Friday, December 31, 2010

Video Games Live in Newark: Review

I had a series of strange dreams while sleeping in a hotel in New York City the other night, and most of them involved the concert that was to occur the day after. In the first act of my dream, a horde of Adoring Fans from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion spawned out of nowhere and swarmed the concert halls, slaying everyone in sight. As if nothing happened, the dream shifted to a scenario where another horde, this time consisting of zombies, launched another attack on the hall and dragged away special guest Kinuyo Yamashita. After that, it turned out that the concert was to be held outside my house, and less then fifty people showed up.

Finally, my friend Josh ran away from home, took me with him and we both joined a military school that looked exactly like his old house in Blue Bell. We flew around with hand gliders.

I don't remember that last time my dreams were that vivid, but unfortunately that's not the subject of this review. No, this is a review of Video Games Live, a concert that's made its latest stop down in Newark, New Jersey at the NJPAC Music Hall. Our trip to New York had included the performance as the final hurrah of the vacation, and we were both psyched to witness the magic happen again. This time was special when it came to my parents, as my Mom went with me to the show in Orlando (2008) and my Dad accompanied me to the Kimmel Center performance (2009). Despite being unfamiliar with the music/games represented, both of them were blown away and had an incredible time. In Newark, we all went together!

A bit of background information: Video Games Live is a concert based entirely around video game music, and was co-created by Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, composers with major experience in the game music field (Earthworm Jim and Myst, respectively). Despite haven been met with disbelief from the game and music industries for even producing such an idea, the two managed to get the show running in 2005 and it has since grown into a massive success. The show features music from games both ancient (it always opens with brief takes on Pong, Donkey Kong, Ghosts 'n Goblins, and other arcade classics) and modern (Super Mario, Halo, Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and God of War, to name a few), and the crowd goes wild with each and every segment.

The show isn't just about symphonic music, however. Video Games Live is loaded to the brim with a rock concert atmosphere and accommodates it as such. Colored lights fill the hall and synchronize to the music. Footage of games play on their respective segments, and the crowd roars when their favorite game pops up (Looking at you, Ocarina of Time!). Interactive segments feature Frogger, Space Invaders, and Guitar Hero being played by lucky participants, with the orchestra playing the music on the fly! Even Tommy Tallarico joins in with one of his many guitars, and riles up the crowd, most notably in the Final Fantasy VII and Castlevania segments.

If you've read my Symphonic Legends review, you probably already know how I go gaga for video game music. To this day I still can't find my place in mainstream music, but something about the music I come across in my games manage to soothe me in the right spots. I feel inspiration, magic, nostalgia, and heroic all rolled up in a medium I can't feel anywhere else. Orchestrated game music, in particular, is my absolute favorite genre and I constantly listen to takes on pieces I've grown up with. To visit a live concert that plays music from video games is something I never dreamed of doing...until now.

So anyway, back to those dreams. They were glued to my mind during the day of traveling around New York City, and it was then I came to a sudden realization. Were those dreams an omen? It would make sense as to why no cabs were picking up us during New York's rush hour and why it took so long finding Penn Station. Were the cabbies simply too busy to take us to my salvation? Holy shit, would the show really be invaded by zombies? Worst of all, were we...were we not meant to see Video Games Live that night?

Nah, we finally found the station and arrived at the NJPAC an hour early. It should go without saying that waiting at the hall is by far the hardest part, but I nabbed myself a copy of Video Games Live's Vol. 2 CD, which thankfully had more of the songs I'm into then the first one did. The hall appeared to be packed with much more action then my two previous experiences, as arcade cabinets were littered waaayyyyy across the room. I was in no mood to play games, however. I just wanted to see the show!

It was go time. The doors opened early, and I situated myself in the A-block seats. The costume contest came and went. The orchestra took its seats. The obligatory Ms. Pac Man video induced the usual laughter. New conductor Wataru Hokoyama bowed to the audience and went right on to the Classic Game medley.

So much for omens, right?

If that's the case, why do I feel so bummed out?

I didn't enjoy the show at Newark too much.


They say disappointments are a part of life. Sometimes we can see them coming, and others arrive unexpectedly. Lately, I've come to take life's shortcomings as they are. So I have to work at a new internship on January 3rd while nearly everyone else gets off? No sweat, it's only two hours which means I'll have plenty of time to write and get to exercising. Epic Mickey's quests are too vague and the game feels somewhat unpolished as a whole? Well, sure it's unbelievably frustrating, but the game is so damn interesting you have to keep playing to find out what happens next.

The trick to life is simply accepting its faults as they are and enjoying what your life has to offer. I think I might have covered this already in one of my Kirby's Adventure posts, but I think it bears repeating here.

