Tag Archives: xbox 360

FGC #379 Fable 2

FABLE!Let’s hear it for the glowing “follow me” path!

Let me tell you something about myself: I play a lot of videogames. It’s true! And you know what is an integral part of any given videogame? Level design. World design. From Mario to Zelda to Doom, it doesn’t matter if your hero has the best ups or bazookas around, it’s all going to come crashing down if you can’t design a world for squat. And I have played through the best worlds! Super Metroid is an amazing bit of planetary architecture, and Super Mario Bros consistently features some of the finest individual stage design in the business. Final Fantasy worlds are deliberate, thoughtful affairs, and have been since the 8-bit era. While I’ve certainly trudged through some stinkers, it would likely not be an exaggeration to claim that I have spent over 20,000 hours exploring complicated, deliberately created fantasy worlds.

So, after all that, you’d think I’d have even the most rudimentary sense of direction. And you’d be wrong.

I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten lost on my way to the refrigerator. I’ve certainly gotten lost following basic MapQuest directions. And, while my friends and I have vowed to never speak of it again, I may or may not have been responsible for being lost for approximately six hours on the labyrinthine highways of Pennsylvania trying to arrive at a location a whole hour from home. I’m not a complete lost cause! I do have a surprisingly good sense of actual direction, like I could easily tell you which way is East right now (it’s that-a-way), but actually navigating a manmade road in a direction that facilitates “going east” is likely impossible. I need careful, slow GPS directions to find my way to any site I haven’t already visited 500 times, and, if my phone didn’t have an onboard directions app, I’d probably be posting this article from a remote cave in Nebraska. Life would be so much easier if I could just live in any found cave…

Get 'emThis, unfortunately, has translated into decimating my videogame map memory. Yes, I’ve memorized some games like one might never forget the contours of a lover (“You’re comparing Super Metroid to some manner of paramour again, aren’t you?” “You never forget your first.”), but my recent replay of Yoshi’s Island reminded me that I have the map sense of a naked mole rat (I am assuming creatures that are effectively blind are bad at maps, but please correct me if I’m wrong). I 100%’ed Yoshi’s Island back in the day, and, when I was done doing that, I did it all over again for at least three save files. Considering all the hidden secrets and damned contemptible red coins in that title, that would mean, just to accomplish such a task once, I would have, at one time in my life, have had to explore every last inch of Yoshi’s entire island. And I did it repeatedly! And, just a few (more than a few) years later, I can barely recognize the second world. Touch Fuzzy, Get Biz-ay is permanently seared into my noggin, but most any other stage is a mystery. And it’s not that my thumbs don’t know how to make Yoshi pull off acrobatic feats the likes of which shyguys have never seen; no, it’s entirely my own ailing memory for locations that hampers Baby Mario’s progress.

Reality or digital, I would have a hard time backtracking my way through a paper bag.

Fortunately, this works just fine for today’s game, Fable 2. For many people, the big draw of Fable 2 was its morality system and “interlocking world” or whatever Peter Molyneux claimed was the alchemical secret to the franchise that week. Basically, the Fable 2 world places a very significant emphasis on consequences for actions, so if you spit on a street urchin during the intro, suddenly your entire hometown is a crap sack for the rest of history. Alternatively, you could buy some bread with your last shiny penny, and suddenly the future is all rainbows and pony rides. As a bullet point on a game case, this is pretty interesting, however, in actual practice, it seems alternately goofy and disturbing. Look, I ate an adorable chick alive once, and now the entire world has been plunged into darkness under the heel of a malevolent cult? Dude, I’m sorry, I just wanted to see if it was animated (it’s not, but there is an interesting crunching noise). And don’t get me started on the problems with the Fable diet choices

ShinyBut for all the goofiness of the Fable 2 universe, I can’t fault the game at all, as it grants us the blessed golden trail. Set any quest as your goal in Fable 2, and a delightful little glowing path will materialize in front of your avatar. Follow this rainbow to a pot of gold! Or wander away, get completely lost in the middle of some godforsaken forest, and look down to find that trail is still there and ready to lead you home. The golden path makes it impossible to get lost, and, even better, always points you towards your objective. You can save, stop playing because you have a goddamned life, come back a month later after you’ve successfully rehabilitated your cat after he got into a dynamite fight with that one brown mouse, and there’s the path all over again. You can play half the game, quit for a decade, and restart with absolutely no need to remember what you were doing at all. Just follow the path, and you’ll be back on track in no time.

