Grass grows, sun shines, and Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser.
I always felt it was sort of ironic whenever a Mario fangame would show up at the Sonic Amateur Games Expo. I know SAGE promotes the ability to have games of any type (not just Sonic games), and I think even during my reign as SAGE coordinator I approved at least one Mario fangame. And… okay, I guess after Sonic appeared in Brawl and stood beside Mario for the Olympic games, it shouldn’t be that ironic.
Regardless, Super Mario Kingdoms is the work of Nitemare. Nitemare, for those of you not playing along at home, was part of the Sonic XG (now Retro Sonic XG) team. As real life chips away at the free time of the other members on the Sonic XG staff, that leaves poor Nitemare off doing his own thing for the time being – hence, Super Mario Kingdoms. The demo provides you with three levels of one world to stomp goombas in.
What follows is typical Mario fare – sort of. Nitemare was up-front about his limited experience with the Mario franchise – as a result, Kingdoms is based more on memories he has of playing the older Mario games with a bit of guesswork regarding how the franchise functions in the modern era. It shows, too – while Mario already had enough hangtime in his jumps to make Michael Jordon weep, in Kingdoms, you’ll actually be a little bit worried that Mario might break in to orbit he leaps so high. This can, in some cases, make platforming feel rather frustrating (especially given the fact not only can Mario jump high, but the gravity feels very heavy to compensate). Sound effects, too, are missing a certain… Mario-like quality about them; the crisp shatter of brick is replaced by a thud, and familiar sounds for hopping on a Koopa Troopa’s head is also missing in action. These aren’t deal breakers, but the iconic sounds of a Mario game are iconic for a reason. Even the Fire Flower, Mario’s mainstay power-up, functions quite differently: It is now bound to its own separate button, travels at a much longer arc, and destroys any bricks it comes in contact with.
In a way, some of that works in the game’s favor; it ends up feeling different from most Mario fangames I’ve played, as its a different perspective on the legendary franchise. The creativity extends to the game’s level design, where we get a number of great elements like Mario having to navigate brick platforms as, one-by-one, they crumble under his feet – or a section in the Ghost House level where Mario hops back and forth between the foreground and the background in order to escape (not unlike WarioLand VB for the Virtual Boy).
In the end, Kingdoms ends up feeling like a mish-mash of good and not-so-good ideas; whats here is kind of entertaining, but certain aspects of it need some work. I’m not suggesting Nitemare go out, play all the Mario games and try to copy them verbatim, but at the very least, another coat of polish on the controls wouldn’t hurt things.