Thing is,'s VIDEO GAMES LIVE! How could anyone be disappointed with any of their shows? It is impossible not to take a liking to Mr. Tallarico's ambition towards his Mt. Everest sized goal, and as a gamer I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. Again, to see symphony orchestras around the world playing music from video games because of him and Jack Wall is a dream come true and I delight in every one of the show's accomplishments. So why can't I take my own advice and just accept the show's flaws that night?

And here's the thing: It's not like I had any huge expectations, either. The fact that I was actually expecting, get this, the usual, was my downfall. I guess I was premature in saying that I didn't like the show because in all honesty, there was a lot I enjoyed. And yet, there was something about it I didn't like. As such, I'm having trouble deciding which to go over first. The good...or the bad?

...what the heck, I'll go with the good.

As such, I may as well start with the biggest highlights. I want to commend the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra on their rendition of the Shadow of the Colossus piece, which was by far the best segment of the show and could not have been done any better. I've viewed perhaps ten separate videos of the show's take on the game, and my reactions were mixed on their versions of The Ancient Land and The Opened Way. The former would feel too thin, and the latter focused too much on percussion. That wasn't the case here. The two songs were just as haunting and bombastic as they should be, and as if they were playing the game itself live.

Other commendations should go to newer pieces, such as the cinematic approach to Assassin's Creed II. Coupled with guest Laura Intravia's vocals and the game's dialogue playing over the speakers, the segment played out very much like a movie trailer and was unlike anything else in the show. Street Fighter II played out just as vigorously as the original game, and impressed me despite not having played the game since I was maybe nine.

The concert opened with the relatively new Mega Man segment, which sent retro fans wild along with the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross pieces. Tommy Tallarico revealed himself to be a diehard fan of Tron and as such played the segment to celebrate the new movie Tron Legacy. Staples such as Halo and World of Warcraft lit the modern fans ablaze, particularly when Master Chief himself raced across the orchestra with a flag in tow.

Special guests were also abundant that evening. The aforementioned Laura Intravia once again assumed her role as Flute Link and played to the tunes of various Zelda titles. The guy who could play Mario on the piano blindfolded was absent, but in his place was Youtube sensation Brentalfloss, who sang a hilarious blues version of the underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. I made a mental note to check out more of his works of poetry.

In a surprise twist, Kinyuo Yamashita, the original composer for Castlevania, appeared near the end. Get this: she actually accompanied the orchestra for their Castlevania segment! She kind of shuffled near the back, but she obviously had a great time playing.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece was the one for Afrika, an obscure title for the Playstation 3. The title is the self-proclaimed "baby" of show conductor Wataru Hokoyama, who acknowledged the game's failure in the American market by confirming that no one in the audience had played the game. The game's footage seemed to suggest a modern version of Pokemon Snap, albeit without the on-rails style of play and marketable cuddly characters. Despite the game's low critical score, I'm now interested in trying the game out once I nab my PS3 net year. Marvel vs Capcom 3 and LittleBigPlanet 2 take top priority, however.

So, there's the good.

Wait, that's a lot to be excited about! They played Mega Man and Shadow of the Colossus and Final Fantasy VII and Street Fighter and much more! They had Flute Link! They had a freaking Japanese composer come down to play with the symphony! How could you NOT be satisfied?!?

Quite a few reasons, actually. I'll start out with the lesser of the two evils.

What I think is one of the most appealing aspects of Video Games Live is what I mentioned before about it not just being about a symphony. What you witness on the show floor isn't just music being played. You'll always see some form of music video relating to video games being played before the opening medley and in the intermission. You'll always have people rise from the audience to play an arcade classic with the orchestra. In a way, these quirky little skits became an invaluable component of the show.

That said, they had a lot, and I do mean a LOT of comedy skits shown on video that night. Before, it was just the music videos, the quick poem, and the Ms. Pac-Man video. Not in Newark! They had a series of quick shorts involving gaming crossovers, with the more modern titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Contra beating the shit out of characters from Frogger and Duck Hunt, respectively. All of them were hysterical, most notably Mortal Kombat vs Donkey Kong which was the biggest knee slapper I've encountered in forever and I nearly died laughing. Check it out below.

However, I can't help but feel a line has to be drawn somewhere. In particular, I have to wonder if showing off Top Ten Worst Voice Acting in Games or Top Ten Worst Game Titles have their place in a concert. I'll admit, it certainly is an experience being surrounded by other gamers who know this type of thing and can all laugh at it together. Maybe I'm just bitter from having already seen them, but it's pretty obvious most of them were just ripped from Youtube and it gives the show a cheap feeling I've never really felt from Video Games Live before. Funny as they may be, this is something I feel has a home in anime/game conventions, not professional concerts.

