Monthly Archives: February 2012

A look back – Super Mario Kart

Today, we’re looking at the origin of the Mario Kart series, so that we can see how everything has changed over time. Super Mario Kart came out in 1992, two decades ago. I don’t remember getting this game, I simply remember having it as a young child, and I played it quite a bit with my older brother. I’m going to do my best to be objective, but I can’t promise that I will be able to keep nostalgia totally out of this.

Super Mario Kart was a break from the norm for racing games in many ways. The races took place on gimmicky tracks and had items that allowed you to trip up your opponents, and generally had less emphasis on the fast-paced driving action of its peers, settling in an area that I would characterize as anti-competitive. Sure, you wanted to win, but sometimes you might be more focused on simply avoiding the track obstacles (breakable walls, enemies, oil slicks, other racers) than moving as quickly and efficiently as one would like in a racing game. To this day, I have always enjoyed this model of racing games more than the norm.

 

The infamous Rainbow Road hides its danger under a non-threatening color scheme.

At its core, Super Mario Kart is a racing game that takes items, settings, and characters from the already established Mario universe, creating a successful game where maybe there wouldn’t be one. I don’t know how many people would have played a racing game like this if it didn’t have the Mario branding all over it. I can’t honestly say I would have, but I also can’t be sure, because I wasn’t even to double-digits yet. Still, even as yet another Mario game, it managed to try something new, and succeed, if the entire series (7 games and counting) can be used as evidence.

However, Super Mario Kart was not without flaws. Honestly, a lot of the tracks were interesting, but not fun to play on, especially the ice ones where racers had to waste time ramming though block walls. The computers cheated by having their own item generation at random intervals, and some of them even could use stars on a whim! This made the game pretty hard at higher levels, and Rainbow Road was insanely difficult to win on.  Also, the 8 characters had different pros and cons, but the game didn’t really convey that to you. You just picked the character you liked most and that was that.

I couldn't ever bring myself to play as DK, he just looks so goofy in his white t-shirt.

MK7 is definitely more merciful in the AI department than Super Mario Kart, but that’s because MK7’s AI has a rubber-band effect, which infuriates me to no end. You may be the best player on the planet and get a huge lead on the whole pack, but if they are AI, they will catch up easily. This is balanced by allowing the player a chance to make up for once-fatal mistakes, by causing the AI to slow down when you’re far behind. It’s a trade-off, but I don’t know that it’s better.

So what has changed for the better? I’d say MK7 still retains the silly and fun spirit of Super Mario Kart, possibly going even further by having increasingly strange and diverse tracks, and an expanded selection of characters. One very positive change is the customization that MK7 presents to the player, but I talked about that on Monday. Really, the best changes over time are for fun’s sake, with improvements to tracks (more options for routes, more fun effects and opportunities to take out an opponent), and much improved items, blue shells aside. If you asked me as a kid what I would like to be fixed about Super Mario Kart, MK7 is basically a list of what I would say.

 

This week’s topic – Mario Kart 7!

First of all, I hear you saying “Hey Matthew, if this blog is about fun and originality, then why did you pick a game containing the most universally recognized and over-used video game character of all time?”. The reason is this: I’ll look for new and unique elements in any enjoyable game, and while they may be easier to find in offbeat indie games, it doesn’t mean that mainstream games lack creativity. This week we’re looking at MK7, and the franchise as a whole, and I’ll show you what gaming has gained (and lost) from this series.

MK7 came out at the end of last year, and I received it for Christmas from my brother. It is the first and only 3DS game I own, but my opinions on the 3DS’s pool of titles are not the point here. What I want to talk about is the inclusion of the 3DS’s effect on this Mario Kart game in particular. Now, I’m going to assume that everyone reading this has at some point played a Mario Kart game, or at least knows enough about them to understand that they are racing games that are focused on messing with the other racers and having fun on quirky tracks with familiar characters. Every game in this series follows the basic formula of drive around, shoot items at each other, and then hopefully eke out a victory through skill or luck. Read the rest of this entry

Inaugural Post! A personal favorite – Bastion!

Bastion is a game that evoked some emotional responses from me, a feat that very few games have pulled off in my lifetime. I felt loneliness, sadness, joy, anxiety, despair, anger, mirth, and hope, all while playing this quirky little indie game. Bastion came out in the summer of 2011, so it is fairly recent. It received a lot of praise and awards, and actually deserved the vast majority of them.

Bastion has you play as The Kid, a boy or man of indeterminate age, although the game leads me to believe that he is between 19 and 25. You explore a jumbled up and mostly ruined world that is now in pieces and floating in the sky following an anomalous Calamity, and you journey to find survivors while trying to protect the Bastion, which is the last remaining safe place for humanity. However, for a ruined world, you may find that it is exceptionally colorful. All of the art in this game is hand-painted, and that stuck out to me as unique and cool, a very nice touch. It isn’t fair, though, to deride bigger budget games for not doing this, though, because Bastion is a much smaller game in scale than most of the mainstream games of the past few years, and also uses an isometric point of view and fixed camera angles. It is important to note that this little bit of beauty and originality wouldn’t work for most games. This is something I will be saying a few more times in this review. Read the rest of this entry

A Momentous Occasion!

Hello there! Welcome, everyone who has made the (no doubt) life-altering decision to visit my new gaming blog! I’m your host, Matthew, and I want to tell you about what happens here. You see, I’m a gamer who wants to talk about details that most people don’t care about, and spend far more time than could ever be necessary on the small glimmers of originality that I see in the things I try! I want to touch on broad, obvious issues, but then delve into the minutiae, in an effort to find things that we all can enjoy discussing!

Please, don’t leave just yet! I follow the trend of not giving scores in anything I review; in my mind the only true way for me to rate anything is to discuss it, and then finally give my opinion, but I don’t think opinions can be rated numerically in any way that matters.

It is my hope that we can all find something to relate to, even as our other ideas diverge so sharply as to be mistaken for trains speeding in opposite directions, as if both are hopelessly involved in a stereotypical math equation that has no answer, and end up speeding out of control, but in the end, no one crashes. Yes, this metaphor avoided disaster, hopefully future ones will too, though I make no promises.

This blog’s name is sarcastic, but it does not reflect how I feel about the gaming experience as a whole, only as a majority. I actually do intend to be as upbeat as possible, because who wants to read a blog that brings them down? However, that doesn’t preclude the occasional angry or cynical observation, as long as I can make it entertaining, relate-able, or interesting for you, dear reader(s)!

It is my intent to update this blog Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, in an effort to give myself enough time to procrastinate before writing. My plan is to pick a game to review on Monday, and then compare it to an old game on Wednesday, and a recent or even new game on Friday. I appreciate all feedback, and will make my special inaugural review post tomorrow by reviewing a relatively recent game that I enjoyed, Bastion! I hope to make it a memorable first in a long chain of reviews.

So welcome! Welcome to GrindQuest! It’s nicer here.

 

 

Disaster! I spoke too soon. (Solve for X.)