Sunday, September 10, 2023

Top Five Mall Levels in Video Games

No, don't be confused about your whereabouts. You are HERE. That is to say you've arrived at a brand-new article on SuperPhillip Central in 2023--the first of 2023, at that! You might expect some colossal comeback of an article with a huge game review or super special editorial, right? Well, instead with the closing out of summer comes a place that's somewhat of a relic nowadays, but one that stood as a great place to waste time and beat the heat simultaneously. Though still present in many places in the world, the mall is nowhere near as popular or prevalent in today's culture.

Still, I have a soft spot for malls, as I was alive and active at the highest of their cultural zeitgeist. My dad used to take me to a mall in our city that was home to one of the coolest arcades around, and many quarters were wasted playing games like The Simpsons Arcade Game, Mortal Kombat, and--well, let's just use this as a segue into the first game featuring a fun mall level within the gaming sphere!

5) Mall Meltdown - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (Multi)

Yes, to me, arcades in the 80s and early 90s were simply synonymous with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as that was THE main reason I wanted to go to the mall in the first place. Having a group of four rowdy kids and/or teens huddled around the '89 arcade game or better yet, Turtles in Time, was quite the common occurrence at least at American arcades. 

At any rate, our first level of this top five list celebrating mall levels in video games cycles us back to the heroes in a half shell. We've come full circle. Mall Meltdown is the sixth stage of the TMNT's latest arcade romp (and let it be known, now my absolute favorite beat-em-up) Shredder's Revenge. It begins outside of the mall in a back alley, as the turtles bash and beat their way through a side entrance, into the food court where Foot Soldiers humorously work behind the counter, and up into the second and third floors via escalators. 

The second floor is home to numerous shops, enemies to battle, Foot Soldiers and robots to stomp out, and plenty of clothes racks to knock over and vandalize. Take THAT, consumerism!! Regardless, it's the third floor where the real action happens, featuring the arcade itself. (Hence my "we've come full circle" comment earlier.) Inside are various games, but the granddaddy of them all--or should I say, grandmommy, is that of Tempestra's. Not only does her machine summon her virtual spirit as the primary boss of the stage (as well as digital copies of Tokka and Rahzar who debuted in the TMNT II: Secret of the Ooze movie) but also houses a part of Krang for the Foot to reassemble. 

All told, Mall Meltdown is a cartoony, colorful, and delightful take on a mall. It really encapsulates 90s vibes, which is perfect considering the time frame that the developers of Shredder's Revenge were most likely aiming for.

4) Mall - Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Multi)

Unlike the standard open sandbox-style--for lack of a better term--take on the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater level formula, THPS 1's Mall marks the first appearance of a Downhill Jam-style level. That's to say, it's a point-to-point level where you start at the top and work your skater's way to the bottom where the goal is, all the while ollieing, tricking, grinding, and vaulting your path through the abandoned mall. 

There are some insane lines that are possible in this mall, including the albeit immensely unlikely capability to start a trick at the start of the level, the parking garage, and carry it to the very bottom of the level, the mall's exit. Between those destinations are ample trick opportunities, goals to complete (such as smashing mall directories and finding the secret tape hanging over a courtyard), and hidden areas to venture. 

This mall may be abandoned of people, but it's certainly not vacant of places to skate the snot out of and have a totally terrific time doing in the process. The remake of the mall in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 is even more impressive, and this time around, you don't end your run upon exiting the mall. Instead, you're warped back to the start of the level to continue your skateboarding shenanigans. 

3) Alivel Mall - Kirby and the Forgotten Land (NSW)

Kirby and the Forgotten Land was one of my favorite games released last year, and a part of that is the creative and incredible levels that HAL's developers and designers crafted. Like Pikmin 4 released this year, Kirby and the Forgotten Land delved into a world largely (see: completely) left behind my humanity. Only their now-decrepit creations live on, including an early building within Kirby's first fully 3D adventure, that of Alivel Mall.

Alivel Mall greets you with an absolute banger of a tune, first of all, before throwing you and our pink puffball protagonist through the wringer of obstacles and hazards to push and persevere through. Of course, like any mall, there are plenty of sights to see, such as stores, hidden rooms, a food court containing a puzzle that only the most observant will solve correctly. Meanwhile, Kirby can find and secure (read: gobble down) a quintet of delicious doughnuts, battle baddies of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and pass through Alivel Mall with his pink puffiness intact. 

2) Coconut Mall - Mario Kart Series (Wii, 3DS, NSW)

Coconut Mall originally debuted as a new track within Mario Kart Wii. It has since become quite the popular track, appearing in both Mario Kart 7 as a retro cup track and a second return appearance in the first wave of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's Booster Course Pass. The mall itself is for Piantas and persons of all persuasions with its bright, cheery exterior, full of shopping sprees both big and small to engage in. For karts and bikes, within the hollowed halls and colorful corridors of the mall lie in wait plenty of rowdy racing opportunities. 

Revving your engines through the interior of the mall is such a blast, whether going up and down escalators and ramps, through storefronts for fun shortcut possibilities, tricking off of fountains and curbs, boosting through the food court, or launching into the parking lot where Shy Guys (or Miis, depending on the game) attempt (and fail) to back up safely, requiring racers to avoid them.

It's no wonder that Coconut Mall remains such a popular pick online in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Mario Kart 7 as it's a super stellar track that's both fun to race on as it is to look at. It's packed with enjoyable and challenging racing lines, spots to trick off of, and means to get ahead of your opponents. 

1) Willamette Memorial Mall - Dead Rising (Multi)

When malls were at their most popular, shopping--especially around Christmas--could be quite brutal. In Dead Rising's Willamette Memorial Mall, that statement could be taken quite literally, though that's thanks to the hordes of the undead taking up residence inside. The sales are no longer the only thing that are killer within the shops and plazas of Willamette Mall.

And really, how could I NOT pick Dead Rising's main attraction as my favorite mall in a video game? Well, let's not be literal with that rhetorical question, but the fact of the matter is that Dead Rising entirely takes place within Willamette Mall, and it's just as much a star of the show as our unlikely and reluctant hero Frank West is. Quite frankly (no pun intended), the mall might deserve more of the credit than Frank's heroics for putting Dead Rising on the map.

Everywhere within the zombie infested corridors and shops of Willamette has something provocative and interesting inside. Stores are home to plenty of tools and weapons to assault the undead with, costumes and articles of clothing for Frank to play "dress-up" in, food to help restore Frank's health, and sections of the mall--from the amusement park-esque hall to the main courtyard--that makes Willamette feel like a living, breathing place. The way areas connect, the paths that players must take to rescue survivors, tackle the terrifying time limit (more so terrifying than the damn undead!), and beat down psychopaths standing in his way--it all requires planning, knowing the lay of the land, and strategy to accomplish. 

A poorly designed world would make the repeated requirement of starting over upon death in game a serious pain in the butt, but Willamette Mall keeps players coming back for more due to its great design, entertaining attractions, and wonderful sense of space. You know what--after thinking about this further, forget Frank West. Willamette Mall, you truly ARE the star of Dead Rising. It's why you're my pick for the best mall level, stage, area, place, etc. in a video game.