Friday, October 27, 2006

Not Since the Bataan Death March Has Japan Inflicted Such a Horrible Injustice on Humankind

This is worse than that game Hitler made

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (don't forget them exclamation points) was an awful sequel to one of the greatest games on the Super Nintendo. That's my thesis, and I'll thank you for letting me back it up.

Let's begin, shall we, by outlining the franchise's history in an attempt to understand how completely this game dropped the ball. First, we have the incomparable original, Super Mario Kart. Recall your reaction to the screenshots first shown at CES '91. "A racing game featuring Mario characters," you might have been heard to exclaim. And what of this odd map that was taking up half the screen? Donkey Kong Jr. (with original undershirt) frollicking with the likes of Yoshi? I could play as a Koopa Troopa? Were those fine folks at Nintendo out of their minds? Not even close. They'd hit upon the magic formula, creating both the kart racing and mascot game genres all in one fell swoop.

We are now intimately familiar with Marios Tennis, Golf, Party and Baseball. Well, maybe not intimately familiar with Baseball, since it's not out yet. And it will probably be derivative and boring, but that's not the point. The point is that, before Nintendo turned these Mario games into soulless vehicles spawned from the depths of their merchandising department, Super Mario Kart was a breath of fresh air. A revolution. Nintendo took a chance, as it is sometimes wont to do, and created a wonderful game that nobody saw coming.

And the battle mode? Before these things became the standard, Nintendo had to create it. And, hey, if you saps would rather play online against some monkey you'll never meet (and who is, in all likelihood, as much of a loser as you are), then be my frigging guest. I'll stick with the unbridled fun and interaction that springs forth when two people are playing a game together in the same room. I mean, girls bonded while combing each other's hair and making fun of the ugly ones. Boys - those who have grown up to become Real Men - bonded playing Mario Kart.

Nintendo makes sequels about as often as Granny has bowel movements. So, after a 23-year wait, they pumped out Mario Kart 64. Not as good as the original, I'm not gonna lie to you. Now, with Double Dash!! out, even, one can see a steady decline in quality through these three games. Nonetheless, this game was competent. They put some effort in there, and managed to squeeze a few innovations into the game. Holding your banana peel behind you to protect against red shells? Inspired. Having 3 shells circle around you in such a way that you can mow your opponents down with ease? Brilliant! The tracks also hold up well, for the most part, and nothing will beat the rush you get after screwing a guy up on that last big jump at Wario Stadium (especially if that guy is Nathan).

Problems were mostly related to slowdown, and those damned pixellated sprites. And, come to think of it, you could never get a solid lead on your rival no matter how well you raced. The new Rainbow Road was also ill-conceived. Hey, Nintendo - if I wanted to waste six minutes of my life, I'd play Star Fox Assault. Finally, the battle mode was pretty lame, ensuring that since 1992, there has only been one battle mode worth playing. That's 14 years, man! You'd think this much-beloved feature of the original would be pretty easy to replicate. You'd also be wrong, apparently.

Years later, we arrive at Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Yes, you knew it was coming. Nintendo wasn't going to let a whole generation go by without an entry in the venerable Mario Kart franchise. Screenshots were non-existent, but you knew it was only a matter of time. You figured that with all the processing power at their disposal, the programmers would be able to fix many of the second installment's bigger mistakes. Why, you even let yourself think that it just might go online so that you could play your friends and Nintendo could make themselves a mint! You damned fool. You stupid, silly man. When those first screenshots came in, featuring a car with Yoshi's head stuck on the front, your heart sank. Nevertheless, you soldiered on, assured by the delusion that only a rabid Gulag escapee could mess up a Mario Kart game.

In a move that you would later regard as the second biggest mistake of your life, you bought Double Dash!!, sight unseen, on the day of its release. Oh, what a fool you were that afternoon as you played through that game, bravely assuring your roommates that the game did not suck. How desperate you must have seemed to them as you tried in vain to unlock 150cc in the hope that it would speed the game up to acceptable levels. It was perhaps out of pity that they picked up your three extra controllers and played alongside you, but it was out of boredom that the four of you turned the system off after not a half hour of soldiering through the awful multiplayer mode. And the battle mode? Somewhere, Battle Track2 is rolling in its grave.

I have a theory about the Mario Kart franchise which states that the frequency with which the lightning bolt appears is inversely proportional to the game's quality. First, because lightning bolts just plain suck if they're used too often. Mostly though, I think that if you're a programmer and you allow one, maybe two lightning bolts per average round of Mario Kart, then you just don't get it. This fundamental lack of understanding will also invariably show up elsewhere in the game you design, ruining it for everyone. Mario Kart isn't about your flashy lightning bolt. It's not about your giant green shell. It’s not about your blue shell, that impossible-to-avoid projectile that hits only the guy in first place (which is almost guaranteed to hit you once per race, so you’d better pray it doesn’t happen in the last 30 seconds of the last lap). It's not about losing all of your items after every minor bump or scrape. It's certainly not about having a grand total of two battle mode levels in one game which are wide open arenas with no walls so that there's no way to avoid a red shell. It isn't about sticking two characters in a kart and calling it "innovation". It's not about giving each character their own gimmicky kart, and filling these karts with some pretty obscure characters. King Boo? I have vague recollections that for one Shine challenge in Mario Sunshine, I might have fought him or something. Mario Kart isn't about cutesy characters and everything from bananas to signposts having a set of cute little eyes. It isn't about getting rid of the few innovations of Mario Kart 64 (namely, the shell shields and holding your items out behind you) for simplicity's sake. I mean, if you're gonna give us 3 red shells as an item, Nintendo, we're also going to need some sort of defensive capabilities to balance that out. Not that it would matter, mind you, considering that nearly every hit slows you down for all of half a second.

I am in the territory of ranting now, and an itemized list of the game's flaws is a waste of all our time. Each of us, those who recall the ground-breaking original, as well as its so-so follow-up, are well aware of Double Dash!!'s faults. They are so apparent, in fact, that I have a hard time believing that Nintendo didn't notice. Come to think of it, I would go so far as to say that Nintendo purposely cutesied up and dumbed down this game to make it appeal to children, at the expense of its more mature customer base. You want the older market, Nintendo? We're right here. You think we'll shy away from a game featuring Princess Toadstool? Take a guess as to what was the most-played game in my hall in first year. It didn't have your Master Chief, your tactical espionage action or even your hookers in the cars and whatnot. It was a kart racer, featuring characters named Luigi, Toad and Wario. And even girls played it.


Blogger Adam said...

Maybe you're a little harsh but I understand your frustration in seeing such a great franchise go south. I never bought the game but I borrowed it from a friend last semester and had a good deal of fun beating it. My thoughts:
-the two-driver format is gimmicky but adds some nice gameplay twists and a fun co-op mode.
-the customized carts for each character are big and clunky and just plain ugly and lack the fun of the original Mario Kart games. I always would chose the Toad cart just because it's the only one that bore some semblance to a true cart.
-the battle mode sucks ass
-the 'all circuit' GP is a dream come true. 16 consecutive races with the points carrying over makes for a great hour of racing.
-excellent track design (i.e. Bowser Castle, the Donkey Kong track)

Let's hope they don't goof it up again for the Wii.

12:36 pm  

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