how they echo organic quality of the overworld: by constantly traversing and retracing our steps within their depths and trying new things, we become as engaged as an actual explorer delving into ruins long lost.

This is best seen in the dungeons traversed as Adult Link; not that the Young Link dungeons aren't anything to sneeze at, but the adult ones are just on another level entirely. We're greeted one by one by what's probably the best series of dungeons in Zelda history, be it the Fire Temple's acrophobia-inducing catwalks or the Spirit Temple's excellent duality of Young/Adult Link segments. Even the oft-criticized Water Temple is a thing of beauty. Yes, there's lots of water-raising switches and Iron Boots to be equipped, but it's all a matter of patience as opposed to any actual flaws (that being the occasional obscure cue for progression, such as a certain pit). That it's Zelda's most mind-bending dungeon is a good thing: it demands our full concentration even when dealing with the game's trickiest bosses: Dark Link's mirroring movements within his ghostly, ethereal battleground and the twisting trickery of the water demon Morpha.

And yet even it hardly matches the euphoria of the Forest Temple: an abandoned mansion haunted by Poes and Stalfos. The Forest Temple represents the other side of the Zelda dungeon spectrum not in its game design --a ghost-hunting expedition, which is fantastic-- but that our senses are captivated from the moment we step in. It is hauntingly, mesmerizingly beautiful, with the outdoor gardens and vine-covered walls all tantalizing details leaving us wanting to know everything behind this unusual dungeon. Even from a technical perspective it still stuns, it being host to not one but two "how did they do that?" feats of music in twisting hallways and bosses galloping through paintings. It being the best dungeon in the game is not its highest honor; it is Zelda's finest without question.

The accompanying BGM is really what cinches it. From the very first wood-rattling, we're compelled to soak in every detail, right down to the Wallmasters preying upon Link's shadow. Its alternations between soothing flutes and ghostly vocals render it game music at its most hypnotic, successfully seeping us into the actual Forest Temple itself. Considering that Ocarina of Time is home to the best dungeon music in the series, it only makes sense the best temple has the best theme. (It's so good that I had no choice but to embed the 10-hour version I found on YouTube. Listen to it, dang you!)

Ah, speaking of music, Ocarina of Time just so happened to be Koji Kondo's last solo work for the company. While he'd gradually gravitate towards a supervisory role, Ocarina of Time is a near-flawless send-off to his solo career. The game may occasionally suffer from weak instrumentation, but you'd hardly know it from the aforementioned title theme: a gentle mix of piano and flutes slowly greets latest adventure with the upmost importance.

Just as the actual intro itself, the music wastes no time in captivating us. Kokiri Forest is perhaps one of the most nostalgic songs in Nintendo history; it embodies child-like wonder, as it should for an enchanted forest of eternal children and fairies. Its counterpart, Lost Woods, is rivaled only by the Song of Storms as the game's catchiest song. Its close proximity to Kokiri Forest demands a childish, mischievous innocence that's echoed in the woods themselves, be it the presence of dancing Skull Kids or the skitterish, cowardly Deku Scrubs.

Limited as it may be now, the expanded repertoire of the N64 sound systems provides technically-impressive arrangements. Ocarina of Time Hyrule Field is notable for being the first dynamic-shifting song in Nintendo history: the song shifts accordingly to context, be it for enemy encounters or during sunset, so it's an excellent replacement for the main theme (which, in what is perhaps one of the game's few oversights, is strangely absent). Meanwhile, Temple of Time still wows in how it sounds like an actual Gregorian choir. True to the events that unfold within its hallowed hall, such a glorious sound renders it as holy as an actual church.

Gerudo Valley, a fan-favorite, instantly sweeps us off our feet with Spanish-flavored guitars and clapping percussion; both are standouts, but the latter is especially notable for continually carrying both string and brass to craft a wild, perilous sense of danger. The canyons and deserts of the valley are hardly desolate, so it's vital the song conveys an active emotion.

(As an aside, Ocarina of Time is host to one of the very few instances of post-release music alterations in Nintendo history. The Fire Temple was initially host to a chilling choir prayer containing Islamic chants, whereas future versions and ports removed said chanting and altered the melody to include a MIDI choir. Both are superb, but I think of the original Muslim chant as being more distinguished since it's so unlike anything Nintendo's ever done. It reaches a level of eerie darkness that Zelda has never tackled since, and it still reverberates at the back of my mind whenever I'm reading of history's dark moments).

