It's funny. Growing up with the internet, I came to quickly realize even at a young age that it seemed like every gamer out there always seemed to prefer the games released in the 80s/90s. It was truly games such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Yoshi's Island, A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Chrono Trigger, the older Sonic the Hedgehog/Final Fantasy entries and other classics which had created the Golden Age of gaming. The games found on the Gamecube and PS2 and even the N64, they said, couldn't even compare. Sometimes the bias wasn't so harsh, but the message was still the same in that older games reigned supreme and the developers had "lost the magic" of the successes that defined their companies.
Is this true? Well, I would have to agree that the Super Nintendo is the greatest video game system of all time and I doubt anything will match its accomplishments, such comments gave off vibes that the enjoyment of games back then was dulled by those gamers' memories of the past. In other words, their nostalgic feelings for the games of yesteryear prevented them from appreciating the new games for what they were.
I guess growing up with the N64 and Game Boy Color made me immune to their negativity (with the exception of the claims of Nintendo being too kiddy, which pissed me off), but I gotta say their talk of how great the Super Nintendo/NES classics were did make an impression on me. You know, I guarantee you that if I went back in time and told everyone that Nintendo had not only revived Donkey Kong Country, Kid Icarus, and two-dimensional Mario, but also had two 3D Super Marios on the same system, installed an online shopping service allowing you to download the aforementioned famous retro games, and made a new Smash Bros. with Sonic, Solid Snake, Pit, Wario, Meta Knight, and Diddy Kong and also featuring a theme song conducted by Nobuo Uematsu himself, I'm pretty sure the drools and screams would have leaked out of my computer and destroyed the internet for at least a week. SO MUCH FOR THAT, HUH? Many things have changed with the internet over the years, but cynicism is not one of them.
Gamers are very fickle people.
When it comes to Mario Kart, however, the status of the best game in the series has always been blurred. The fanbase could never seem to decide between Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. Admittedly, it was a battle I never paid much attention to, but growing up with the Nintendo 64 racer automatically made it higher then the original Super Nintendo title for me. When Mario Kart DS came out, however, the fight had another competitor. I think we don't need to say which one is my personal favorite.
So why am I bringing this up? It just so happens that Mario Kart DS imported selected tracks from the previous Mario Karts, with four from each one! One from each of the levels are installed into their own separate cups: Shell, Banana, Leaf, and Lightning. I believe it was Super Circuit that first allowed unlockable SNES courses, but it was Mario Kart DS that made a staple of right-out-of-the-box retro courses. When revisiting these stages for the first time and even now, I had a varying set of reactions to all of them and I feel it's important they somehow make a statement on not the DS version itself, but the games they came from.
Let's find out if they withstood the test of time. How about we play music from Mario Kart 64, for starters?
Super Mario Kart stages:
Mario Circuit 1
Donut Plains 1
Koopa Beach 2
Choco Island 2
I gotta say, I never played Super Mario Kart all that much, but playing these stages makes me want to. The obvious Super Mario World influence on these courses give me that incredible nostalgic feeling only Super Nintendo games are capable of, and it's something I never tire of. Donut Plains and the music from Mario Circuit 1 are especially guilty of doing this.
That aside, it's amazing how even though these courses are incredibly simplistic, they're some of the most engaging (WITH THE EXCEPTION OF CHOCO ISLAND). It takes zero effort to perfectly execute the advanced tricks Mario Kart DS offers (SNAKING!), which on one hand makes them all the more fun but kind of screws over inexperienced players. On the other hand, the roads are quite tight so you'll be constantly dominating for supremacy if you don't speed ahead of the competition fast enough. Plus, since the stages are so short you're constantly under pressure to either stay ahead or catch up. That, and the various traps in Koopa Beach and Choco Island will have you constantly on your toes; or rather, the pedal.
One can never grow weary of the classic status of Mario Circuit (which I always pick over Wi-Fi when I want races against new players to be over with) and Donut Plains, so they're easily the best of the SNES bunch. Koopa Beach has a mean streak of screwing racers over, but only if you fall into the puddles.
As for Choco Island...yeah, I don't know what they were thinking here. I mean, how exactly is this stage supposed to be fun? The ramps constantly halt your driving, the mud is an incredible detriment, it ALWAYS messes me up on Grand Prix, and then there's the fact that IT'S ON WI-FI. How this piece of feces got on there and Airship Fortress/Tick Tock Clock didn't is beyond me.
