Posts Tagged ‘review’

Mario Kart 8: The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict

 

MK8boxSo, I have written three reviews for Mario Kart 8, but I haven’t been able to really get my thoughts properly out on the page. I’m really torn about the game and how I feel about it. So, I’m going to write two short reviews. One negative, and one positive. Here we go.

 

 

Why I Don’t Like Mario Kart 8

 

Mario Kart Wii was the last time I saw my favorite Nintendo characters drive around in go karts on my TV. Mario Kart 7 was a fantastic diversion, but I have been hungry for more. Sadly, in some ways, Mario Kart 8 takes steps backward in terms of where Mario Kart 7 and even Mario Kart Wii stands.

 

My biggest issues center around the roster of characters and the kart/bike options. While the roster of characters is larger than in the Wii version, there is less depth. There are only 8 sets of characters, and they all share the same stats. So it may appear that Toad and Shy Guy are different characters, but on the track they are exactly the same. This goes the same for kart types, wheels, and gliders. Like in Mario Kart 7 any character can select any kart, and there are a ton to choose from. That said, many share stats, just like characters, and (also like characters) they are not organized together. For example, there are 4 versions of the standard tire but some have one or two options between them when selecting kart options. This really makes it difficult to decipher what’s going on. It’s almost like Nintendo is trying to hide the fact that they got lazy. I mean, Mario Kart Wii had small differences between all of its characters, shouldn’t we expect the same or more for this game? If they were trying to make things more simple in light of being able to choose wheels and gliders for your kart now, they sure did complicate things by not organizing them properly.

 

Also, Metal Mario and Metal Peach (I know she has some longer stupid name) are pretty boring additions. Isn’t Metal Mario just Mario with a power-up? That’s like adding Cat Suit Mario, or Frog Suit Mario- either of which would have been more fun. Also, with a whole chunk of the roster being dedicated to Koopa Kids, how could they blow good roster spots on metal characters and a new baby character in the form of Baby Rosalina? Who the hell cares about adding Baby Rosalina? Why not add Cranky Kong or Dixie or something? They were in the last DK Country, so it kind of makes sense, and we’re down to one primate on the roster.

MK babies

I hate babies.

In Mario Kart 7 we were given the Lucky 7 item, and in Mario Kart 8 we have the Crazy 8. It’s quite obnoxious, feeling more like they ran out of ideas than anything else. It gives me the same sensation I imagine I’d get if I were driving down the street in a hail storm and all my windows decided to roll down on their own. Which window do I roll up first? Where is the button? Never mind, I’ve fallen off a cliff.

crazy 8

You mean to tell me that now I can shoot 2 shells, drop a banana, throw a bomb, rocket myself forward, fire a blooper, get 2 coins, AND activate a super star? FINALLY!

They also got rid of two of my favorite items (the hot-potato style cloud and the giant mushroom, both from the Wii version) but still opted to keep the worst item in the history of the series. I shouldn’t have to say it’s name in my blog, but the blooper has got to be one of the worst, most infuriating things ever thought up in and actually put into a video game.

 

One of my favorite things that Mario Kart 7 introduced was point A to point B races, where there were no laps, just one long race. There are only two in this game. One is a new course and one is the N64 version of Rainbow Road, which seems a little strange to me. That Rainbow Road course is still just a lap, albeit a long one. These were loads of fun in Mario Kart 7, and it looks like developers knew it, but only keeping 2 in there must be pretty confusing for players who missed that installment, and disappointing to gamers like me.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that battle mode has basically been destroyed. Ever hear the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well, Nintendo evidently hadn’t. Now, instead of battle arenas, you’ve got your choice of tracks from the game to choose from. So, you can drive around the track, shooting at people….like you would in a race. Or I guess you could just hide from other racers, but that wouldn’t really matter because NO ONE IS PLAYING IT ONLINE.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to the train Nintendo refuses not to run on it’s fans by way of it’s super-cheap 150cc AI.

death stare

You think this is a game?!