Indeed, there are many things we can praise Ocarina of Time for...but is there really nothing we can critique? Perfect as its fans claim it to be, that still hasn't stopped many harsher players--or dare I say, non-fans!--from airing their grievances. It is the rushed nature of Ganon's Castle, they may say, or the Water Temple's fiasco of Iron Boots, which eludes me as much as complaints directed towards The Wind Waker's sailing. These aren't within my own gripes, yet if I were to give as spotlight on any one flaw, it would be most anything regarding text.

This isn't necessarily a dig against its script/scenario as more as how they're framed. For one thing, character dialogue is infrequent in its display speed, and it's never pleasant whenever the game churns out text to a slow, unskippable crawl. What's initially a minor quibble gradually becomes compounded with some mind-boggling decisions, and it can make for a frustrating, non-intuitive ordeal. Even when the game allows you to skip dialogue, it tends to warp instantly to end of what the character has to say as opposed to that particular text-box, so information can be accidentally skipped.

There are other niggles, like having "No" being the default option for Kaepora Gaebora's "Would you like to hear that again?" and Navi, Link's accompanying fairy, occasionally interrupting movement to blather about objectives and incoming danger. Ocarina of Time is relatively free of hand-holding otherwise, but it's in those two characters the embryos of chatterbox NPCs and helpers--soon to plague future Zelda games--are born.

Yet perhaps the deepest flaw of all lies in how Ocarina of Time is host to one of the weaker localizations released by NOA Treehouse. This isn't to say it's bad, but while there is some unique flair such as the Great Deku Tree's "ye olde" English dialect and the script is evocative when it needs to be (more on that later), there's a lot of rather plain, dry dialogue ("I should go to Lake Hylia! Many things float down the river and end up there!) and I actually cite this as the most aged aspect about the game. Characters even sometimes go OOC (Kaepora Gaebora, again: "Hoo hoo! Wait up, buddy!") and render the game more childish than it actually is.

But not even that can't smother the player's connection to Link. In the past, both Miyamoto and Aonuma have discussed how Ocarina of Time isn't necessarily "epic" in itself; rather, that feeling derives from the player's sense of accomplishment. Every puzzle we solve, every dungeon we master, every boss we overcome ingrains into us within our quest to save Hyrule.

Any video game can do this, you may say, and you'd be right. But yet again, Ocarina of Time is a step ahead: it doesn't endlessly chuck monsters and caverns to make us feel epic, thanks to its use of time travel, our actions as Link and those of other characters produce a blank, yet fatal period of history. Take Hyrule Castle Town: as Young Link, it was a bustling capital rich with activity and life. After a seven-year slumber, we are shocked at the changes wrought by Ganondorf's reign: pitch-black skies, crumbling ruins, withered trees and a population not of Hylians, but moaning hordes of ReDead zombies. Before, the town's existence was simply something we took for granted; now, its devastated state instills one goal: "I have to do something".

The game doesn't need to hammer us in the head with the characters' grief. My absolute favorite example is the Kokiri bully Mido, who obstructs and antagonizes Link at the game's beginning. Seven years later, we're provided not just with a stunning size difference--being a Kokiri, Mido is blessed with eternal youth--but a change of heart. Unable to recognize Link, he begs him to pass on a message: "Hey, you. If you see him somewhere, please let him know...[about Saria]. And also...I'm sorry for being mean to him. Tell him that, too."

Nothing more is needed. We're left to wonder how he spent seven years of regret and loss, of how much he missed someone he pretended to hate. Other characters such as the carpenter's son evoke similar emotions, as do locations like the aforementioned Castle Town. We're left to fill in the blanks of everything just out of reach, be it the legacy of the Forest Temple to the dying soldier found within the Castle Town's alleys.

It's an indescribable power that extends even beyond narrative. Hopping down into a cavern only to come face-to-face with a treasure chest we opened seven years ago. A nighttime ride on Epona in Lon Lon Ranch to the echoing, nostalgic tune of Malon's singing. In terms of Zelda, it's an intimate poignancy surpassed only by Majora's Mask and perhaps even Link's Awakening; a high bar most games can only dream of reaching.  

Any issues regarding text and the occasional Eldritch Abomination found in the NPCs do not prevent the revolution brought on by Ocarina of Time. Majora's Mask would soon arrive to upend its successes by transcending the medium of gaming itself, but Zelda's first foray into 3D may very well still be sitting on its throne via duality: it is gaming at its most pure, but also evocative and alive. Even now, through time, we grow up with it.