There's another problem I have with this, and I can't help but wonder if the over-saturation of these videos will have an impact on my future visits to the concert. For one thing, they kept finding their way into nearly almost after every segment, and it got to the point where there was just too much. Despite the good intentions of these skits, were they taking up time better spent on performing another favored performance? Should they have been coupled with the Ms. Pac-Man video? Perhaps I'm just being greedy, but the orchestral performances are the main attraction.

Which brings me to my next point.

There are over 45 video games represented in Video Games Live. Some become defunct over the years, and you only see maybe thirteen at most at each show. But that's okay. Mr. Tallarico has stated that he constantly revisions the tracklist to keep each and every show fresh. Of course, there are the segments that become essential staples of the show. Games and songs that everyone knows and are 100% guaranteed to make their debut.

I waited patiently throughout the entire show, entirely sure that two certain games would make their appearance. They were at virtually every other concert Video Games Live has played at, why shouldn't they be here? Plus, y'know, being a huge fanboy of a certain video game company had me all excited. They would pop up.

No sign in the first half. Strange, I thought, since they always played one of them around this time. I shrugged, knowing they would eventually make their debut. The intermission soon ended and I was ready for the second half. I continued waiting. Time passed, and they didn't come on. There was one song left. I couldn't believe it. It had to be one of them. It had to be-

Nope. A performance of Portal. I walked out of the show floor in a state of shock.

So, what was the big deal? They didn't play two songs? Were they anything important? Oh, not really. They just didn't play Mario or Zelda. So, anyway-

Wait, what?

They didn't play Mario or Zelda?


So, they didn't play this?









-you just








Okay, enough of the fanboy rage.

That's it? They didn't play Mario or Zelda? So what? They played tons of other songs from the top games in the industry. Why couldn't I just forget those two and appreciate the other performances?

Hear me out for a moment.

Tommy Tallarico has stated numerous times that his biggest goal with Video Games Live was to prove just how culturally and artistically significant video games have become over the past two decades. At the beginning of each and every concert, he brings up the misconception that video game music is just a bunch of bleeps and bloops, which might be true...if you were in the Atari age. Each and every one of the games he has chosen to be performed represents an era, an achievement in the game industry, and just how far we've come with video games.

I'd like to expand on that vision by adding some of my own perception of the show (not to say Mr. Tallarico doesn't feel the same way). I view Video Games Live as not just a celebration of video games, but also as a form of respect and unity. Here's what I mean: I'm not really to into Halo, I'll probably never get into Guitar Hero or Final Fantasy, and I avoid World of Warcraft and Civilization for their legendary prowess of sucking you in and never letting you go. There are games we just never end up playing, ones we never hold an interest in.

However, when I see the music of these games being performed live, I can watch not just the orchestra performing or the footage being played, but the reactions and cheers from others in the audience. In a way, I absorb their vigor and joy of their favorite video games and sometimes I can get just as excited as they can. Heck, take my Mom as an example. She said that even though she doesn't like World of Warcraft (Let's just say she's heard enough "excuses" from students in her educational field), she can get past that and appreciate the beauty of the piece played.

That all changes with my favorite segments. As of this writing, Mario, Zelda, and Metroid are the only Nintendo franchises represented in Video Games Live, excluding the brief appearances in the Classic Game medley (and while I'm at it, what on EARTH is taking Super Smash Bros. so long?!?!?). Whenever those titles come on, it's my time. Once that Mario segment starts up, I am hit with a wave of nostalgia that the Youtube videos can't quite nab. I can bop to the music by heart. I cheer and scream with the rest of the audience when the underwater/underground pieces pop up. I roar when my favorite games show up on screen, such as Super Mario 64, Zelda: The Wind Waker, Zelda: Majora's Mask, Super Mario World, or even Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. It is pure euphoria.

You know what's the best thing though? When they come on, I can point right at Mario or Zelda and say, "That's my Halo. That's my World of Warcraft. That's my Final Fantasy. These are the games I grew up with and I am so proud of being a fan of them." And I'm not alone. There are so many others in the audience that feel the why I do. They are the series that erupt some of the most cheers. And hey, they feel the same way about their games too. Perhaps I sound a little selfish, but those two games represent my moment in the whole concert.

I didn't get that moment the other night.

And no offense to Mr. Tallarico, but I feel kinda left out.

Am I saying that those two series take top priority over everything else? Not really. I mean, obviously more heads will turn to the names of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda then they will for Afrika. But the thing is, those two games are staples. Everyone knows the main themes for those games. And they weren't played? Is this gonna happen again?

