For a while I wanted to write some game reviews and arbitrary "top 10
XXXX games" lists. I felt like I needed to invent a new rating system
to go along with these. The "x out of 5" or "x out of
10" scoring systems are too overdone. A percentage system it too broad,
what's the difference between an 84% and 85% game rating anyway? I pondered
a generic "thumbs up, thumbs down" approach but that brought back
memories of that awful movie "Gladiator". Am I the only person in the world who
thought that movie was pile of steaming horse flop?
Eventually I came to think "what if I rated games based on how they
compare to Super Mario Bros?
" It's a simple system really. Take a
couple different elements from a game and compare them to Super Mario Bros,
=worse than Super Mario Bros
=the same as Super Mario Bros
=better than Super Mario Bros
Super Mario Bros is the perfect game to use for a baseline. For starters, everyone
has played it. Anyone who thinks "Super Mario Bros, WTF is that?
can go scratch. Everyone basically likes the game but it's not their
favorite. If you ranked all the games you've ever played from worst to best,
Super Mario Bros would probably end up in the middle. That's not a knock on
it at all. Super Mario Bros is better than about half the games ever made,
including next-gen titles. For example, Fight Night 360 (or whatever it's
called) looks 1,000x better than Super Mario Bros but is a lot less fun to
play. On the other hand, I think Adventure for Atari 2600 is an overall better
game despite its crude graphics. All things considered, I can't think of a better baseline game than
Super Mario Bros.
The Mario Scale ranks games based off the following criteria (in order of
This rating can be displayed as a simple summary:
..or as a slightly more detailed review:
||Despite all the negatives,
this game is strangely addictive.
||If Ed Wood suffered a stroke
he could write a better storyline.
||The control is clean and easy
||An intoxicated monkey with a
kazoo could have composed a better soundtrack.
||Poking yourself in the eye
with a pencil is more pleasant than looking at this game.
I'll admit, it's hard to top Super Mario Bros in the replay category. Even
after beating it you still want another go at it. Maybe you want to try a new
route, visiting every level, seeing how quickly you can win, getting 99
lives, finding every secret, or stopping by level -1. There are plenty of
reasons to dust off the ol' NES and play a quick game of Mario. Scoring a
fiery Mario in this category is tough, but not impossible.
- Superman 64 (Nintendo 64):
Let's start off with what might be the worst game ever made.
Unlike other "worst game ever" contenders, such as Custer's Revenge, this doesn't even have
any comical replay value.
It's just plain bad.
- Luigi's Mansion (Gamecube):
Although a good game, Luigi's Mansion has practically no replay value.
It's short, but not short enough that you can play through it in an hour for fun.
It also doesn't have enough secrets to make it worth playing until you find them all.
- Super Mario Bros 3 (NES, Super Nintendo): Super Mario Bros 3 has all
the replay value of the original. There are tons and tons of levels to
play through that you might have skipped the first time. It's also
filled with secrets to go back and uncover. The only thing stopping it
from earning a fiery Mario is the difficulty of winning. Unlike the
original, trying to just quickly play through Mario 3 isn't much fun.
The tanks & ships on world 8 somehow manage to combine difficult
and monotonous into something you dread to play through.
- Simpsons Hit and Run (Gamecube, Playstation 2): I liked the
basic idea of Grand Theft Auto, being able to freely explore a large
world without being stuck in a series of linear levels. However, I didn't really care for having a game that
rewards killing cops and beating women around my kid. Simpsons
Hit and Run provides a reasonable alternative. Like Super Mario Bros,
there are reasons to keep playing even after winning. At any time you
can go back and replay missions, compete in races, or just explore
- Tetris (NES, Game Boy): If I was only allowed to play one game for
the rest of my life it would be hard not to choose Tetris.
- Doom I&II (PC): I never tire of the original Doom games. Any
time I need a little mental break I can fire one up and crank through
a level in 5-10 minutes. Even while writing this I find the temptation
almost too difficult to resist.
Plot is a tricky element to gauge. "Plot" doesn't necessarily mean
the game has an intricate storyline. "Plot" would mean
"premise" for most arcade, platform, and shoot-em-up games. Some
have a decent enough premise while others are completely absurd.
