Mario Kart Memories

Mario Kart

Take a regular, non-lunatic racing game. Thrust it into the ridiculous-fun-o-matic (whatever that is). What emerges from the bottom? Mario Kart, that’s what.

The first installment was released in 1992 for the SNES. It wowed the world with its funky Mode 7 sorcery, its wonderful presentation and its bite-your-own-face-off-in-fury, cheaty cheaty A.I. Here was the moustachioed maestro himself, introducing us to a genre that would soon explode with terrible pretenders. Need I remind everyone that even the Crazy freaking Frog got his own kart racer?

Super Mario Kart brought us the magic formula, and it has stubbornly changed little in two decades. Sure, the series has begrudgingly allowed spangly propellers and gliders and such since, but the core experience is mostly untouched. It’s pure, crazy couch co-op fun, toon-tastic chaos that is pure Nintendo.

Remember that pitched battle that erupted in your living room in the nineties, after some cad stole your star in the last turn of Mario Party? That’s very much the vibe here. Family friendly and wholesome as Nintendo may profess to be, it’s all filthy lies. The Blue Shell is still among the most ungodly villains in video games, and the whistling that heralds its approach… oh, the whistling. It’s like Indiana Jones running from that big ol’ boulder, only even more impending-doom-ier.

Mario Kart Memories 2

Favourite Mario Kart memories will be different for everybody. Perhaps it’s returning home after school each day to play with a friend. Or finding a cannily-hidden shortcut before they did, demonstrating it, and feeling like a prophet from the year 3000. It may simply be a specific track, or piece of music. Maybe it’s the balloon-popping gladiatorial contest of the battle mode. Whatever the case, for many, Mario Kart is more than a game.

It’s one of those childhood fixtures, really. Often, the appeal of retro games is pure nostalgia, reflecting on how much we enjoyed playing a game back in the day (however questionable the choice may have been in hindsight). I, for one, am now stuck with a lifelong love of the Mega Drive Jurassic Park, and I apologize to no man for it.

But in the case of the Kart, it’s different. The franchise endures for a number of reasons. Primarily because, as kart racers go, it’s as solid as a very rocky rock solid thing. Made of rock. It’s brilliantly accessible too, and truly fun for everyone. Grandma, the kids, hardcore players with Gamertags like KillTehNoobs88, everyone has a little time to try and wang green shells up each others’ exhaust pipes. You’ve grown up with the series, or you’ve merely dabbled and grown up aware of it. Either way, the influential series has had an effect on so many.

The Walking Dead Season Two Episode 2: Analyzing the First Screenshot

The Walking Dead: Season Two was released back on December 2013 and the second episode is estimated to come out soon. Recently, Telltale Games published the first screenshot of episode two – A House Divided. The company also unveiled that episode two will be related to The Walking Dead 400 Days DLC:

Stay tuned this week for more details on the upcoming episode! Also worth mentioning: if you haven’t already played The Walking Dead400 Days DLC for Season One, well… let’s just say that’s something you might want to check out before this season continues!

This sneak peak might seem too short and a mere reminder of the next episode’s arrival. The release date is indeed imminenet and it can happen at any time. However, considering the amount of precious information cointained in this screenshot, I think there’s more into it.

Analyzing the First Screenshot: Clementine and Her New Journey

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 2

In the previous episode, All That Remains, Clementine met a new group of survivors that skeptically took her in. Clem had to prove herself multiple times and at the end of the episode, she was forced to make a though decision – save Nick or Pete. Regardless players’ decision, it seems the cabin group has future plans for Clementine. In this freshly released screenshot, the young girl is fighting walkers with one of the cabin members, Luke. I suppose this can only mean they either got forcefully separated from the group or they’ve got an important mission to accomplish. Either way, they seem to be on their own and in great trouble.

The rudimentary weapons, a hammer and a medium blade, reveals that they either left the cabin in a rush or the group is really short on weaponry supplies. Anyway, could they be heading towards the mountains? The bridge in the scene seems to indicate that, especially because this is no ordinary bridge to cross waters.

