Saturday, February 19, 2011
Man! I feel..a little proud that I've gotten this far. Not that I ever thought of quitting the whole thing, mind you, but I'd like to think that I traveled farther than I thought I would.
Before we get into the juicy announcements, I'd like to discuss the pros and cons of what I've accomplished over the past year.
The Good Stuff
-It might interest you to know that Leave Luck to Heaven has achieved over 16,000 page views. Shocking, isn't it? Well, just about 99.9% of the hits result from the wonder that is Google Image Search, so perhaps I shouldn't get too excited. In particular, people seem to love my Super Mario Bros. and Soul Silver pictures...
- I've come to find that I love writing gargantuan reviews instead of the smaller ones you see on most websites. I've never felt comfortable at all writing reviews of those sizes, and while some may see me as going overboard, I feel having the reviews at that level is just the right size for establishing all of my thoughts and feelings. A size fit only for a humongous Nintendo fan!
-Of the three games I went over previously, I feel Mario Kart DS was the one that had the best transition. I never actually finished my Super Mario Bros. Views, and my Kirby's Adventure Dreams were, as much as I was excited to discuss the game, had a ton of imperfections and I just stopped caring near the end. With Mario Kart DS, I discussed nearly every facet of the game and had an awesome time doing so. Plus, I felt going over the characters was a nice touch (although I regret never getting around to R.O.B). I never thought one could talk so much about Mario Kart!
The Bad Stuff
-That said, there were a couple of things that went wrong with it. For one thing, I had planned the retrospective pieces to nab my thoughts and feelings about certain topics while I had first played the game, but instead most of them came off as rambling, non-related issues that included much more teen angst than I was aiming for. It was my first time doing such a feature and while I was aiming for it to be an essential component of the Mario Kart DS Laps, it didn't really capture the essence of my time with it and instead served as a soapbox to let my feelings out. Sorry about that.
Then you have the fact that it went on much longer than I had intended. In fact, that's been a problem with a ton of things on here recently. Expect an announcement on that when you scroll on down.
-I also made some broken promises, most notably in saying I would review certain games (Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and WarioWare D.I.Y), but I never got around to doing so. The main reason? I didn't push my motivation hard enough and as such most of my posts were late and those reviews were swamped in the mess that followed.
So I think that's about it.
What can you expect in the blog's future?
-From now on, all games will be completed within the span of two months. You can expect game reviews within a month after release. I'm also going to be focusing on posting on the weekends (Friday to Sunday) and Wednesday, so check the blog on those dates.
-I will be continuing to integrate retrospective pieces into my game posts, but they will focus more on my surroundings and feelings when playing the games. Plus, most of the ones I'm planning weren't surrounded by doom and gloom like Mario Kart DS was, so you can expect happier ones.
-A new feature will be introduced next month!
-The next game I'll be going over has been decided. Your two hints are as follows:
a) It's not quite as recent as Mario Kart DS was, but in a way, it is more recent! Also, we're arriving at its 10th anniversary.
b) It's a short game, so I'm probably going to dwindle the limit of posts from 10 to about seven or eight.
Annnnnnd that's about it!
See you next week for a new entry in Games I've Been Playing!
Friday, February 18, 2011
On one hand, I couldn't bear to look at Mario Kart DS anymore. The still-wrapped game case remained stationary in my DS library, and served as a reminder of one of the harshest consequences of addiction. Only then realizing the true gravity of Michael's drug problem, I began to distance myself away from my brother, of which included most things that reminded me of him. I may have owned the game again, but it wasn't the same Mario Kart DS I had before, and it was something that stung me sharply.
On the other hand...I knew I would have to go back eventually. In a way, my urge to play the game again never fully dispersed. The gamer in me wanted to test how far I had come over the years, and I wanted to know if I could either blaze through the game or still struggle with it. Playing Mario Kart DS again, even if it was not the same game I had years before, would serve as an act of forgiveness towards my brother, something that to this day I'm not sure I ever gave to him.
My brother's overdose in August cemented that idea.
I eventually made the decision to return to Mario Kart DS soon after its 5th anniversary that November. What a coincidence, I thought! Why, I could watch my new Dragon Boxes right around the same time! And read SGT Frog again...it'd be like old times. And the Wi-Fi mode! I may not have my old scores anymore, but my losses outweighed my wins, anyway! I could have a fresh start! The same could be said for my time trials and Grand Prix star rankings. I was set, and hyped.
...but do I feel the same way playing it as I did back then?
The word rings for everyone, most likely in a tune that oozes with longing and nostalgia. It is a time where, while certainly not without imperfections, that we look back upon with the most genuine fondness. The trials and tribulations a young adult is pressured into today, such as paying rent, finding a job, romantic life, and raising a child was all but present, and as such the concept of childhood slips so back that it seems almost like a previous life as we get used to another one.
It's a difficult process.
In my Kirby's Adventure posts, I discussed my perception of nostalgia in video games and how I reacted to the concept. When I played a classic video game, the warm, dreamy recollections I had read online or fed off from magazines manifested into a feeling of its own, and I felt as if experiencing these games the same way they did. Nostalgia was a form of pleasure I indulged in often back as a ten year old, and it's something I still treasure.
However, it had a counterpart. While to this day I still have not been able to find a name for it yet, on a retrospective scale it's virtually synonymous with nostalgia. When taken into consideration the wild imagination of a growing child, it wasn't long before I began absorbing the very world of the games I was indulging myself in. The wide, open worlds of Super Mario, Zelda, and Kirby enveloped me immediately with their combination of lively characters, engaging musical scores, and beautiful backgrounds that only gave a hint of the supposed paradise my idols lived in.
