This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Left 4 Dead 2 and New Super Mario Bros Wii.
Four is very rarely the magic number. A fourth blind mouse would have just been redundant, as would a fourth little pig who built his house out of depleted uranium. And while a threesome with two women is fun, any more than that and you're going to run out of bits to share around. But four is a significant number in the video games world, because it's the maximum number of controllers you can buy before you start to think you might have a little bit too much disposable income. Four players is the perfect number: you, one to take all the power-ups, one to run on ahead of everyone else and lose all their lives, and one to poke you in the eye every five minutes with a sharpened courgette. And without two guitarists, a drummer, and a singer when playing Rock Band, you might even be able to actually hear the music.
Today I'd like to review two recent four-player co-op titles, Left 4 Dead 2, the latest in a series that is increasingly trying to resemble a car registration number, and New Super Mario Super Wii Bros. 2: The Revenge of the Return, etc.
First of all, yes, I was forced to play the cut-down Australian version of Left 5 Dead 7 because of our crotchety old man government who think that everyone under the age of 40 is a serial rapist waiting to happen. So playing it was like visiting a McDonald's in a foreign country; the same, but with an odd sense of unfamiliarity, and they don't sell chicken nuggets. The changes are mostly gore related, taking out persistent bodies, dismemberment, and blood splattering on your screen like you're all wearing fucking motorcycle helmets, so the Australian version is at least much easier on the processor. But honestly, it doesn't matter if the zombies bleed, dribble, or shoot wee-wee out of their armpits. As long as zombies and an apocalypse is going on, then it's officially a zombie apocalypse.
And now it's inflicting itself upon four new unlucky bastards, namely Uncle Phil, Leisure Suit Larry, some guy from Deliverance, and a girl, whose only defining feature is that I always end up having to play the insipid cow. Meanwhile, the character selection in New Super Mario Bros. Wii consists of Mario, Luigi, and two different colored Toads. So the arguments with your mates start before the game even begins. You know whoever gets lumped with the two generic townsfolk are the bottom of that particular circle of friends. It's like playing a superhero game where you get to play as either Superman, Batman, or two recently hatched ducklings.
Not that it matters so much. The character differences are entirely cosmetic, and everyone has the same basic controls. Press 2 to jump and fall down a pit. Hold 1 to run, so that you can jump further and fall down a different pit. Basically everything that you'd come to expect from a 2D Mario platformer, assuming you'd stopped playing them around 1993. Some levels have you swimming, some scroll vertically, but generally you just keep holding right until you hit the victory music. Or you fall down a pit.
What's clear about Left 4 Dead 2 Rocky V, and which becomes even clearer in the Australian version with all the blood and disembodied titties wiped out your eyes, is that if it weren't for the number in the title--the second number, that is--you'd call it little more than an expansion pack that dreams of the stars. The most significant addition is melee weapons, including swords, guitars, crowbars, and of course chainsaws, which historically have now probably been used more often against zombies in games than against wood in real life. But the usefulness of melee is linked directly to the speed of your connection. In the worst-case scenario, you could be swinging your axe several seconds after the zombies have already eaten your face, digested it, and pooed it down your nosehole.
There are some new special zombies and a whole bunch of new levels and a daytime Deep South sort of setting, but besides new weapons, characters, and environments, it's pretty much the same. I appreciate that that sounds like saying Star Wars would be identical to Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit if you changed the characters, plot, setting, and title, but the general feel of Left 4 Dead is unchanged. While we're still backwards running from the entire zombiefied London marathon as a 14-year-old from Nome, Alaska, steals all the health kits, everything else is so much salad dressing.
Mind you, at least Left 4 Dead 2 London SW1 has some steps forward, even if it's just a shuffling of the feet towards a cliff edge. Even a single chip of plaster knocked off of a prison wall is at least some progress. Super Wii New Bros. Mario is the prisoner who cements over his own escape attempt, then sticks his head in the toilet. Nintendo's Mario team really don't seem to have any ambition besides subsisting on bits of crust they can scrape from the pimply underbelly of nostalgia, lest anything as dangerous as a new idea appear in their brains and give them a fucking seizure.
But as the disbelieving friend said to the inventor of the feces-powered helicopter, "This shit will not fly!" What really has been the point of the last 15 years if you're just going to make Mario 3 again complete with chirpy NES sound effects still intact? On what is ostensibly a current-generation console, no less? Oh, but there is four-player co-op, a feature that is absolutely perfect if you find yourself short of gift-buying money this Christmas and need to lose three friends as quickly as possible. The player characters all bounce off each other, so once you go beyond one player it's like trying to precision platform in a tumble dryer full of cricket balls. And the power-ups are virtually designed to come out in such a way that one player takes all of them, one player who will go home with so many feet up their arse that they will spend the next few days coughing up odor eaters.
Even bad games have a place in gaming history, even if it's just to feature in some "how not to do it" guide. New Nuper Nario Nothers Nii is a rare example of a game that has absolutely no right to exist. Super Mario World was better, Yoshi's Island was better. This is supposed to be the future, dammit! If everyone has to buy digital televisions before 2010, then that means you aren't allowed to suddenly ignore 20 years of gameplay innovation. Release a photograph of the Nintendo board of executives pulling their buttocks apart, and that might at least be worth noting.
As for Left 4 Dead 2 Springfield .30-6, well, it made Left 4 Dead fresh enough again for me to enjoy playing it for a few more hours. And hell, people have paid a lot more money for entertainment that doesn't last as long as that. But while this and all those staggered-out Team Fortress 2 are mildly diverting, Valve, wasn't there a Half-Life Episode 3 you were supposed to be working on? I'm starting to feel like I've come to a Rolling Stones concert and the Rolling Stones don't feel like coming out, so they're trying to keep us amused with an old TV showing episodes of The Jetsons.
Just bitter because he only has two friends: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
TOP TIP: When in a zombie apocalypse, try not to hook up with people who won't eat baked beans
Bowser vs Tank: who would survive
Left 4 Dead 2
New Super Mario Bros. Wii