Why I Love Mario Kart 8

 

Mario Kart 8 has got to be one of, if not the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen available on a Nintendo console. And while Nintendo takes a lot of heat for repurposing the same old franchises over and over (Mario games in particular), it’s games like this that add new dynamics and new layers to familiar favorites which keep fans like me happy.

 

While I’m not hot about all the new items, the new item system works extremely well (with the exception of in 150cc when other karts always seem to have the item they need to keep you from finishing that last lap in first). The items seem more balanced this time around and while you can get creamed when in a pack, once you break free you will not have to live in constant terror of a blue shell coming to get you. They’re far more rare this time around and the super horn item can actually save you from losing your 1st place spot.

super horn

Super horn, I don’t know where you came from, and I don’t care.

Like I said before, the game is stunning, and Nintendo knows it. They actually took most of the HUD off of the screen and put it on the gamepad. Sure, it’s difficult to look down and get all the vital info, but everything is so beautiful that it really doesn’t bother me much. I wish there was some kind of option to put some info up on the TV screen, but I like the setup overall. You can even save replays and post them straight to Youtube. You cannot actually edit the videos, but it’s still a nice feature.

 

Here is me, winning by a nose.

The real big stuff pluses come through by way of the tracks, though. First of all, being able to ride on walls and other surfaces make the game way more interesting. Finding alternate routes and seeing which you can make it through the quickest is a lot of fun and makes tracks more rewarding to retread. Also, something needs to be said for the creativity and craft that went into these new tracks. There’s a whole level where you start in the clouds, find your way onto a vine, only to end up on one of Bowser’s flying warships. Visually, it’s the most amazing level I’ve seen in any Mario game in a long time.

 

Even the retro stages have been given a really slick upgrade. The N64 version of Rainbow Road looks phenomenal and even features updated versions of the train and fireworks that made that level so special before. One level that really impressed me was the flat and very straight forward Mario Circuit from the GBA Mario Kart. To give it a taste of anti-gravity, one whole long U turn has been raised about 60 degrees up in the air. As the race starts you actually get to see it getting lifted up off of the ground, and that’s pretty cool.

 

The Verdict:

I’ve got to give Mario Kart 8 a solid B-. It’s the best looking, most fun B- I’ve ever played, and there is a lot that they could fix with DLC in the future (I’m not holding my breath, but they could add some battle arenas, maybe add some depth to the roster of characters, throw in some A-to-B style races, etc). Mario Kart 8, on it’s own, if I had never played the Wii version or 7, would have been an A game for sure, but when you look what Wii and 7 had that Mario Kart 8 doesn’t, you cannot deny that Nintendo took their foot off of the gas with this one (PUN INTENDED).

 

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They Might Be Giants (Self Titled)

The self titled album

(You are reading a review written in the month of June, 2011, which was dedicated to the band They Might Be Giants and the task of reviewing many of the bands most popular material.)

The first release by They Might Be Giants was their self titled album in 1986. John Flansburgh and John Linnell had been writing music together for a few years after moving from Lincoln, Mass.  to the same apartment building in New York City. The album got solid reviews from those who found it and soon TMBG became a staple of college radio and the New York music scene.

The self titled album really defines the style of TMBG right out of the gate. Their first album is a more abstract and experimental than their others, I feel, and as their career moved on and their sound became more defined, things began to seem less about testing sounds and ideas, and more about creating music with the experience gained from those experiements.  It contains songs about love and loss, about loneliness, and discontent, all the while providing a commentary on politics, pop culture, drugs, and the music industry. Add to that the references to movies and literature and world history, and you’ve pretty much got the lyrical styling of the band. Also, since the band slowly began to incorporate the help of other musicians until their 5th studio album when they recorded John Henry with the help of a full band, on the first album we get a very potent introduction to the song writing styles of the band’s main songwriters.