When I remember my childhood, I tend to relive in the feelings I had felt while experiencing my hobbies. I still recall the soaring reverie of playing a Kirby game, soaking in the beautiful atmosphere, whether it was rolling fields filled with flowers or beautiful carnival atmospheres with auroras hanging in the sky. When exploring the cave levels in Super Mario 64 or the aquatic preservation of Hyrule Castle in Zelda: The Wind Waker, I felt as if I was a solitary archaeologist, discovering the world's greatest long-lost treasures and somehow living to tell the tale. When I played Earthbound, I was reminded of an earlier urban culture long lost, complete with the eccentric townspeople, hidden treehouses, and quaint houses found only in books and cartoons. I took the atmosphere of every Nintendo game I had played and created mental simulations of them in my mind, reveling in the beauty of the worlds I had visited.
While not always present during my gaming youth, it popped up immediately after the advent of the Gamecube's Super Smash Bros. Melee and my introduction to retro titles such as Kirby Super Star and Earthbound. The impact of experiencing both nostalgia and feeling was a silent revolution, and the two concepts integrated instantly into my gaming experiences. I loved that feeling so much that it became the backbone of my experiences, and I never doubted its presence for a moment.
To me, it proved that video games weren't just games...they were another world.
It was my shining moment in my history with video games.
And I lost it....or so I thought.
Time and time again I have stated this. When you become a teenager, the rules change. The various ugly realities of life, whether they were conveniently camouflaged in our youths or simply lacked the ability to throw their full gravity on us, gradually but surely become apparent to us and seep into our brains forever. Most accept the change without a second thought, eager to move on to the glamorous promises offered as a teen. Some simply roll along, not sure what to make of the adjustments forced onto them, but still gladly take the test to growing up in middle/high school. As the teen years progress, even less realize that, in the midst of fulfilling our self-centered goals and caught up in the whirlwind of our growing obligations, we have lost something: Our childhood innocence and dreams.
I was the last two, and I took that change so hard.
Was what happened back then important? Not really, and neither was how I picked myself back up either. What is important, though, is the mess I became after I recovered. It's strange to describe what happened, as I both longed for my past and focused on my self-centered goals in the present. I still remembered that sweet feeling in my youth, the beauty I felt while wrapped up in my games, and chased after it for god knows how long. Meanwhile, most everything that I was engaging in the present was either shoved to the side after a week, with the exception of the completely new (One Piece, Shadow of the Colossus, Eyeshield 21, and Fire Emblem being primary examples). I was convinced that bringing back that feeling was the only key to my happiness.
And you know something? I probably could have continued to feel it if I slowed to a halt and realized what I was enjoying...which I eventually did maybe three years ago.
I also mentioned in my Kirby's Adventure posts about how I'll probably never feel the same way about the game like I did in my childhood, but I still enjoyed it anyway. I think the big secret as to why we can't perfectly emulate those reveries today is because they were exclusive to childhood. Children perceive, feel, and experience in a fashion that dives so deep into the imaginary, and as we grow older and are occupied by the budding requirements of adulthood, we lose the feelings that were once central to us. It's just the natural way of things.
And you know what? I'm okay with that. Can I still feel the same way about my favorite video games to a certain degree? Certainly! Why, just today, I took a trip out to the park and listened to the soundtrack for Kirby Super Star Ultra, a remake of one of my favorite Super Nintendo titles. The soaring reverie was back for the first time in ages, and combined with the blue sky and bountiful sunshine made for an engrossing experience not unlike what I had in fourth grade.
I would not call Mario Kart DS a beautiful game in terms of aesthetics, but I can feel its nostalgia. There was a strange appeal to sitting alone in the depths of my dark room playing the Wi-Fi mode, while reading Dragon Ball right before going to bed and playing Tales of Symphonia the next morning. It was the only ray of sunshine of a dark period.
And you know what? I'm glad it's gone. I may have enjoyed those elements on the side, but I suffered in the day, torn between the trials of eight grade and my brother's newfound addiction. When I returned to Mario Kart DS, I realized that I didn't need to read SGT Frog again and watch Japanese subtitled Dragon Ball Z to replicate the experience. In the midst of searching for the lost feeling and nostalgia, I forgot the most important element of video games.
That's the most important thing. I may enjoy my feeling and nostalgia as much as I want, but they play second fiddle to this crucial element. It doesn't matter how beautiful a game is; if the game's not fun, it all falls apart.
When I played Mario Kart DS for the first time, I was a lonely, depressed teenager. Now? I'm a young adult who's only now just finding his way. Things are different now, and the same applies to Mario Kart DS. I've already gone in length as to why I can't play the online mode anymore, which in a way defeated the purpose of practicing in Versus mode and earning higher star rankings.
But it doesn't matter.
I may not be able to nab a new beginning in Wi-Fi mode anymore, but everything else is there for me. I can perfect my Time Trials. I can now beat the Staff Ghosts. I can experiment with other racers and karts. I can earn Star Rankings. I can change the rules to Battle and Versus modes as much as I want. I can race and race and race and I'll still have fun.
I can play.
I can play, and that's what counts.
Thanks for being there, guys.
Here's to hoping for the best for Mario Kart 3DS!
And that concludes our feature on Mario Kart DS!
Expect an announcement regarding on what's nearing the blog's future tomorrow.
Monday, February 14, 2011
These posts will focus more on my reflection and what ultimately led to me playing the game again. They'll be a little shorter, but I'd think they're important.
I played Mario Kart DS for a few months.
It's strange how things only stick with us for what's in reality a short amount of time, but feels like as if they were with us forever. Gamers of the 80's share tales of how they played Super Mario Bros. 3 or Mega Man 2 for years, never tiring of their addictive nature and rich features. These days, we maybe only play games for a month of two. Occasionally, it might only be several months, and even rarer are the ones we play for years. We revisit titles, of course, but it's never longer than a few weeks
Time changes things.
