Things I Think Too Much About: Super Smash Kart?

September 14, 2014
Well, that's one way of getting across Hyrule Field.

Well, that’s one way of getting across Hyrule Field.

The upcoming downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 was unveiled recently and it exceeded most expectations (STILL no traditional Battle Mode arenas, Nintendo?). 16 new tracks, 8 new vehicles, 6 new characters and a variety of color customization options for two characters already on the roster — all for only $12.  That’s hard to beat.  Better yet, 3 of the new characters revealed aren’t even from the Super Mario franchise (Link from The Legend of Zelda and the Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing) and several of the upcoming tracks are based on the F-Zero, Animal Crossing and Excitebike games. Mario Kart has done game crossovers before (in their arcade ports), but not to this extent.

"Get off my bumper, you pellet-popping cherry chaser!"

“Get off my bumper, you pellet-popping cherry chaser!”

Two of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises are Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Why not take the gameplay of Mario Kart and implement the no-holds-barred, franchise-crossing antics of Smash Bros. into one amazing game? That seems to be their reasoning right now, and it’s smart — damn smart.  But now that they’ve gone this far, why not go whole hog and just make it a new franchise?  A Super Smash Kart, if you will.  If they were to do that, I think they’d have to do some things to differentiate it from Mario Kart, but keep the spirit of Smash Bros.  Here’s what I would do if I were to make the game….

1. Co-op Karts

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Gamecube is amazing, but at the time it was released, it wasn’t as appreciated as it should have been.  Perhaps it was too weird and too different from what people were accustomed to — I don’t know.  What I do know is that game had some of the most amazing multi-player ever.

In Double Dash!!, two characters rode on one kart. In a single-player race, it allowed you to obtain multiple items at a time; each character could hold an item and they switched places to fire.  In a multi-player race, you had the option to have two players on a single kart — one drove while the other handled items. It might sound boring for the item player, but they could also attack the other racers with punches and kicks even without items — a feature you don’t have in the single-player modes.

Frankly, you haven’t raced until you’ve seen Princess Peach hip-check Bowser off the road.

"FEAR ME!"

“FEAR OUR POWER!”

That’s just scratching the surface of how the co-op mechanics worked. Every time the item player attacked, it would cause the kart to swerve, and it was possible to throw the entire kart off the track if they weren’t careful. To get a drift boost, you needed both players — the driver initiated the drift and the item player would have to lean into it to get the boost.  All of these factors forced the players to work together or else they’d lose, and it really made you feel like a team. It was an excellent multi-player experience that was only rivaled by, well, Super Smash Bros.

And while we’re talking about Double Dash!!

2. Character-Specific Special Items

Double Dash!! introduced character-specific items to the Mario Kart franchise. For example, only Donkey and Diddy Kong would receive giant bananas that when dropped behind them, would cover up two-thirds of the track.  With the dual person kart setup, you could mix and match characters to get a balance of items that you wanted. Team up Mario with Waluigi to get fireballs and bombs as your special items and then you’ll view everyone else on the course as clay pigeons.

And there were no survivors. The end.

And there were no survivors. The end.

The character-specific items gave everyone personality and allowed for strategy when you mixed and matched different characters together, which is a shame that they stopped with this game (for console versions, at least). But imagine that mechanic with other Nintendo properties involved. Starfox‘s Fox McCloud’s Arwing spacecraft could appear overhead, allowing him to hop into it and momentarily fly over the course, evading obstacles and getting a boost in speed. Maybe Link gets the Hookshot, allowing him to latch onto and pull himself towards or past racers in front of him.

With an improved and expanded arsenal, a better defense would be needed, so I propose….

3. A Shield Mechanic

This might sound weird at first, but hear me out. In the Mario Kart arcade games, you’d gain a temporary shield while you were drifting. It’s a nice bonus for those who are more nuanced to the mechanics and get sick of being nailed by cheap items. This idea hasn’t expanded to the other Mario Kart games partly because the arcade versions were developed by Namco (hence the Pac-Man cameo).  But there’s another Namco racing game that used a similar, better mechanic that would be worth steal — er, I mean, implementing for a potential Super Smash Kart.

Pac-Man World Rally is a mostly forgotten kart racer featuring Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man… and… others.  Anyway, in the game, whenever you would drift, it would fill a meter down at the bottom of the screen.  Once you filled the meter, you were able to activate a shield that stopped attacks.  You could keep up to three shields in stock and once activated, they lasted only a few seconds or until you were hit by an item — whichever occurred first.

