Tag Archives: classic

Super Mario Kart

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Back in the Super Nintendo days graphics weren’t what we expect them to be these days, and yet we were so easily impressed with anything beyond the ordinary it’s not even funny. It was such a gap going from 16-bit days to machines like the Nintendo 64 which were quite capable of reproducing 3D environments. By today’s standards Super Mario 64 still looks incredible. Maybe we will never see such a revolution is gaming as those days.

Super Mario Kart was a change of direction because we were used to platformers or top-down adventure games, but a racing game? How would that even work beyond the fair but still embryonic attempts, some child might have thought in the early 90’s. There has been games with the kind of realism expected from such endeavor but console gamers, especially Nintendo gamers weren’t too keen on grasping the whole concept of a cartoonish game-maker like Nintendo in such a competitive environment.

Nintendo broke a few unsaid rules with Super Mario Kart, not only it cemented the very idea of a Mario spin-off but it also gave new grounds of possibilities from which they could be implemented and used to craft some new, imaginative racing style that would encompass all Nintendo elements and still seem something so completely different, so out of the ordinary for a company like Nintendo.

One can easily say that this burst of enthusiastic has its rots on the famous Mode 7, a graphical capability of the Super Nintendo which allowed for a transitional rotating effect on the background, creating an apparent 3D style though it all was simply ingenious use of height/depth texture management in two dimensions. Whatever it may be, Super Mario Kart offered an amazing control scheme full of depth and handing over to the player complete controle of his kart.

In fact, that so Nintendo, while others might choose muscle cars to emulate the idealization of what you can’t have, they simply put you in control of animated characters driving karts in ever crazier tracks. Some had pits which required Lakity to go over and pull you back into the track.

What made this so far apart from any kind of competitor on its day was the addition of items. Basically you could run over some yellow “?” button and receive a random items that could be used in your favor to thwart the plans of someone ahead of you or simply wreak havoc making the course always more dangerous. The worst you had been doing in the race the better items you’d get. Rays that transformed everyone in tiny racers allowing you to pass over them and stomp them, stars to make you invincible for a little while.

Super Mario Kart, and the series in general was never meant to be a core racer game, the best skilled racer might not always win and whoever’s last place might get a couple of incredibly good items and reach first place in one final lap. It’s the definition of a party game where playing with friends in the same room without any spirit of stark competitiveness is the ideal scenario.

Some other modes like the battle mode were glorious from the start, refined in later installments of the series, yes, but even Super Mario Kart seemed to have it down pretty well by the time it was released. Basically everyone starts with three balloons attached to their karts and every time the person got hit by an item one of the balloons would go away. Whoever survived in the end with whichever number of balloons was the winner. Simple multiplayer fun that allowed so much enjoyment.

You could also try you best in time attack sessions for a more hardcore type of challenge without the need of opponents or items. To this day communities of hardcore karters race to get the best times in each of the many courses. They became so iconic that every new Mario Kart released recently almost needs to have classic tracks for nostalgia purposes; and I should say that in most cases you realize that the courses from former games are the better ones anyway.

The fact you can race with some of the most beloved characters in the Mario universe, even villains, is enough to make this an incredible selling point. Each of them functions slightly different and should respond in distinct ways on the field. Characters like Donkey Kong Jr. and Bowser are heavy, bulky and have the best top speed. It’s easy to say that whenever a lighter kart in in front of them and they collide, the lighter car will be pushed aside.

The lighter karts like Yoshi and Peach have better acceleration and can recover much easier from any items that completely stops them. Their aerial time is also slightly better for some shortcuts. Everything is divided in four championships at three different motor speeds — also known as difficulty levels — and overall it offers a pretty good challenge for players especially in later difficulties and the last cup.

Super Mario Kart is one of the most legendary video-games in existence. Its legacy goes beyond racing games, it goes beyond Mario spin-offs; it’s a testament of genial game design and freshness reigning over established saturated formulas. It taught a thing or two to basically anyone in the industry on how to make a game memorable, absolutely essential.

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Deus Ex

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At the time Deus Ex was released I used to play few games on PC, not many but the eventual ones I got from specialized magazines. I rarely got games from stores to play on a PC, mainly because at the time I considered the PC a strange gaming device. It had its moments but I was so used to playing with a joystick and the fact that not everything was plug-and-play at the time always kept me at a distance. Some games might function right, some games might not, some games might run on my weak system, some games might not. The PC has always (still is) less user-friendly than any console, and for a kid of my age along with my lack of understanding toward PCs, it never really caught me.

Still, the few games I played at that time still have a place in my heart, some are still amongst my favorite games of all time, even though I never considered a great fan of PCs and most games I played came from CDs attached to PC magazines. Deus Ex on the other hand never reached my hands, and having heard a lot of talking about how good this game is I decided to give it a go. Of course Steam and their weekly discounts on games gave me a little push on that and was actually one of the first games I ever bought from them.

Quite a while after having bought it I decided to try it out — isn’t that how Steam’s supposed to work anyway? You buy dozens of games hoping to live long enough to have the will and the time to play them all. First thing I always notice on these older games are how the resolution works, most older games don’t support the high resolutions possible now, if not all of them. And bear in mind that Deus Ex is no exception to that rule, the game has problems with resolution but it has much bigger problems when it comes to wide screen monitors. Getting a chopped off image is the price we all should be willing to pay to play this great game.