It’s a glorious thing.

Sure, there have been naysayers over the years. Yes, the path absolutely discourages straying from the trail and exploring, and, should an area not contain a quest, it’s likely you’ll never encounter the location at all. Sure, the very concept of a “go here now” guide seems antithetical to a game that touts the importance of choice. And, the path absolutely drops the onus on the level (world?) designers that previously had to carefully design an environment that subtlety pushed the player forward toward new goals. In fact, this seems to be the number one problem with the path, as you can see its impact almost immediately. No more do there have to be trees that point forward or trodden paths that indicate your future goals; no, now it’s all a glowing path through a generic forest, and, turn off the path, and what hope do you have of finding your goal? Fable 2 was designed with the glowing path in mind, so it seems very little effort was put into making an actually “thoughtful”, forward progress-based map experience.

And all I can say is: welcome to my world.

WeeeeEarth, our dearly beloved planet, is not designed well. There are oceans right next to big piles of sand, and Mother Nature didn’t even think to stick a guardrail or two on her most dangling precipices. Humanity tried to tame this crazy wilderness, but as anyone that has ever driven a car in New York City will tell you, failed utterly and completely. In my own hometown, a place that doesn’t have to account for that many people or unusual geography, we have at least two streets that somehow loop in on themselves, and have thus trapped confused visiting relatives for decades. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my uncle again! And, sure, this is me, someone who once wound up in international waters in an attempt to walk to the local post office, saying this, but you have to admit that the average aerial city map looks less like the careful design of Miyamoto and more like someone haphazardly threw up a set of tinker toys (you never forget your junior prom).

So you know what? I can handle a game or two with crappy level design. The world has crappy level design, and I’m tired of pretending that Dr. Wily could build a fortress better than most urban planners. Give me my poorly designed Fable universe, and give me a glowing trail to follow through it.

And if you still think my glowy path is a bad thing? Then get lost.

FGC #379 Fable 2

  • System: Xbox 360 exclusive. It’s weird how rarely that happens.
  • Number of players: Two! You can have a friend pop into your world for extra mayhem. Have fun, lil’ buddy!
  • They’re all good boys: The other big selling point for Fable 2 was… a dog. Look, it was 2008, and a little furry AI buddy was the pinnacle of technology. And we were young and stupid. It was at least two of those things. Regardless, the dog was good fun and predictable in its plot function, but maaaaaybe a little useless in every other conceivable way. I’m pretty sure Sonic 2 Tails would have been a more welcome addition.
  • Branching Paths: And speaking of plot, this is a great example of a story with a resolution like I was trying to describe during the FF12 article: you can be good or bad, but, one way or another, you wind up saving the world all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for altruism or revenge, the ending is still the same. Granted, other companies would eventually refine and master this kind of storytelling, but it’s always clever when a choose-your-own-adventure ends on the same page.
  • GlowyFavorite Combat: It was here that I learned to stop worrying and just love shooting things with gigantic magical guns. I rather expected I’d be more of a magic user, but when I leveled everything up, I found that I had transformed my avatar into some manner of na’vi. That is incredibly lame, so, for all future playthroughs, I just focused on the gun stuff, as “tall” was all I could tolerate. Yes, I choose my killing methods based on how they impact my appearance. How do you do it?
  • Did you know? There were some production problems with the Fable 2 Limited Edition. It was initially supposed to include a figurine and some trading cards… but they never materialized. As an apology, Fable 2 LEs were shipped with a voucher to download some Fable OST MP3s. That’s nice… except a number of LEs were accidentally shipped without the vouchers, too. Oops.
  • Would I play again: Path or no path, I really did enjoy Fable 2. It’s not my “game of the year” for 2008 or something, but it was certainly a lot more fun than… huh… literally every other Xbox 360 exclusive I can think of. Assuming we ever see a Fable 2 HD, maybe as part of some ridiculous collection, I’ll likely jump on it immediately.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Moon for the Nintendo 3DS! We shall catch pokémon from here to the stars and back! Please look forward to it!

Move on

FGC #378 MorphX

You have never heard of this gameMorphX is an existential nightmare.