(Also, it introduced Gorons, which are the best Zelda race because I said so. So chubby!)

Monday, January 16, 2017

No New Tracks for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Hey Poor Player)

Everyone's been down on Nintendo's Switch Presentation in one way or another, be it the pricing, the launch line-up confusion, the bumbling live translator or the news shared above (my own brief, conflicted thoughts were shared on a Nintendojo Roundtable). I suspect the influx of rumors lining up the weeks before the presentation had a hand in this: there were reports of several enhanced Wii U ports for fan-favorite titles, the bizarrely enticing Mario/Raving Rabbids crossover, and, of course, the ever-eternal localization of Mother 3. While undoubtedly more will be revealed this E3, I imagine most--including myself--got caught up in the hype and expected a bigger blowout than what we received.

Don't get me wrong: I think there's many valid complaints over went down this past Friday, but I can't help but blame myself for being disappointed in this regard. It's not like what was shown wasn't very cool, be it the unexpected surprise of Xenoblade 2 and the mouth-watering give-it-to-me-now goodness of Super Mario Odyssey. In the case of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe not having new tracks, I imagine that a) Nintendo didn't want spend too much resources on improving an older title and b) they thought 48 tracks was enough, and, well, I can't exactly blame them. While I would've loved to have seen a Splatoon track, I'm just happy we're seeing a revamped Battle Mode (and hey, no one ever denied anything about DLC!)

At the very least, I still think more Wii U ports are happening; it only makes sense Nintendo wants certain active, big-name Wii U titles to get more exposure. (And besides, why else are the amiibo for Cloud, Corrin and Bayonetta taking so long?) Smash and Mario Maker are obvious, but I can't help but entertain the thought of a Hyrule Warriors port that combines content from both versions, and I think it's about time Pokken Tournament got some of that arcade-onlky goodness.

Really, I'm left with one important question: will Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, as well as any following Wii U ports, inherit save data from their previous versions? I'd hate to have to say goodbye to my battle data from Smash 4, for instance, so Mario Kart will be a litmus test for what's to come.

...that reminds me: I know I said I wouldn't be discussing my review schedule anymore, but to drive up excitement for the fresh new year, I'd like to share a taste of what's to come. I'm planning reviews for certain Wii U titles before their accompanying Switch releases hit stores, so you can expect me to discuss Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon right when Deluxe and Splatoon 2 hit. Any following Wii U ports will likely get the same treatment, so stay tuned for those.

Oh, and remember when I said a famous Nintendo franchise will get its Leave Luck to Heaven debut? Expect that to start very soon...word has it a big blowout's coming to celebrate a certain launch title.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 45 ~Knitty Knotty Windmill Hill~ (Yoshi's Woolly World)

: Yoshi's Woolly World
Plays In: Knitty Knotty Windmill Hill/Wobbly Mobile Jaunt
Status: Original Composition
Composed By: Tomoya Tomita

It only makes sense this installment of Biweekly Music Wednesday! would feature a song by Tomita-san, right? I figured it should be a song from a series I haven't visited much.

Much of the music in Yoshi's Woolly World evokes to me an image of summer hayrides, like the ones you may've had as a child. Some songs render these rides a bit bumpier than others, but this one is certainly more gentle. I can picture it now: infants snoozing in their mothers' arms, children excitedly pointing out the sights and sounds, and parents echoing their fascination without a care in the world.

Being that they're by the same composer, it's no surprise Yoshi's Woolly World instills much of the same calm present in Kirby's Epic Yarn, yet there's undeniably more of an active feel going on in the soundtrack. That shouldn't be a surprise: Epic Yarn does not employ death or game overs, while Woolly World is more punishing as an action game thanks to Yoshi's health bar.

Not that the levels this song plays in (Knitty Knotty Windmill Hill and Wobbly Mobile Jaunt) are particularly tough--that honor goes to the game's Special Courses--but there's certainly some activity going on within. It helps that their respective set-pieces are among some of the game's best; particularly with Wobbly Mobile Jaunt's sky-bound spaceships and celestial bodies.

There's many reasons why Yoshi's Woolly World is the best Yoshi game since Yoshi's Island debuted back in 1995, and the music is probably one of the best reasons why. No longer are there homogenized scores accompanying the entire game or boring, sleepy tunes that could never dream of surpassing Koji Kondo's '95 masterpiece; it's a score that echoes the whimsicality and wonder present in each and every stage.