Lastly, Clementine’s expression indicates that she’s determined to achieve her goals, in this case, to take down all the walkers in her way. And Luke seems to be holding back, afraid to keep going or perhaps scared for Clem’s life? After all,  it’s not everyday that you see a little girl slaying zombies in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

I’m sure Telltale Games will introduce a new set of thrilling events coming up in the next episode. And eventually, we’ll find out how the past DLC is connected with the new story.

If You Only Buy One Game In March, Make It… ‘South Park: The Stick of Truth’

South Park

Well, hasn’t this one been a long time coming?

Obsidian Entertainment’s South Park: The Stick of Truth has been languishing in development hell since late 2011. What with THQ’s bancruptcy, Ubisoft’s James Bond-esque approach to providing a release date (do you expect me to talk?) and such, we were beginning to think we’d never see it. But it’s here.

Still if you wish hard enough, and your heart is pure, wondrous things can happen. And not only if you’re a sappy princess in a Disney cartoon. Because, lo, The Stick of Truth is finally settled on an early-March release. Let’s take a look at what all the fuss/Internet whining has been about.

This irreverent RPG focuses upon ‘New Kid’, who has just moved into the mountain town with his parents. After being cajoled into heading into the neighborhood to make friends, he meets Butters the Paladin and Cartman the Wizard King. This being South Park, a simple role-playing game swiftly becomes all kinds of nutty.

South Park Stick 1

Cartman’s human warriors are embroiled in a conflict with the Elves, for possession of the Stick of Truth. While it looks –to regular mortal eyes– like just a darn stick, this ancient relic grants one control of the universe. As the game begins, it is stolen from the warriors’ stronghold; and so begins a campaign against Kyle’s Elves to retrieve the legendary treasure.

The most exciting aspect of Stick of Truth is how faithful it is to the show. Previous efforts have been fairly appalling. The minigame shenanigans of Chef’s Luv Shack and the kart-racing calamity that was South Park Rally did nothing for the series’ gaming reputation. I enjoy firing underpants gnomes at fellow racers as much as the next guy, but these just didn’t feel right.

Still, there have been some fancy-schmancy advances in technology since those dark days. As such, this will be the first release to look remarkably like the show itself, down to that trademark cut-out animation. Along with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s increased involvement, this makes Stick of Truth quite a love letter to fans, and the first the series has really received. Earlier efforts were less ‘love letter’ and more ‘soiled piece of paper with we hate you all written on it,’ after all.

There’s much riding on the game all round. The gameplay that has been revealed thus far really does look like you’re playing through a South Park episode, which is something video games generally screw up spectacularly. Even more miraculous, it’s a solid (if ridiculous, of course) RPG in its own right. Obsidian have previously created the likes of Fallout: New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, so our favourite crude kid quartet were in good hands. For once.

South Park Stick 2

It has all the familiar role-playing trappings, but with the cheeky and bizarre twists you’d expect. You’ll be collecting a myriad of armor, weapons and equipment options, following your objective menu, talking to far too many NPCs, all of that good stuff. But you’ll also be equipping some very suspect things to your bows and spears to increase their ‘gross’ stat, and be put down by King Cartman every opportunity he gets.

In short, this much-anticipated release could be a lifeline for everyone tired of the disappointment of licensed games. Which is everybody. So if you only buy one game in March, make it South Park: The Stick of Truth.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Is There Any Hope for PvP?

Scrolls

The remarkable single player series of Elder Scrolls is finally reaching and connecting players all over the world through its MMO structure. In the Elder Scrolls Online (TESO), players will finally be able to experience the true essence of massive online wars. Player-versus-player features are one of the main attractions of TESO, although expectations can easily be crushed. The on-going TESO beta reveals that PvP is not only casual; it’s also uncompetitive and unchallenging. With alliance wars as the only option to face human enemies, TESO’s PvP seems to be nothing but a huge letdown. It’s true that we’re in the age of masses but when it comes to MMOs, is there any hope for PvP, when the only option is massive wars without any type of regulation or balancing?