I'm definitely not trying to imply that I'm taking it personally. It's just a concert. But as I said before, I take this concert as a form of unity amongst game fans. The retro guys not only get a Classic Game medley, but ones for Mega Man and Street Fighter. Modern game fans get their Halo and God of War and Guitar Hero. Nintendo fans get their Mario and Zelda. Online enthusiasts get their World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Even the rabid fangirls get their due with Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts.

And it's not just gamers that are appeased to, either. Many, many non-gamers have gone on record to say how much they enjoy show and how it has opened their eyes to a completely different portion of the video game world. My parents are no exception. My dad loves the rock atmosphere, the variety between each segment, and has great respect for Mr. Tallarico's dream. My mom loves the vocals of the choir, the interactive segments, and watching me having the time of my life. They can appreciate a game concert for what it is, why can't I? Isn't that weird?

Take a look at that list I gave two paragraphs above. They took one out that night and one fanbase feels barred out. Or, who knows? Maybe it was just me. Was I that obsessed with these two segments that I couldn't appreciate everything else? Or I was I right in assuming they would eventually arrive thanks to their status as expected staples?

Who knows.

Are there segments I love other then the Nintendo ones? Yes. I love rocking out to Mega Man, I love Chrono Trigger, and I firmly believe Shadow of the Colossus is one of the finest masterpieces of the past decade, both in terms of gameplay and music. But the truth is is that they don't quite reach out to me the way Nintendo games do, and don't incite the same cheers I reserve for those pieces. As talented and charismatic Laura Intravia (love her Hyrule Castle piece!) and Brentalfloss are, they don't quite fill in the gap for the main orchestral segments.

Bottom line is, you didn't have much that night if you put Nintendo before anything else. And as someone who believes Video Games Live is about unity, I can't help but feel genuinely disappointed.

Believe it or not, I met up with RawMeatCowboy, who's the webmaster of popular news blog GoNintendo, a site that I've visited for about four and a half years. In case you're wondering, the beard gave him away instantly (along with the announcement of their donated DSi at the show). After our initial greeting, we both discussed the absence of our favorite titles from the show. Rawmeat exclaimed that in the eleven or more times he's gone to the show, that was the first time they've ever excluded those games.

He went on to describe the presence of what I believe where his younger cousins, who are enamored with New Super Mario Bros. Wii and were all looking forward to Video Games Live's take on the series. He assured them it would make an appearance, but we all know what happened with that. It was then I remembered a thought that crossed my mind during the show, where I was glad I wasn't seven years old and wondering what the hell Diablo III and Portal were and why Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario were taking so long. I probably wouldn't have gone back.

I ping-ponged the decision of going in the line for the meet and greet. I decided to give it a shot. Everyone signed the insert of my new CD. I told Mr. Hokoyama I'd be sure to try out Afrika sometime. I greeted Ms. Yamashita with a konbonwa (Japanese for "good evening," she was impressed). I told her I enjoyed her performance even if I never played Castlevania, to which she just smiled.

Then I met up with Tommy Tallarico for the second time in my life. I tossed the ball in his court. "You guys didn't play Mario or Zelda tonight."

He shot it right back. "What?!? We had Flute Link on stage that night! We had Brentalfloss singing the water theme!"

The mentioned couple gave me dirty looks in comedic nature. Me and everyone at the table had a good laugh.

It was just a concert.

And hey, who else can say they engaged in dual-stone busting with Tommy Tallarico?

Mr. Tallarico once said in an interview last year that "You gotta play some of the standards. People want to hear Mario and Zelda, and Metal Gear, and Kingdom Hearts, and certainly Final Fantasy." We can certainly live without Kingdom Hearts (Even though I love the music score), and I suppose I can make an exception for Metal Gear Solid. But taking out Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy? No way, man.

Funny thing is, at that night's show they only game they played from the quote above was Final Fantasy. Isn't that just crazy?

They took out Mario and Zelda. I still can't believe it.

It's okay to deviate from the norm, but sometimes you just have to stick to certain roots. No hard feelings, Video Games Live. Just don't leave me out in the cold next time.


And that's about it for 2010. A bit of a low note, but that's life.

I'm ready to turn my life around with 2011.

See you next year!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mario Kart DS ~Lap 3~ Getting Reacquainted and Introducing a Mushroomy Guy


Back after a two week hiatus. How's your vacation going?

Some important info at the end...


It's been four years since I've really dived into this game. It felt like I never really left it.

When I popped this game into my DS Lite, I took a long look at the title screen. Normally, I'd be seeing something else instead of Mario pumping his fist out on his kart. See, when you clear the game's cups (and in addition having obtained all the gold trophies), you get a picture of Mario resting in his cart with a neutral, yet smug look. Behind him is the portrait roll call of the game's characters. It looks like this.