Knitty Knotty Windmill Hill is one of my favorites for this very reason: the likes of silky windmills and yarn rockets are nostalgic symbols in themselves, and so the song must bring that nostalgia to life. This was a quality previously stitched into the heart of Epic Yarn, and so it's no surprise Tomita-san succeeds with flying colors.

There are other songs that instill the aforementioned "hayride" quality, but I think this song is particularly representative of that theme. Is it a coincidence it's named after a structure one might spot on such ventures? Hmm.

Final Thoughts: You can definitely bet this will pop up in my interview with Tomita-san! 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: Upcoming Interview with a Nintendo Game Composer!!!

I've finally made it. Even now, a day after it was finalized, it's all so surreal.

Today, I am absolutely beyond thrilled to announce I will be hosting MY VERY FIRST INTERVIEW with an individual who's worked on Nintendo games! And not just any individual; it's someone who's composed music for over seven Nintendo games. That interviewee happens to be....

Mr. Tomoya Tomita!!! Over the past decade, Tomita-san wrote music for games such as Kirby's Epic Yarn, Yoshi's Woolly World, Wario Land: Shake It! and even certain StreetPass titles! (Mii Force, Battleground Z, Slot Car Rivals and Market Crashers) It will be happening this week, with translation help courtesy of my buddy Masked Man, who you may remember as chiming in for my Nintendojo localization article last year.

Mr. Tomita had recently announced on his YouTube Channel that he was going freelance from Good-Feel/Nintendo and was currently taking requests. While obviously referring to music, an idea sprang to mind:...would he agree to an e-mail interview? I spent days agonizing over what to say before finally sending it, and I woke up Saturday to him saying yes!

Needless to say, I'm just...stunned this is happening. I'm interviewing an ex-Nintendo composer! The guy who wrote the music for Kirby's Epic Yarn, one of my favorite gaming soundtracks, is going to discuss his work with ME! And he's thrilled to do so! Wow!

And here I thought Leave Luck to Heaven eventually leading me to working in game journalism was mindblowing. Like many a Nintendo fan, I've fantasized meeting and talking with countless names and faces from the company and its branches, but that it's actually happening is...it's a feeling that can't be put into words. My dream is coming true.

The best part? Readers familiar with my blog know how descriptive I can get with my articles, and Tomita-san has agreed to answer all of my many questions regarding his works. His history at Good-Feel and his three works for Nintendo home consoles will take the spotlight, although I'm currently considering whether or not I'll be asking a couple questions regarding Mii Force. And just to be clear, this will be hosted on Hey Poor Player.

I'll be wrapping up my questions tomorrow, so hopefully afterwards the three of us can get started ASAP. I absolutely cannot wait for this to happen, for this to be shared, and for this to lead to many more opportunities to come! See you soon!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Super Mario Bros.

Gaming before Super Mario Bros. was not exclusive to dark backdrops accompanied by blinding neon or an absence of jumping maneuvers, but they were certainly pervasive enough to define what we call the third generation of video games. Games had only begun to invent the likes of parallax scrolling and side-scrolling movement, but to one Shigeru Miyamoto, gaming began to settle a little too comfortably into dark screens and arena-based repetition.

While Nintendo was hardly exempt from these styles of games--look no further than the famous likes of Donkey Kong and Balloon Fight -- Miyamoto refused to be outdone by imitators encroaching upon what he envisioned as his pioneering work; that is, jumping games. His answer was to develop an ultimate swan song to the Japanese Famicom--about to be superseded by the Famicom Disk System-- by combining the philosophies behind Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. (jumping), Excitebike (side-scrolling), Balloon Fight (floating in the air; or in this case, the sea) and Devil World (control of a larger character).

What's ordinary and by-the-book today was set to be revolutionary in 1985: an open, side-scrolling game bursting with color and crossed land, air and sea. Us Americans probably wouldn't know it from the cover -- whereas the original Japanese box art (seen above) was illustrated by Miyamoto himself, the American release disguised its glorious setting via yet another black-themed package (its odd composition also became something of an in-joke: ever stop to think about how Mario's about to fall in lava?)

Perhaps it was for the best; I mean, who could've expected such an explosion of color with a cover like that? Even better, it merely frames how Super Mario Bros.'s innate design resonated immediately with the world at large. The presence of player empowerment and visual feedback is the very same design philosophy that illuminated proto-open world in The Legend of Zelda, or when 1996's Super Mario 64 stunned 2D veterans with the realization that, yes, you can climb that mountain in the distance.