The Elder Scrolls Online PvPCyrodiil: The PvP Core of TESO

In TESO there’s only one form of PvP and it all happens in one single map, Cyrodiil. This means that players have no other options when it comes to fight other human players. Battlegrounds, arenas, frontlines… they’re all inexistent in TESO. Cyrodiil features an alliance war system (AvAvA), where the three factions in game battle for glory, influence and territory. This map seems to have a vast history background and it’s as huge as it used to be in the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. But that’s not everything. Cyrodiil also offers innumerous quests, dark anchors, exploration points and dungeons. So, in the end this is not an exclusive PvP zone, it’s a hybrid map with multiple options for both, PvE and PvP players.

Alliance Wars: The Age of the Masses

Large scale battles are quite usual in current-gen MMOs. But being common doesn’t stand for being good or superior. It’s indeed a feature MMO players tend to enjoy due to its casual particularity. The age of the masses goes where it pleases and quantity wins over quality, no matter what. TESO’s alliance wars will follow this principle of masses – without much effort or skill, large amounts of players can simply take over objectives and feel happy about it. In this type of PvP structure players’ performance and individual skills are pretty much disregarded, since they can hardly make a difference in the middle of so many competitors. Eventually, the top geared players will be able to easily crush weaker opponents but this doesn’t involve skill, strategy or war techniques once again.

The Elder Scrolls Online PvPCompetitive: Where’s the Fair-Play?  

Fair-play is a rare mechanic in large scale battle systems, which means competitive and balanced fights are unlikely to happen in TESO. But it gets worse. Dominance over Cyrodill’s territories will provide bonuses to all faction members of a certain alliance. So, even if you manage to find even numbers to fight, your enemies will either have superior or inferior attributes compared to your squad. Amusing right? Furthermore, if one faction gets too strong, the other two can join forces to take it down – the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I suppose? I wonder what the Elder Scrolls lore has to say about this.

Casual PvP Mechanics: Zerging

How can you win objectives in Cyrodiil? You surely need tactics but they’re all so casual and basic that I’d rather call it common sense than war strategy. Leaders are still required but all they have to do is gathering players together and distribute them among close objectives, other than that, it’s pretty much about numbers, levels and gear. The main strategy is the obvious – gang the enemy and zerg the hell out of them. A scattered opponent is a dead opponent, no matter how strong and brave they are.

Back to my original question, I don’t think there’s any hope for PvP in TESO. Unless ZeniMax develops other forms of PvP, this single method will only work for casual devotees. Anyone who enjoys PvP, challenging group fights and war tactics will quickly move on to another MMO simply because Cyrodiil’s structure doesn’t proportionate any means for fair-play and competitive PvP. It’s all about player numbers and conquering objectives for extra faction bonuses. It surely can be fun at very peculiar situations but if you think rationally, there’s nothing fun about winning when you have all the advantages at your side.

The Elder Scrolls Online: Previewing the Magnitude of the Disaster

Scrolls

The Elder Scrolls Online (TESO) is definitely one of the most anticipated games of 2014. Even though the hype is currently global, the Elder Scrolls fever is particularly more visible amongst MMO communities due to its upcoming multiplayer-based gameplay. But what’s this hype all about? At first it was just about a popular single player game coming to life in the multiplayer sense but now, the hype has become general. Players all over the world want to put their hands on The Elder Scrolls Online but that’s probably due to the overrated hype that is currently going on. The Elder Scrolls Online appears to be just another game in the MMO industry and it has been previewed as an upcoming disaster by several media sites, including Forbes. I also think this game won’t be able to escape its inevitable destiny to become an utterly disappointment. There are just too many flaws for a game that hasn’t been released yet. From the lack of original content to undeveloped social and UI systems, TESO exposes serious symptoms of nothing more than just another ordinary MMO. And honestly, not even the huge Elder Scrolls fan base will be able to cover the lack of quality and creative content once the game goes live. But the list goes on:

1. Subscription: Is TESO Worth Paying for Every Month?

The Elder Scrolls OnlineOne of the main controversies surrounding TESO is the $15 monthly fee. The monthly subscription method used to be quite popular a few years ago, especially among MMOs. But times have changed and this method is no longer reliable. Besides, what’s so special about TESO that makes it worth paying $60 per box copy and $180 per year? My answer: It’s simply not worth it. When players pay for a game, they’re actually buying the opportunity to experience its content. Therefore, the price should be correlated to the content’s quality. In this case, there’s absolutely no correlation between price and content quality. In the end, you’ll just be paying a fortune for a hyped game with poor features, basically zero innovation and a very casual orientation. I suppose this is the price for simply experiencing an online version of Elder Scrolls.