Listening to the first two albums for the first time was an experience I’ll never forget. I was sitting in my living room, listening to the music and following along online on a website that is still up today (www.tmbg.org), which supplied lyrics and interpretations of their songs. Listening to songs like “Everything Right is Wrong Again”, “Rabid Child”, and “Rhythm Section Want Ad”, while reading all of these alternate interpretations and understanding the multiple references and allusions in their songs put me right in the middle of the music.

A good TMBG song is like a treasure trove of images and symbols, and it is all layered under a style of music that is sometimes uplifting and exciting, and other times bizarre and unsettling, supplied by lyrics which are at times totally literal and at other times are very abstract and surreal. In the end, they provided a place for me to spend my geeky down time, pondering meanings and enjoying the music all the same. I think you can attribute their large following online to these same conventions of geekdom.

The album contains some classics like the singles “Don’t Let’s Start” and “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head”: And some other great tracks that range from the bizarre, like “Youth Culture Killed My Dog”: to the extremely bizarre “Boat of Car”:

I think the best written song from this album has to be “Rhythm Section Want Ad.” It is the definition of a great They Might Be Giants song. It explores discontent with the music industry, band marketability, and a plethora of other issues that up-and-coming bands like TMBG might have faced in the 80’s. Some of the best lines include “In a world we call out own/ there’s lots of room to roam./Plenty of time to turn mistakes into rhyme./ There’s a place for those who love their poetry,/ it’s just across from the sign that says ‘Prose Only.’” and “Hats off to the New Age hairstyles made of bones,/Hats off to the use of hats/ as megaphones./ Speak softly, drive a Sherman Tank./ Laugh hard, it’s a long way to the bank.” (Forgive me, this is the best video I could find…[wtf? right?])

I don’t think the band could have released a better album to introduce the world to their strange, intelligent style of rock music that would be their calling card for years to come. You can find this album for about $3.00 used on amazon.com, but you can get this album and their second album, Lincoln, along with a ton of cool rare tracks together on the double CD set Then: The Earlier Years for about $7.50 used on amazon.com.

Next up: Lincoln

Super Street Fighter 4 3D

I got this game because it was supposed to be the best looking game on the 3DS at launch.  I was not disappointed.  Well…ok, maybe I was a little, but it wasn’t because of the game.  What was disappointing was that I thought more titles would be contending for the honor of “Best 3DS Launch Title.”  Instead, I had to choose from this game and a plethora of uninteresting and seemingly boring games.  I mean, come on, Pilot Wings?  Was that game ever fun?  And Nintendogs?  I have a dog at home and she’s a pain in my ass.  She threw up last night and I had to clean it up because she “doesn’t have thumbs.”  Seriously, that’s her excuse for everything.

Anyway, the no-brainer buy for the 3DS owner is Super Street Fighter 4 3D.  It’s a mouthful of a title, true, mainly because Capcom has a fetish for raping franchises and making a ton of spin-offs and sequels which results in long complicated names.

 

Why didn't they just call the Alpha games Street Fighter 3? Also, guys, this is a Super Nintendo game, so shouldn't the title be Super Street Fighter Alpha 2? Or is that too much?

Irregardless, and all name-juicing aside, when you buy a Street Fighter game, you know what you’re getting.  The game delivers as all other Street Fighter’s before it in terms of gameplay.  This is the first Street Fighter game I’m playing on a Nintendo system that supports an analog control, so that’s making a big difference (the last game I played on a Nintendo system was Street Fighter 2 Turbo, which came to an untimely demise after I pull the cart out of my Super Nintendo and took it out back for target practice with my BB gun.  The short version of my reasoning for losing my mind is that M. Bison is a cheater and HOW THE HELL WAS EVERYONE ELSE SO EASY TO BEAT AND HE’S LIKE, TOTALLY IMPOSSIBLE!?!).

 

The only reason my generation has for hating the USSR.