It always happens to be case, however, that the titles that last longer are those that focus on multiplayer and competitive play. It is no secret that gamers seek to constantly improve their skills, and it is these games that provide such opportunities. Shooting fans flock to Halo to perfect their innate sense of aiming, and fighters practice every day with Street Fighter to discover and master new techniques. Fans of Team Fortress 2 scramble around the arenas, delighting in both the wacky nature and teaming up with their comrades to develop new strategies. Pokemon games become replaced with each passing title, but once focused on, no other game franchise can match the in-depth analysis of every character, every attack, every type, and every function that make up every Pokemon you see in the game.
Mario Kart is no exception to this rule. Despite the presence of items, everyone has accepted the weapons as an essential part of the experience. However, it is the racing that everyone focuses on. We study each character, picking out their pros and cons, eventually settling on who we favor the most. We practice day in and out with that character, intending on becoming the best in our circle of friends. It is a game we can certainly label as competitive, and many still play the older titles in the series, preferring their old-fashioned mechanics.
The reason why Mario Kart DS was hailed as the best in the series was because of the monstrous diversity it brought to the series. Characters were no longer glued to a single kart, they could now select from 36 different vehicles! The possibilities this factor brought to the game were endless. You had 432 possible combinations to pick from! And there was an online mode! It wasn't perfect, but it was there! You had star rankings, player rankings, and the ability to test your skills against the entire globe!
It was for this reason Mario Kart DS left such a strong impact for me long after I put the game down. The community remained healthy for several years, and gamers were marveled at the excellence of the title. It was listed along with Kirby: Canvas Curse as the killer apps of the system by numerous game publications and gamers. Players continued to break records and score thousands of points online. Everyone raved about how amazing it was.
I suppose this led me to wish I held on to the game longer.
A few years down the road, which was 2009, I made the silent decision to pick the game back up eventually. Sure, maybe the excitement and gusto that surrounded the game had dispersed over time. But the fun I would have to return to it! Why, I could update all of my Time Trials! I could improve my star rankings! I could turn around my Win/Loss ratio and become a pro on Wi-Fi! No longer would I be turned off by losing. I was no longer a childish youth...I was now a budding young adult. I would have nothing to lose now.
I was ready to return to Mario Kart DS.
...but I never got that chance.
This is Bowser.
The big, bad antagonist of the Super Mario series, Bowser is known as the King of Koopas in his realm. Cruel and unrelenting, Bowser commands a massive army of varying forms of Koopas, Goombas, Shy Guys, Boos, Dry Bones, Pokeys, Bob-ombs, Hammer Bros., Bloopers, and Cheep-Cheeps, all of which are only the tip of the iceberg. Since he's just so evil, he constantly terrorizes and invades the Mushroom Kingdom on a regular basis, kidnapping Princess Peach in the process. The Mario Bros. chase him down every time and engage in epic battles that always end in his defeat. It's no easy feat, however, as Bowser's own array of brute force, fire breath, and simple yet effective plans that grant him immense resources of powerful magic. To the Mario Bros., he is their worst enemy.
Despite all this, Bowser isn't the most evil villain Nintendo has to offer (that title probably goes to Zelda's Ganondorf or Earthbound's Porky Minch). In the past dozen years or so, Nintendo has portrayed Bowser as a comical figure, with the character often delighting in his humorous attempts to conquer the kingdom. Why, he's even kind enough to call a truce with them on many occasions when the gang decides to wind down so he can join their various sporting adventures (with the exception of Mario Party). With this in mind and his obvious infatuation with Princess Peach, could it be that...he has a good side?
-Believe it or not, Bowser actually has his own children! Named after famous music composers (Clockwise: Lemmy, Morton, Wendy O., Ludwig von, Larry, Roy, and my personal favorite, Iggy), the Koopalings served alongside their father in many of Mario's early adventures. Their most famous appearances were in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, but they even left their mark in obscure titles such as Mario is Missing! and Yoshi's Safari.
Soon after the Super Nintendo, however, the Koopalings disappeared without a trace. They were eventually replaced with Bowser Jr. in Super Mario Sunshine, a change that disappointed many retro fans. However, the Koopalings gradually made a comeback, beginning with their eerie lack of dialogue in 2003's Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. They finally returned with the advent of 2009's New Super Mario Bros. Wii, right where they belong in the world of 2D!
Still, there are many mysterious surrounding ALL of the Koopa children, such as, you know...where they came from. But I suppose that's a can of worms we don't want to open.
-My favorite Bowser battle? It's gotta be the one in Super Mario 64. Now, don't get me wrong. The ones in both Mario Galaxies were amazing, particular in the example of Galaxy 2 where my mouth dropped to the floor (HOLY SHIT HE'S HUMONGOUS). But for some reason, it's always the final battle in Mario 64. I suppose it has to do with the setting. I mean, you're fighting in the sky and he stomps the suspended platform so hard that it turns into the shape of a star. And there's organ music playing in the background! And, and, and...RAINBOW BOWSER!
Lord, I love Mario 64.
-Even though they are mortal enemies, there were times when Bowser had no choice but to team up with the plumbers on their RPG adventures. It's happened on at least three separate occasions: Super Mario RPG, where the takeover of his castle and abandonment by his remaining troops forces him to team up with Mario; Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, where the alliance lasts maybe five minutes before he falls off his aircraft and develops amnesia; and Super Paper Mario, where he joins the plumbers and Princess Peach to prevent a series of dimensions being ripped asunder by the evil Count Bleck.
Of course, you can't forget the above Bowser's Inside Story, in which through a series of events, he swallows the brothers and goes on a rampage throughout the kingdom, targeting the nasty Fawful. He finds it to be a fun romp, but there's one catch...the Bros. are helping him from within, and he doesn't know it! What a goof!
-In Mario Kart, Bowser ranks as an, obviously, heavyweight racer. He shares stats with Wario and Donkey Kong in that they have low acceleration and awkward handling, but have a huge amount of weight and thus aren't to be messed with. Also, he easily has some of the best karts in the series. Super Mario World fans will no doubt recognize the motif below:
Yet, he's not used too much as the others. I wonder why?