It was a nice mechanic that I felt helped balance the gameplay.  Players who got the drifting mechanics down were mostly likely the people in the front and therefore, the ones most likely to get hit by items from those behind them. Giving the leader the ability to shield themselves outside of relying on items allowed players to not fear taking the lead.  Everyone who’s played Mario Kart games know that if you’re in first place, it’s only a matter of time before you won’t be.

"NOOOOOOOOO!"

“NOOOOOOOOO!”

Another game with a similar mechanic was Mod Nation Racers, a Sony-exclusive racer whose main selling point was fully customizable tracks and characters. In that game, drifting filled a meter that once full, could either be used for a shield or a boost, allowing players to play aggressively or defensively.

Hey, how about we get to my final point?

4. Tracks That Fit Their Franchises

This is bit of a no-brainer, but it’s worth covering.

The Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing games are SEGA’s attempt at exactly what I’ve been writing about for the last few paragraphs.  In those games, characters from SEGA franchises got together for friendly/violent races on courses based on their respective games.  Beyond character cameos and other general fan service, most of the tracks not only pay homage to the games they’re based on, the tracks themselves are designed with their respective games in mind.  For example, the object of the game in SEGA’s NiGHTS Into Dreams is to fly through rings in an open area, pass checkpoints and teleport to different areas.

Guess what you do in the track based on NiGHTS?

The courses in Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed feel like the games they’re based on, and Super Smash Kart would have to borrow/steal this idea. A Legend of Zelda track could be a large, open field with a lot of caves and shortcuts, forcing players to explore it for the best route.  An F-Zero-based course would be insanely fast, covered in boost pads, with zero-gravity portions and a crazy track layout. A Star Fox track would have lots of hazards and dynamic laps, with explosions and toppled buildings changing the course as you raced.  Or hey, how about a 1080 Snowboarding course? You could just take the Mount Wario track from Mario Kart 8 and re-skin it.  Job = done.

"Mount Wario? But I hardly know him."

“Mount Wario? But I hardly know him.”

I have faith in Nintendo regardless of what happens.  If they know how to do one thing, it’s milk franchises for everything they’ve got and still put out well-polished, enjoyable games.  If Super Smash Kart becomes a reality, I’m sure it’d be great… especially if they listen to me.


Things I Think Too Much About: The Best (Fake) School

January 9, 2012

One of my friends posed this hypothetical question:

Which would you choose:
a. Go to Hogarts?
b. Join Starfleet Academy?
c. Train to be a Jedi?

An interesting question, and one nerdy enough to set off the pleasure center in my brain. Let’s over-analyze our options, starting with the most popular pick amongst my friends; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Everyone seems to think of Hogwarts as quaint and enchanting — you know, British. Everything around you is magic, you attend classes in a castle, and everyday you learn something whimsical that you wouldn’t learn at any other school. Also, Alan Rickman’s there, which is pretty awesome in and of itself. But let’s just take off our Awesome Glasses for a moment and think about how it would really be to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"I was hoping for Hans Gruber for homeroom, but had to settle for Wicket the Ewok."

First off, and this must be said, Hogwart’s is probably the scariest and most dangerous school ever imagined. Yes, I know Voldemort was behind several of the shenanigans that put many lives in danger, but he’s not responsible for all of the school’s troubles. From the foundation on up, Hogwarts is a horribly-run place that, if it were any other school, would have been shut down years ago.

To use an example from Chamber of Secrets, the school’s staff was well aware that Hogwarts was built on top of a lair that houses a deadly beast, but they chalk it up to being a myth since no one has actually seen it. Then several students were magically paralyzed by a creature that was obviously on the loose on school grounds, and threats from the perpetrator were scrawled on the walls in blood directly mentioning the lair in question. Do they shut down Hogwarts pending a formal investigation and seek the immediate capture/eradication of whatever monster was responsible? Nope. In fact, they let one of their students handle the situation, and then refrain from taking any disciplinary action against him for risking his own life in doing so.

Then there’s the incident from Prisoner from Azkaban, where a convicted murderer escapes from prison and the school’s staff knows that he’s heading for Hogwarts. In order to capture him, the Ministry of Magic sends Dementors — soul-sucking vaporous creatures — that outright attack one of the school’s students. Again, does the school shut down considering all that is going on? No.

And then there's the Triwizard Tournament, which is all sorts of wrong.