Anyway, I’m not very good at Street Fighter games, and I was a little nervous about shelling out the green to take this gem home.  But listen up people, the game is pretty easy on it’s normal difficulty.  The 3D looks amazing, too; so if you are getting the beat down, you’ll be able to do it in graphics that make you go “WTF IS HAPPENING IN MY EYESARRRHGGGHGGGGHHHH!” which is a plus, especially when you’re planning as Cammy.

The real fight happens in my mind, where I try to focus...on the game.

The down-low: The only issue is that the 3DS puts out some heavy duty work to make sure you can enjoy the 3D splendor, so something had to give in the graphics department as they ported it over.  What they compromised was the backgrounds.  The people standing around aren’t moving and the cars and everything else back there looks like it was taken from the early SNES versions of the series.  You will hardly notice it, though, as all the other action is literally jumping out at you, and all that actions looks fantastic.

There are two ways to play the game which include a classic view or a view angled from behind your character to enhance the 3D experience.  I prefer the classic view, and they both showcase the machine’s 3D capability very well.  The online play is seamless, beside the expected lag when WiFi signals are sketchy.  The player matching system works well and besides a lack of voice communication, it leaves little to be desired.  There are achievements to earn through playing off and online which award you with titles and avatar pictures for when you play online. The touch screen is used to give you four new buttons which allow you to perform special moves and combos with a tap of the screen.  This has been criticized for “cheapening the game” but I think it’s a way for the casual gamer to compete with a veteran, and anything to level the playing field is alright with me, although turning this function off on online mode might be a nice option for a later version, so the elite players could play together if they wanted to.   It also uses the StreetPass feature but I haven’t had the chance to use that function as of yet.

 

This is kind of what it looks like when you enter the 3D rear view mode thing. It's ok. Hard to tell how close you are to the other person sometimes.

I love the game and it is a definite must have for any owner of a 3DS.  Some things I’d like to see happen in Super Street Fights IV 3DS Alpha Turbo: Some unlockables that matter.  The name and picture thing is cool, and I read that some of the issues that Capcom has with unlockable characters is that it’s not fair to players who just got the game and have to play online against people with all the characters unlocked.  First of all, the unlockable characters don’t have to be invincible.  They can be just as balanced as any other character.  Second of all, if you want to reward people for buying a game early by giving them a chance to unlock characters before others can, that’s totally fine.  And third of all, we’re talking about a storied franchise with a ton of options beyond characters to use as unlockables.  How’s about a 16-bit Ken and Ryu that you can unlock?  Or some of the original levels from the arcade?  Maybe classic character VS screens?  The list is endless.  I know we’re talking about a 3DS game, so space is limited, but there are options available.  Also, I’d like to have some kind of easy way to talk trash to people I’m playing online.  If you can’t hear them cry, what’s the point of making them cry?  Am I right?

Overall, it’s a beautiful game with a great interface and control schemes.  B+ (mostly because of issues with replay value)

3DS

The Nintendo 3DS is simply amazing.  I’ve had it for two days now and I’m still in awe of what it can do.  I don’t understand how it works, I don’t know where Nintendo takes this technology next, and I really don’t care.  After experiencing the 3DS, I’m 110% along for the ride.  The 3DS comes with a lot of stuff preprogrammed.  I’ll outline some of those things and let you know how well it works and how enjoyable each is.  I will also write about the quality of the product and if it’s worth $250, for those of you who are on the fence.

Let me start by saying that the 3D can be a bit overwhelming at times.  My eyes strain and sometimes they can’t focus when playing.  When this has happened I simply turned down the effect, which can be done easily by using a slider on the side of the screen.  This fixes any problems I have and allows me to rest my eyes for as long as needed.