What I didn’t know back then (when I started playing the game) and what I know now is that there are user-created mods that should give you a hand on those problems. Actually, there are mods that completely redesign the games to look sharper and much better. I don’t feel bad about only knowing about this mod after I had beaten the game, I probably would have played it with chopped image and uglier scenery since I’m such a purist. Every time I play a game I like to enjoy the game the developers intended me to play, if it’s a game made in 1990, then let’s party like it’s 1990, as crude and archaic as it might look.

That’s exactly what I experienced, Deus Ex in all its glory, no graphical mods, no gameplay mods. I must admit I tried mods after and they’ve certainly done a hell of a job. I hope someday I’ll have the guts to play through it all over again. It wasn’t just graphical problems thwarting my fun, like the game strangely not accepting 32 bits as it kept switching back to 16 bits. I also had sound problems, but fortunately every problem I had was manageable after a quick search on the world wide web.

The first thing you should know about it is that it has one of the best opening theme songs on all video-games, it’s simply that amazing. As a game it is a perfect mix of first person shooter and RPG. The RPG elements show themselves in the form of stat upgrades and augmentations. As you advance your character gathers experience which can be exchanged to upgrade stats you choose. Though some stats are incredibly useful, after a while playing you’ll realize that, some of them are clearly not worth taking into account, especially in exchange for those costly points.

It is possible that many types of character might emerge from that freedom in building, most people will first get the job done for the more emergency stats, and most of them are the same for everyone. You might want to get better at using sniper rifles, but won’t you be using your handgun a lot more often? That’s a question everyone should consider. Maybe for advanced players who know what to expect, not so much. Hacking computers can always be useful, unless you’re quite the trooper and will go writing down every code there is in the game, but won’t one single upgrade suffice? After all, it will only require more skill and swiftness, and that’s never a bad thing.

As for augmentations, now we actually have something more differential all around. During the game you’ll come across upgrades known as augmentations, they give the character some corporeal boost, each one you find will have to be applied to a specific body part but you’ll have to permanently choose an effect. To clear that up with an example, picture this: eventually you’ll come across a leg augmentation (actually one of the first augmentations you’ll find if my memory doesn’t fail me) that will leave you with a dilemma. You either choose to be more stealthy or faster. If you choose the speed enhancement you’ll make a lot of noise while running through enemies, but you’ll be quicker and more susceptible to take less bullets. If you choose to be more stealthy you’ll be able to go unnoticed through enemies and avoid gunfire altogether.

When you choose an augmentation it’s a one way thing, and with the huge disparity between the two choices it’s recommendable that the player think it through before making any rushed decision that will affect the entire playthrough. The augmentations can also be upgraded by finding small canisters. Every augmentation you attach to your body starts at level 1 and can be upgraded up to level 4 if enough small canisters are used. The evolution is pretty clear, let’s say you used the Aqualung augmentation in your torso which upgrades your lungs letting you stay longer underwater, at level 1 you’ll be able to stay underwater for a few seconds more, as you upgrade the amount of time increases, and if it ever reaches level 4 JC Denton will have the ability to stay underwater indefinitely.

Now that I mentioned our playable character let’s know a little bit more about him. JC Denton is a nanotechnology augmented soldier who works for an anti-terrorist organization called UNATCO. He’s in his first day at work when you start the game. He has a brother called Paul who also works for the same organization. Deus Ex story stands as one of the deepest, most complex and engaging to ever grace video-games. In truth, let’s just say that Deus Ex story revolves around JC Denton’s struggle to uncover a web of corruption and lies spread around several levels of power. The story unfolds in such a deliberately methodical manner, everything evolves as the events happen, everything changes suddenly. New twists happen all around, one time you’re operating near an UNATCO base, then right after you find yourself at the other side of the world pursuing information, which might prove useless as facts develop.

The story is complex, there’s no point in describing an abridged version since it feels like many plots mashed into one big story. One can’t exist without the other, and the amount of information you get in each of them is so crucial that you better not miss a single conversation at all. Everything changed abruptly, and the changes are mostly steep. There’s certainly great skill in writing such diversity and still make sense. Most games today only dream of achieving this level of depth, the lack of attention in graphical detail certainly contrasts with the absurd level of quality the plot showcases.

It’s strange really. The huge variety of locations used in the game strangely gives the player a weird sense of immersion, even though most of them look too crude, and it did even at the time of launch. The good job must be done mainly by immersion caused by plot. I believe most of the familiarity you’ll find in levels come from the fact that JC Denton is a relatable character, even if taken in consideration the blandness of the voice-overs or the general lack of empathy. JC Denton is a very strict man, a man of logical thinking and “by the book” actions. Of course, the player’s actions will determine how Denton deals with the world around him, but the general feeling dies hard. And as JC Denton tries to understand the strange occurrences surrounding him, the player will do the same, creating an interesting bond character-player. Levels become much more important when you actually care about what you’re doing as a mean of understanding the situation.

Deus Ex is quite an achievement. I can understand the cult popularity. As any game that tries something huge, it comes off making mistakes along the way, more because playing safe wasn’t gonna cut it. I respect that a lot. Even a decade after launch this game impresses for its story depth, its excellent blend of RPG elements with stealth/action FPS, and general concept. In a time when developers simply try to emulate what’s successful, release new installments to established franchises with little to nothing new, or when it’s hard to remember (or care) about a game’s plot 20 minutes after you turn off the video-game console (or PC), playing a game like this certainly puts a smile on anyone’s face.