2. Multiple Platforms: Generalizing Audiences – Is It a Great Idea?

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The multiple platforms concept is certainly a great idea, it’s a huge success in the single player industry but it’s something rare in the MMO genre. However, what Bethesda/ZeniMax didn’t consider was the different types of audiences. Mixing console and PC players is a tremendous mistake because both gaming worlds have their own particularities. In most cases, a standard MMO player is used to pay for in-game items or regular fees. On the other hand, a console player spends superior amounts of money purchasing single player titles and he’s not willing to pay monthly subscriptions (mostly because this method is practically inexistent in the console world). It’s true that TESO will reach a much wider audience with this feature but does it mean it’ll get a much larger player base compared to most MMOs? Probably not.

3. Combat Mechanisms: Unique, But Just a Little

The typical class model from fantasy MMOs is evoked once again. TESO will feature four main classes: Dragon Knight (Warrior); Nightblade (Rogue); Sorcerer; Templar. Each class will have tree specialization trees containing very distinctive skills and roles. Until here, there’s absolutely nothing new, however it seems that the holy trinity of MMOs will suffer some major changes. TESO’s gear system will allow players of any class to wear all type of equipment. This will create a much wider variety of customization and personalized builds, as well as a role blending system (rogues who can tank, warriors who can heal, mages wearing swords). But once again, this feature can already be experienced in existing MMOs such as Rift, where every class can assume basically any role.

4. Leveling Up: Single Playing Still Works

The Elder Scrolls Online

The Elder Scrolls are known for its RPG phenomenal solo experience and apparently, the online version will still allow players to create their own journey without the need of others. There are several dungeons, named bosses and region events called Dark Anchors but none of these group grinding features seem to nullify the efficiency of a single player mindset. In fact, players can do most of their leveling through solo missions. A bit controversial for a next-generation MMO, I would say.

5. Social, Animation Systems & UI: Not Exactly What Intended

TESO’s social and animation systems are everything but modern. Since the game has to fit several platforms, the UI is rather alternative and the usability is not exactly the best. The character animation and combat movements are also very clunky and repetitive compared to recent MMOs like Guild Wars 2. Lacking proper interactive systems can affect players’ enthusiasm to keep playing once the narrative has been explored.

6. PvP: The Ascension of AvAvA

The Elder Scrolls Online

If player-versus-player is something you’re really looking forward to experience in TESO, then you should start looking for another game. TESO will feature an alliance war system, where the three alliances in game will strike for dominance (it resembles the WvWvW system from Guild Wars 2). PvP will only exist in one specific map, Cyrodiil, and that’s about it. There are no battlegrounds; no structured or open-world PvP and I haven’t seen anything about arenas either. So basically, you can only fight other players through massive encounters that include specific objectives and siege weapons. A huge disappointment, I would say but it’s no surprise.

7. Crafting: The Illusion of Something New

So, I thought TESO would have at least one original feature in the whole game but I soon realized that the upcoming crafting system will be a combination of individual features from other games. Supposedly, players will be able to craft unique items and apply exclusive bonuses. Though, that’s just an illusion. The recipe system is quite old already and the random enchantment mechanism exists in many MMOs like Age of Wushu/Age of Wulin. Also, the possibility to combine different ingredients in order to obtain new discoveries can be found in Guild Wars 2.

I honestly don’t understand all the hype around this game. There’s simply no logic background behind so much expectation. The game turns out to be just another MMO carrying out a popular series name. In the core, there’s absolutely nothing new or creative. The gameplay is extremely casual and competitive PvP will be inexistent. And the worst part, players must pay a quite high monthly subscription just to login. Is there any prompt to failure condition missing? As Forbes’ Paul Tassi stated, TESO is a prime candidate for a huge disaster:

We’ve seen a number of high profile online launch disasters recently, and The Elder Scrolls Online seems like a prime candidate for a similar meltdown.