Super Mario Bros is a good baseline for plot in this regard. OK, a plumber
that has to rescue a princess from a giant lizardish thing is a little
goofy. However, it manages to work out pretty well. It's not so over-the-top
or stupid that it's rendered unplayable. It gives the game a distinct flavor
that separates it from just being "some dude running across a never-ending
series of bland screens".
- Shadow War of Succession (3DO): The premise for Shadow War of
Succession is simple - here are a bunch of criminal stereotypes
fighting each other for some reason. There's camouflage guy, leather
jacket guy, long-haired guy in a suit, ski-mask guy, old-fashioned
mobster guy, Asian chick, and Russian chick. They're all fighting to
be the next king of the streets or maybe to star in a Michael Jackson
- Plumbers Don't Wear Ties (3DO): Guess it's "pick on 3DO day". Back
in my loser phase I played
this game after work with a couple other Electronics Boutique
employees. Not even the promise of partial nudity could get us to play for more than 5 minutes.
Trying to recount the storyline makes my frontal cortex hurt so I
- Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast): What's that you say? Shenmue has
way more plot than Super Mario Bros. This is a classic example of
more!=better. If you consider "I must avenge my father's
death, after I pet this kitten" or getting a job hauling
crates between warehouses to be solid storyline elements then you have
issues. It's lucky not to get a small Mario in this department.
- By default, any sports game with a season mode: I figured there
has to be some way to rank sports games in this category. After
about ten seconds of thought I decided that games with a season
mode would earn a big Mario, ones with a franchise mode a fiery Mario,
and the rest would be tagged with small Mario.
- Baldur's Gate (PC): Yeah, yeah this is a no-brainer. I put
this (and the next game) on just to go on about how great open-ended
games are. The main storyline in Baldur's Gate isn't spectacular - bad
guys are trying to kill you for an undisclosed reason. What gives it a great
plot is the detailed world filled with side quests that you can
explore at your leisure.
- Starflight (PC, Sega Genesis): Starflight also has a main
quest that you're supposed to follow to win the game. However,
it has a seemingly infinite number of galaxies and planets you can
catalog and strip mine instead. If you choose to go along with the
plot you'll be ensnarled in mystery that spans millions of miles.
The way I see it, the more minimalist a game's control is the better. Can
you control the game with a d-pad and few buttons or do you need the flight
deck of a Boeing 747? How about the precision, does it feel like you're
really driving a car or whatever? Is the character motion smooth and
accurate and so on..
Of course by this definition, Super Mario Bros would would be almost perfect.
It has one of the cleanest, simplest controls imagined. The only hitch being the well-documented
- Spelunker (NES): This is possibly the most infuriating game I've
ever played. In this Montezuma's Revenge knock-off your character dies
if he falls more than 2 millimeters. The old woman of "I've
fallen and I can't get up!" fame is more durable than
- Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages (Game Boy Color): Again I'll pick on
games I really enjoyed just to show fairness or something. The flaw
with these two games is that you have about 8 items you can use but
only 2 buttons to work with. You spend more time in the item selection
menu than you do playing the game.
- Metroid (NES): It's unbelievable how much you can do in
Metroid with just the little NES pad disposal. You can quickly toggle
from the beam , to missiles, bombs, screw attack, ball-mode
(heh heh, I said "screw" and "ball") without
needing a menu. Like Mario, the control is clean and easy to learn
with a few minor bugs here and there.
- Phantasy Star II (Genesis): The play control is a tad on the
slow side but good nonetheless. The menus are simple to learn and
navigate. The battle system is also intuitive.
- Mortal Kombat II (Arcade): Still my favorite fighting game to
this day, the control is a big part of that. It has that "minute
to learn, lifetime to master" thing going on. Picking up the
basic mechanics and special moves are easy. Working out all the combos
and fight strategies takes a couple rolls of quarters.
- Burnout 3 (Xbox): Although not a Xbox fan, I'll
readily admit that the controls in Burnout 3 are nearly perfect. Each
vehicle has a unique, yet accurate, feel. OK, I've never driven a real
fire truck off a bridge but it just feels like I'd expect it to.