Of all the things programmed into the 3DS, there are only 3 things I’d really call a “game”.  First is the game Face Raiders.  Face Raiders basically turns your room into a shooting gallery.  You take a picture of your face and the 3DS puts it on flying enemies that fly all around you.  They shoot at you if you don’t shoot them down first.  The game forces you to look all around the room through your 3DS like a window that…actually, have you ever seen They Live? It’s like the glasses from They Live.

Only, instead of discovering that Aliens have taken over the world, you discover that Nintendo has just bitch slapped your sense of what is possible through today’s technology.  So, you look through your 3DS and shoot these things down.  There are boss battles and other stuff to deal with in the game as well.  The game actually asks you to feed it more faces for new enemies.  I love it.

(2D picture of 3D Image) Of all the bad guys I faced, none were more fierce and unforgiving than Justin in a lone ranger mask.

As you can see above, taking a picture of people’s Facebook photos works fine with the game.

The second game is part of the Mii Plaza application.  There are two games in here, one is called Puzzle Swap and the other is called Find Mii.  These games are both hard for me to review because the utilize the StreetPass ability built into the 3DS.  When walking around with your 3DS, you might pass someone else walking around with a 3DS.  If you do, your systems will link and share information.  When you get home you can go to your Mii Plaza and see how many people you’ve come across.  These people become characters in your 3DS that help you in these games.  The Find Mii game, for example, is waiting for someone to come along and break me out of a cage so I can continue through these games.  The Puzzle Swap game is waiting for Miis to pop up and give me some more puzzle pieces.  Since I’ve only had it for a couple of days, I’m not very far in this department.

Third, there is an application called AR Games that supports Augmented Reality Cards, or AR Cards for short.  There are 6 AR Cards total.  5 of them have Nintendo Characters on them.  When in the AR application, these cards project characters into the real world when viewed through your 3DS, similar to how you play Face Raiders, only now you can move these characters around the world yourself and make them grow, shrink, and pose in a few pre-established poses.

(2D picture of a 3D image) Ever since Samus got a Dell, she's been really jealous of Link's MacBook.

The only issue with the cards is you have to be able to see the cards to make the characters appear.  You can’t place a card, pull up a character, and then move the card away.  Also if show the 3DS the card and then tilt the camera so you can’t see enough of the card’s surface, your character will disappear.

(2D picture of a 3D image) That said, AR Cards are pretty bomb.

The last AR Card is a ? Block.  This card can turn surfaces into shooting galleries, Marble Madness type terrain games, and fishing ponds.  It can also make a freaking dragon come out of your table.  All together, the AR Cards are an endless supply of WTF and OMG.

For people who got the 3DS early, you can get a system update with a bonus 3D OKGo music video, White Knuckles.  The video looks great in 3D, and really is only the tip of the ice burg in terms of what we can expect in the future on this device since it is the only 3D outlet of its kind.

Remember how I said if you walk by someone with a 3DS and if you have a 3DS, magic happens?  You’re probably wondering why anyone would be walking around with their 3DS.  Well, it has a freaking pedometer built in it.  The more you walk, the more coins you get.  The more coins you get, the more stuff you can unlock in games, the more demos you can download, and the more rewards you can horde.  It’s a great idea all around.  I took it too class today and earned the max I could in one day (10 coins).  The cap suggests that Nintendo gets that you’re not going to take this thing everywhere, which I like.  They’re really not asking a lot of me.

I think I’ve covered all the basics.

Ok, here are my gripes and what I’d like to see in the future.  The 3DS charges on a sweet little dock.  If you don’t want to close your 3DS to charge it (if you want to keep playing a game or something) you can just unplug the dock and plug your 3DS right into the cable.  So…why have the dock?  It’s cool, but it’s basically a waste of space.  I never worried about my other DS falling off the night stand, and honestly this Dock could just as easily slide off my desk.  So, that seems pointless.

The AR Cards are amazing, but I can’t wait to see what happens in the future when this concept is revisited and redesigned.  It would be awesome to not have to see the card in my pictures or to be able to move the characters farther away from the cards.  There are a lot of restrictions with the cards as of today, but the possibilities are endless in the future.

