Tag Archives: spin-off

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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Gears of War: Judgement

Right from the get-go you realize why this is called “Judgment”. Somehow, Damon Baird, one of the original four in the group since the first Gears, is being judged in a rather trumped-up trial. The form in which the charges are presented and how the seemingly superior ranked official storms on them makes everything seem conspicuously biased. Still, all of them are given the chance to speak and give his version of what had happened.

They take turns unfolding the story and each time you control a different character rebuilding their narrative in real time. Apparently they weren’t supposed to had done something that they did, why? Because they disobeyed direct orders. Not unlike what Marcus Fenix had been doing throughout the series up to that point, but still, let the tribunal hear and the official would give his final and unquestionable verdict.

The first few minutes might have more meaningful storytelling than all the other 3 Gears of War games combined. Not that it ultimately matters, you basically go from action sequence to action sequence shooting down gruesome enemies that seem much enraged as you are, in a battle that it’s never really clear when or why it began in the first place.

The fact the narrative works better this time around might have to do with the fact that Damon Baird is a better developed character than Marcus Fenix. Gears of War dropped a lot of the raucous macho attitude in favor of a more harmonious relationship between the four characters.

There’s also the addition of a woman character, Sofia Hendrik, who surprisingly doesn’t look like a masculinized modern day feminist. She stands as the the voice of reason in a group of air-heads. She still fights though, and is quite good at that. Along with Damon Baird, the other member of the secondary group in the original trilogy is also present, Augustus Cole. The fourth member is another friend of Damon, a guy named Garron Paduk, who is much more aligned with Gears’s type of taciturn, scarred manly men who prefers to shoot first and never ask any question.

This is typical Gears, episodic, full of action and explosions. They actually took down a notch in the noble task of introducing newer enemy variants at every few seconds. Gears of War 3 was basically one gigantic puzzle on how each enemy behaved and could be beaten.

The most important new feature are the Declassified Missions. Picture it this way, during the re-telling of the events in the game there will be a strange foggy Gears symbol attached to a wall right before some action sequences, if you inspect it you’re given the option to change the occurrences to a more extreme version. Of course you’re going to have to play that more extreme version so it’s up to you to accept or not this new “path”.

Some of them simply state that at that moment a fog had come down on them and the visibility was weakened. You’re going to have to deal with the fog during the whole sequence. Some of them state that a poisonous gas was released so they had a limited time to reach their destination, if you missed the time, you were dead.

Some extras are tougher than others so you can try to beat it and change your mind if you somehow are having trouble with it. The bonus for enduring this higher challenge is that you get more stars at the end of each episode. Depending on how well you did you might receive up to three stars which can unlock new stuff for both single and multiplayer.

The most important thing you can unlock by getting stars is the Aftermath chapter, which is not exactly related to the events of Judgement and in fact sheds a light on some of the events that took place in Gears of War 3 but wasn’t part of the Marcus/Dominic storyline. It features the length of pretty much a regular chapter and the very presence of it might be due to the fact that Judgement might leave the impression of being a DLC thrown in together in full package for revenue.

Another important change was made to how controls work, and the changes are excellent! You no longer need to count on the unresponsive digital pad of the Xbox 360 controller to change weapons. You simply press Y to change to your secondary. To throw grenades you no longer need to equip them, they used the left bumper to throw nades. By tapping it you’ll do a quick throw, if you hold then the trajectory will be shown. The left bumper used to be used for telling the objective and no one really needed that, Gears of War has always been a corridor and what you needed to do was to shoot anything that moved.

My take on this is that Judgement is solid as a stand-alone full-length release, it just doesn’t follow the main storyline, but it’s certainly within the reaches of Gears. The fact that it features nothing new in terms of gameplay wasn’t an argument not to release both sequels to the first installment. Let’s be fair here, Gears didn’t try to redefine gaming, action, or third-person shooters in any way; not in the beginning, not now.

The multiplayer might as well be the best you can play in all four games. The usual deathmatch to see who scores big and kills the most is still the main meal. The latest addition is a mode called OverRun. This is pretty much a take on Gears if it were a team-based shooter. It works so well that it would be a shame if this mode doesn’t become a constant recurrent in later iterations.

In OverRun you get to play as both the COG (good guys) and the Locust (bad guys). Your objective as the COG is to prevent the Locust to completely damage the entrance to the Emergency Hole, denying them the advance in the course. If somehow you fail twice they will reach the last of a three-part round in which their task will be to destroy the generator.

If the COG successfully defends the advance of the Locust they immediately win the round. The roles are then changed and whoever was defending now has to attack. Whichever team gets farther wins the game. If both teams manages to reach the generator and destroy it then the team that did it fastest will be the winner.

To do that you assume the role of four classes in the COG and 8 different types of Locust. As the COG you simply change your role. You can be the engineer and repair the defenses, a soldier who inflicts damage and restores ammunition, a medic who deals damage and can revive downed team-mates or the scout who snipes from afar and can reach higher places in the maps for better vision.

As the Locust you need to start with one of the four regular, weaker grubs, while gaining score points. If you earn enough points you can become a much stronger enemy, like the Serapede (a giant centipede imune to front attacks) or a Corpser (the big shielded guys). Controlling the opposition — not only in multiplayer with human-like controls — and getting to control monsters like the Corpser is an amazing feeling. Some might be overpowered, but still, whoever manages to do better will win the round and some always have to win anyway.

The co-op is solid as well. The four characters are always together so it doesn’t feature different paths like it did in previous Gears. Playing with 3 other people online, especially if you know them, is pretty satisfying and the whole game was build from ground up for this very purpose.

So Gears of War: Judgement might be the black sheep of the family in Gears, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. The OverRun multiplayer by itself is one of the best multiplayer mode I’ve played in a while and the campaign is good old Gears. There’s not much not to like except the fact that the main team of protagonists aren’t featured. I actually thought it was a plus, but to each his own opinions.