Mario Kart 64 stages:
Moo Moo Farm
Frappe SnowlandChoco Mountain
Being the first video game I ever asked for myself, Mario Kart 64 is a title that holds many fond memories for me. One can't deny its contributions to the series as well, what with establishing Donkey Kong and Wario as part of Mario's posse and cementing the Nintendo 64 as being the console most often used at parties. If there's anything about this game that makes it the best in the series, it's the sound effects. I can still hear the plonks of the Koopa Shells ricocheting off the walls this day...
Unfortunately, memories can't always represent reality, as the truth is that most of the stages representing the 64 racer in Mario Kart DS are rather...boring.
It's a bit tough to pinpoint what exactly makes these stages fail to be as exciting as the rest of the offerings. Could it have to do with the notoriety of Nintendo 64/Playstation video games losing their once-new three-dimensional mystique over time and as such can't be enjoyed anymore? Some of that is definitely present, but I think it has to do with the particular dullness of the tracks presented.
For example, I remember being excited to play Banshee Boardwalk again, which I recalled being a visually striking stage as a six year old (who could forget the ghastly Cheep Cheep leaping over the boardwalk?). Upon finishing it, I was surprised at how lackluster it was. You're just driving on an empty boardwalk with missing railguards and entering an empty, abandoned building while dodging bats swarming out of a coffin. It sounds fun, but the presentation is absolutely lacking and leaves no impact seven years after I first played Mario Kart 64, much less now.
It should be no surprise that the passage of time is the culprit here, I suppose. I think Nintendo might have focused on the "star attractions" of each stage in Mario Kart 64, with the intention of wowing the player of the N64's graphical prowess. And who could blame them? 3D gaming was all about impressing the player back then. Admit it, you too veered off course of Royal Raceway so you could explore the outskirts of Peach's Castle.
Unfortunately, the coat of paint has worn off on several of the stages, and it's unfortunate that they had to be the representatives of Mario Kart 64 in this game. The rolling boulders of Choco Mountain and the snowmen field of Frappe Snowland may have been impressive back then, but they weren't in 2005 and they're not impressive now, and as a result they're just not that fun to race on.
Thankfully, Mario Kart Wii offers a much, much better repertoire of Mario Kart 64 stages, of which includes Mario Raceway, DK Jungle Parkway, Sherbet Land, and Bowser's Castle. So, y'know, I don't think all of the tracks have aged too badly. Nintendo just had the odd case of strike out here.
And hey, whoever said Moo Moo Farm wasn't awesome? Fun shit.
Super Circuit stages:
Bowser's Castle 2
It's funny how I've only ever played Super Circuit for maybe less then three minutes in my life, but I find the stages more interesting then the other retro stages in Mario Kart DS. Could it be the mysterious intrigue of a game I've never experienced making its presence known in a game I love? Or is it just the out-of-this-world art style? Who knows.
In either case, there's fun times to be had here with these guys. There's not much to say about Peach Circuit other then that it's just a long, curvy strip, although it's perfect for spamming the snaking technique so I love racing on it. Also note the funky color/design scheme for Peach's castle. Then you have Luigi Circuit (one of many!), a race course entirely drenched in rain and full to the brim with puddles that you don't want to drive over. In a way, I'm kind of glad this stage isn't avaliable online so certain douchebags wouldn't take advantage of it, but I still enjoy it in the Grand Prix ince it provides something new.
Sky Garden, however, is a classic. It's a nice, long track with a ridiculous motif (racing on clouds with beanstalks in the background?), it's a favorite on Wi-Fi matches, and it's full of awesome shortcuts. I'm not kidding, if you use the proper kart/powersliding, you can actually speed off the track and rocket onto another part of the course that would've taken maybe 15-30 seconds to reach. Like, holy shit! Look at what they can pull off!
Freaking amazing. At the very least, I'm so going to pull off that trick one day.
Bowser's Castle 2 is just...there. You know, I'll be honest. Before I picked this game up again, I completely forgot that it and Shroom Ridge, an original course for Mario Kart DS, were even there. They're just there and have absolutely nothing going for them. Boring as hell.
Maybe I was spouting crap with being fascinated with every Super Circuit stage. But hey, I still enjoy the rest.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! stages:
Ah, Double Dash!!. Also known as the Mario Kart game that everyone loves to bash. Personally, I think it was missing that special ingredient but I always loved its courses. Thankfully, Mario Kart DS pulls out some solid courses from the Gamecube title.
I think the one element in which Double Dash!! trumps Mario Kart 64 is that the stages feel so much more animated. We've already gone over how I feel that a good number of the 64 game's levels feel rather bland today, but the Double Dash!! courses are deliberate in that they provide a boatload of action for the player, whether it's through the stage obstacles or within the track design itself.