Speaking of the school’s staff, it should be mentioned that there’s obviously no background checks for the instructors. In a reality where werewolves are real, would you even consider hiring a professor named Remus Lupin? Hogwart’s did, and — surprise, surprise — it turned out he was a werewolf and nearly murdered several students. Was he fired? Of course not. He left of his own volition and no inquiry or punishment against him was made.

There was also Gilderoy Lockhart, a Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor who lied about all of his qualifications, erased people’s memories and put the well-being of several students in jeopardy on multiple occasions. And let’s not forget Professor Quirrell, who had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head.

"Hey, don't get mad. How were we supposed to know he had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head? For crying out loud, he wore a turban all the time!"

It’s pretty telling that one of the most qualified and competent professors at Hogwarts murdered its Headmaster.

All that aside, casting spells and making potions is pretty sweet. However, students go into Hogwarts with a 4th grade education and after ten years, they leave… with a 4th grade education, except they now have the abilities to make deadly potions and travel through time. There’s no Reading Comprehension, Grammar or Arithmetic — hell, not even Art — taught at Hogwarts. Think about it: A bunch of teenagers with the literacy and intelligence of 10-year-olds are sent out into the world casting Magic Missiles and concocting the most potent date rape drugs known to humankind. What a bright future to look forward to.

Even if you’re cool with all of this because you’re thinking about how awesome casting magic would be, put yourselves in the parents’ shoes — honestly, would you want your kid to attend Hogwarts? How many altercations with corrupt/incompetent school officials and near deaths would it take before you say to yourself, “You know, this school is kind of shitty”?

Answer: Quite a few.

All right, so Hogwarts might not be for everyone… or anyone. But what about Jedi training, the second most popular choice amongst my friends? What possible negatives could there be to being a Jedi?

If you enjoy romantic relationships and the perks that come with them (i.e., sex), I don’t think you’d want to be a Jedi. You’re forced into the life of a celibate space monk, trained from infancy to resist temptations (i.e., fun) and to live a life of duty and honor. Noble, sure, but once you’ve completed training, your job is to serve the Jedi Council, who in turn serves the Galactic Senate. As Mace Windu put it, you’re a “keeper of the peace.” Your most common duties are to have diplomatic talks with unruly aliens as a liaison to the Galactic Senate and to be a personal bodyguard for Senators, and they won’t all look like Natalie Portman, either. (Even if they did, it would still suck — remember, a Jedi’s life is free of romance of any kind. You can’t even think about sex.) Given the Law of Large Numbers, you’d probably end up the bodyguard for some 4-foot tall space cockroach, or worse, Jar Jar Binks.

"I swear, Jar Jar, if I hadn't promised the Jedi Council that I wouldn't kill you, I'd kill you."

But hey, having a lightsaber, telekinesis and mind control is awesome, right? It would be, but you’ve been conditioned to not find it fun, and the second you start having fun, it means that you’re probably a Sith. Better start preparing yourself now so that you can fight one of your Jedi friends to the death some day.

Look at Luke Skywalker. In A New Hope, he was an impetuous, light-hearted teenager who handled the lightsaber like it was an awesome toy, but by Return of the Jedi, he was stoic, reserved and almost a completely different person. He changed after training for only a short time; imagine being trained for your whole life, from pre-school on.

In the end, being a Jedi is diminished by what it means to actually be a Jedi. We imagine having Jedi powers without doing all that boring meditation and rigorous conditioning, but you can’t reach the end without the means. Once you’ve gone through Jedi training, you’ve repressed all your emotions and are no longer you. You are an automaton serving the Galactic Senate, and is that what you want for your life? Can you give up all that you have and are for the sake of some mind powers and a lightsaber?

"Sex is overrated." - Luke Skywalker

The last and least picked school is Starfleet Academy. I can see why this option might seem “boring,” but there’s some advantages to going to Star Trek’s prestigious military academy over the other choices.

Given how I talked about the dangers of Hogwarts (yet failed to address the issue with Jedi training), I’m sure some of you are thinking about how deadly being on the Enterprise would be. First of all, not all people who graduate Starfleet Academy end up on the Enterprise. There are safer alternatives out there, if one was so inclined to pursue them. Second, crew members that were not on the bridge were rarely put in danger and it was even more rare for anyone to be killed — that includes the infamous “red shirts”, who were most likely just enlisted petty officers who never graduated Starfleet anyway. The academy itself has an infinitesimal mortality rate, so mentioning death and danger is a moot point for Starfleet Academy attendees.

