I spent a great deal of time this weekend playing through RMN Bros. 2, the sequel to the ill-conceived Super RMN Bros. It is very very bad, and you should not play it. It’s not worth the $0.00 you would spend.
I tried to get involved in this project early on as a kind of Jiminy Cricket. My LP of the first RMN Bros. got the RMN guys to make a lot of noise about how they wanted the sequel to be bigger, better and more playable. At the time the TT guys were putting together their Mario game by way of an intense and often heated peer-review process. I thought for sure the RMN guys, who already had set “make Brickroad happy” as one of their design goals, would be receptive to me stepping in and offering the same cycle of criticism and feedback that was already working at another forum.
I guess I should have known better.
I got through to a few of them. Some of the guys really did go back and try to fix their levels, and others really did try to pick apart the levels of others. A few levels were improved. For the most part, though, criticism was met with resistance and/or hotility. The general consensus was these are our levels dammit and if you didn’t like it, you could just take a hike.
So I bailed on RMN Bros. 2 and focused my energy on TT Bros. instead. This was months and months ago.
Yesterday I signed into RMN and told them they had made shit. That prompted responses along the lines of “why not tell us why it’s shit, then?”, as though I had never been there in the first place trying to help them fix things.
And that’s the double-edged sword here. I can’t just say “it’s shit!” because that sounds dismissive, and it is. They can safely ignore that kind of feedback. But I can’t go through and do a point-by-point breakdown of the game either, because that would take forever. I don’t have the time or energy for that, even if I were at all convinced that just maybe this time they would magically listen.
So I’m doing the next best thing: I’m warning everyone else. Stay away from RMN Bros. 2. Do not play it. Here, offered with only mild commentary, are a few screenshots I grabbed showing off the utterly anemic sense of game design that went into this project.
These shots are not cherry-picked. They are absolutely representative of the entire game as a whole. Virtually every single level exhibits these kinds of errors.
Here’s a mushroom house. These are strewn around the overworld map. The toad inside gives Mario a helpful tip about playing the game, then leaves him a power-up. Note how the toad is standing on a ledge just barely too tall for Mario to jump to. There is just barely enough room in the toad house to get enough speed and make it on top of the block. Accomplishing this task always took me several tries.
Here’s a mid-stage checkpoint sitting on top of destructable blocks in an area of a stage that spawns bob-ombs. Also note: the tunnel is so narrow that if a bob-omb were to break more than a couple blocks there would be no way to jump over the gap.
Here’s a level with a green, grassy slide. The slide has some goombas on it, captured here in hilarious mid-death. Every Mario player knows what to do in this situation: slide down the hill and kill the goombas! Except if you do that, you ramp off the edge of the slide, sail over the springboard, and land right in the pit. The only way to safely hit the springboard is to jump over the slide or the goombas — thereby eliminating the point of having it there in the first place.
Here’s an elevator you have to ride up through a spike-lined shaft. You may remember this scene from I Wanna Be The Guy. The difference is, in IWBTG you only have to dodge three or four spikes in a row before reaching a checkpoint. Here, you have to dodge about twelve in a row.
It looks like I’m carrying a huge shell here, but I’m not. That’s Ludwig, a boss monster that rapidly launches fireballs and zips around the room. He’s usually not that hard to kill because the room he appears in tends to be a full screen long. Here, you have to fight him in a cramped space with some blue ?-blocks. If you hit one of the blocks, the spiked wall chases you and Ludwig into the quicksand. Essentially an insta-death.
Here are some thwomps in a vertically-panning level. Climbing this staircase, it’s impossible to see the off-screen thwomps until you’ve already landed on a platform and one has dropped on top of you.
Here’s a “tell, not show” tutorial about how to break blocks with turtle shells — in World 7.
Here’s a rather clever level! The Birdo fires egg platforms which you have to catch a ride on in order to cross the long watery pit below. Can you guess what happens if you reach this part of the stage and then kill Birdo with the provided mushroom blocks?
Finally, here’s the broken-ass bouncy level I tried desperately to fix during the early days of the project.
I will provide an in-depth analysis on that last level, because I’ve already done so once, and because it illustrates so clearly why the RMN mindset will never produce a quality game. The idea for this level is sound: it’s entirely coated in bouncy blocks. It’s full of bouncing goombas, sawblades, piranha plants and bullet bills. And it auto-scrolls, so you can’t complete it too quickly or too slowly. There is a truly wonderful stage in here somewhere. There is definitely a place for a level like this in any Mario game you care to name. The author just didn’t get it right on his first try.
The stage is very, very long. It uses this music, and if you go through the whole level avoiding P-switches you will hear it loop through three or four times. The stage is at least four times as long as it probably needs to be, which is a problem for two reasons: first, the gimmick isn’t fun enough to sustain that long of a stage. The player will be done bouncing long before the level is over. And second, because the level autoscrolls, if the player gets to the 80% mark and then dies, he has to play the first 80% all over again.
My solution, during development, was to add a checkpoint halfway through the level. Unfortunately there are technical reasons why the level editor couldn’t do that. Trying to think of other ways to fix the level, a few easy solutions sprang to mind:
- It could be shortened.
- It could be set to not scroll automatically.
- It could be split into two distinct levels.
- It could be made easier, by shortening gaps and removing some enemies.
I should point out that all three of these ideas were things that actually happened in levels over at Talking Time. I know for a fact they could have worked to fix this bouncy RMN level.
But the author was simply not hearing it. He became so discouraged that he decided to just pull the level entirely from the project, since obviously it sucked and wasn’t worth playing. But that’s not what I was saying! I wanted it fixed, not destroyed. In his mind, though, there were only two options: the original, un-altered level which perfectly reflected his vision, or no level at all.
Of course, after I shied away from the project and there was no one around to tell the guy how broken his level was, he plugged it back in. The version in the final product is the original, first draft, un-edited and un-altered version that existed back in the first few days of the project’s development.
Why is TT Bros. awesome? The TT guys are not smarter than the RMN guys. They are not professional game designers. They are not more talented. I’m not even convinced most of them think about game design at all, except on the very superficial level of “am I enjoying this?” And there were certainly a lot of TT guys who felt like their personal vision was more important than whether or not the player was having fun.
The difference between the two groups is that one adopted a process by which levels were rigorously playtested, reviewed and criticized. They were willing to make changes. Sometimes desperate, sweeping changes. A few of them had to abandon their ideas entirely when it was shown they couldn’t work, or at least couldn’t work in the current state of the editor. There were hurt feelings. There were shouting matches. Levels, or sections of levels, were re-made and re-done.
If you scroll down through the TT Bros. Wiki, you will see an archive of all the levels at various stages of development. Some were sent back to the drawing board as many as seven times.
Is it any wonder their game was so much better than RMN’s?