Many games have gotten into the practice of switching the title screens once the player has fully completed the game, and for good reason. For one thing, it is rewarded when the player has overcome just about everything the game has to offer, and as such provides him with a mark of mastery to prove just how much of a hotshot he is. When you see this title screen on someone else's game, you know you're dealing with a master. I had this title screen. Even though I sucked horribly on playing Wi-Fi matches, just knowing that I still completed the entire Grand Prix with all of the gold trophies gave me that little push of encouragement, and not to mention a huge sense of accomplishment.

That accomplishment is, technically, gone forever. Maybe I'll talk about why later. There's a hint on another post. In any case, I wondered if I still knew my way around the game.

I guess I can thank the game's menu for picking me right up. What I like about this particular Mario Kart is that it just lays out every option for you in plain sight. No dropdown menus or fancy prerecorded footage, everything you need to see is right there. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a screenshot of it, so pay attention to this makeshift menu:

Grand Prix: The meat of the game! Engage in four-race cups to further your own skills and unlock stuff!
Time Trial: Practice to be the very best! Race against your own best times to take your training to the next level.
VS: Race wherever you want! As in, not by the set order of the Grand Prix.
Battle: Fight from the seat of your kart! Deplete the enemy's balloons!
Mission: Take part in fun, abnormally set goals! A new feature to the series.

Whenever I'd take a look at this list before, I wouldn't know which to choose. I'll admit I never really touched VS, but everything else instantly appealed to me and I couldn't pick one over the other. Now having started a "new" game, it was obvious I'd have to get out there in the 50CC Grand Prix.
Now, I'll be frank. My favorite character in Mario Kart? Donkey Kong. I thought he was the fastest character in Mario Kart 64 back when I first got it, and being six, that's all that really mattered to me. I think that was the same reason why I always picked him in Mario Party/Mario Tennis. Is he the fastest character? Not really, but it became over a tradition over the years and he's never left my side in Mario's sporting escapades.

...except this time. In Mario Kart DS, my favorite character is Toad.


We'll discuss that in a bit.

There are eight cups in each Grand Prix, four of which are designed of new racetracks and the rest dedicated to courses from previous Mario Kart titles. I started off with the Mushroom Cup.

The first two courses aren't anything special. I'm apathetic towards Figure 8-Circuit, the opening course, since I have bad memories of people online taking advantage of the track's broad road by spamming every advanced technique in the book on there. Same thing goes for Yoshi Falls, a track littered with waterfalls. To this day I still can't cross through them efficiently.

Luckily it's a different story for the last two. Cheep Cheep Beach, named after the fishy nemesis Mario encounters in his undersea adventures, is a varied course full of boardwalks and sandy beachs. It's a course I always have bad luck on thanks to the crabs midway through, but I have fun with it anyway. Plus, I'd like to think I managed to grab a decent time trial on it today!

The final course is one based off on Luigi's Mansion. Yes, a course modeled after the Gamecube game! I've always held the belief that the best courses in Mario Kart are the ones that reference locations in the main Mario titles, and Mario Kart DS is full of them! You start out racing through the creepy pathway in front of the mansion, and then you race right up the stairs and into the mansion.

From there it's a period of twist and turns through the building, the portraits on the walls depicting the antagonists found in Luigi's Mansion. After avoiding some tables, you rush out the back entrance and into a graveyard, which leads into the most dangerous part of the course. You are to race through a swamp, which slips up not just your speed but your handling as well, so you have to powerslide quickly onto the sparse tracts of land. And watch out for the crawling dead trees!

This is a course I've always had fun racing on Wi-Fi matches, as the many close calls I've had on here all go back to that damn swamp. There were times where I'd completely mess up on my turns and I'd crash into a wall, struggling helplessly as I watched my opponents dash ahead. That's not mentioning the spinning circle that teases a ring of item boxes, and it's very easy to miss these essential item lenders.

I love frustration!


This is Toad.

Princess Peach's main retainer, it's interesting to note that Toad bears the name of his own race: Toads, which are the main denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's hard to tell them apart, but thankfully most of them are adorned with different colored spots on their trademark mushroom caps. Toad himself has red spots, which is the most common color on Toads. But, then again, he's the only Toad out there that's named, well, Toad.

Often depicted as a happy character, Toad is more then willing to assist his highness and the Mario Bros. on their adventures. Unfortunately, he is incredibly cowardly and is perhaps even more averse to danger then Luigi is. As such, he prefers to sit back and accompany Mario from the sidelines, whether it be pointing to the direction of Bowser or requesting to locate a lost comrade. More often then not, he's also a frequent target of kidnappings. Toad's role in the gang's recreational adventures often switches, whether it be referee or a participant.

-Toad's sparse hero career includes two games. In Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad joins Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach on a quest to save the dream world of Subcon. In a stunning twist, Toad is revealed to be the strongest in picking up vegetables, which are the primary weapon of the game.