Over thirty years later, Super Mario Bros. remains as much of a masterpiece. We've since seen its ideas improved and expanded upon by the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3, World, and the New Super Mario Bros. series, but its innate sense of pick-up-and-play still enchants newcomers to this day. It's all about the jumping, really; whereas arcade heavy-hitters like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. may feel clunky today, it's amazing how Super Mario Bros. runs as fluid as it did back in 1985.

Look no further than level 1-1--the famous standard for all opening levels in gaming-- to see why. It's evident from the very first question block you see that Super Mario Bros. is a game that rewards via jumping: you will hit that block, because it's gold and shiny and everything attractive. Out pops a coin; you want more, but a stray Goomba is honing in on you. Jump over that guy (or stomp it flat!) and pop another block; out comes not a coin, but a mushroom, which is meticulously designed to reach you....yet it grants not death, but growth. You can jump higher, and can take one additional hit before reverting back to Small Mario.

Unlike the army of platforming clones that would follow after its release, jumping in Mario feels sublime not because it follows preordained path or is at the mercy of wonky physics, but because it takes everything from acceleration, momentum and weight into account. Jumping after holding the dash button, for example, will send Mario flying into an soaring arc. Tapping the jump button lightly will make him hop an inch. Observant players recognize a necessary balance: you know you won't succeed without the big jump, but you shouldn't use it all the time lest you careless fall into a bottomless pit.

Because the controls feel so perfect, experimentation is inevitable. The player's habit of jumping everywhere may unearth a hidden 1-Up Mushroom. Landing on a Koopa Troopa's shell bowls over enemies. Careful precision and timing with dashing/jumping will land Mario on the flagpole goalpost's very top (and, with very careful consideration to the timer, lead to bonus fireworks!). All of are varying difficulty, but Nintendo's subtle education for what's actually essential is vital. Just look at the block formations below: the first leads leads nowhere so players learn to dash and jump over its ilk, which prepares them for its fatal twin.

This isn't even getting into the other mechanics introduced via the first level: the Warp Pipe, which leads to underground coin-filled hideaways and let you skip half the level; the Fire Flower, which again transforms Mario, but this time into a fireball-spewing visage of orange; the Starman, which renders Mario invincible and demolishes any enemy that dares touch him (not to the mention introducing the famous samba theme).

And underneath all that lies the ultimate question: how do I utilize all this? Will diving underground and skipping half the level just to nab coins really lead to the most points? Will grabbing the Starman interfere with my Koopa Shell-kickin' skills? How do I trigger the fireworks at the end of the level via flagpole? Why not ignore the Super Mushroom and play through the entire level as Small Mario for a challenge? Or, heck, why not the whole game?

Now, such freedom in play and player choice are hardly unique to Super Mario Bros. itself: the likes of open-world games, fighters, shooters, horror survival, life simulators, and strategy games all possesses their unique traits of flexibility and the like. But how many of those are accessible as just running and jumping? What renders Super Mario Bros. so special is its accessibility, and that the first level is this inviting is no coincidence: it was one of the very last made in development, constructed with all the knowledge obtained throughout development.

It's a seamless transition from discovery to play, as echoed in 1-2 (the first Underground Level), yet another captivating case of flexibility via the importance of brick-breaking. We already learned that bricks were breakable via Super Mario's jumps, but now here's a level essentially composed of bricks hiding coins, 1-Up Mushrooms, and even shortcuts leading to the Warp Zone. But moderation is key here; smashing bricks may be fun, but with the timer ticking down, you shouldn't dawdle for long.

And from there it becomes more of a subtle tutorial. Floating, interconnected platforms that respond to your weight are initially placed over towering cliffs, but eventually suspend over no landing points. Castles are armed with spinning firebars that gradually grow in size, complete with perilous mazes. Bullet Bill Cannons are visually introduced before they learn to fire off-screen, the first Hammer Bros. strategically hop up and down from floating brick blocks (could that be used to our advantage?), and yes, it's possible to knock out Lakitu from his cloud the moment he's spotted.

Note how many of the above involve enemies. What's beautiful about Super Mario Bros.'s cast of minions is how they aren't merely obstacles to be dodged, but tools for success. Koopa Troopas and their shells are a favorite secret weapon, but how about stomping on Goombas propelling us to greater heights? Could other enemies be used the same way? And who's to say Bowser's invulnerable to fireballs?

