||New Super Mario Brothers
Company: The Royal Ballet
Music: Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky
Format: Nintendo DS
Choreography & libretto: John Cranko
Last week was full of great artistic experiences, but none so sublime as
these two masterpieces, which I was lucky enough to witness and
complete, respectively, in the last few days. For reasons that I'm sure
need no explanation, I've opted to review them side-by-side in a single
Pushkin's original novel, seen here in the English translation.
The story of Onegin derives from a Russian novel-in-verse, Eugene
Onegin written by Aleksandr Pushkin over the period from 1823 to 1837.
It was considered a classic of Russian literature, well-loved enough to
be quoted from memory by most Russians. Forty years later, Tchaikovsky
and Konstantin Shilovsky created the music and libretto respectively for
an operatic version of the same tale. This opera was then choreographed
as a ballet by Cranko in 1965, and it is Stolze's 2007 arrangement of
this that is now playing at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent
Super Mario Bros. on the NES
New Super Mario Bros, similarly, represents the culmination of a
venerated franchise. The character of Mario first appeared as a nameless
16x16 pixel carpenter in the vintage arcade hit Donkey Kong (1981),
and was then retooled as a plumber and christened for Mario Bros.
(1983). The core gameplay mechanics of the Mushroom Kingdom were not
formulated until Super Mario Bros. (1985), but have formed backbone to
the series ever since. Mario has adapted nimbly to several new
generations of home consoles and handhelds, but the most significant
technical evolution came with Super Mario 64 (1996), which made a
superlative triumph out of the difficult transition to 3D, one that
continues to stymie many of his
even to this day. Meanwhile, Mario continues to form the iconic mainstay
character in what is generally recognised as the most successful, and
certainly the most influential, videogame series of all time.
Flawlessly timed triple jumps result in extra height.
Like so many other DS outings, New Super Mario Bros. is very much a
return to form for the champion platformer. It makes solid, competent
use of the DS's dual screens and touch-sensitive technology, and brings
together the highlights of its distinguished lineage: peerless standards
of level design; an endearing levity; crisp, unambiguous graphics; a
roster of nostalgically well-known characters with their various
abilities and affiliations, and of course the pixel-perfect precision of
control that is the very embodiment of Mario. On top of the traditional
2D Mario mechanics, Nintendo have applied their usual expertise,
seamlessly incorporating moves from Super Mario 64 et al, enriching
and polishing the control scheme, while never complicating it.
Wall-jumps, a ground-pound, and a triple-jump, complete with a couple of
cheerily superficial somersaults. Never has a controller been so
unintimidatingly overloaded with kinetic potential - latent at at first,
but blossoming by the third act, when Tatiana, now grown into a charming
and sophisticated woman, introduces her husband, Prince Gremin.
Both works have in common the attempt to convey a narrative without the
aid of verbiage, with significant difficulties encountered in each case.
Dumb, as in mime.
Ballet suffers from an inexpressiveness in this regard, insomuch as the
tools at the dancer's disposal are not capable of depicting much in the
way of nuanced or fine-grained detail outside of particular,
well-trodden areas. Characters may meet, part, or die, and express all
manner of elation or sorrow as they go about it, but there are only a
limited number of stories that can be told from such components. It is
difficult to imagine, say, a political thriller, or even something as
familiar and staid as a murder mystery being told without resorting to
Spandau ballet. Because of this, the medium as a whole seems to have
become something of a creative cul-de-sac, preoccupied with retelling
the same formulaic stories over and over again - and even these are
considered to be in need of supplementing with a written synopsis in the
Disrupting the narrative direction.
Similarly, videogames revolve around the participation of the player,
who thus has the means to disrupt any narrative direction or pacing
anticipated by the game designer. Whatever story can be told, must
perforce be introduced either by the forced insertion of jarringly
ungamelike exposition, during which the player is frustratingly robbed
of any real input, or else must be told using the limited demonstrative
repertoire of in-game action. New Super Mario Bros. sidesteps these
difficulties by eschewing all but the most perfunctory storyline, aside
from a grown-up nod to the sordid realities behind Bowser's recurrent
princess kidnapping, hinted at by Bowser Jr. labouring under the
impression than Princess Peach may be his mother.
Despite their weaknesses, each of these works represents a good, solid
entry in representing the best that the mainstream of their respective
fields have to offer. Two marvellous, vigorous and thoroughly enjoyable
New Super Mario Bros.