Paper Mario Talks — Why Pre-Hooktail Pit is the Perfect Challenge

There are many, many challenges in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door — Level Zero, No Jump No Hammer, Single Partner, BP Only, Double Damage, etc… but one among them all stands the test of time, for me, as the best TTYD challenge out there. That challenge…is Pre-Hooktail Pit.

A Pre-Hooktail Pit run is a run where the player completes the Pit of 100 Trials before completing Chapter 1, which is done by defeating Hooktail. Back in the old challenge running days, this was considered one of the top challenges. Today, I consider it to be one of the “gatekeeper” challenges, a challenge that breaks you into the higher tier of Paper Mario players. Despite my labeling it as a “gatekeeper” challenge, I think it’s the perfect challenge for upcoming challenge runners and veterans alike. Here’s why:

1) It tests everything

Remember my first blog post for Paper Mario Talks? I talked about the 4 skills of a challenge runner. Well, this challenge tests every single one of them and does so in an amazing way. You need to manage peril’d partners, choose the right badges/items for the job, work with on-the-fly RNG, and figure out strategies for all the various enemy loadouts you’ll encounter. Sometimes, you’ll be put in a tight spot and need to superguard and guard well or execute good Power Bounces, Multibonks, and Sweet Treats. Seriously, no other challenge tests everything at the same time so much.

What separates this from a challenge like Level Zero is it also tests your endurance. In full-game runs, you have the luxury of saving and quitting, only doing bite-sized chunks of the challenge. Pre-Hooktail Pit (and other Pit of 100 Trials challenges in general) provide no such luxury. You have to go through the whole thing, including Bonetail, before it is truly complete. And while I don’t consider endurance a particular skill of a Paper Mario challenge runner, it certainly is a skill that any player can benefit from. If you get too tired, you can start committing silly mistakes that can cost you a run.

2) It’s modular

Pre-Hooktail Pit is only the base form of its type of challenge. One can also choose to up the difficulty by including extra restrictions such as 10 HP (Mario cannot increase his HP above 10 in any way) or No Mega Rush P (cannot equip the badge Mega Rush P). You can also combine the two to create a devilishly difficult 10 HP No Mega Rush P restriction. All three of these add to the difficulty, but don’t take away too much from what it’s testing of the player. They all require a little more superguarding, but other than that they function mostly the same, and so provide a good stepping stone of challenges to attempt as you improve as a player. This is what allows newer challenge runners and veterans to continue performing this challenge.

What’s more, speedrunning the base form of the challenge is somewhat popular, and tests the player in a completely different way since you don’t have time to loaf around and prepare – you need to think on your metaphorical feet much faster than someone going through a normal Pre-Hooktail Pit run, who has all the time in the world to figure out a solution. While it’s a little too RNG-heavy to be a completely legitimate speedrun, it is a cool and interesting take on the challenge.

Now, other full-game challenges are also modular (it’s a nice thing about TTYD’s challenges – many are modular), but I particularly like the increase in difficulty the different restrictions of Pre-Hooktail Pit provide without sacrificing something. Many of the “step ups”, so to speak, of full game challenges omit or heavily downplay something crucial in terms of skills being used.

3) There are multiple ways to complete it

While most players follow a general rough guideline on stats, badges, and items to bring, the challenge itself can be completed in a myriad of ways. Some players will choose Heart Finder or Item Hog, Quick Change or Power Plus, Pretty Lucky or Close Call, etc… some decide to upgrade Goombella, others decide to upgrade Koops (or both!). Some will bring Life Shrooms, others will bring Courage Shells, Fire Flowers, POW Blocks, Mushrooms… in short, there’s a lot of variety depending on the player’s preference, and it changes how the run is tackled. While some strategies are definitely better than others, there are enough viable strategies to keep the run fresh and exciting for new players looking to enter challenge running and for veterans to try new things when doing the run.