I've dropped hints throughout the series of Laps that I've had to start from scratch with Mario Kart DS. It's time I explain why.
One of the rules I have made when it comes to my games is that I never delete my game files unless absolutely necessary. That is, if a game has three or more save files and I want to play a new one, I ignore my old file and begin a new file. If all files are occupied, then I delete one and move on. My original files are relics I dare not trifle with, as each and every one of them represent an era I had once lived in. They may not evoke the same feeling within, but it doesn't feel quite right not to have them there. And I was, and am still, happy with that.
...but as I found, there are times when that balance can be forever ruined.
If you read my tribute to Michael, you probably know that I had gone in length over the many trials and tribulations my brother put us through. He relapsed in secret numerous times and lied to us about it. He somehow always found the company of drug dealers at work and bought drugs from them. During a vacation to NYC for the both of us, he was on drugs the whole time and used them behind my back.
In a gradual process over the year of 2009, my brother stole nearly twenty of my video games so he could score more drugs.
Mario Kart DS was one of the video games my brother stole.
I can't even begin to tell you the rush of feelings that coursed through me upon hearing and digesting that event, but I can list what I was angry about. I was angry over the fact that it happened. I was angry over the fact that I was right in suspecting that my video games were being stolen and no one believed me. I was angry over the fact that my brother did it. I was angry over the fact that he used my games as tools for his bullshit addiction. I was angry over the fact that my brother played dumb over stealing my games when I told him of my suspicions not even three weeks earlier ("Who could have stolen them?"). I angry over the fact that my games were stolen.
Of all the games Michael had stolen, it was Mario Kart DS that hurt the most. With my stolen Wii/PS2 games, my save files were still retained in either my system memory or in my memory cards. But the DS cards are different, the memory is saved onto the game cards. Once that card's gone, everything goes with it. My time trials, my rankings, my wins and losses vanished into the darkness, and any evidence of that isolated period in 2005 was gone. Forever.
With Kirby Super Star Ultra, I could pretend that it still had the same game-erasing bug as the Super Nintendo version. With Zelda: Phantom Hourglass...well, I can live without it. But Mario Kart DS was different.
Naturally, the drama and angst that resulted over that put a halt to my plans for Mario Kart DS. My brother bought several of my games back, but the interest to play them was gone. My new copy of Mario Kart DS was...well, new. It was shrinkwrapped, never been opened, a virgin. It was something I didn't dare touch.
The bitter irony that the game I used to escape Michael's addiction eventually became a victim of that very addiction and became a tool to fuel it never left my mind, and as such I didn't dare remove the shrinkwrap.
But did it ruin the game for me?
The conclusion details that answer in our final Lap.
We'll probably wrap this up on either Thursday or Friday.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
For what seemed like forever, Nintendo was, for whatever reason, strongly opposed to including online play in their games. The Playstation 2 and the Xbox were already making strides with introducing non-PC gamers to the wonderful world of online gaming. While Sega's Dreamcast was the first notable frontier in online gaming on consoles, it was those two systems that made the mode a standard. Unfortunately, Nintendo once again refused to move with the times and instead made use of the LAN network, which involved a complicated process of connecting several Gamecube consoles. Obviously, no one bothered with it.
Personally, I believe Nintendo's stubbornness involved with decisions such as sticking with cartridges, no DVD playback, and being late to the online party had to do with their confidence in their own titles. Online play is one thing, but perhaps they felt customers wouldn't be swayed by such flashy appliances and would instead flock to their familiar brand titles. As we can all guess, it didn't work out. BUT HEY, NOT LIKE IT'S A PROBLEM ANYMORE, EH?
Still, Nintendo's initially hostile feelings toward online gaming befuddled many gamers, and was without a doubt the biggest criticism of the company during the Gamecube days. I guess they made enough of an outcry, because within a few months after the launch of the DS, Nintendo announced the handheld would feature online play. This announcement excited gamers, but it was risen to the next level when we learned that Nintendo's first foray into online game would be with the upcoming DS versions of Mario Kart and Animal Crossing. The internet went nuts.
As for myself, I was pretty excited. My only real online experience before hand was dipping into my friend's copy of World of Warcraft, but it wasn't quite my thing. A Nintendo game being online, however, would definitely be a totally different story. I remember Nintendo's choice of incorporating LAN as their substitute for online gaming completely baffling me, and yearning for favorites such as Kirby Air Ride, F-Zero GX, and Star Fox Assault to be avaliable for online play. No matter how much fun it was to discuss these games with my online-only friends, it wasn't quite the same as playing with them.
Now we would have the opportunity to do! The more we thought about it, the more hyped we became. The announcement came right as the DS began making big waves. Kirby: Canvas Curse was critically acclaimed by both critics and fans alike and was hailed as one of the most innovative games ever made. Capcom's Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was an immediate cult hit upon release, and everyone delighted in its charming premise and instant internet memes. The various iterations of Nintendogs caused a humongous splash amongst casual gamers, and remains one of the best selling series of all time.
Everyone knew the DS was a risky move, but Nintendo pulled it off. And soon, we would have our hands on their first online video game.
How did it work?
Note: Just to let you know, we will have a shortage of screenshots today. I love you, Mario Kart Wii, but you're hogging all the Google Image Search love, man!
I remember it like it was yesterday.
The online community sprung up immediately. Internet message boards dedicated to the game made their way via Google Search. "Clans," or groups of friends that had decided to band together, populated the Mario Kart DS board on GameFAQS, ignoring the fact the game did not even recognize such groups. Avatars, which you could design in the game and could actually IMPRINT ONTO YOUR KART, exploded in the same manner as they had previously in Animal Crossing and were readily avaliable to anyone too lazy to design one for themselves. Racing techniques unique to the game were discovered daily and were picked up by virtually everyone. Friend Codes, soon to be the notorious example of Nintendo's "failure" of their online structure (more on that later), flooded forums everywhere.