Now that that’s out of the way, I must point out that Starfleet Academy is the most school-like of the optional schools, but is that so bad? While you may not care about all of the subjects that you’ll be taught (much like all schools), it’s guaranteed to be full of some of the best teachers on the planet, if not galaxy. Even the worst class would probably be better than what you’re used to. Hell, just look at any time they feature Starfleet in any of the Star Trek series. It’s located in a futuristic San Francisco with amazing weather and scenery and it’s always full of smiling, uniform-wearing young cadets. Starfleet looks less a school and more like some sort of pleasure resort or fun-loving cult.

Not pictured: Xenu

That said, Starfleet’s still a military academy, which might be a turn off, and that’s understandable. The idea of going to a military academy isn’t inviting to me either, but then again, attending West Point won’t allow you to interact with alien life on starships, space stations and research colonies. Context is key. Starfleet gives you excellent prospects by the time you graduate, which is more than you can say for Hogwarts or Jedi training.

“Ooo, Starfleet is all boring and doesn’t kill its students. La-dee-da and whoopty whistle,” you say, like a condescending jerk. “You can move stuff with your mind following the Jedi Order and you can cast magic at Hogwarts, so either one is obviously more awesome than Starfleet.”

Well, you can do anything in the Star Trek universe. How? One word: holodecks. In holodecks (or the much more available holosuites), you can do whatever you want in a computer-controlled, consequence-free environment. Punch dragons, have sex with your favorite celebrity, use your boss’ face as a toilet — holosuites/decks are the ultimate in wish fulfillment. Why would you settle for anything less?

"Luke Skywalker's an idiot." - Quark

My fictional school of choice: Starfleet Academy


Things I Think Too Much About: The Kongs

November 30, 2009

I’ve recently went back to playing Mario Kart Wii after a long respite. The game is equal parts fun and frustrating. Racing on the bizarre courses and nailing the other racers with weapons is fun. Likewise, your opponents can hit you back and send you to a lower placing bracket through a sheer lack of luck, not skill. It can be maddening to run a course while in first place the entire time, only to get hit with an unavoidable blue shell as you’re going on a jump in the final stretch, sending you falling down an abyss and ending up in tenth place (which actually happened to me last night). The Rubber Band A.I. can be brutal and, at times, downright unfair.

But I’m not writing this to talk about how Mario Kart Wii cheats (which it does). I’m here to discuss a little malcontent who doesn’t even belong in the game, and yet he’s available on the roster. I’m talking, of course, about Diddy Kong.

Diddy Kong, I want to kick you in the face. Nothing personal.

Diddy Kong made his debut in the Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country. Through the Fourth Wall-breaking narrative of that excellent platformer, we learn that Cranky Kong, the lovable old coot who dispenses advice, was the original Donkey Kong from the 1981 arcade game. The tie-wearing Donkey Kong that we know today is his son (or grandson, depending on what game you’re playing).

Cranky Kong has seen better days. Insert: Better days.

Here’s where the confusion comes in: Rare, the developers of Donkey Kong Country, originally wanted to make Diddy Kong an updated Donkey Kong Junior, but Nintendo said that either he wear the white singlet from previous games or be given a different name. Since Rare liked their design of the character, they renamed him Diddy Kong and made him Donkey Kong’s nephew. To make sense of the new family they created but still keep it in the Donkey Kong universe, they aged everyone and made the already-approved Donkey Kong the original DK Jr. and Cranky Kong the original Donkey Kong.

But before DK Jr.’s redesign into the new Donkey Kong, he raced in his white singlet with the other Mario Karters in Super Mario Kart.

"Boy, Mario, I'm glad we could put aside our petty differences about you kidnapping and enslaving my dad! Now let's go go-karting! DERF!"

So in my opinion, Donkey Kong can stay in the Mario Kart games. He’s in the Mario universe and has interacted with Mario in several games outside of their non-canon, franchise-milking crossover games. (I’m looking at you, Super Smash Bros.) I’ve got no beef with him.

But why the hell is Diddy in the Mario Kart games? He doesn’t belong. He’s from an entirely new universe and in a different series of games. He has no idea who the hell Mario even is. Sure, you could argue that Diddy is sort of related to Donkey Kong and belongs in the game by proxy, but you’re reaching. Through association, I could argue that Link and Samus belong in the Mario Kart games since they had cameos in Super Mario RPG. Despite how weird that would be, they have more of a right to be there than Diddy does: they’ve at least met Mario. There’s TONS of characters in the Mario Universe who could be in a Mario Kart game who haven’t been in one yet. Why resort to Diddy freaking Kong?