Again, lots of full game runs offer this same level of variety, but I think an important distinction to make here is that many strategies will be developed on-the-fly that will vary. While you have time to prepare in a Pre-Hooktail Pit run, you have to work around your preparations in case something goes wrong. When you’re really only fighting bosses, you can prepare very well and not have to worry about something going wrong impacting your strategy too much.

And, well…that’s really all I have to say on the subject. I do want to say that most challenges, full game and Pre-Hooktail Pit, are very good, barring a select few I don’t think test all the skills I’d want it to. but if you ever want to get into the next tier of Paper Mario players, Pre-Hooktail Pit is a perfect place to start. There is no better challenge run. Give it a try!

Just Sayin’

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Salt (and why it can be good for you)

Salty (Adjective) – To be (usually to a somewhat high degree) angry when losing. Generally used in competitive gaming.

I get angry when I lose in competitions.

Like, really angry.

I just want to punch whomever beat me in the face for outplaying me and taking advantage of things I did wrong. Why couldn’t I have done that instead? I should be the one advancing to the next round, I know I’m better than this. I want to rematch them right then and there to prove it. I want to beat whomever just beat me so badly.

And yet, here I am, writing about how it feels like my opponent chained me to a 300lb weight when I lose, and I’m unable to lift it. It’s incredibly frustrating.

How do people take losses so cleanly? I really don’t understand it. I can’t smile after I lose.

I’ve literally spent hours of my time looking up how to take losses better. I thought it was a problem that I couldn’t take my losses cleanly – that I wasn’t learning from them like the best players do.

Then it hit me earlier today while thinking of something to write about for today’s blog post; being angry about a loss is fine. I can be angry that I lost a match, as long as that anger can force me to look at the match and learn from it in a healthy way. Basically, channeling your anger into something useful so you don’t just sit there yelling at yourself on the inside.

Being angry can actually be an incredible motivator for improvement, but there’s a lot of stigma to being angry which prevents it from being used. “Going on Tilt” is to get angry and start playing at a sub par level, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re just getting angry and that’s it, of course you’re going to start playing worse. I think the problem is that people have a really negative impression about anger in competition, when I think it might be a great way to psyche yourself up and continue to play at your best. When I lose a stock in Super Smash Bros., I get angry. Did I really just let myself lose a stock? It’s not happening again. I’ll nod that my opponent made a good play, even tell him it was a good play, but I’m still angry that I’m one step closer to losing. That doesn’t make me play worse – I play better, harder. I don’t want to lose, because I loathe losing.

I think the reason people go “on Tilt” when they’re angry is because they realize they’re angry and don’t want to be, which affects them more than they may realize. I say be furious, but be in control of what you’re doing and feeling (mainly because if I were actually furious all the time I’d probably have a heart attack or something). Don’t just be angry – channel that emotion to have a purpose. You don’t want to just sit there and be angry and then play your next match. While it seems weird, it’s entirely possible to feel angry and motivated at the same time, and that’s the good kind of anger.

You can say good games at the end, admit your opponent played better than you, and be a good sport. But that doesn’t mean you’re not seething inside and are itching to beat them next time so you can pop off and say you’ve gotten better.

Just Sayin’

Was E3 2012 as horrible as it was made out to be?

E3, one of the big gaming events of the year, was last week, and although I had finals, I did take some time to explore E3 and what it had to offer. As I perused, I noticed that almost everyone held the same opinion about the event as a whole – that it sucked. And I found myself disagreeing. Ultimately, I think it’s because too many gamers aren’t critically thinking about what decisions each company has to make and because they were expecting big surprises, but I digress; let’s dive into the big three conferences, first:

Microsoft:

This was the worst conference according to popular opinion, and I do agree that Microsoft’s was under the bar. There was a lot of ‘apps’ being shown and not a lot of games – of course, there was Halo 4, Gears of War, and the like, but this is a problem that every company had – a lot of their games shown were of franchises that have been out for years. In short, they’re safe bets, but I’ll talk about why I don’t think this is that bad later. Besides that, Smart Glass looks cool – if they can pull something off with it next year I’ll be impressed.