MorphX is also a 2010 release for the Xbox 360. Wait, let me amend that, MorphX was technically released in 2008, but only in its native land of Russia. That’s right! According to a staff roll that includes a number of Ivans, Olgas, and Igors, MorphX was created and designed in Russia. And it shows! Superficially! MorphX is the story of an alien invasion of Moscow, and… I guess there’s Russian graffiti in some of the tunnels? Wow! What an amazingly different and unique culture! I bet their sewer levels smell totally different from our NYC-based sewer levels.

Aside from the obvious cultural divide (though they did find the time to dub in American voice actors), MorphX is a pretty standard lil’ Xbox 360 action game with a few interesting flourishes. You’re a human that had an alien ram its ovipositor down your throat and lay eggs in your chest, so before even the tutorial starts up, you’re a half human, half alien monster hybrid. And that’s a good thing! You can soak bullets, regenerate health, and kick normal humans halfway across the sewers with your mighty hybrid calves. It’s good to be a freak! And your current status as a monster man also grants other interesting gameplay quirks, like a level up system that is primarily based on light puzzle solving (it’s one of those “pipes”-esque deals, not unlike hacking in Bioshock), generally fun ability upgrades (like night vision and berserker mode), and a fine excuse for restoring health through “eating” deceased aliens. Overall, MorphX is a pretty rote action title of the era, but it does have a fair share of thoughtful ideas and concepts. You can tell that this was more than a random “crapped out” cash-in title, and, while it would never be game of the year, it might not be a bad way to kill an afternoon.

But I got all that information from playing the game. Why not anywhere else? Well, because this is the extent of the Wikipedia page for MorphX:

WIKI!

And did I mention I picked up this disc at the five dollar store? Yes, MorphX was released in 2010, and, in seven short years, it appears to have been completely forgotten.

And that is terrifying to me.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, no videogame is created today by “accident”. We have long passed the days of one, singular architect of any given game (or at least any game that isn’t Axiom Verge), and, no matter the system or quality of the final product, you will inevitably see a host of hands in the stew. MorphX is no different, and it’s clear that the minigames that comprise the leveling system are entirely different from the main monster-mashing game, so even if the credits were just six people (which they’re not), it would be elementary to assume MorphX was the product of several people working together. And that means something! That means there were discussions! That means there were different viewpoints! That means there were “working lunches”! While corners may have been cut, and maybe not everything worked out exactly as planned, MorphX, like any piece of media that could even remotely be called art, was a labor of love… but with a Wooooheavy emphasis on the “labor” part. Hell, it’s entirely possible everyone involved with MorphX hated the damn thing, but that doesn’t mean any part of its creation was easy. MorphX was not an accident, it was the end result of hundreds of hours of work by many, many different people.

And, in the end, it wound up in the five dollar store. It wound up at the five dollar store in vast quantities.

There’s a common misconception that has been floating around for a while: the worst thing you can do is make something that is bad. Technically, a part of this is true, as making something “bad” is, by definition, a bad thing. However, it is not the greatest failure one can achieve. Manos: The Hands of Fate is a terrible, terrible movie that killed nearly everyone involved, but, somehow, you recognize that title because a bunch of robots mocked it relentlessly. Reefer Madness is dreadful, but it’s kitsch, right? It’s all in good fun. And The Room? That’s a movie so bad, they made a movie about its sheer badness, and then gave a dude an award for portraying the chief reason it’s so bad. And, come to think of it, did you see Tommy Wiseau hopping up on stage with Franco? Why was Tommy there at the Hollywood elite’s biggest party? Because he made an abysmal movie. He made something that, according to every rule of filmmaking, was completely terrible, but he is celebrated in the same room as Spielberg. Tommy Wiseau is a joke, but he is a joke that will be told for a generation. In a hundred years, Tim Burton III will make a holo-vid about his life and times.

So, no, the worst thing you can do is not make something that is bad. The worst thing you can do is make something that is forgotten.

NyetObjectively, this sounds absurd. It is “better to rule in Hell” thinking that inevitably gets godwinned out of existence the minute you note that Mein Kampf is a more popular work that Generic Fantasy Novel #4,1645. Sure, you can be famous for being infamous, but that’s no sign that you’ve done something right. And that’s absolutely true for people. There is no nobility in being known for being a bad person. However, art is something very different. Art is, for all intents and purposes, the “belief gods” you see in Neil Gaiman novels and old Star Trek episodes. Art lives or dies by its audience, and, good or bad, if an audience isn’t there, it is dead. Sure, we like to keep ourselves warm at night with stories of how one fan learned a valuable life lesson from one book, and that made all the difference in the world… but seriously? There have been a million books written just in the time you’ve been alive, yet you will note that your local bookstore (should such a thing even exist) is not a stadium holding the wealth of knowledge and imagination it could potentially contain. There have been thousands upon thousands of works of art lost to time because generations didn’t discover that “forgotten gem” fast enough for it not to be completely forgotten. A forgotten gem that is never remembered is just a useless rock.