How we tackle all this is up to us. Miyamoto once described as Super Mario Bros. eventually becoming "our game": as muscle memory settles in, we opt for the best routes available for us. We
grow the courage to try new things; accordingly, the game becomes comfortable enough to throw new surprises once the shock of the first level wears off, and so it becomes an engaging learning process for the game's duration.

Easy to learn, hard to master: the creed of difficulty that defines the best of games. As it's an 80's game, it should come as no surprise that Super Mario Bros. is rather tough. The game's experimentation and discovery arises as a response to the game's difficulty, which can't be surmounted easily. There's the underwater levels with bastard Bloopers, for instance, and whereas  there is a way to rid of them and their Cheep Cheep cohorts (a certain power-up, perhaps?), that you're at the mercy of swimming physics not only restricts your movement options, but renders Mario all the more vulnerable to losing his only means of defense. Hammer Bros. and the castle mazes are also beatable nightmares, yet they, too, will likely give players a thrashing before a solid, formulated strategy is developed.

But that's okay, because Koji Kondo's music keeps us coming back for more. Perhaps the first famous songs in gaming, Kondo was conscious of the limited sound options for the Famicom/NES--only five channels!--and labored over songs that wouldn't irritate the player. Such songs would not be action-packed techno, but instead colorful songs that would encourage the player and never grow old.

And what gaming song is more immortal than the Main Theme (less commonly known as the Ground Theme)? Infectious from the very first 8-bit note, the Latin-based theme conveys an instinctive rhythm that can't be anything but an explosion of exuberant, light-hearted activity. That it never wracks on our nerves is vital: we're driven to action immediately after Game Over.

But why exactly is that? Perhaps the secret lies in how Kondo actually based the song on Mario's movement. Through the rhythm of player control, the music is the ultimate mastermind behind our enjoyment. From the moment Super Mario Bros. starts, it becomes a song that sets into your bones. 

In contrast, the Underground Theme doesn't inspire the same sense of wonder, but its short repetition and comparatively muted nature belies an instant earworm. (That, and, well, it's not as if a dreary underground is supposed to sound all that lively, anyway) While future iterations would install percussion-filled back-beats and the like, the original steady beat hollowed by silent intervals is somehow just as fun to hum along as its jolly counterparts.

Jolly as in the lovely Underwater Theme above. A wondrous waltz that, while perhaps betraying the treacherous waters which it accompanies, frame Mario's underwater movement as if echoing an actual dance. It too channels its Ground Theme counterpart in how they instill that very same player-moving rhythm.

All this grants it an all-too vital identity: that everything is fun. Obviously, this is not to say that previous arcade/video game efforts weren't such, Super Mario Bros. ups the ante by having "fun" be the theme of everything in it. Even putting the controls and gameplay aside, the colors and setting are fun to watch and absorb. The scenario of two plumbers rescuing a princess and her entourage of mushroom-capped retainers from evil turtles is as delightful as it is bizarre. The music is meticulously crafted to keep us engaged and hum along.

There's a reason why Super Mario Bros. saved the industry from the market crash: it's a game about inviting people. There's no barriers: only a prevailing sense of "I can do it, too," that can be applied any which way you want. Yes, it's challenging, but it possesses a power that makes you want to try one more time. That it would introduce the world to the denizens and world of the Mushroom Kingdom is only secondary to its revolution of bringing people back into the world of gaming.

Even now, I still feel bound to my own direction of playing it. I only grab the first Starman if I time the first Koopa Shell kick just right. The secret coins and 1-Ups in the first underground level are never missed. I never bother with the Warp Zones, choosing to instead gradually accumulate all the coins and 1-Ups coming my way. I still roar in exhilaration as I plow through my favorite level: 2-3, where Mario dashes across a series of bridges while avoiding leaping Cheep Cheeps.

I've only beaten Super Mario Bros. twice in my lifetime, but in all the countless attempts I've made to do so, I've more or less tackled it the same exact way. Perhaps it's time for a change? Even now, when I skip by it on the NES Classic Mini menu, I think to myself, "maybe I can." If only I had the time, I say, but I still hear it calling.

Like its NES counterpart The Legend of Zelda, that I can still find new ways to play more than thirty years after release is nothing less than sheer wizardry. What makes Super Mario Bros. gaming's most well-known masterpiece is not merely for what it defined, not merely because it revived the industry: it's because even after this time, we can still approach it and go, "I can do that."