It seems to me that Microsoft is trying its arrest to be that one system that every family wants to have – a true entertainment hub. Honestly, I think it’ll do fine – great, even – if it gets there. I think anyone can see why they’re trying to go for the ‘entertainment hub’ angle. If they beat Sony to the punch, they’ll pull out ahead.

Sony:

Sony’s was definitely better – a new God of War, Tomb Raider, Beyond, and The Last of Us all looked solid, and as you can see, a mix of some newer games. There was a lot about the Vita and ‘apps’, though, which disappointed a lot of people, but like Microsoft, Sony is trying to be a hub of entertainment for people. Sony’s style usually is, “take something and make it better,” so when you look at how Sony has developed, it’s easy to see why they’re trying to bring out new material to show that they can make better ‘apps’ than Microsoft and Nintendo. And they still had some great-looking games thrown in. The Wonderbook is a huge source of anger for gamers, but I found this to be fascinating. I realize that many hardcore gamers think this is trash, but look at the possibilities! Now, Sony has a way to compete with Nintendo for younger ages. In a market where Nintendo generally dominates the younger market thanks to kid-friendly characters like Mario and Kirby, parents may now decide to purchase a Playstation and Wonderbook instead.

It has to be good, so I’m not really sold, but it has a lot of potential.

Nintendo:

Because Nintendo is more of a first-party developer than a third-party one like Microsoft and Sony, it had a lot more on the line when it came to their franchises. What’s more, it had 3 conferences to cover everything it wanted to. I only saw the press conference and 3DS Showcase, so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

The press conference, I thought, was just as good as Sony’s. The Wii U looks awesome, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. What really jumped at me was Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Pikmin 3, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, and ZombiU. All of them look awesome, and because I am a huge fan of Nintendo, I do intend to purchase all of those games. The Super Mario’s looked good, and Nintendo Land looked interesting and fun. One of my problems with the conference was how long they took to explain one mini-game in Nintendo Land. It was really stupid. Besides that, Nintendo’s press conference, I thought, was good.

Their 3DS showcase was, for me, AWESOME. I got to finally see some real Paper Mario: Sticker Star gameplay, which I’ve been wanting for a long time, and hearing the New Super Mario Bros. 2 is co-op was a pleasant surprise. The new Castlevania game coming to 3DS looked nice, and they showed Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance with better trailers than ones I had seen before. The new Epic Mickey I did not care for, and it didn’t look very good to me.

——

All in all, I enjoyed all three conferences, which many people I talked to were surprised to hear. Many wanted something new and big. They wanted a huge surprise like Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs (which does look sick!) but instead got games that were, as I said before, safe bets. But that isn’t bad. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all laid their new cards (Wii U, Smart Glass, Wonderbook) on the table, and to complement that they laid out games that will, more or less, sell well. This allows them to work on new games and hopefully have some big surprises next year.

The 3DS showcase garnered a lot of disappointment because it only showed games we had already heard of and games releasing this year, and this is not just Nintendo – all three companies were getting complaints about this. To that, I ask – why would they show you something that’s going to be released next year? Wouldn’t that be something for another event like the Tokyo Game Show? Maybe next year’s E3? It just didn’t make sense to me.

While I was watching the 3DS showcase, all the comments were, “Where’s the new Animal Crossing/Zelda/Fire Emblem?!” Hey, guys, ever thought about them coming out next year? Why get gameplay for something that’s not going to come out for another year or two? That’s a stupid thing to do, in my opinion.

Just wait until next year’s E3 – that’s when I think all the surprises are coming. For now, I’ll be content with my Super Mario’s and Paper Mario‘s and ZombiU.

Just Sayin’.

P.S.: I would comment on the booths, but I wasn’t there. I heard all of them had way more games than showcased during the presentations, so that’s good to hear!