And to anyone that creates anything, that concept is terrifying.

All art takes time. Every creation takes effort. Whether it’s good, bad, or something decidedly in between, every thing that has ever been fashioned by mortal hands has demanded blood, sweat, and tears from its creators. To imagine such a work amounting to being judged poorly is unfortunate, but for such a thing to be completely ignored? That is so much worse. That is petrifying, and is likely the number one reason poems don’t get written, songs don’t get sung, and movies don’t get made. Why bother? Why even try when you’re going to wind up in the five dollar store down the aisle from the last of the Street Sharks merchandise? Why bother?

Well, maybe you could do it because somehow, someway, your art, being sold at a discount at some random store halfway across the world, could inspire some nerd to write about the horrors of creating anything. And that article could inspire other people to overcome their own fears, and create their own works of art. And one crappy little videogame could change the world in its own little way.

… But seriously, what are the odds of that happening?

FGC #378 MorphX

  • System: Xbox 360. And one would suppose also Windows/PC, because every Xbox 360 game is on there.
  • Number of players: Just one lil’ angry dude.
  • Favorite Weapon: The shotgun isn’t any great shakes, because it seems you absolutely need weapon range to succeed in this game, but it does have a tendency to shoot out some kind of buckshot thing, and being able to see “the spread” on screen is a novel approach to the usual “just a flashing gun” weapon animation.
  • Bloody linksBlood Sport: One other noticeable thing about MorphX is that your average dead soldier just plain explodes into a pile of blood and body parts. It’s a little upsetting, but it’s slightly more interesting than modern “rag doll” deaths.
  • So, did you beat it? Nah. If this was the only game available to me for a month, I might bother, but I’m pretty sure I got a good grasp of everything this title had to offer from a couple of hours.
  • Did you know? It is impossible to find trivia about a game that doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
  • Would I play again: MorphX makes me think about the concept of creation, videogames, and art. It’s also not a very interesting game, in a genre I don’t particularly care for, so you know the drill.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fable 2! We go from a completely unknown Xbox 360 game to one of the most infamous! Neat! Please look forward to it!

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

New age of heroes?It seems gauche to hold the father accountable for the sins of the son, but sometimes it must be done. Today’s article is about Street Fighter 4, and exactly why its arcade mode is better than anything in Street Fighter 5. I’d love to talk about the other merits of SF4, but, alas, sacrifices must be made so the new generation can learn a lesson.

An Arcade Mode Must Have a Good Roster

We’ll start simple: you’ve got to have a lot of fighters in your fighting game. How many is a requirement? Well, technically, you could get away with as few as… Vanilla Skullgirls, come over here, I need to count your characters… eight fighters. Technically. Unfortunately, for any sort of good arcade mode, you’re probably going to need a solid twelve. Why? Simple: you don’t want the battle to be over before it begins.

This brings us to our first major point: an arcade mode is not just a fighting game. A fighting game can be many things. For many people, the entire concept of a one-player mode in a fighting game is perfunctory. And there’s nothing wrong with that! For a certain subset of fans, there may as well only be eight characters, because that’s all the dudes that can fit into the “top tier”, and the presence of Dan is nothing more than cruft. And, if you play Street Fighter like that, if you’re ignoring the very existence of Vega for five games running now, that’s fine. There’s an entire community that is carefully maintaining those tier lists, and why would you ever side with the scrubbiest of scrubs?

Look at 'em allBut an arcade mode is different. An arcade mode requires variety, and fighting the same three fighters for eight rounds is going to get old fast. It doesn’t matter if there are different “teams”, or a Zangief wearing a different hat, what’s important is that you’re not going to see the same handful of fighters every time, and you might even be surprised by the AI’s next pick. You’ve played through arcade mode with five different fighters, but you somehow never fought Dhalsim until now? That’s cool! What isn’t cool is battling the same dumb Ryu & Ken teamup for the 7,000th time. By about the time you’ve memorized the repeated thoughtless intro lines, you’ll know that an arcade mode needs a grand roster to sustain itself.