Myself? I didn't even know where to start. I was just surprised at how easy it was go online. Once you had set up the Wi-Fi on your DS, going online and joining a match was as simple as clicking a few buttons. You had four options: Rivals, opponents who hold similar Win/Loss ratios as you; Regional, where you could race anyone in the country; Friends, private games where you and your registered buddies could race against each other; and finally, Worldwide, where racers all over the world could be fought at the press of a button.
Despite its simplicity, I was immensely overwhelmed. Where should I go? What option should I focus on? A new player should naturally dive into Rivals, but the allure of racing people worldwide was far more enticing! And then there was the whole game itself!
My friends, of which included my buddy Vaztor, formed a group known as the 8-Bits, and all of our avatars reflected NES sprites. Myself? I had a small Kirby sprite from Kirby's Adventure with a blue background. We all came up with names for our online handles. Vaztor went with his usual namesake, and decided my name: Alagunder. We both thought it was hysterical and the name's stuck to this day.
In retrospect, however, our clan didn't actually do much except bear our avatars, which only polished a nice touch on our karts. While Vaztor proved himself to be a notable member of the online community, it was clear the clan itself had no presence on both forums and the game itself, and as such had no point. The clan dissolved maybe three-four weeks after release, and we found no difference in playing the game upon doing so.
As time went on, the nuances of Wi-Fi came to light. It was discovered the online mode actually took note of your rankings in Grand Prix. See, the game records how well you perform in each cup (As in, how many times you hit obstacles/walls/items, how long you stayed in first place, etc.), and gives you a ranking from a C to three stars. If you finished all cups with at least one star, the star was present on your username during a race! The same went for two stars or three stars, so when people saw those star rankings, they knew you meant business.
But was everyone as receptive to the other elements of Wi-Fi?
While everyone delighted in the fact that they were actually experiencing an online mode in a Nintendo game, players gradually began to complain about other factors present in the mode. Some of these proved themselves to be only minor hindrances, but others completely ruined the game itself for certain people.
For starters, there were some obvious limitations in Mario Kart DS' online. Not all of the stages were avaliable, and unfortunately the stages omitted were some of the most interesting in the game (Airship Fortress and Waluigi Pinball!). As opposed to the eight racers found in standard play, you could only have a game of four racers. Even in-game mechanics were affected, as the infamous trick of holding an item behind you to block an incoming Red Shell was gone.
Then, of course, you had the complaints regarding THE BLUE SHELL. Introduced in Mario Kart 64, it's quite different from the Green and Red shells in that it targets whoever is in first place. Upon reaching its target, it causes an explosion and hinders the player for several moments. Over the years, many people had felt the item was becoming a nuisance, but it was taken to the next level with its use in Wi-Fi. Many felt the item had robbed victories they could have won, and thus labeled the item as cheap.
However, both of these were small potatoes in contrast to what supposedly plagued the online mode. A certain technique soon filled the Wi-Fi crevasses and caught on with the Mario Kart DS populace. Remember how I discussed powersliding, a technique that involves holding the R button at an angle, giving you a boost? Well, people were (okay, and are) taking advantage of Mario Kart DS' version of the powerslide and executed a technique known as snaking. See, snaking works by constantly abusing the powerslide maneuver and performing it in a crisscross manner, essentially copying the movement of a snake. Since you're constantly gaining boosts of speed in such quick movements, it eventually became the key to winning an online race, particularly on the broader courses where the long, wide tracks were just begging to be snaked on.
Many Mario Kart DS players cried foul against this newfound technique, claiming that it was cheating and that those who could not (or in some cases, outright refused to) snake wouldn't have a chance. Advanced, competitive players, however, couldn't understand the fuss and defended the technique as being an evolved form of a basic technique and naturally taking advantage of it. It was a bitter debate that lasted for quite a while, and left a permanent stereotype on Mario Kart DS, much like Super Smash Bros. Melee's wavedashing.
Check out the video below for a demonstration.
Then had the dreaded, awful, downright scary Friend Codes, which are Nintendo's system of registering friends. See, in just about every other online service, you just simply add a name of another player to your friends list and that's it. On Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and the Steam service, once you add a friend, that addition is ubiquitous for every game you play on that console/service.
Not for Nintendo's games! For games on Wii and DS, Nintendo requires you to fill out a twelve-digit collection of numbers/letters for every friend in every game. Nintendo's reasoning for this relates to their policy of parental controls/child safety. The Titantic-sized bitchfest regarding these codes have varied from taken too long to input, having to register too many times, being the sole factor as to why Nintendo's online services are so empty when compared to other games, or perhaps just for the sake of complaining (a common facet of the gaming world).
What did I think of these complaints?
My views of these aspects mirror the same views I had back then, so I guess I'll be switching between past and present tense. On snaking, I'll have to agree with the competitive players (with the exception of one element to it..but we'll get to that later). It does get tedious just holding the A button and performing the occasional powerslide, so people are going to deviate, and that deviation gave birth to snaking. It's an advanced technique that takes advantage of a defined technique labeled in the game, and it's not as if it was born out of a glitch people exploited (Hellllooooo, Smash Bros.!). In other words, it's not cheating. It's just how experts play the game. Personally, I don't, or rather didn't, snake against new players since it's not fair to them, but I take the gloves off against someone with a high Win ratio. All in moderation.
And hey, how could you even beat the Staff Ghosts in Time Trials without snaking? I mean, really, good luck with that.
As for Friend Codes...yeah, I didn't see the problem with it back then, and I still don't see the problem with it today. Is Nintendo's online flawed? You bet it is, but these things aren't the reason why. Come on, is it really that big of a deal to take less then twenty seconds out of your day to fill in these numbers? "Oh oh oh but you'll have to do more then twenty seconds consecutively-" Shut up, it's not that painful. For the record, I also don't really see why people pin the blame on Friend Codes for everything that's wrong with Nintendo's online service. Lack of voice chat? Nintendo just didn't include it in most of their games. Lack of features? Same deal. Lack of leaderboards? Same-well, you get the picture.
