Posts Tagged ‘Nintendo’

Video Game Review: Mario Kart 7

There are many people on the internet who would look at a review of Mario Kart 7 and immediately ask “Why do people need a review of Mario Kart? It never changes!”

Those people would be wrong in the case of 7.

There are usually some small tweaks that occur from Mario Kart to Mario Kart, but they’re really never massive (besides the ill-advised double drivers in Double Dash and the awesome addition of bikes in Mario Kart Wii) and they usually never really affect the gameplay that much. Nintendo added customizable karts, hang gliders, and propellers to the usual kart based racing formula, but also changed around how courses work with the inclusion of rally races and even changed up the balance of items by trimming some of the fat and adding some really spectacular new items.

The karts are really the main focus of the tweaking in this game. Now you have a choice of different chassies, wheels, and hang gliders to mix-and-match in order to find your personal kart to complement your play style (my kart is made up of the B Dasher, Standard Wheels, and the Super Glider, all of which help me to make my car fast but with decent acceleration, but is a drifting monster). This works considerably better than just picking a pre-made kart from a list mostly due to the fact that Nintendo doesn’t have to make 50 karts with slight modifications in order to accommodate as many people as possible, they can just make a bunch of parts that when combined can make more karts than Nintendo ever would have made on their own. You get these parts by picking up the coins on the racetracks, which is something that has not existed since Super Mario Kart, and like Super Mario Kart, when you collect 10 coins the top speed of your kart is enhanced. You lose coins when you’re hit by items, but there are always more on the tracks.

Unfortunately for me, the bikes from Mario Kart Wii did not return, but with the inclusion of customizable karts, it’s something that I can forgive. There’s always Mario Kart Wii U for them to make a return.

Speaking of items, there’s been a bit of a shift. Fake Item boxes were removed from the game (which I love, as they have never really served much of a purpose) along with Mega Mushrooms, POW Blocks, and Thunderclouds. In their place, Fire Flowers, the Super Leaf, and Lucky 7 have been inserted into the item blocks. Fire Flowers allow you to shoot out fireballs for a set period of time that bounce all over the place and if one of them hits an opponent, they drop a coin. The Super Leaf puts a Tanooki tail on the kart that works like a shield, but unlike the Super Star, the Super Leaf’s Tanooki tail has to be activated. When it is, it spins the tail around you once and can destroy an item or hit opponents. The Lucky 7 is the biggest item in the game and works kind of like the Special Items in Double Dash, but instead of giving each racer set an individual item, it gives them a green shell, red shell, a banana, mushroom, Super Star, Blooper, and a Bob-omb that all rotate around the  racer and can use them at will. It’s a very rare item, but when you get it, it can change the course of the race.

Unlike other Mario Kart games, the AI in the game does not flat out cheat. In previous installments in the series, if you got really far ahead, it was inevitable that you would be hit by multiple Blue Shells and Lightning Bolts until you lose the race in fourth place. This doesn’t really happen too much in Mario Kart 7 (much to my enjoyment). Instead of the other racers inevitably getting whatever item they need, Nintendo actually seems to have boosted their intelligence and race skills. This makes the game much more fair and much more enjoyable, as instead of getting frustrated when the game intentionally screws you over and costs you the race, you can get frustrated when the game beats you because you just aren’t good enough (which is my problem with 3 star-ing all of the 150 CC cups and beating Mirror Mode).

The new tracks in the game are some of the best in the series. Like all of the games since Mario Kart DS, the game is divided between 16 new cups and 16 cups returning from previous games. Now there  is another subdivision between the tracks: the standard 3-lap tracks and some new 1-lap, super long, rally race style tracks. These rally race tracks are amazing, tracks like Wuhu Loop, Maka Wuhu, and the new Rainbow Road really help to break up the usual formula of the Mario Kart games and has ended up making some really interesting and fun tracks. Another thing that has broken up the formula is the inclusion of propellers and hanggliders. The hanggliders are activated by going off a blue jump, and through some skill and air vent boosts, you can actually use the hanggliders to glide over the other racers. The propellers are activated when you enter water and don’t really change the game like the hanggliders do, but your kart does end up handling considerably looser than it would normally.