The Battle Subway (and why its rules should be changed)

After making my Pokémon Black team for ACen and not using it, I decided to do the next best thing: enter it into the Battle Subway, which I apparently had not ever done except with friends. This is because I abhor the Battle Frontier/Subway for a few reasons: you can only use 3 Pokémon in singles and 4 Pokémon in doubles, the Species Clause is in effect, and  the Item Clause is in effect. For those not familiar with the terms, they’re term used in competitive Pokémon; Item Clause prevents any two Pokémon from holding the same item, Species Clause prevents the same type of Pokémon (two Pikachu, for example) from being entered, and all Pokémon are set to level 50.

I think those four limits should be lifted in light of teams of x (where x can be 1-6 in singles and 2-6 in doubles) number of Pokémon being entered, no Item Clause and Species Clause in effect, and Pokémon are the level of the highest of your team. Why? I think it would make the Battle Subway more accessible and more fun to partake in, plus it gears itself toward competitive players, which the games have slowly been aiming towards since Generation 3 (Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald) with the introduction of the Battle Frontier in Emerald.

The limit on Pokémon being removed and replaced with a system where your opponent’s number of Pokémon equal yours would be an awesome idea – who wouldn’t want to take their prized Pokémon and see how far they last in singles, or take their favorite team and see how far they last in doubles? Battles would be quick and fast, where on the flip side going for higher numbers of Pokémon means the battles would be slower, but you get to use your whole team, which, in my mind, is way more rewarding to win with a limited number of your team, especially if you’re a competitive player and your team needs its other teammates to perform well. And if your team is 3 Pokémon, then more power to you – go and use those three in the Battle Subway. I would very much prefer to use my team of six.

I lost to a Dragonite the 30th battle of the Super Single Train because it 2 Hit KO’d (2HKO’d) my Slowbro, One Hit KO’d (OHKO’d) my Blissey, and then OHKO’d my Espeon with Outrage. If I had my Hippowdon and Aron/Sigilyph on my team, I could’ve easily dealt with Dragonite either with Hippowdon or Aron/Sigilyph, and it’s frustrating that I know my team would be able to take him and lose because I was limited to 3 Pokémon. Once I lost, I tried again and went up against a Mixed Sweeping Poliwrath whom I couldn’t take down after 3 Work Ups because I had no fast, hard-hitting Pokémon (I had chosen Slowbro, Blissey, and Tyranitar). I was swept by him, knowing I could’ve beaten him with Espeon or Aron/Sigilyph. It’s worse that I couldn’t put Leftovers on my Slowbro, so let’s talk about the Item Clause.

Let me put this out there – I HATE the Item Clause. Whoever thought of the Item Clause is dumb, because they probably thought people were going to use 6 Bright Powder or Leftovers, and while I understand Bright Powder, in competitive play an item like Bright Powder and moves like Double Team are banned, but that’s not the point; the point is that Bright Powder and Leftovers aren’t that good. You can’t just slap Bright Powder or Leftovers on a Pokémon and they suddenly become godlike. Yeah, you’ll miss a couple more moves against a Pokémon with Bright Powder, but that shouldn’t warrant the Item Clause, because I think anyone who slaps 6 Bright Powder onto their team is bad and will probably lose within the 20th battle anyway. A more stylized and thought-out item spread will do better. It should be any Pokémon can use any item they want, and if it happens to be 6 Leftovers or 6 Bright Powder, then so be it!

And for those who would argue that the Item Clause “forces you to be creative with items”, it also forces you to lose because some Pokémon work well with a certain item, and another may also work well with that item, and when two of your team uses the same item and the rest use different ones, I would hardly call that being uncreative. It’s a stupid rule and I don’t think it should even exist within any kind of battling in the games or in competitive play.

Speaking of Clauses, let’s talk about the Species Clause. I don’t know why the Species Clause is in effect, but I know I’d love to go into the Battle Subway with 6 Pikachu and see how far I get! That’d be fun to try, but I’ll never get to because the Species Clause is in effect. I also have a fun team that I call “The Ice Cream Team”, which is composed of Abomasnow, Heatran, and 4 Vanilluxe. It’s a really fun team to play with even though it’s really bad, but I bet I could make it to at least 40 battles in Super Singles. This isn’t really that big of a deal to me, but I’d definitely be playing Pokémon more if I could do this on the Battle Subway. It’d be fun to do! Most competitive scenes have the Species Clause in effect anyway, I’d just like to try out my fun teams sometimes and a Battle Subway without the SPecies Clause would allow me to do that.