So, I guess online back then was just about perfect. For me, anyway.
But how long did I play?
I played for a couple of months.
I guess one of the defining factors in Wi-Fi was the Win-Loss ratio, which is what appears when you're listed as an opponent on someone else's screen. It works like this: The game decides who wins and who loses by whatever place a player is in. For example, if I get second place in an online race, I'll gain a loss because I lost to whoever was in first place, but receive two wins because I beat the other two players. So, you can get as many as three wins or three losses during a match.
I obsessed over this for a while, and I came to various conclusions regarding this feature. On the plus side, without a doubt it served as a motivator for me to improve myself. I practiced constantly in Time Trials, I attempted to get more Star rankings. I even raced with Vaztor constantly, losing every time as he achieved stardom. Still, I didn't give up. Many say this is what leaderboards and player scores are for: A source of motivation for low-ranked players to strive for and continue to push themselves past their set limits. Practice. Losing. Winning. These elements swirled into my head throughout Winter 2005, and I longed to be a great player.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I became uncomfortable with my Win/Loss status. There was a noticeable gap between my huge collection of losses compared to my meager amount of wins. Did I feel inferior because of this? Not really. I mean, you just gotta accept that there are players who will, and always will be better then you. It's a fact of life that goes with everything. But I began to feel a little insecure about my status, and worried that opponents would judge me based on my score. Sure enough, some high-ranked racers quit the moment they realized they were pit against a group of low-leveled scrubs.
Was it really worth it to be one of the best?
When I received Animal Crossing: Wild World for Christmas, I just about quit. I came to the conclusion that being the best at Mario Kart DS wouldn't mean anything. Sure, I would earn some flattering prestige from the fanbase online, but was it necessary? Would I win anything? It may have simply been a fun pastime, but it got to the point where I was frustrated and not having fun, and that's the signal to drop something. I much preferred the lax nature of Wild World's online chats.
Did I still play the game? Of course. I just didn't dabble into Wi-Fi anymore, that's all.
In an ironic twist, Masahiro Sakurai intentionally left out leaderboards for Super Smash Bros. Brawl due to the very reasons I gave above. The man knows his audience (clam it tourneyfags).
Despite all that, somehow more positive memories then bad ones emerge when it comes to the early days of Wi-Fi. You know what my favorite memory of Mario Kart DS' online is?
This song really takes me back. This is the very song that defines Mario Kart DS for me, and to an extent can even make me forgive all of the online mode's flaws.
You know something? I can point to this song and say that it's the symbol of what Nintendo attempts to get across with their method of online service. It doesn't try to overwhelm with its features, and wants to get the player situated right away in an online match. It's been Nintendo's doctrine for ages: Focus on only pleasing the player and nothing else.
This music symbolizes all of that. It's soft, soothing, and guarantees the player of a smooth transition to online. I remember huddling up on my bed in the dark, relaxing to this song as my DS attempted to search for other players. I remember how even when I was angry at losing again, this song would calm me down until I was ready to jump back in again. When my friends played other Wi-fi games on DS, we were disappointed that they didn't follow the Mario Kart DS route of employing soft online music. It left that much of an impact on us.
And don't forget the ringing when you find an opponent!
This symbolizes Mario Kart DS for me. The days of when I would play this game well into the night when everyone else was asleep. The days of when I'd read nothing but Dragon Ball and SGT Frog. The days of when my friends and I practiced day in and day out. The days of when my friend actually beat Azen and always beat me.
They'll always be there.
When I decided to play Mario Kart DS again last fall, the one thing I was most excited to experience again was the online mode. Through a certain circumstance, I now had a clean slate and could start from scratch! No longer would my losses outweigh my wins...I'd now become a force to be reckoned with!
Sure enough, I blazed ahead most of the competition. I could now powerslide effortlessly. My wins outnumbered my losses. I was now able to defeat the Staff Ghosts. I had a much larger repertoire of star rankings then I had previously. I could powerslide and snake ahead of both the CPU and players worldwide. I could actually win! I felt proud.
My current record is 136 wins and 36 losses. It's an impressive record.
...and I've decided to let it stay like that.
It wasn't an easy decision to quit again. I mean, I had more wins then your average person on Wi-Fi. I was now a skilled player. It WAS the main reason people played the game in the first place. What reason would I have to quit now?
Because there's no point.
The passing of five years has rendered Mario Kart DS' online structure disjointed. The gap between the different types of players is too large. Most people you'll find are just those getting into the game, and even if you find someone good, not only will they always have win scores in the thousands, but more often than not they either hack or abuse the best karts in the game in such a way that they are virtually invincible.
I suppose this requires some elaboration. One of the main reasons why people were so opposed to snaking was that a good majority of snakers made use of two karts: The bumbling Dry Bones' Dry Bomber (pictured above) and Yoshi's Yoshi Egg. These two karts have incredibly high acceleration and handling (in the case of the Dry Bomber, they're both perfect), which are the most vital components of snaking.
This is actually the only complaint I found viable when it came to snaking. For one thing, they are just about impossible to catch up to and it's a pain in the ass to come across them because no other kart in the game can match up to their snaking prowess. In addition, most Dry Bomber/Yoshi Egg snakers will vote the crap out of Figure-8 Circuit, the broadest track in the game, so they can score more wins.
As for the new players, they could be considered to be even worse. Most can't deal with the fact that they can lose and quit the match out of rage. It's not uncommon to witness a race that starts with four racers dwindle down to two in a matter of thirty seconds. Even when I try to go easy on them, pick the stages they want, and stop momentarily so they can catch up, it doesn't matter. They just want to win and won't take a loss for an answer.
