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.

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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.


Muscle March (WiiWare Game) Review

November 2, 2009
musclemarch-notgay

"Hey, big boy. Wanna play a game with us?"

The video game Muscle March tells the classic tale of a gaggle of weightlifters who had their protein shake powder stolen by a football player/Martian who is then chased from Japan to outer space by the muscle-bound behemoths trying to get their drink mix back.
Okay, so it’s not so much a classic story as it is a fucking bat-shit insane one, but who needs a story when you’re talking about an arcade-style, downloadable Wii game?

Muscle March was released on the WiiWare Channel in Japan in late May this year, and it’s every bit as crazy as this video portrays it.

As you could see from that footage, the point of this way-hetero game is to select your not-at-all-gay-looking character and strike flexing poses to fit through the holes punched out by the protein-shake thieves as they smash through walls. Using the Wiimote and nunchuck, you strike a pose by lowering or raising your arms, your movements corresponding to your characters’. Pose incorrectly and you run into the wall and get hurt — get hurt 5 times and you lose. When your more-than-likely-heterosexual character gets close enough to the perp, you go into a short mini-game where you shake the Wiimote and nunchuck as fast as possible to make your character run faster and eventually hip tackle the thief in a completely straight manner. Screw up and the level starts over again.

musclemarch-stillnotgay

Totally not gay.

There are three levels in Muscle March (Modern Japan, Feudal Japan and Outer Space… yes, I’m serious) with each level having three sub-levels. The game also has an endurance mode where it’s one unending level; the point being to rack up the highest score possible by seeing how far/fast you can go without messing up.

The game tries to coast on quirk and charm (and let’s face it, sheer madness), but as you can probably guess, it’s still a pretty shallow gaming experience. The controls, while functional and fun, are extremely simplistic. I mean, I described the ENTIRE game to you: Lift your arms like an idiot, chase guy, the end. You can pretty much see everything the game has to offer in half an hour. It’s like a mini-game from Wario Ware being stretched out about as far as it can go.

musclemarch-bear

WHO IS PLAYER? OH MY GOD, BEAR IS PLAYER! HOW CAN THIS BE!?

I hate to bring up graphics when concerning a downloadable game, but the Playstation 1 could probably run Muscle March. The textures are muddied and most of the low-res sprites are downright terrible. You could argue that the bad graphics are part of its charm, and you might be right, but when you see it in motion, some of the visuals are downright inexcusable. On the plus side, the game runs at a decent clip without any frame rate hiccups or slowdown.

musclemarch-notracist

Wait a minute.... Is that a baby chick sitting in that black guy's afro like it's a bird's nest? That's racist... right?

If Muscle March were $5 or cheaper, I’d recommend it for its sheer absurdity alone: It’s almost worth owning just to show people that this game actually exists. Guaranteed, you and your friends will laugh playing this crazier-than-a-shithouse-rat game. However, given that Muscle March is actually $8, it’s a bit hard to recommend. To me, three bucks is the difference between a fun lark on a lazy afternoon and an all-too-short arcade game that you regret for spending that much money on.

musclemarch-tableau

And did I mention how completely not gay it is?

It’s fun and all, I guess, but the price point is hard to swallow.
(Heh, heh…. Not gay.)
5/10

PRO-TIP: If you’re having a hard time beating a level, try intentionally getting hurt a couple times near the beginning of the stage. The level is only a certain length, so you can protract the introductory slow part by running into the walls before the hard parts begin. Sure, your score will decrease, but your odds of beating the game will be better.