And speaking of variety…

An Arcade Mode Should be Random as Heck

Character variety is one thing, but it’s another thing if every one player experience is the same exact battles every single time. It’s a simple, stupid request, but is it too much to ask for your battles to be randomized? Bosses can go ahead and dominate the end game, as I don’t mind seeing Seth/Bison/That Guy in the Thong every time, but how about adding a little spice to the lead up? In fact, it appears that Ultra Street Fighter 4 has sixteen different costumes for Sakura alone, so maybe I don’t have to see her default fuku every time she pops into the ring.

WeeeeeThis may all seem cosmetic (if you’re going to fight Ken every time, what does it matter if Ken is first every time?), but it does a lot for our stupid monkey brains. When you’re fighting random fighters in random outfits, even if it’s the twelve billionth time you’ve trounced Juri, it still feels new and exciting when she randomly pops up after Balrog dressed like a cat. Meanwhile, when you always know that Character X is going to be in X position, the single player mode quickly becomes a chore, and you’re simply pummeling Sagat because you know you’re ‘supposed ta. An arcade mode should be fun, and part of that fun is including some variability.

And speaking of being tricked into having fun…

An Arcade Mode Needs Forward Momentum

Next time you’re watching a random procedural on television, take note of how often the characters simply sit down to talk, or have conversations over the phone while sitting around like normal people. Take that number, and compare it to how often protagonists walk and talk, or discuss a case while gliding down a hallway, or even while in a car, dashing to the newest crime scene. You will quickly notice that, while the characters might just be lamely recounting the plot or inching toward a conclusion the audience already discovered three commercial breaks back, there is a lot of movement involved, because that creates the illusion of forward momentum. And we need forward momentum! If two detectives are just chilling at a diner talking about murders over a side of gravy fries, it tells the audience that the heroes are in no rush, there are no stakes, and if they don’t care, why should you?

OwieAn arcade mode must serve that same master. During a tournament, it’s perfectly fine to watch every fight take place in front of that stupid practice background, but that isn’t going to cut it in arcade mode. You need to believe that Ibuki, a penniless teenager from a secret village of likely destitute ninja (there just isn’t a lot of call for ninja in today’s job market), is bounding from Africa to America to Asia exclusively so she can mix it up with Chun-Li for a minute and a half. No, it doesn’t make a lick of sense, and yes, it certainly adds to the load times, but it provides that special feeling that progress is being made, and that a journey is taking place. The simple fact that Zangief got out of his own bear-wrestling comfort zone is a story all its own, and it’s one worth telling.

And speaking of stories…

An Arcade Mode Needs a Story like a Bunny Needs a Car

Bunnies do not need cars. Bunnies do not know how to drive cars.

Dem buns

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is adorable when a bunny drives a little bunny-sized car.

In much the same way, a “story mode” is no more an “arcade mode” than a driving bunny is somehow your new chauffeur. Do not conflate “story” with “arcade”. An arcade mode can absolutely be about discovering the final fate of Balrog, but it’s also a fun way to demo a new fighter. A story mode might provide all the story content you could ever desire, but, practically by definition, it’s going to require playing as some characters that aren’t Ken. And that’s rough! If you’re trying to get a real feel for Guile, and Guile isn’t featured in story mode even once, then what the heck was the point?

Once again, an arcade mode can have a story, and it can have rivals, and it certainly should have some kind of ending (see the previous bullet point), but it doesn’t require any of that. Those who need a story should look elsewhere, possibly somewhere someone cares about friggen’ Urien.

But speaking of caring about half-naked, super powered monsters…

An Arcade Mode Needs Difficulty Escalation

Sticks and stonesIn the old days, we had bosses, who were not balanced in the player’s favor at all, and could occasionally climb the background itself to gain another unfair advantage. Nowadays, we have escalating AI, so your first bout might be a perfect, but the fourth is going to be a nail biter. And, through it all, we’ve had difficulty sliders, so you could choose your own adventure and climb the ranks with the help of a star or two. What’s important through it all is that you could watch your own skills escalate, and confront challenges as they appeared. A “hard” version of story mode won’t help in that department, and any sort of intensification in survival mode is certainly not going to scratch that itch. Why? Because the continue button is essential to climbing difficulty.