Character weight classes are now divided up between 5 different classes: feather, light, medium, cruiser, and heavy and the pre-existing and new characters have been shifted around. The stat breakdown between characters has been streamlined in that instead of each character having 1 individual stat boost along with the division of stats between weight classes, it’s now just the weight class. The addition of the two extra weight classes is something I personally enjoy as I usually end up racing as heavy class characters, but I really don’t like their inherent stats, so with the inclusion of the Cruiser class and the customizable karts, the game is more customizable than it has ever been. That being said, while there are a number of new characters (Metal Mario, Shy Guy, Wiggler, Honey Queen, and Lakitu), a number of characters did not return for this installment. Characters like Waluigi, King Boo (my personal favourite besides Rosalina, Metal Mario, and Mii), and even Diddy Kong were not brought back. It’s odd that some really well known and loved (well, not in Waluigi’s case) were not brought back, but it’s something that just happens with series that have gone on for this long and with such large character lists.

The graphics in the game are amazing. Everything is crisp and colourful and there are even some special effects on the tracks, such as falling cherry blossoms on the new Mario Circuit. Like Super Mario 3D Land, this game is one that definitely should be played with the 3D on. Seeing the actual depth between you and the racer in front of you is something that can help your game exceptionally well, and having the Blooper’s ink actually fly out and hit the closest level is pretty cool. There is also a new first person mode that places you in the kart and allows you to control the kart through the 3DS’ gyroscope. It works surprisingly well, especially when compared to the Wii Wheel in Mario Kart Wii.

People have been saying that with the 3DS, Nintendo has finally figured out online play, and there is no game that has shown off their new online prowess like Mario Kart 7. The online play is as smooth as butter and has both racing and battle modes to play against people all over the world. The track selection is done by a randomized process where each racer chooses the course they want to race on and the game chooses a course out of the choices. The system works well and being able to play Mario Kart against people when ever you want is awesome. The game also uses StreetPass in a fun way by allowing you to make your own Grand Prix out of the available courses and send it to people where they can race against their Mii.

Mario Kart 7 is easily the best modern Mario Kart game (I still contend that Mario Kart Super Circuit is the best). It’s a massive step forward in the series that seems to continuously get better with each installment (excluding a few small missteps along the way) and shows that Nintendo still has it when it comes to making games that are both familiar, but still feel exceptionally new and fun. This is easily the best game on the 3DS right now and is definitely a system seller. Be sure to play this game, it’s one of the best of 2011.

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Video Game Review: Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land is a very interesting beast. It is plays like a 3D Mario game like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, but the level design is very akin to the 2D games like Super Mario World and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. It’s a mash-up of worlds that sounds like New Super Mario Brothers, but is almost completely different.

Unfortunately, a major factor of that is that the game is entirely too easy.

Some people have complained about recent Mario games being easy (and to be honest, some of them (Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Brothers spring immediately to mind) have most definitely been), but that trend seemed to have been turned around with Super Mario Galaxy 2 (where most of the difficulty comes from trying to collect all 120 stars in order to unlock Green Star mode which is apparently controller throwingly difficult) and New Super Mario Brothers Wii (which is a fairly difficult game in and of itself, but it becomes the friendship killer when you introduce even one other person in the co-op mode). Super Mario 3D Land completely reverses this trend and I blew through the vast majority of the game in around 2-3 days. It is just way too easy, but hopefully that will be fixed in the inevitable Super Mario 3D Land 2: Electric Boogaloo as just about everything else in Super Mario 3D Land is extremely fun and entertaining.

The game is the standard Mario formula: run through numerous bright and colourful worlds, stomping on Goombas and Koopa Troopers along the way collecting coins, power-ups, and stars (which take the form of Star Coins this time around) all going towards stopping Bowser and saving the constantly in peril Princess Peach. There is nothing new to the standard formula, but the Mario games really don’t need to change up the formula as every game feels fresh and new due to it’s constantly amazing gameplay and level designs.

The Mario games have always had some of the best level design in the industry, mostly due to it’s unrestrictive theme. Sure there’s always the usual lava, ice, underwater, desert, and castle levels, but they never feel rehashed due to the fact that you can do a lot of things with those ideas. The levels may be ideas that you have seen before, but they’re always a blast to run through due to the combining of different ideas in new and interesting ways. Within one level you can move from a standard grassland platforming segment, through a castle, and then up a mountain; within the same world you can be traveling down a series of floating blocks and using warp pipes in order to move between segments of blocks. The game does not follow the Super Mario 64 formula of having multiple routes or challenges in one large area and it doesn’t follow the New Super Mario Brothers style of lumping all of the desert levels into one world and all of the ice levels into another. You can move from one completely different idea to another within the course of a single world, but it doesn’t break the experience at all.