-In the puzzler Wario's Woods, Toad teams up with the lesser known characters Birdo (shown on the top right) and Wanda the Fairy to stop Wario's attack on the Peaceful Forest. Armed with Wanda's endless supply of bombs, Toad must match each colored bomb to an opposing creature of the same color. It's addicting stuff. Truth be told, this was the NES game I played the most in Animal Crossing.
Add Image-Probably my favorite moment of Toad's referee career was in Mario Party. When a player locates the character on one of the board game maps, he will hand out a coveted Star if the player has 20 coins. Toad's role as host eventually began to dwindle after Mario Party 2, and he finally joined the party beginning with Mario Party 5.

-In Super Mario RPG, Toad claims to own a bazooka, which he briskly mentions that he left it at home. No one knows whether this is true or not.

-I like to say his name a lot.






When I first played Mario Kart DS, I started out using Donkey Kong. It was natural, after all. I used him in Mario Kart 64 and again in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Why shouldn't I do the same thing here?

It didn't seem to work out, unfortunately. Donkey Kong seemed much slower then usual in this new title, and I found that I would be eating everyone's dust, particularly on online battles. It also didn't help that his handling was horrendous, which was a major flaw in Mario Kart DS, a game that revolves around a technique known as powersliding.

What is powersliding? Well, it's a technique used when handling. When the player takes a sharp turn with the shoulder buttons (L or R), blue sparks begin to glow around the exhaust pipe, and as player stays in that position, they'll quickly turn to red. When this happens, the player lets go of the button and the kart engages in a quick boost. When used in rapid succession, often on broader tracks or twisting turns, it is a force not to be underestimated. In Mario Kart DS, this technique is vital. Donkey Kong's low speed and awkward handling were not the best way to utilize it.

Now, see, I have this awesome online friend who we'll call Vaztor. My partner in crime for nearly eight years now, Vaztor and I often exchange humorous conversations on AIM and take to playing on many enabled Wi-Fi titles. Several days in, Vaz picked up on my sluggish process with Donkey Kong and suggested I try someone else. I took his advice to heart and began on deciding my new racer of choice.

As much as I adored Mario and Luigi, they were somewhat average in Mario Kart and I wanted to use someone more exciting. Yoshi was everyone's favorite character in the series, and I wanted to stand out from the crowd. The same was true for newcomer Dry Bones. I was never accustomed to using female characters, so Peach and Daisy were out. I never had much luck using Bowser or Wario, and I hadn't yet unlocked Waluigi or R.O.B. That left Toad.

It clicked instantly. As a lightweight character, Toad was not only speedy, but was supplied with an abundance of handling and acceleration, which were essential components of powersliding. People seemed to be drifting towards Yoshi and Dry Bones for this new tactic, so I figured Toad would be a great alternative to those characters.

You know what the really awesome thing about this game is? Selectable karts. It was a concept briefly touched upon in Double Dash!!, and is fully realized in Mario Kart DS. When starting the game, players have a choice between choosing a standard kart and a specialized one for each character. As they clear cups, more and more karts become avaliable to the player until eventually they are all accessible to each character. Guess how many karts each character can use?


That is a huge number, and that's not mentioning the huge variety for each character. Why, take a look at some of these!!

A backhoe...

A shooting star...

One based off of Rambi the Rhinoceros from Donkey Kong Country.

And another based off of Stack Up!

So many karts to choose from!

My personal favorite? The Mushmellow.

I love this game.



So guess where I'm going on Wednesday? VIDEO GAMES LIVE, BABY!!!!!

That's right, the orchestra that plays video game music!! I'll be heading down to the Newark show two nights from now and I'm PSYCHED!!! Of course, this begs the question: will I be writing about it?

Here's the thing: I've been to the show twice already (Once in Florida and another in my home state's Kimmel Center) and I wasn't able to get do writeups of both thanks to the bog of shit I was trapped in. This time will be different. You WILL see my review of the show very soon after my visit.

Also expect the following soon:

-My long-awaited Donkey Kong Country Returns review!!
-Another installment in Games I've Been Playing
-A certain feature relating on the "Big Three" Wii games of 2010.
-And Mario Kart DS Laps in between each and everyone!

Looking forward to not just January, but for the new year as well! See you in a few days.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mario Kart DS ~Lap 2~ Game Mechanics, the Introduction of the Second Player, and Brothers

Sorry for the delay, folks...expect a sparse amount of updates this holiday season. More details in the conclusion.


Last time, I discussed the history of Mario Kart. Today, I'd like to discuss how the game mechanics works before diving into Mario Kart DS itself.