Look, we all get knocked down. We all lose matches. Even the greatest fighter in the world loses a match every once in a while, even if it’s just because he was distracted and worried about his carrier pigeons back home. And a difficulty escalation is only going to exacerbate that eventuality. Sagat is more difficult than Blanka, and you’re a lot more likely to lose to the cyclops than the beast man. That’s basic math. But an arcade mode allows you to continue, allows you to try again, and doesn’t irrevocably punish you for trying to box outside your weight class. You can get back up, find a path to victory, and, most importantly, actually achieve something in an arcade mode. Victory is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly more likely when a difficulty increase is a speed bump and not a road block.

And when you can actually succeed, you have fun.

And that’s what an arcade mode needs most of all.

FGC #368 Ultra Street Fighter 4

  • System: We’re looking at all Street Fighter 4s here, so arcade, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 for the initial release, but PC, mobile devices, Playstation 4, and Xbox One by the end of its tenure. And I think the 3DS version counts, too.
  • Number of players: Streets are fought in pairs.
  • Eat itVersion Differences: Vanilla Street Fighter 4 is Street Fighter 2-2. Super Street Fighter 4 includes a few alpha and 3 buddies, and introduces the oily guy and the spider lady. Arcade Edition includes four new Ryus, and Ultra Street Fighter 4 borrowed the extra fighters from Street Fighter X Tekken. Ultra was used for this review, because I prefer to pick my Poison.
  • Favorite Character: Sakura is always there for me, but in the interest of choosing someone interesting, I’ll say Gouken. He’s… like… “broken Ryu”, and I’ll never forget the first time I activated his hurricane kick and flew into the sky. Such a majestic flying old man.
  • Favorite Featured New Character: Gouken doesn’t count? Of the new fighters, I’ll take Juri, as her kicking style is pretty interesting. Rufus is second runner up there, as he’s entirely the right kind of goofy, but I’ve never quite mastered his moves. And El Fuerte…. sucks.
  • Favorite Arcade Mode Ending: Poison starts a KISS-esque rock band of Metro City alums and Ryu/Ken. What fever dream produced that insanity?
  • Did you know? Akuma is the worst assassin ever. As of Street Fighter 3 (which was released before 4, but takes place later in the timeline), Akuma had supposedly killed his brother and Ryu’s master, Gouken (making him the Uncle Ben of the series), M. Bison (at the end of SF2), and Gen (an old man looking for a noble death in Alpha). When Street Fighter 4 kicked off, all three “kills” were back and ready to brawl. That is simply insulting! As of Street Fighter 5, it’s implied Akuma has killed Gen again… but we’ll see if that sticks.
  • Would I play again: Oh, I spent so much time talking about arcade modes that I forgot to really talk about the game. I like it! I like it a lot! Street Fighter 4 is pretty fun, ya’all.

What’s next? Our first post of 2018 is going to review 2017! Let us look to the past as we move forward to the future! Or something! Please look forward to looking back!

OH MY CAR

FGC #356 Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed & Mario Kart 8

ARE YOU READY TO RACE?!Theme parks are amazing. Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, Universal Studios allows you to live the movies, and even Six Flags lets you soar like Superman. In a world where technology is traditionally aimed at more mundane pursuits (“The greatest invention since sliced bread!” “But bread is boring!”) theme parks seem to be the last bastion of wonder in the adult world. Nobody is ever going to mistake The Matterhorn for actually skiing down the Alps, but it is a creative and entertaining way to get your adrenaline pumping. Theme Parks are fun, plain and simple.

Unfortunately, theme parks are also pretty stupid.

Look, the rides are fun, whimsical, and mostly just sitting in a chair while stuff happens. You can ride the Delorean from Back to the Future! You can glimpse the world of tomorrow! You can feel real thrills as you hurtle through the air like a magical and fairly speedy god! Or you don’t feel any thrills, because it’s all fake, prerecorded, pre-animated nonsense. The delightful children of It’s a Small World were designed and built by people that were recently buried by their great grandchildren. … Okay, I know It’s a Small World is not an exhilarating ride, but it is required, so I figure it merits a mention. It’s Mega Man 1. The point is that, no matter how theme parks try to simulate excitement, they’re all just pre-made tracks that are about as “real” and “adventurous” as Mario’s initial trip through World 1-1. No turning around, no investigating something unusual, just a ceaseless march forward, and you will have fun.

