>> Thursday, March 22, 2007
John Szczepaniak from Retrogamer Magazine was responsible for the excellent Super Mario's wacky Worlds article, written in early 2006. It's a really smart article and probably the most accurate that has ever been published in commercial press to date. John is also an active forum member and it's interesting to capture some thoughts from what he said about this game.
"I'm not saying it would have been better than SMW on the SNES (I'm not that crazy!). But looking at the design ideas, reading what the designers have said, and playing the beta, it seemed like it would have become a fairly good platformer and at best, a really good clone of SMW.
There are an additional 3 or 4 interviews alongside that main article [available at The Black Moon Project, ed.]. Worth reading. The jumping physics for a start were identical, they said they'd put a lot of time in replicating the control method, which considering this was a CD-i, is very impressive! The control mechanism for the hardware was sloppy, and there was a timing delay which needed working around (something to do with the machine always trying to center a non-existent mouse pointer).
Plus, they used a SMW guidebook with maps for all the levels. I'm not saying it's right, but they did say they were going to use some of the best design elements from it, at least those that worked on the hardware. I also commend them for achieveing what they did technically. There was no tile system, or sprite scrolling system built into the hardware, and it required a lot of hardwork to get anything out of the system.
The beta also showed some clever ideas they were implementing.
* They were putting the CD media to good use, by increasing the art assets etc. For example, in each level, the turtle enemies were dressed differently. In the Ancient Greek stage, they wore togas, in the Roman levels, they were dressed as Centurians, in the Haunted Castle levels, they were dressed like Dracula, in the Ice stages, they were dressed like Eskimos.
It may not have been a huge idea, but they were putting the effort in, and despite the head company using the project as a cash cow to milk money out of Philips (long saga there!), the actual team struggled on with nearly no resources and really tried. I mean, it may not have been the best game ever if completed, but it's nice to see them actually putting some love into their work, rather than wanting to rush out any old crap.
* There were some clever design elements. Like when you enter the giant Igloo, it's a maze inside, with two exits out of the level. Meaning there would have been some kind of branching level structure. Although the exits didn't yet work, and the enemies couldn't hurt you, I had fun exploring the Igloo :)
* Another stage, you wandered through ancient Greek ruins, before coming to a Trojan horse, you enter through the mouth and make your way through some compartments, before ending up leaving through the leg and reaching the exit. It wasn't just a straight run across flat ground, and there was some satisfaction to be had.
* It did a good job of conveying a Mario theme throughout, like finding a Sphinx with the head of a turtle, etc. And pipes, all over the place.
* There was some outstanding rippling and mirror effects done for areas that had water. It looks very impressive in motion.
* Character graphics, animation, and music were copied directly, so you can't really fault them.
I mean, it never would have been as good as Nintendo's original Mario series, purely because of the hardware limitations, but they were trying their best to at least not make it crap. Looking at the beta, you get the feeling that had it been completed, it indeed would have been the best game on the system, and even if it annoyed ardent Nintendo fans, there would have been merit in playing it.
Remember, those screens are from a version that only had 30% of programming and 80% of art complete. I still think it had potential to be a fun title on a system that only had a handful of games worth playing.
The [available screenshots] are very poor, and [in] low resolution. In fact, they're abysmal! No wonder you guys think the game is crappy! The graphics up close on a TV screen are awesome. Just have a look at the haunted ship levels. There is a beautiful background going on when you see it on a proper screen."
With due thanks to John Szczepaniak for bringing this obscurity to the attention of the retrogaming community through his article and continued support of CD-i. The original story as published through Black Moon can be found in the CD-i Articles & Interviews section entitled The Lost CD-i Mario Game.