The last thing I think needs to be changed are the forced levels. No matter what, all Pokémon are forced to be at level 50. I understand the logic behind this – there shouldn’t be any Pokémon at a different level because it would provide a disadvantage to the player. For those, like me, who use weird strategies (I use a level 1 Aron), however, I need that level cap to be gone, so there should be three options – one where every Pokémon is set to 50, one where every Pokémon is set to 100, or one where the level of the opponent’s Pokémon is that of the highest-leveled Pokémon on your team (so if your highest is 85, every Pokémon on the opponent’s team would be 85, and your Pokémon would all be at their respective levels, whatever they may be). This allows for level 50 play, level 100 play, and play where someone (like me) who uses a weird strategy that employs low-level Pokémon can utilize that strategy.

The Battle Subway is actually pretty limited in terms of what you can do with your teams when playing. If these four limitations were lifted then I think a lot more players would find themselves enjoying the Battle Subway more. It’d be more competitive, more fun, and I know I’d find myself coming back again and again to play it.

As a side note, the Infrared battles should also have those three level options, too, because it also sets every Pokémon to 50.

Just sayin’.

Why Super Mario 3D Land has the perfect difficulty scale


My girlfriend recently started playing Super Mario Advance 4, and as I watched her play I noticed something – she was having a much harder time playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (which is what Super Mario Advance 4 contains) than Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL), a game I had suggested to her a while back. I began to wonder to myself why she was having such a hard time with Super Mario Bros. 3, when a thought came to me – Super Mario Bros. 3 has a high learning curve.

To the gamers out there who played the Super Mario Bros. franchise, this may seem a little off. I myself remember Super Mario Bros. 3 to be extremely easy – maybe a little long for my younger self, but definitely not difficult, and when I played it as Super Mario Advance 4 it was even easier. So why, I thought to myself, did Super Mario Bros. 3 have a high learning curve?

I thought back to Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL). She had almost no experience playing, yet has been able to make it to World 5, and I realized why she’s been doing well: SM3DL has the perfect difficulty scale.

Let me explain. If you die 5 times on a single level in SM3DL, you are given a Tanooki Suit with infinite invincibility. This is for those who are having trouble dealing with the enemies and natural hazards in the game. Now, if you die 10 times on a single level, then you’re given a P Wing (I didn’t know this existed until she played the game), which takes you to the end of the level, no questions asked. This includes boss levels, and this can help alleviate a level that requires platforming that is too great for the player.

The Invincible Tanooki Suit

Mario in the invincible tanooki suit.

This may seem like a cop-out, but keep reading. At a certain point, levels start becoming blocked off unless you have a certain number of special coins. You can collect 3 special coins per level, and you must collect them without dying to obtain them.

When I was playing, I thought to myself, “this is stupid. Why would they impose these limits on players? It’s busy work.” But as I watched my girlfriend play, it dawned on me – they’re to stop the really bad players from breezing through the game with the super-powerful items. They’re forced to go through those levels that they may have used the P Wing for and get those coins, otherwise they won’t be able to progress at all, and hopefully, by the time they’re forced to collect those coins, they’ve improved to the point where they use those items a little less. It forces improvement while still allowing them to progress slowly so they don’t stop playing in frustration.

And for players like myself, the coins serve as a way to increase the difficulty. The game was easy, but collecting the coins in every level was difficult, and doing the same thing in the Special Worlds made it that much more difficult, so the game gave a satisfying sense of challenge, so besides catering to the casuals, it caters to the hardcore, creating the perfect difficulty scale. It can be as difficult as you, the player, make it to be.

Just sayin’.