KA KAW!You readers are a smart bunch, so you’ve likely already noticed the obvious simile that many videogames, and particularly racing games, are much like theme park attractions. And you probably noticed the title of this article, so, yes, we’re inevitably going to compare the tracks of Sega and Nintendo’s top kart racers to theme parks. That much is obvious. But there has to be a twist, otherwise I’m just randomly tossing words at my computer and hoping for the best (oh God, I hope they don’t find out that that’s what this blog has been all along!), and the twist here is a simple one: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a better Mario Kart game than Mario Kart 8 because Mario Kart 8 is a better game.

Wait…

Let’s see if we can’t make that a little easier to understand.

Super Mario Kart started the mascot kart racing genre, but it also… kinda sucked. It was a great game, but it was more proof of concept than anything, and the existence of such tracks as Donut Plains 42 and Bowser Castle 3,214 did rather give the impression that unique course design wasn’t high on the priority list. But that was okay! Because all anyone wanted to play was Battle Mode, and all the AI ever wanted to do was use a starman to ruin your day. The tracks weren’t really the focus so much as they were just map delivery systems (come to think of it, not unlike the original Super Mario Bros. and its limited tileset). Super Mario Kart was, for all intents and purposes, a (time) trial run.

You are now hearing this theme in your headMario Kart 64, though, that’s where Mario Kart as Mario Kart really started. You’d be hard pressed to find even the most ardent of Mario Kart fans that could properly immediately recall the ups and downs of Ghost Valley 3 (pop quiz: did I just make up that track?), but who could forget MK64’s Banshee Boardwalk? Or Toad’s Turnpike? And while Mario Kart 64 relied on more than its share of tracks that were excuses for interesting gimmicks (race the train!), Mario Kart: Double Dash really firmed up the whole “rollercoaster” concept for the Mario Kart franchise. If there was once ever any doubt, it was blasted into space the very moment racers launched themselves up a mountain as a natural part of DK Mountain. That entire track could have easily made sense as a downhill slalom, but, no, you had to “fly”, because that’s a hundred times more interesting than continuous kart-skiing.

But Mario Kart Wii was a change from all that. Mario Kart Wii kept the gimmicks going with aplomb, but the tracks were no longer the main focus. No, the heart of Mario Kart Wii was the appeal and bane of that system: motion controls. Mario Kart Wii was built for its “steering wheel” wiimote functionality, and it seemed to lose a lot of fun as a result. There were certainly amusing tracks in MKW, but the controls, AI, and weapon distribution seemed to exist for the sole purpose of creating a more technical, methodological experience. Mario Kart 8, despite by and large dropping the more procedural concepts from MKW, does appear to be a direct sequel in many respects. Dolphin Shoals is always going to be a great track, but that giant eel can’t touch Dino Dino Jungle for sheer “I am racing in Jurassic Park” spectacle, and we can blame MKW for that.

Meanwhile, there’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed. The sequel to Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (wait, why did they drop the “Sega” from the title? Was it because of Ralph?) did its best to improve on the original formula by adding planes (cool!) and hovercrafts (works for bards). But that’s a superficial reading of the new stunt du jour. What’s really important about the “transformed” franchise is that nearly every track morphs and transforms over the course of a race. Bridges collapse, lava floods caverns, and maybe Eggman blows up the moon at some point. … I think… I think he’s become addicted to the rush. Regardless, the tracks of S&ASRT change from lap to lap, so you’re never quite sure what you’re going to encounter.

And it is amazing!

Burning sensationIt’s a theme park! It’s a roller coaster! It’s inevitable that the third lap will feature a dozen explosions, and it’s exhilarating! And, assuming you’re not grinding one particular track against a time trial or two, this rolling delight will keep up for an entire grand prix. Tracks are just short enough that they don’t overstay their welcome, and they’re long enough so it feels like there’s even spacing between rounds. I know Rogue’s Landing is going to decay into a flying course by the third lap, but it still winds up gripping every time. It’s a preset track with fixed obstacles and “events”, but it perfectly captures that feeling of wonder and excitement through every race.

Except… I quit Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed a long time ago, and have won every single trophy in Mario Kart 8. Twice.

And it all comes back to theme parks again. For a long time, people jubilantly exclaimed that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed had successfully eaten Mario’s lunch, and the new king of the kart circuit was now Sonic being showered with trophies by a cheep cheep in the skies. And I understand that feeling, as I was one of them, still feeling the rush of steering Gilius Thunderhead through Graffiti City. But those accolades seem to have faded over time, because it’s too much like an amusement park ride. You ever notice how nobody really stays at Six Flags? How the people that live near one, people who could potentially go every day… don’t? It’s because adrenaline fades, and, eventually, even a rollercoaster can become boring.