For example, Mario Kart DS imports Baby Park, which at first glance isn't anything special. It's just a tremendously short oval with five laps. However, this works out to its advantage as everything becomes instantaneously crowded with the sudden influx of racers competing for the top spot. Shells and bananas are fired and tossed every which way and at close range, so you must remain constantly vigilant so you won't be hit. No matter how good you are, even suffering a hit from one Koopa shell can result in the loss of 1st place. Powersliding is the key here, but you must steel your mind to make quickfire decisions in such a cramped arena.'
Then there's Luigi Circuit, which was the opening stage to Double Dash!!. It offers quite a few fun decisions to make, all of them involving shortcuts. Should I speed across the sandy path with a Mushroom while avoiding the Chain Chomp, or simply slide across on the regular road. Should one dash across all the Boost Pads on the ramp or just powerslide continuously on the track?
With these descriptions, you'd think the empty Yoshi Circuit wouldn't provide an adequate experience. Not so, in fact! The stage is the favorite playground of the more advanced Mario Kart DS players and is a haven for snakers, what with its long, twisting paths. Probably my favorite part about it is the brief shortcut near the beginning, which is a moat. Common knowledge of Mario Kart mechanics would lead you believe the only way to speed over it is with a Mushroom, but you can actually go over it with a powerslide! On Wi-Fi, I saw someone with a Yoshi Egg kart powerslide right at the edge and made it across without a sweat, so I tested it out in Time Trial with the Mushmellow and it actually worked! I plan on mastering that sucker.
And Mushroom Bridge? Well, it was once hosted to a numerous amount of fun shorcuts, but unfortunately most of them were snipped in the transition to the DS. Space constraints? Who knows, but it's still an entertaining course.
So, all in all, I think the Double Dash!! stages turned out to be the best ones here. Still love those SNES/GBA ones though.
Fun Fact: Remember my friend Vaztor? He actually beat Mario Kart super pro Azen on Yoshi Circuit! No joke.
This is Donkey Kong.
Donkey Kong, also known as DK, is the leader of the Kong family, who all reside on the titular DK Island. Boisterous and outgoing, Donkey Kong constantly moves about in his jungle paradise along with his best pal Diddy, while simultaneously keeping an eye on his precious banana hoard. The Kong family has been accosted several times by numerous enemy gangs, such as the Kremlings (Donkey Kong Country series), the Tiki Tak Tribe (Country Returns), and diabolical ape kings (Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat). Being the protector of his island, he sets out to crush these villains along with his family members, whether it's teaming up directly (Diddy, Dixie, Kiddie, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky) or from the sidelines (Cranky, Funky, Wrinkly, Candy, and Swanky).
Despite the original Donkey Kong in the famous arcade game being Cranky Kong, the big ape still shares a hot-blooded rivalry with Mario. The two still go at in various sporting ventures, whether it's at parties or tennis or kart racing. Unlike his grandfather, however, it seems that Donkey Kong has a maintainable friendship with Mario and the two seem to get along great. Ain't that nice?
-Wait, say what? The Donkey Kong in the arcade game wasn't the Donkey Kong we know today? Apparently so. Donkey Kong Country developer Rare has stated that Donkey Kong's grandfather, Cranky Kong, had assumed the role of the original Donkey Kong in the classic arcade title, and the new Donkey Kong was a hero treading a different path then his grandfather.
This subject has lead to what is now a rather confusing debate given how Nintendo handles this retcon. For starters, you have Donkey Kong Jr., depicted above, who in an arcade classic of the same name saved his father, the first Donkey Kong, from Mario. One could be lead to believe that this is the current Donkey Kong's father, but the character appears in the N64's Mario Tennis alongside the grown Donkey Kong of today.
Next, there's Yoshi's Island DS. I know, I know, we all know this title was vastly inferior to the SNES original, but the important thing we need to focus on is the game's plot. In this game, various babies are kidnapped from their homes, with the exception of the "Star Children," babies said to hold extraordinary power and all of which take turns riding on the Yoshis' backs. One of these babies happens to be a baby Donkey Kong, who bears the same looks as the Donkey Kong of today. You could say it's not clear as to whether this is DK or Cranky, but considering how Nintendo is pushing the modern DK today...
Then you have the recent Mario vs Donkey Kong series, a series of handheld puzzlers in which Mario squares off once again against Donkey Kong. The main problem here is these games take place when Mario was still in a relationship with his old flame Pauline, who was kidnapped previously by the original Donkey Kong, and it's clear that the Donkey Kong in Mario vs Donkey Kong is the one we know today.