The levels are designed to be able to be beaten in around 2 minutes, which is great for a portable game where having the 10-20 minute long Super Mario Galaxy levels would just not work. They are also designed around the idea that it is to be played in 3D, and it really shows when you try to play it without the 3D on. The game uses the 3D to actually perceive the depth of Mario’s jumps. Without it, jumping becomes infinitely harder as you cannot necessarily perceive the length of the gaps.

The levels play, at times, very similar to LittleBigPlanet in a few ways. The biggest of which is that a lot of the time, the level design is heavily reminicient of 2D Mario games, but with the ability to move more into the foreground and background instead of along a straight line. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, though, is that you have completely free movement within those levels along with the inclusion of more traditional 3D platforming segments. Also unlike LittleBigPlanet, the controls are exceptionally tight and the jumping has no instance of floatiness, unless you have the Tanooki suit.

The game marks the return of a few things that have been long absent from the Mario franchise. The idea of Mario and Super Mario being two different states of being have been brought back, replacing the health system introduced in Mario 64. The Super Leaf and Statue Leaf have returned from Super Mario Brothers 3, but the Tanooki suit that comes with them is slightly different. In Super Mario Brothers 3, the Tanooki Suit was an upgraded version of the Racoon Suit, which only gave Mario ears and a tail, but allowed him to essentially fly if you had the skill. The Tanooki suit bestowed the same power, but also allowed Mario to turn into an indestructable statue on command. The base-level Tanooki Suit allows Mario to hover for a short period of time, which can allow him to make longer jumps, and the higher-level suit works the same way as in Super Mario Brothers 3, but without the ability to fly.

As nostalgic and awesome as it is to have the Tanooki Suit back after its extremely long abscence, it is one of the things about the game that really breaks it. The ability to make longer jumps and the included floatiness of the suit makes the game significantly easier and making precise jumps almost stops mattering. It makes it so that you can just blow right through levels without thinking and you will rarely, if ever, have trouble. On top of that, the game starts you out as Super Mario, so if you have any level of competence at the game, whenever you find the first item block in the level, boom, instant Fire Flower or Super Leaf. Congratulations, you are now basically invincible and can take three hits before you die. On top of that, the game does not shirk from giving you plenty of options to get extra lives. There are coins everywhere, if you get a Super Mushroom when you’re already Super Mario or above, you get another 10 coins instantly. You get coins from killing enemies, coins from the occasional mini-game or side level, and it all adds up extremely quickly. By the end of World 8, I had over 100 lives with no sign of anything to force me to lose them.

All of that being said, the game does get harder after World 8 with the inclusion of the Special Worlds, but the difficulty doesn’t really ratchet up until the very end of the game.

Super Mario 3D Land is somewhat self defeating. On one hand, the level design is at the normal level of Mario games, the game is extremely fun, and manages to combine the new and old-school in the series, on the other, it is extremely easy. I would recommend that people play the game, but get it used or when (read if) it drops in price.

2 Weeks With the Nintendo 3DS: The Software

2 weeks ago, I came into possession of a brand new Nintendo 3DS for a mere $70 through a combination of the new price drop, a sale, and the trading in of some games, and I don’t regret a thing. I also picked up Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, but I won’t be talking about that in this post, just the system in question.

The system is fantastic, and part of the reason is how much free stuff comes in the relatively small package that is the 3DS. Practically all of the programs that come pre-installed on the system are essentially tech demos of what can be done with the system, but they are actually exceptionally fun to play around with. One of these programs are the AR Games. 6 AR Cards come with the system (one that is a basic AR Card and allows you to play most of the games and 5 Character Cards (Mario, Toon Link, Pikmin, Samus, and Kirby) that can be used to take very silly pictures.) Within the AR Games, there are 6 different games, two of which are just ways of taking pictures with the different AR Cards and one (Graffiti) that allows you to make 3D graffiti on various surfaces. It can be very entertaining, and can be much more interesting with other people playing around with it along with you. The other 3 pieces of software are actually games and they come in 3 varieties: Archery, AR Shot, and Fishing.

Fishing is, well, fishing. It’s kind of boring, but the other two are fantastic. Archery is a game in which various structures pop out of the card and you are forced to move around the various structures in order to hit the targets, all of the different levels culminating with you fighting a freaking fire breathing dragon! AR Shot is a kind of mini-golf game that becomes more and more fantastical as the courses get weirder and weirder.All of the games are amusing, but won’t last more than a few hours of gameplay at one time.