VroooomSo what’s left after that? All the technical mumbo jumbo. All the nonsense about powersliding and steering and scooting along a speed booster like you own the place. What’s left is where Mario Kart 8 excels. Even if you can randomly produce a glider, it’s not as interesting as NiGHTS transforming into a jet, but it’s still fun to soar over a pack of stacked goombas. It’s still entertaining, and “thrilling” or not, there is still a lot of meat on those Mario Kart bones. It might be the old reliable of the kart racing pantheon, but it’s one of the best Nintendo franchises out there for a reason.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. Mario Kart 8 is the gift shop where you know you can order the entire inventory online from the comfort of your home. And they’re both pretty great.

FGC #356 Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed

  • System: Sega Genesis. Wait, no! It’s Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii U. There are also Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, and friggen iPhone ports, but I can’t speak to their collective authenticity. Let’s assume they’re all great?
  • Number of players: Four sounds right.
  • Other Advantages: S&ASRT has maybe the most robust single player experience in kart racing games with its Career Mode, which is basically the quest mode from Soulcalibur. There are all sorts of interesting challenges available as you fight your way toward finally unlocking a playable VMU. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems a little too stretched out and tiring, so maybe the extra content isn’t the best thing in the world.
  • Say something mean: The powerup/weapons/whatever you want to call them in this game kind of suck. They’re mostly more boring rehashes of what you’d see in other kart games, and, really, Sega? You couldn’t do better with all of your franchises contributing characters and concepts? Mecha Bees are cool, but the generic twister could be replaced with, say, any damn thing.
  • WeeeeeFavorite Track: Graveyard Gig, a House of the Dead house party, is everything you could ever want from this premise. After far too much media exposure, we’re back to zombies only being cool when they’re members of The Rolling Stones.
  • Favorite Racer: Vyse, because I enjoy being reminded that we will never see Skies of Arcadia ever again. It hurts so good!
  • Head Canon Corner: Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest thing alive, is racing in a car as a handicap. He wants a nice, fair match.
  • Did you know? Toejam & Earl were planned for original Sega All-Stars Racing, but there was some manner of snafu in actually contacting T&E’s creator. He claimed that he was interested, but the game was too far along by the time he found out. But, you know what? I don’t see the Funkotronians rocking around in the sequel, so I think everyone involved is crazy.
  • Would I play again: Without a doubt. Sometimes you just want to roll around the Death Egg. But, you know, with wheels.

FGC #356 Mario Kart 8

  • System: Nintendo WiiU and Nintendo Switch. The Switch version was used for this review, because I can’t get enough of those squid kids.
  • Number of players: This time I know it’s four.
  • I am a consumer whore: Yes, I purchased this game in its entirety, bonus tracks and all, for the WiiU. Then I bought it again for the Switch. I figured that, since I’m going to have the Switch for a while, and it’s portable, I may as well have an entire Mario Kart game available at all times. I have not regretted this decision.
  • Favorite Track: Cloudtop Cruise is a fun track, features an airship, and reuses music from Super Mario Galaxy. Technically, one could claim this entire course was designed exclusively for me. Or, ya know, any other Mario fan.
  • Favorite Racer: Princess Daisy deserves her own game. Read my newsletter to learn more! (There is no newsletter.)
  • Don't look right at itA shape of things to come: Now that Mario Odyssey features a food world and a decidedly Japanese castle, Sweet Sweet Canyon and Dragon Driftway seem almost prophetic. Or maybe the people behind Mario Odyssey actually played other Mario games. It could go either way.
  • Did you know? This is one of the few games that requires Amiibo functionality only once, as Amiibos unlock new costumes, and are then never need be scanned again. This is in stark contrast to many other Amiibo-based games, like Breath of the Wild or Smash Bros 4, that require frequent visits from your favorite statues. Granted, the Amiibo functionality was kind of grandfathered in anyway, so I wouldn’t see too much into it.
  • Would I play again: Until the Switch is retired, it’s kind of inevitable. And after that? Only the kart under Mario’s butt knows for sure.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Um Jammer Lammy for the Playstation! Rock out with your wool out! Please look forward to it!

Winner!
Eat it, Beat. … No, not you.