Even when considering an objective scale, the online mode still falters. If Rivals promises that you will fight racers who have similar win stats to you, then why is it that I'm fighting a guy with over a thousand wins? Having only four racers and only twenty stages to race on may have been acceptable back then, but feels too jarring and bare today. I suspect Nintendo might have feared the chaos eight players/more obstacle filled stages would bring to Wi-Fi, which does make sense considering they were new to the world of online at the time, but it's just not feasible to overlook today.
And to round it all up? Hackers. Yeah, hackers. I'm talking about the guys who can shoot red shells at the beginning of the match, can transform into a Bullet Bill at the start and fly off, and even make you stumble over when the countdown ends. It's a lose/lose situation for the opposing players for numerous reasons, all of which boil down to one factor: The Win/Loss ratio.
When you disconnect a match, the game responds by registering that you lost the match and as such, you gain three losses. An acceptable punishment for those who rage quit, but what about those against a hacker? A Figure-8 Circuit spammer? There is absolutely no escape, whether you grit your teeth and bear with the pointless race or turn off the DS. No matter what you do, there will be that stain on your record because someone decided to cheat. If people played by the rules, I'd have about 22 losses instead of 36.
What's the point of becoming the best in a broken world of cheaters, abusers, and sore losers? What's the point if my record isn't a genuine reflection of my skill? What's the point of bearing it when the competition doesn't play fair?
What's the point if it's not fun?
I really, really wish it was different, but the factors above are just too much.
Despite its enchanting premise back then and my excitement of starting all over again, Mario Kart DS' online isn't worth the time and effort today. If my record doesn't accurately represent my ability and people won't play by the rules, then there is no point. And unfortunately, not even the music above can make me forgive its flaws.
But did it ruin the game for me?
Not at all. And you'll learn why in the last two Laps.
Wow, long post! Can't believe that I wrote most of it today.
Expect the last two Laps this week.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Just wanted to let you know: The post will be somewhat shorter then normal. Full details at the bottom.
The one thing that's definitely improved with the games of this generation is the abundance of content offered in each and every one of them. No longer do we have just single player, multiplayer, sound tests, and options. We have online gameplay, achievement points, downloaded content, utilizing systems' clocks, and incredible variations on your typical game modes. Nowadays, games are so chock full of content that we often don't know where to start, and as such us gamers can feel quite overwhelmed!
Before, Mario Kart games didn't have too much to choose from in terms of game modes. You had your Grand Prix, and your Time Trials, and your Versus, and your Battle Mode, and that was it. Not that this was a bad thing, mind you. I mean, it is a racing game. How much could one expect?
One of the winning factors in Mario Kart DS' critical acclaim was that there was so much to choose from from the various game modes. And I'm not just talking about the abundance of karts a player can combine with various characters, either. Mario Kart DS, as Shigeru Miyamoto or Satoru Iwata would say, upended the tea table and not only revitalized its previous mode staples, but brought fantastic new elements to the franchise, most of which we'll go into today.
Who can forget the wacky diversions of Mario Kart's Battle Mode? To those unfamiliar with the mode, it's quite different from your usual racing shenanigans. In this mode, combatants are placed into an entrapped arena and drive around hitting each other with the series' various weapons. Each racer has three balloons embedded onto their kart, and lose a balloon each time they're hit.
Sounds frantic enough, but players will soon learn to employ various nasty tactics, most of which involve taking advantage of the stages' layout. For example, in Mario Kart DS my favorite arena just so happens to be a recreation of Mario Kart 64's Block Fort. As seen above, it's composed of four different colored block structures, all of which with different floors. I'm going to be upfront in saying that my favorite items in the series are the ones you can drop (Banana Bunches/Fake Item Boxes), and I also love the devilish strategy of placing these guys in the actual item boxes where racers can get their items. As long as you remember where you placed them (that's what the map screen is for!), you're set in watching the ensuing hilarity of your opponents unsuspectingly fall into your trap.
Then you have the long, giant bridges that connect the different structures. This is where the level design comes in handy, as I often powerslide repeatedly around the four lower bridges and fire away at any passerby in sight and then immediately drive off the ledge before they can retaliate. Of course, one can place the dropping items on the bridges as well, as the hapless CPU often can't swerve around it in such tight space.
Mario Kart DS' battle mode is without a doubt the best in the series for various reasons. For one thing, this is the first game in the series to employ the use of CPU (Computer) opponents for the mode. This is actually a big deal, since before the DS entry, the mode required you to employ the presence of multiple players, so you couldn't play it whenever you want, and as such it limited the modes' appeal. But now, you can drop by whenever you want and play against the CPU with whatever rules you apply, whether they're set on hard or split into teams, all at an easier convenience then setting up local Wi-Fi to play with other gamers. Plus, since it uses the CPU, the game ups the original count of combatants from four to eight. All in all, it serves as a great timekiller.
Then there's the stages involved. While a couple were lifted from 64 (Block Fort) and Double Dash!! (Pipe Plaza), the stages included are all great fun to play in. You have the chaotic Tart Top, which involves the racers all scrambling to the cake mountain in the middle, since it provides a thrilling Dash Panel to launch players into the air to grab suspended Item Boxes. Next, there's an actual replica of the original Nintendo DS...IN SPACE. Finally, you have my favorite of the original stages: Twilight House, which is an abandoned building full of unfenced ledges and a spooky forest background.
Finally, you actually have an extra reserve of balloons. To pump them up, you must blow into the DS microphone. Totally gimmicky, but I love it.
There's also another mode involving collecting Super Mario Sunshine's Star Sprites, which are scattered across the field....but uh...you know what? I don't think I've ever played it! I'll have to fix that.
The only flaw to the mode? It's not on Wi-Fi. Booooo.
Mission Mode provides a series of "missions" that the player must carry out. What are these missions, you ask? Well, they're all some variation of stage obstacles, mechanics, or standard gameplay. To those confused, I'll provide a list below so it makes more sense. Watch how it gradually becomes more creative.