The series, of course, focuses on racing. I'll be upfront in admitting it's a genre I'm not too fond of, as it shares the same trait with shooting games in that there's not much variety. Thankfully, Nintendo works its usual magic in Mario Kart seperate it from the rest of the herd and not just rely on its mascot image.

Eight characters from the avaliable roster are used for a Grand Prix, one of which is obviously whoever you choose. The other characters are selected randomly by the game, two of which are designated as your "rivals"; in other words, the ones who will be on your tail the entire time.

For simplicity's sake, here's a quick chart. Let's say I picked Mario as my character. The following is one possibility as to how the computer would sort the rest of the competition.

My character: Mario

The rivals: Yoshi and Bowser (These characters will be on my tail for the whole Grand Prix. This is accomplished by employing a technique called "rubber band AI", in which the game can make the computer controlled opponents suddenly cover a twenty second distance in three! So you can never let your guard down)

The others: Luigi, Peach, Wario, Donkey Kong, and Toad (The rest of the racers. They aren't as big of a threat, but they have tricks up their sleeves as well. One thing's for never want to be eating their dust!)

Each of the Grand Prixes in the game are divided into different engine classes: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, each one more faster and difficult then the last. In each of the classes are numerous Cups to choose from, each with exactly four courses. In Mario Kart DS, there are eight cups, with four made up of original courses and four dedicated to courses from previous games in the series.

The courses in Mario Kart are all quite varied and have their own nuances and landmarks. You won't just be driving through raceways. You'll be racing in jungles...

on highways...

bouncing on mushrooms over a gorge...

coursing on Icebergs..

and even in a factory!

Are there variations of the courses I listed above in Mario Kart DS? You bet! We won't be discussing all of the tracks, but you can bet I'll be talking about the very best!

And of course, there's the items. In other words, weapons you can use to get ahead of the competition. In every Mario Kart, you'll come across rainbow-colored boxes that look like this.

These are the item boxes that contain the items, and upon driving through them you'll receive a randomized item. These include the following:

Mushrooms: These give you a quick boost! If you're behind, there's a chance you nab three at once. Then there's the Golden Mushroom, which you can press repeatedly to gain as many boosts as possible!

Koopa Shells: The shells of Bowser's henchmen are yours to throw around and attack other drivers! There are two types: Green and Red. Greens are unwieldy and have to be aimed precisely in order to be effective. Reds on the other hand immediately target the character in front of you all, but have trouble navigating around turns. If you're behind, you can obtain three shells that swirl around you...a nice defense!
Bananas: Donkey Kong was kind enough to donate his banana peels to the Grand Prix. Once thrown or dropped, the peel simply litters the track and will cause disaster for any unfortunate racer that runs over them! You'll want the five banana peel bunch that will trail behind you!

Boo: Mario and Luigi's ghostly nemesis is up to his old tricks. He'll steal another item from another racer and lend it to you...that is, if there are any avaliable!
Thunderbolt: Only avaliable to those who are in the lesser ranks. Once used, a flash of thunder turns everyone tiny for a limited time...except for the user!!!

Starman: Ah, the invincible power-up from Super Mario Bros.!! It serves the same use here, as your body becomes decorated with a flashing rainbow sheen, your top speed increases, and you will mow down anyone in your way!!! Also, you are impervious to attacking items.

There are others, but we'll get to them in later chapters.

Are those all of the mechanics? Not quite. But like the rest of the items, we'll describe the ins and outs of racing techniques when the time comes. Now that we have this out of the way..who are the racers?

Well, I DID mention the word "brothers" in the title...


This is Luigi.

Luigi's beginnings date back to 1983's Mario Bros. (Not to be confused with Super Mario Bros., the game I covered earlier), a game in which the titular characters had to dive into the sewers to fight turtles and crabs. Shigeru Miyamoto had desired a second player experience for the game, and as such a green palette swap of Mario was created, and Luigi was born.

When juxtaposed to his brother Mario, there are some noticeable differences. Mario is brave, outgoing, and impulsive, while Luigi is timid, aloof, and cowardly. Well, perhaps "cowardly" is a bit harsh, but he seems rather averse to danger and does not want to confront giant monsters (especially ghosts!). Despite this, Luigi shares much of Mario's fun loving personality and could be considered to be just as moral as his brother.

Luigi's permanent position as the second player has earned him quite a fond reputation over the years. Many younger fans, having played second fiddle to their older brothers on the Mario game, make up the most of his fanbase. Many humorously suggest that Luigi harbors a "green envy" for living in his brother's shadow, which stems from, once again, being the second player. Nintendo has recognized this trait over the years and poked fun at this idea, as seen in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, where the residents of the Beanbean Kingdom recognize Mario and his many famous deeds, but seem unaware of Luigi's presence.