Just which Donkey Kong is which?
Then again, we are talking about a series that has baby versions of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Daisy golfing, playing tennis, and racing alongside their adult counterparts, so I guess we shouldn't be thinking about it too hard.
....I mean, who am I kidding? It is a Nintendo series. Just go with the flow.
-Donkey Kong has made numerous television cameos over the years, with him making appearances in the Saturday Supercade and Captain N: The Game Master. Since both shows were aired in the 80's, both of them focused on the barrel throwing gorilla of the arcade classic; in other words, he was a recurring villain.
However, that's all small potatoes compared to what happened in the late 90's, in which were blessed with an adaption of the Donkey Kong Country games. The French-oriented cartoon was noted to be one of the first animated programs made entirely with CGI (no doubt a homage to the games themselves) and made big splashes in both its home country and Japan, but only met with minimal success in America.
The cartoon was somewhat faithful to the original games, installing your usual cartoon antics with the series' cast. The plot revolved around the Crystal Coconut, of which was the island's power source coveted by villains such as King K. Rool, and it was up to Donkey Kong, the foretold leader, to guard it. Other then the appeal of its usage of the then-new CGI (which, admittedly, feels outdated and wooden today), the show was your average dose of cartoon tripe. Not that that's a bad thing.
However, what was easily the standout feature of the cartoon was how the characters would suddenly burst into song at any given moment, which was usually the result of venting their current issue of the episode out to anyone who would listen. Contrary to popular belief, these songs do not make your ears bleed and embarrass anyone in the vicinity. Combined with the Donkey Kong's mastering of the soul style of singing and Diddy Kong's squeaky, irritating voice, you had multiple pieces of aural majesty.
Unfortunately, I seem to be the only one who thinks this way, so I guess that's what leads me to vent out my anger by spamming this particular song to my friends on Skype over and over again. My favorite song just happens to revolve around DK's anxiousness following a marriage proposal from Candy Kong. HAVE A LISTEN
Okay, so I'm full of shit. This isn't a musical masterpiece, but I so want Richard Yearwood's autograph one day.
-In Mario Kart, Donkey Kong is a heavyweight class racer. This means that while he has low top speed and acceleration, he has the advantage of being heavy so he won't get knocked around as easily by the other racers. There's not not many strengths to using a heavy character, which makes mastering them is truly a feat.
Yeah, remember how I said I thought Donkey Kong was the fastest character when I was little? It's obviously not true, but what can you do with a six year old? Even still, DK's always been my main man in many of Mario's various spinoffs, with the exception of Mario Kart DS. I still like to use DK in Mario Kart Wii, however...the Offroader kart is beast!!
I've always had a troubled school life.
Weird thing is, for the most part I've always been the "good" kid. I've always followed the rules, I clammed up during lectures, I treated everyone with kindness, and *add*. Yet for some reason, there was always a nagging issue that put a damper on each and every school year. My ADD was certainly a contributing factor, but then you had the complications with math, the shifting class structure in 4th grade, a false sexual harassment complaint that temporarily kicked out the greatest teacher ever, dealing with all the administrative bullshit in high school, and me permanently losing my social status.
I briefly described in my tribute to Michael about the dark turn I had in middle school. In case you didn't read it, what happened was that my 6th grade classmates came to realize what was back then my innate ability to create incredibly wacky stories, along with the voices and body motions to match. It got to the point where I was known throughout the school for my antics, and I enjoyed telling the stories of Zombie Man and crew so much that I had created my own universe for my characters, which was full of nothing but absurd craziness and sixth-grade level foolishness. And you know what? It was pretty cool...for a while.
Unfortunately, it didn't last forever. I slowly picked up on how the other kids were treating me like a little kid. I shrugged it off at first, but it got to the point where it began to irritate me and it wasn't until a conversation with a classmate in prep that I got the full story: People thought I was mentally retarded. I can't say I was overly surprised at my discovery, but the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me. This probably didn't apply to everyone, but people weren't laughing at my stories with me...they were laughing at me. Upon this realization, I realized it wasn't worth it anymore and I cut off all social ties from my classes unless spoken to, and it remained this way for a long time.
I never bothered picking myself up.
You know, I can't help but admit this is something I've always felt about myself. That is, people not taking me seriously. I've always had this...persona, I guess would be the best word, of acting like a zealous, overexcited, childish person in public and that's the case with even with most people I know personally. The way I acted this way in public had to do with a lot of things. I've never had much social expertise, and as such I often flub over my words thanks to my unbreakable habit of talking too fast. I may sound smart and descriptive on the blog, but the reality is that I'm often at a loss as to how to communicate with people, particularly when someone offends me, and I prefer to be silent. I have very little in common with most kids my age and as such can hardly find any subjects with them to discuss unless they bring it up to me, which is very rare.