-Collecting all ten coins on a racetrack
-Perform six powerslides in one lap
-Reach to the finish before the Chain Chomp
-Drive through all five numbered gates in order while going backwards
-Bomb five Pokey cactuses in Desert Hills
-Grab all the coins while avoiding the nearby Chain Chomp.
-Drive backwards in the interior of Airship fortress while navigating through the wooden box made and avoiding the flamethrowers sprouting from the ceiling while collecting coins.
Pretty neat, eh? Thing is, there's actually no reward in doing all of these. Well, as in nothing you can unlock, anyway. The game scores you on how well you accomplished these missions, the minimum being a C and the maximum being three stars. This all depends on how fast you do said missions according to the time limit given.
Completionist heaven? I think so.
To add a bit of variety, a boss is unlocked once you finish a set of mission. They're all based off of the guys found in Super Mario 64 and its DS remake, and most provide a serious challenge. Some are just your standard "attack the enemy to win" type, but some are focused around racing to the finish. Goomboss, for example, rampages around the diminutive Baby Park while growing bigger and faster in each lap, and will throw Goombas in your path. It's incredibly fast paced and I still have yet to grab a three star ranking against him.
Also, when you unlock a boss, the music grows silent, and the boss panel glows red with an eerie noise. It's accompanied by whatever grunts the boss makes.
Super scary stuff.
Mission Mode is awesome. Why didn't they bring it back for Mario Kart Wii?
This mode is essentially Grand Prix without the bells and whistles; in other words, no rewards or 40-point scores. The big difference here between that and Versus Mode is that you can pick tracks in any order without following the structure of the cups. For example, want to race on Baby Park after your trip through Bowser's Castle? Go right ahead.
There's also a ton of customization for the player to utilize. Naturally, you can select the difficulty of the CPU racers, but you can also choose between the various engine classes of the Grand Prix. You race as many as thirty two times, and also select teams so that each team member can compete to grab points for their teams by earning first place.
Diversity is fun!
So...there's the other three important modes of play. Mario Kart DS veterans will no doubt realize I've skipped over one.
COULD BE A HINT AS TO WHAT'S COMING NEXT
This is Wario.
Perhaps best described as the anti-hero version of Mario, Wario is the complete opposite of the heroic plumber. Lazy, greedy, crude, disgusting, selfish, and just downright nasty, Wario has all of the traits of a jerk all rolled up into one. Unfortunately, like every jerk, he is proud of his status of being the biggest bully around and loves causing trouble. It is perhaps what is an uncommon trait in the Mario series that has led to him gaining a huge fanbase.
Despite being a slob, Wario is overly ambitious when it comes to money, and will do anything to grab some cash. The various Wario Land titles usually spin a yarn of him going to great lengths to nab treasure, of which he accomplishes by utilizing brute force and unique transforming powers. These days, with the exception of Wario Land: Shake it!, Wario has settled down from his adventuring days and prefers to exercise his strength via Mario's sporting escapades. In the meantime, he's made some serious cash with his company, WarioWare Inc., which produces a popular line of five-second microgames.
Wario kicks ass.
-Wario's exact relationship to Mario and Luigi has never been defined, or at least not by the Big N themselves. Nintendo Power has claimed that he is their cousin, but there is no evidence of this found in the games. It's obvious that the Bros. don't get along with Wario, which can be noted by his first appearance as the final boss of Super Mario Land 2 on Game Boy, in which he took over Mario's island estate.
Adding to the confusion is Wario's acquaintance with Waluigi, a rather demented doppelganger of Luigi. The two became fast friends after the latter's appearance in the N64's Mario Tennis, and are always seen paired together in the gang's various sporting adventures. They have been rumored to have been siblings, but again, there is no evidence. Charles Martinet, the voice of both Mario Bros., Wario, and Waluigi, settled the matter by humorously stating "I think they're just two nice, evil guys who found each other."
-Despite his antagonistic nature, Wario is quite the hit in his residence of Diamond City, the setting for the WarioWare Inc. games. His repertoire of microgames, which are addicting series of five-second games, were hit with both the fictional populace and with gamers the world over. The corporation was populated by his friends, of which included Jimmy T., a dancing sensation; Mona, a peppy girl who's always changing jobs; 9-Volt, a young boy obsessed with Nintendo games; and Dr. Crygor, an eccentric scientist who designs many of Wario's projects. There are, of course, much more.
-In Mario Kart, Wario is, like Donkey Kong, a heavyweight racer. While he doesn't have the greatest speed in the world, his karts aren't so easily knocked around; in fact, they're great at pushing other racers around! Perhaps one can view this as perfectly complimenting his bully nature. While he is tricky to master, his popularity makes him a favorite choice in the series.
Also, many of his new karts are based off of jalopies and motorbikes. CHECK 'EM OUUUUUUT
As you might have noticed, I haven't included a retrospective piece this time around. The reason? My schedule has gotten insane lately, and I've been under pressure with working in two internships, working on my homework. That, and not only will I be embarking on a college meet this Friday, but something that's uh...shall we say important is going to happen next week, and with that looming over my head, I'd like to get this series over quick. Not that I'm not enjoying it, but I gotta move on.
Worried that I'm rushing this? Don't fret, read below for what you can expect:
-The next post will actually be a big retrospective piece in itself, and is actually rooted to a certain mode in Mario Kart DS. You don't want to miss this one.
-The last two posts afterwards will probably be smaller than what I've offered already, but will be incredibly vital to the themes I've expressed/hinted at in my Mario Kart DS Laps.
-What I had planned for this post is something I've actually decided to move into the final Lap I'm planning. I did want to post it here originally since I have made a habit of contrasting the themes of my retrospective pieces to the characters I've been talking about, but I felt that its impact would be better realized in a more meaningful post. You'll probably know what I'm talking about when you see it.
And that's about it. See you then.
So...anyone else feel like strangling Square-Enix? Jesus Christ, what's up with them closing down prolific game music accounts? I have to keep going back and editing my older posts...*grumble grumble*
Friday, February 4, 2011
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.