I’m really waiting for some of the key franchises like StarFox, Super Mario, and Kid Icarus to make it to the 3DS, but there are other titles I’d love to see, and which I know would do very well in this format.  I loved the DK Country Returns title for the Wii.  With all it’s jumping in and out of the background on the Wii, a similar title would translate well into the third dimension.  Also, it would be great to see a Punch Out!! game in 3D.  Bald Bull rushing the screen would be epic.  Lastly, how’s about a Smash Bro.s game in 3D?  It would be great to see in 3D, and it would really help build Nintendo’s goal at creating a large multiplayer universe.

All in all, the whole thing is worth every penny.  I can’t get over how awesome everything looks and how advanced this device is.  I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before.  I would say that I play with the stuff built into the thing than the games I bought for it.  There’s just so much to see and play with.  I would recommend buying it now, playing with all the cool stuff in it, and then buying a killer game once they start coming out (although, Street Fighter is pretty amazing).  I know a lot of people are waiting for Mario and Zelda to hit the 3DS before they get it, but it’s worth the money now.

I have two games for the 3DS other than the one’s that came programmed into the system.  So look for those reviews soon!  Thanks for reading!

Summer 2003: A Review (AKA: The Summer of 2006)

The summer of 2003 was a hard one.  I know this mostly because I just went back to read my dead journal to make sure.  I started driving, which was awesome.  I spent a lot of time with my friend Jennifer in Downey.  Also, I got to spend a lot of time with the guys.

The bummer was that Justin was leaving to San Francisco for college, and that depressed everyone.  Also, it was just an odd time between high school and college and I felt like a lot was changing all around me.  This was very confusing for me since nothing was really changing and I was still living at home and having to deal with that.

I played a lot of music that summer and actually started my Choice Hat project which would end up with me writing a song a day for about three months from October to December in 2003.  Most of the songs weren’t very good and only about 5 still exist today, but it was a great experience especially because I did it all by myself.

I think overall, that summer really taught me a lot about my friends and how much they mean to me.  While Justin leaving to SF really tripped stuff up, I got to spend a lot of time getting closer to Max and Lenny and Anthony.  Getting to know Anthony was a real blast because he wasn’t like any of my other friends and when I spent time with him I really had no idea what to expect.  But we did build a really powerful friendship that I still treasure very much.  And honestly, to this day, I have no idea what to expect when I meet up with that guy.

Oh, one other thing that happened that summer was my hanging out with a lot of people before they left for college.  These people were never really that close to me, but we’d talk online and then go do something.  There was this urgency that really made people want to see everyone they could before they left.  I ended up going on a few dates with girls who were WAY out of my league because of this, and that boosted my confidence for college where I’d date some of the strangest women I’d ever meet.

But that’s a review for another time…

Humanity Review: Week of November 15, 2009

Ok, so I think it’s time we stopped giving a crap about what movie grosses more money opening weekend.  Obviously it doesn’t matter anymore.  New Moon beat out The Dark Knight for the best single-day box office revenue.  Not trying to come down on all you Twilight junkies, but it’s a shame The Dark Knight was even number one before it.
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Seriously though, if anything makes me lose my faith in humanity, this is it.  At first I didn’t care, but then I thought about it: There aren’t that many tween aged girls in this world.  Nor teen aged girls.  So who the hell is seeing this movie?  Factor in extra for boyfriends and we’re still not close.
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Who the hell is going out and watching this movie?  Who?  Not me.  Old people?  Maybe it’s old people. Maybe they thought it was a movie about Ella Fitzgerald.  I don’t know.
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Apparently, I don’t know anything.  There are people out there, lots of them, who are very interested in this garbage.  I don’t know why.  But either way, they are, and that would put me in the minority, which means I’m wrong.
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So, on my review of humanity for the week, we all get an F.  Wrong or right, you’re all idiots.