It's stating the obvious to say that Super Mario Bros has a memorable
soundtrack. Although being cranked out of an 8-bit system, it's superior to
many of today's forgettable soundtracks. A game's soundtrack goes a long way
towards setting the overall tone. Super Mario Bros is a great example of
this. From the perky overworld music to the semi-menacing castle track, the
audio makes the game come alive.
- Alien vs. Predator (Atari Jaguar): There's about 30 seconds
of intro music but that's about it. I suppose they're going for some
kind of menacing feel by keeping the game silent. That would be fine
except the sound effects aren't so hot either. They have a grainy
sound, well, like what happens when digitized sound effects are run
through a sound chip.
- Shape Shifter (TurboGrafx-16 CD): It's uber-nerdy to admit
but I'm a big fan of TurboGrafx-16 CD soundtracks. Shape Shifter would
be one of the exceptions. The music is nauseating and repetitive, the
voice acting (although not the worst) is comical.
- Outrun (Genesis): Like Super Mario Bros, Outrun's
soundtrack is short and sweet. Most racing games abuse the player's
eardrums with abrasive metal or techno tracks that drive them insane
after 10 minutes. Outrun opts for a more laid back tone with music
that doesn't get old after a few loops.
- Monkey Island (PC, Sega CD): The music creates a nice
tropical atmosphere. It's not spectacular but gets the job done.
- Snatcher (Sega CD): The soundtrack to Snatcher
communicates the emotion of the game even better than it's famous
graphics. It's powerful and even moving at times.
- Every game in the Ys or Final Fantasy Series: It's also
stating the obvious to say these two series are famous for their
soundtracks. Even on the NES, Master System, and Game Boy these
manage impressive musical scores.
Yeah, this is ranked last. Graphics have always been the least important
factor in deciding the quality of a game to me. I know I'm in the minority
on this. They are tons and tons of games that look spectacular but are
horrible. The first (and only) time I played Half-Life I thought it was
best looking game I'd ever seen. After 30 minutes of running around a lab with
nothing happening I quit and never tried it again.
Like the sound category, graphics are rated based on how they establish the
tone of the game. Nintendo didn't need 3D-acceleratored polygons to make
Super Mario Bros look great. The colors, animation, and scenery were simple
yet perfect at the same time.
Hardware capabilities are also factored into this. A game on a pre-NES system can
have relatively great graphics if they're used correctly. Practically every
game made on post-NES systems has higher color depth and resolution than
Super Mario Bros. That doesn't translate to better graphics though. There's
no shortage of ugly games on newer systems.
- Doom 64 (Nintendo 64): If you played this game in an underground
bunker with no artificial lighting, and max-ed out the contrast on the
TV, you might possibly be able to see this
- Every full motion video game made for the Sega and TurboGrafx-16 CD
Nothing like grainy, bland colored, video to ruin an otherwise decent
game. Well, most FMV games are abysmal but the ones with a good
premise would have been better served by scrapping the cinematography.
- AD&D Cloudy Mountain (Intellivision): This game gets the
most it can out of stick figures and 8 simultaneous colors. At the
time, the animation was well above average. The overworld map is
impressive and one of the finest graphic displays of the era.
- Gauntlet (Arcade): Overall nice looking graphics in Gauntlet.
The sprites look nice but aren't mind-blowing. The dungeon colors
and tiles are very fitting as well.
- Zelda Wind Waker (Gamecube): Duh. OK, I guess some people
hate the cell-shaded Link but I whole-heartedly disagree. Everything
in this game looks unbelievable, the oceans, islands, towns, and
characters are all gorgeous.
- Super Mario RPG (Super Nintendo): What the hell, let's wrap
things up with a Mario game. I'm a sucker for 3/4 perspective RPGs
like Mario RPG, Shadowrun (SNES), or Chrono
Cross. Anyway, the graphics in Super Mario RPG are superb. The
sprites are detailed with flawless animation. The backgrounds and
villages create a living, breathing version of the Mushroom Kingdom
for your exploring pleasure.