Other notable information are as follows:

-Many in the Mushroom Kingdom praise Mario for his jumping prowess, but they don't know that Luigi can jump higher! In Super Mario Bros. 2, Luigi could jump higher then the other characters, and is a trait that has carried over to future games.

-Luigi found himself a sweetheart by the name of Princess Daisy, a relationship that wasn't fully established until 2000's Mario Tennis. The shy, timid man and the outgoing, spunky girl. A trophy of Daisy in Super Smash Bros. Melee states that she is "Luigi's answer to Mario's Peach."

-The aforementioned phobia of ghosts is revealed in the Nintendo Gamecube launch title Luigi's Mansion, in which Luigi must explore a mysterious, haunted mansion and rescue his brother. Armed with a super-powered vacuum, he has to face his fears and triumph over the many colorful ghosts found in the mansion's walls. Many criticized the game's short length, but it was Luigi's big break!

-In the last console generation, Nintendo decided to embed Luigi with a more goofy personality and became an invaluable trait of the character. This is most notably seen in titles such as Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, where he embarks on a quest of his own to save the Waffle Kingdom, and in the Super Smash Bros. series, where his moveset consists him making flapping random movements. Series director Masahiro Sakurai describes him as the "dreamy, comical poster boy" of Smash Bros.

In Mario Kart, Luigi has always been a balanced character, much like Mario. In other words, they have no big flaws or advantages, they're just average, and are great choices for beginning characters. Hooray for the man in green!


It is 2005.

The game industry has been steadily rising. The DS had begun to outgrow its baby steps and landed some truly colorful titles on the market such as WarioWare Touched! and Kirby: Canvas Curse. The Playstation 2 gave birth to new franchises such as God of War and one-hit wonders such as Shadow of the Colossus, all of which were immense critical successes and sold very well. The industry was still reeling from the previous year's heavy hitters such as World of Warcraft and Halo 2, and the Xbox 360 was looming in the distance. It was a good year for video games.

And I felt like complete shit.

When you become a teenager, the rules change. Things you didn't notice before suddenly pop at you, and not all of them are pretty. Interests shift and new ones pop up, the passion of what you had previously lost forever if you are not careful. Old friends leave you behind and make new ones, and you are forced to do the same. Becoming a teenage means you change. Forever.

Being thirteen was not an easy process for me, but I'll skip the details that scarred me over the summer of that year, since it's not relevant (besides, I can think of another game where this would be much more suitable). I'd like to discuss something while in the middle of my depression.

It is October. I received a phone call from my brother. It turns out he was using drugs, sold all of his valuables and had to drop college. I stood there and listened to his voice. It was static, without any inflection and yet was apologetic at the same time. I wondered if he was going through the same thing I did.

It was something that I found difficult to wrap my head around. My brother? Drugs? He always had a bad side to him, but I thought he was smart enough to stay away from it.'s difficult typing this. There is so much I could elaborate on here. But this is a feature on Mario Kart. How does a Mario Kart game fit in here?

I still remember. It is November 2005. I stay in my room or basement all day. I still remember the visits to my brother's drug meetings. I still remember reading Dragon Ball every night. I still remember crying to sleep. Then I remembered...the new Mario Kart is coming out.

It crept up on me. I found it hard to believe. I was so caught up in my own little world that I forgot about the buzz about the game's online features were bringing. It was Nintendo's first foray into the world of online gaming! How could I possibly have ignored this? I turned my attention right onto the game's release date: November 14th.

My grandfather picked it up for me. I played it all day.

Excluding the adventures I took with action figures/my friend Matt, I smiled for what seemed like the first time in forever. Characters that I had forgotten while growing up came back to lift me up, even if only slightly. Mario's ever-present cheer always played when the Nintendo logo popped up, and I could never not crack a smile at that. Even with the pain I had in dealing with my brother and my life, he was there for me.

In my feature for Mario Kart DS, I want to focus on not just the game itself (which will be extensively covered from here on out!), but the ways it helped me, the experiences I had with it, the impact its online mode had, and even playing it at Michael's drug meetings will be brought to light at the end of each post. Please look forward to it.


Well, then.

I've been thinking about the blog's future over the next few months, since I won't be updating much in this lovely December. I'd like to make some announcements:

-Mario Kart DS will probably continue off and on until around Feburary. I don't want to rush like I did with Kirby's Adventure, but then again, I don't want to kept it going for too long. I have some ideas.

-I'd like to write some essays relating to gaming in the next two months, so that will add some variety.

-The Donkey Kong Country Returns review is a tough cookie. I'll TRY to get it out by the new year, but if not, then by early January. Also, expect something for Epic Mickey, which I'll be receiving for Christmas.

Annnd that's about it.

Seeya soon.