Water, Water, Water, Water, Water, Water…
Greetings Retro Ladies and you Classic Gents. This week’s target for the Large Hatetron Cannon was provided by 1 More Castle’s very own Zack Smith, author of The Completist column. The target, as you should have guessed by the title, is water. Yep, this week I’m taking on H20. All of it. Get your goggles, wet suits or submarines ’cause it’s gonna get wet up in here.
Water is a fascinating substance; it can take any molecular form, it can be smooth and malleable or it can be hard as a rock. Its uses can range from nutritional, recreational, environmental, relaxational to completely destructive. Water can also be just plain annoying, like when it floods your new basement or when it rains on your freshly washed car. Annoyance is usually the pipe water takes in most video games as we’re about to see.
So. Super Mario Bros for the NES. Solid game, save for the horrendous case of Mario Foot, but we’ll ignore that for now. If there’s something even more annoying in that game than Lakitus, Hammer Bros and Mario Foot, then it’s the water levels. The water levels in that game are the worst, not only does Mario run super slow on the bottom of the lake/ocean/river/whatever but when you actually try and “swim” it’s like piloting a rock with flippers. Being the pudgy plumber he is, Mario sinks like the Titanic and when you “jump” he just flaps his short little arms, giving himself a small push upward. This “swimming” if you can call it that, feels more like ice-skating and is made all the more difficult by all the aquatic wildlife that seems to have designs either on Mario’s overalls or his mushrooms. Oh and the spinning walls of fire. ‘Cause logic.
So many Water Levels suffer from bad controls, poor physics or just outright insane difficulty. In games like MegaMan, water is this heavy sludge that amplifies gravity so you either fall like a lead NES or shoot to the surface like a freaking flying Cheep-Cheep. Others like Mario, make water into this slick oil-like substance that causes you to slide around willy-nilly. While those that aim for a more “realistic” approach to water often make swimming an exercise in frustration often due to Koopa-slow movement, twitchy camera controls or limited oxygen. Star Fox 64, Sonic the Hedgehog, DK 64, Banjo Kazooie, Mario 64, Skies of Arcadia, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Mario Kart, Tomb Raider etc. are just a few examples of games that grind to a halt in fun, pacing or gameplay as soon as water is introduced. Then there are games that decide to make their hardest levels just happen to be centered around water. The Water Temple from Ocarina of Time and the NES TMNT dam level are perfect examples of this; It isn’t so much the water that makes the levels hard as it is the actual level design. It’s… It’s almost like game developers hate water and want us to hate water too… WHY DO YOU HATE WATER GAME DEVELOPERS!!?!??