To add greater insult to the fact that Diddy’s now in the Mario Kart games, the most recent iteration added Funky Kong, the one-dimensional XTREME SURFER DUDE who felt dated back when he first appeared in ’94 with the original Donkey Kong Country. For those who love Simpsons references, Funky Kong is essentially the Poochie of the Nintendo universe.

"I'm Funky, the rockin' Kong!"

Now that I look at him, he looks like he belongs in a pride parade.  But if that’s the design Nintendo is sticking with, then more power to them.

Before I end this tirade that no one cares about, here’s something else to consider: Gorillas live to be 35-50 years old, depending on whether they live in captivity or not. How is it that the Kongs get older (and die), but everyone in the Mario universe stays the same age? How are these future versions of the Kongs meeting up with a Mario who hasn’t aged? Is there some sort of time rift going on in the Mario Kart world?

Uh... I'm gonna go with a "yes" on that.


Things I Think Too Much About: Goofy

April 29, 2009
Look at that son of a bitch... smiling like an idiot.

Look at that son of a bitch... smiling like an idiot.

Ah, Goofy. Arguably one of the funniest characters from Disney’s golden era of animation, Goofy is also one of its most confusing characters. I know some of you reading this think you already know what I’m going to talk about — and, yes, it will be covered — but there is a lot more to this confounded creature than a debate on his genus and species.

A scene in the movie Stand By Me brings up the question of “What is Goofy?” The immediate answer is that he’s a dog, but explain Pluto then. Pluto is obviously a dog, and is even Mickey Mouse’s pet. Not only that, but Pluto has a tail like a dog, unlike Goofy. Then again, Goofy could have docked his tail… so that he could wear pants or something. (Would his docked tail be viewed in a similar manner as male circumcision, with people on both sides arguing on issues about aesthetics and hygiene? The mind boggles.) Goofy has a long muzzle and floppy ears and — coloring, lack of tail and bipedal walking not withstanding — has a lot of similar features to Pluto. After all is said and done, the answer must be that they’re both dogs; probably different breeds, but still dogs.

So now one must ask what kind of twisted God allows one dog to be a sentient, English-speaking, car-driving being while another is saddled to the role of pet to an anthropomorphic mouse? Someone explain how that shit works.

DOES NOT COMPUTE.

DOES NOT COMPUTE.

“But, Boone,” you’re saying, “it’s only a cartoon. It doesn’t matter that–”

Quiet, you! I’m just getting started!

What’s the deal with Goofy’s name? Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Chip, Dale, and even one-shot characters like Clarabelle and Horace, all have proper given names. If you count their animal-based surnames, they even have full names.

As for Goofy,… that’s it. Goofy. His name’s a goddamn adjective (which my name is not because it has an “e” at the end — big difference). Even if you consider Goofy’s name a nickname, that’s simply dodging the real question: what’s his real name?

His parents might as well have named him Asshole or Dipshit.

His parents might as well have named him Asshole or Dipshit.

In the “instructional” cartoons from the 50s like Motor Mania and Tomorrow We Diet!, he goes by the name George. I don’t buy that that’s his real name. In these cartoons, he portrayed a relatable “Everyman” dealing with life’s troubles. The cartoons showed Goofy’s character in a more reserved tone and the jokes didn’t come from pratfalls and outright baffoonery. I think they called him George more for the sake of getting the story across then anything.

If you consider the Goofy cartoons from the 50s and his 1990s television show canon, then his son’s full name is Max Goof, implying that Goofy’s surname is Goof. So that means his full name is… Goofy Goof.
I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that. That is the dumbest fucking name in the history of anything ever. Goofy Goof? That’s stupid even by cartoon standards.

But wait, I just glazed over something important: his son. Goofy has a biological offspring, unlike the other characters in the Disney universe (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck are uncles). This begs the question, “Who would have sex with Goofy?

Red-head or brunette, there's no two ways about it -- he's an abomination.

Red-head or brunette, there's no two ways about it -- he's an abomination.

In the 50s, Max’s mother was heard off screen and we never saw her face. In Goof Troop and A Goofy Movie, it’s outright explained that Goofy’s wife/Max’s mother passed away. Basically, whether you want to face it or not, Goofy was married and he procreated, which is just one rung lower on the Disturbing Ladder than the thought of Jessica and Roger Rabbit together. (Again, the mind boggles.)

How Goofy has retained custody of the child without the state’s intervention is beyond me. If Disney ever wanted to do an animated remake of I Am Sam, they already have the characters in place.

Goofy, you son of a bitch, why must you exist? You hurt my brain. I need to lie down.