Braid – Review

Braid - Review

Braid

For various reasons Braid does not fit to current gaming industry. It has no zombies, no shooting not even a multiplayer. It is an old fashioned 2D platformer with main focus set on logical elements — clearly, it does not sound like a recipe for a success in present times. So, what should be expected from a game prepared according to such formula? Without exaggeration, one of the most unique experience of the decade!

Braid was in production for three years. That is a lot, especially for a game that can be finished during a single afternoon. However, as soon as you start it you will realize that none of this time was wasted. Every element of Braid is incredibly polished: The graphic design is delightful, the music is delicate and soothing, the story is intelligent and most of all: the puzzles are diabolically clever. It gets even more impressive once you realize that Braid is basically a one-man project — besides graphics and music all work has been done by Jonathan Blow — a man gaming industry needed for a long time.

Blow filled his game with lots of references to the most famous representative of the genre — Super Mario Brothers. Tim, main protagonist, jumps on the heads of enemies to get rid of them, avoids deadly plants coming out of pipes and hurries to rescue the princess. What is more, one level is a reminiscence of a classic Donkey Kong stage with ever higher platforms connected via ladders. However, Braid is far from being a simple copy — Blow took all these staple elements, mixed them with technical novelties and fresh design and created a game that is both old school and modern.

As in any platformer, in Braid you have to move from the left to the right side of the screen, jump a lot and try hard to omit any obstacles. Okay, you don’t have to try that hard to omit obstacles. That is because Tim posses a very special sort of abilities — he can manipulate time flow. If you fall into the pit or get hit by a goomba you can always go back in time and try once again. It does sound like pretty much of a facilitation but main purpose of this game is not avoiding death but solving puzzles and to do that you will have to master Tim’s abilities.

The game is divided into several chapters — world as they are called — in every of them time manipulation mechanic is different. For example in world four time flow is directly connected to Tim’s movements — when he goes right time flows forward and when he goes left time reverses. In another chapter he can create a shadow of himself existing in parallel dimension that will precisely repeat the path he had taken before time reversal. In yet another one, Tim carries a ring, which when dropped will slow the time locally

In Braid there are 60 puzzle pieces, 12 per world, and to gain access to the last chapter you will have to gather them all and subsequently assemble five pictures. The game allows for a little nonlinearity here since you don’t have to collect puzzle pieces in any fixed order — fortunately, because getting each one of them requires solving a conundrum and doing that on the very first attempt can be problematic.

The quality of puzzles is rapturous. Starting slowly with almost effortless tasks the game gradually throws at you more and more demanding both intellectually and dexterously challenges. Yes, this game is difficult. Frequently frustrating, but that’s the beauty in it and precisely the reason why Braid is so compelling. Every piece collected is a success, every problem solved a triumph and it gets addictive — you cannot simply walk away from an unbeaten puzzle. Gameplay gives horrid amounts of satisfaction and the more time you spend on a single challenge the more rewarding it feels once finally your brain clicks and solution lies bare in front of your eyes. I fear to imagine what a fiendish mind must it take to craft such conundrums.

Concept of time plays a big role in Braid — appearing not only in gameplay but also the story. The plot is told by fragments of books, placed at the beginning of every chapter, giving us insight into Tim’s thoughts or describing events from his life. Also, these text introductions are neatly connected to new mechanics appearing in subsequent worlds — that gives Braid something unique: a coherency between two aspects of the game. This correlation between mechanics and story is perhaps best visible at the dramatic ending where time manipulation is used directly as an instrument to depict the plot.

At first sight the story feels quite fairy-tale. Tim strives to rescue his beloved princess, whom he lost for unknown reason. It may look trivial but do not be deceived by appearances — in fact it is a depressing tale about unfulfilled love and human inability to undo past mistakes. Well, you wouldn’t expect that kind of seriousness from a game that looks like a pastel painting but it fits in well and acts as a pause between sets of effortful puzzles. However, there are fragments that seem overly enigmatic or incomprehensible at all.

With all its virtues Braid ends far too early — it takes from six to eight hours to finish. However, it is six to eight hours of unique, almost perfect gameplay endowed with stirring and mature story. To me Braid is a real gem — shining brightly among hundreds of other repetitive games — clearly demonstrating that, no matter of budget, with creativity and ambition one can still make excellent games.