In short, I've hardly ever made the step to fit in with my age group, and as such I was just branded as Anthony. To them, I was just the kid who just languished in the background.
Did I ever resent this? To be honest, fitting in with the other kids my age was something I never found myself interested in doing, so it never had much of an impact on me. This might sound selfish, but while I may have made friends naturally, I was never into what I had perceived as more "normal" activities that everyone else seemed to enjoy, and I was off in my own little world. I perceived everything as Nintendo, Nickelodeon, Berenstein Bears, Calvin and Hobbes, and Pokemon. They had these interests too, but these things never held as much importance to them they did to me. They played sports. They watched scary movies. They went out of the country. They all ran faster then me. I think I might realized, although perhaps in a subconscious way, that I felt different from everyone else and they all aware of things happening around me that flew right under my nose. In some ways, I felt, and sometimes still do, inferior.
To this day, I still I wonder if the contrast of having a bouncy, yet shy attitude turned the other kids off. Perhaps back then did the conception start that I was just a weird kid obsessed with Nintendo. Thing is, this feeling of being separated from my peers was true even for my middle/high school life. Sports, parties, and reality television was their world, and video games, books, and imagination were my world. The difference was akin to that of the sky being blue, it was just an element of my life I had accepted without a second thought. It was just the way things were. My feelings may have suffered in the process, but I never felt envious.
It's funny I bring this subject up just now too, because I recently completed my four month internship at a kindergarten class in Stony Creek Elementary. Upon observing them, I was surprised at how much it resembled my six year old life. You had the kids who loved Mario, but appeared to hold other interests higher then his games and weren't nearly as crazy as I was about him. You had the kids who knew ran fast and those who didn't. You had the kids who chattered and yelled and those who were silent and polite. Most of all, just about everyone in there was in-tune with life. If I was in there now, I guarantee you I would still cry about being the slowest kid in class and write about Nintendo and cartoons every day in my writing journal. There wasn't a kid like that in there. It's not like I held it against them, but it was a total shock.
When 8th grade, the year I received Mario Kart DS, rolled around, the problem was just about non-existent. At this point, I had cut off all contact with my peers, which at first was simply because of a lack of interest. However, something began to change in me here and it's the only part of my neglected social interaction that I regret.
Just as they had rejected me, I began to internally reject my peers. Perhaps it stemmed out of revenge, but it might have had to do with the sudden influence of drugs in my life. Rumors slowly stirred around the school regarding drugs and drinking parties, and I couldn't believe at the idiocy involved. Didn't the D.A.R.E officers beat it in your heads thousands of times about how bad drugs were? What about alcohol? Everyone's growing attention to things such as sports and Myspace profiles, things I thought were trash, seemed to only cement my suspicions over everyone else around me being losers and that I was superior for the fact that I made smart decisions and didn't forget about my childhood dreams.
It's strange, too. I've always believed that 8th grade was the worst school year I've ever had, mainly for the reasons above and for what we'll be discussing in the next post. Yet, upon reflection, I realize that the only thing that made 8th grade such a failure in my eyes was me. I was too focused on the anger I had directed at my peers and all of the personal bullshit going on in my life to try and get along with everyone. Instead, I gave my teachers and guidance counselors a hard time in dealing with my emotional outbursts and rage, and more than anything would I like to go back there and apologize to them.
Was the anger fueled from their previous rejection of me and my brother doing drugs? I don't know, but from that point on, it was a juxtaposition between feeling superior to my peers and feeling inferior. On one hand, I felt that I was smarter and better then all of them because I stayed away from drugs, drinking, parties, and the rest of their hobbies that I had deemed worthless crap. On the other side, I felt inferior because I still couldn't talk well and I never picked up on the various social interactions and worldly knowledge everyone else has gained. I was trapped.
In other words, I was a idiot. Either way, I had become completely detached from reality and stopped paying attention to the world around me. I became stuck, narrowly focusing everything onto my own self-centered goals...
...one of which we'll go into next time.
Hey! Been wondering just what exactly these depressing, rambling flashbacks have to do with Mario Kart DS? It'll become clear over the next three posts!
So, I found out recently that Guile's theme does, indeed, go with everything. I think I'm gonna get Super Street Fighter IV for the 3DS when it comes out next month. It'll be my first real foray into the series.