Another game is Face Raiders where your face is stolen by monsters and you are forced to get it back by shooting at the monsters and taking all of them down. There are multiple levels that get progressively harder and the enemies do weirder and weirder things, and that’s really saying something considering that within the first level, there is the distinct possibility that you can be kiss attacked by your own face. The game uses the accelerometer and gyroscope in the system to track where you are moving the system to aim your tennis ball launcher at the evil hoard. The game can eventually go into the pictures that are saved on the SD Card (a 2 gig card surprisingly enough comes with the system) and can take pictures from there. The game eventually gets very hard and is easily the best game that comes with the system.

The other pieces of software aren’t really games. There’s Nintendo 3DS Camera and Nintendo 3DS Sound, the latter is a straightforward MP3 player and a method to record and play around with sound. The Camera is rather fun as it is able to take pictures in 3D (the system can also view pictures online in 3D if they are taken in 3D. For you Disney fans, check out Theme Parks in 3D in the 3DS Browser).

The system also comes with a Mii Maker and StreetPass Mii Plaza. The Mii Maker is a slightly improved version of the Mii Channel on the Wii, but adds the ability to take a picture of someone with the 3DS cameras and have the Mii Maker make the Mii for you. This particular feature requires a lot of light in order to use it, but that is more a problem with the cameras on the 3DS than it is a problem with the software. StreetPass Mii Plaza allows you to interact with other 3DS’s without actually interacting with them. When you bump into another person using StreetPass, you can get puzzle pieces from them to finish a number of different Nintendo themed 3D images in one game and in the other you can hire the Mii’s you bump into to save your Mii from an evil castle. It’s very amusing to open up the system and find that you have met three other people who have a 3DS without actually seeing them playing it.

The 3DS has multitasking, but not with everything (much to my chagrin when it comes to the 3D Pokedex). You can access your friend list (which is now just tied to 1 Friend Code per system rather than a different Friend Code for every game. This is a step in the right direction, Nintendo, but you should just allow people to use Usernames instead of Friend Codes), write notes about whatever game you are playing, read notifications, and access the internet.

I was going to talk about the hardware as well as the actual software, but I’ll talk about that sometime next week as this article is getting a bit lengthy.

E3 2011: Microsoft Underwhelms, Sony is Okay, Nintendo Wins

Last year, Internet Gods Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins accurately summed up what happened at E3 that year:

That comic can also accurately explain what happened at this year’s E3.

Here was Microsoft’s press conference:

That is honestly not a joke. Microsoft was all about the Kinect this year and they even managed to announce a video game about Disneyland that made me not want to play it. Seriously, they made Disneyland shovel-ware. It’s bad. To top of the steaming pile that was their press conference, they announced Halo 4, a game in a series that has never been better than mediocre since the beginning and now it’s not even being made by Bungie.

Sony’s press conference was a little better. They have the new PlayStation Vita, which is their new PSP, but considering that I have a PSP now that I don’t really play that much, I’m going to wait to see what the actual handheld is like before putting out the $249 to buy one. This isn’t a Nintendo handheld, Sony has not proven to me that there will be worthwhile games that will be released for it. The fact that there is a new Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, and an original BioShock game coming, I will be watching the news about the Vita with a small amount of cautious optimism.

They also announced a 24-inch 3D monitor made for the PS3 that has some pretty cool implications for multiplayer gaming. If you buy a second pair of 3D glasses (each pair will be $69, but the TV comes with one pair), you will be able to essentially have your own screen with the way that the active shutters on the glasses work. The TV itself will be $500.

Now we come to the big gun, Nintendo. Nintendo won E3 again this year. Last year it was the 3DS, this year it’s the WiiU. The console is HD, the controllers have 6 inch screens on them, a camera, gyroscope, and motion sensors. You will be able to play games directly on the screen without using the TV or you can use the TV and the WiiU like a giant DS and play in that way. Wiimotes will be able to be used in conjunction with the WiiU and there is a slew of third party titles that will be coming to the system. Nintendo seems to have finally gotten out of it’s slump when it comes to third party games and the WiiU looks like it’s going to be a complete revolution like all of the previous Nintendo systems have been in the past few years.

They haven’t actually announced any 1st party games for the WiiU yet, but they showed off how Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (out on the Wii this holiday, finally) will work with the new system. They did announce Mario Kart 3DS and Luigi’s Mansion 2, Super Mario 3DS (now with more Tanooki suit), and did the biggest cocktease ever by announcing a new Super Smash Bros. game that will be for the 3DS and the WiiU and will connect between the two, but they didn’t actually reveal any information besides that.