Tuesday, 31 July 2012

REVIEW: Mario Kart 7

Back in the days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the big developer we all know as Nintendo unleashed what is now one of the most successful spin-offs to a main series, selling in countless numbers to a mass of individuals around the world. More recent instalments in this series have been glued to the top in Wii and DS charts ever since they were first released, rather incredibly, a number of years prior. Of course, there's no way I could be talking about anything other than Mario Kart, the mustachioed plumber's manic, rampant take on not-so serious racing. This is a series that has truly evolved over the years, although many will debate that karting experiences with Nintendo's mascot have gone a little downhill of late, at least with the most recent home console effort.

If one were to hark back to the release that kick-started this best selling spin-off series, he or she would find a surprisingly inaccessible experience. Super Mario Kart was a particularly difficult to master affair when it came to actually steering your vehicle around a SuperFX-generated track, as the game was deliberately stapled with some of the most difficult to deal with handling in a racing game, even more so than the likes of WipeOut many years later. Of course, players could get 'in the groove' and become trapped inside a mind state of 100% focus - Focus on winning a race without allowing poor manoeuvrability to get in their way. Skip past several releases and you'll find that, by the time Mario Kart Double Dash!! on GameCube was released, this difficult to master gameplay was modified to become a much more accessible engine, soon after which a more varied mass of casual and 'core crowds got into the series. Many of you should know how much I oppose the phrases casual and hardcore and both terms' stereotypical effect on gaming, but in the context of this argument they simply have to be implemented. You see, the more recent Mario Kart experiences have forced many into two different, separately opinionated pigeon-holes. Using the boycotted Mario Kart Wii as a fitting example, many absolutely loathed the game for its undeniably unfair gameplay elements and outrageously difficult cups in the later stages of the solo experience (ironic, considering this particular release was more aimed at casuals than anyone else with its abominable advertising campaigns). Others, however, saw the strengths of the game and proceeded to ignore its unfair nature and simply have fun. So, this leaves us with a question, one that was already answered last December but will continue to be satisfied by yours truly: How does Mario Kart 7 on 3DS hold up? Rather well, actually.

One could describe Mario's third handheld karting experience, not to mention his seventh altogether (if you exclude the supposedly awful Namco-developed arcade game) with many words, but broken is definitely not one of them. The core racing found in this stereoscopic release is quite possibly as tight as you'll get with the series so far, even when compared to the DS iteration, the typical favourite amongst fans. But how does it hold up against its predecessors altogether? Yes, Mario Kart 7 features what is easily the most balanced gameplay in the series, a true god-send for those who loathed the Wii iteration's unfair nature, but that's not to say it's the best Mario Kart game ever. Keeping in mind that I haven't played the Nintendo 64 or GameCube versions, the lucky seven finds itself perched just a few branches below Mario Kart's Wii and DS experiences in my opinion, or for a more fitting analogy, in third place winning a bronze medal in the cup to decide the best game in the series. While I loathed Mario Kart Wii's unfair approach to what Nintendo thought was balancing the experience, I must admit that I had a lot more fun with it than the most recent karting effort available at this time.

The main reason for the seventh instalment's peak position of third place in my view is its surprising deprivation of content; It's almost as if Nintendo, even when paired with famed co-developer Retro Studios (Metroid Prime, Donkey Kong Country Returns - You should know these guys by now) forgot to pack some meat into an otherwise tightly balanced incarnation. Mario Kart Wii may have been frustratingly unfair, but its production value is admittedly leagues above what is available on 3DS. Still, when I conduct a synopsis what Mario Kart 7 does have to offer, I hope to show that it is definitely worth picking up if you don't already own it. In fact, I believe that racing around crazy courses with Mushroom Kingdom veterans is even better than partaking in stereoscopic platforming in the form of Super Mario 3D Land when it comes to 3DS-exclusive Mario titles, as you'll know from the score at the bottom of this review.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

My Views on the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Arguments [E3 2012]

Let's get one thing out of the way before I say another word regarding the topic of this post: Metal Gear Rising: Revenegeance looks like an excellent game from what we've seen of it thus far. Stating that Platinum Games' spin-off to one of the most legendary video game series of all-time is looking terrible, purely because it has next to no relation to the main titles in the Metal Gear Saga, is quite simply a cynical, biased statement from the sort of tawpie who probably shouldn't be playing tactical espionage action games in the first place. Although, these declarations are not without reason; The aforementioned fact that, while it looks to be an excellent experience in terms of gameplay when it's finally released early 2013, it doesn't really seem to be part of the Metal Gear universe and canon despite claims that it is. Thinking about it further, this isn't exactly a fact since the story does fit in the time line, but the world this game portrays is a far cry from the likes of Shadow Moses and Groznyj Grad. Let's begin listing the odd differences found in this portrayal of Metal Gear, starting with the main character, Raiden. There's always going to be someone complaining that Hideo Kojima's story is a convoluted mishmash of randomness, but few can deny that the characters found within his complex tale are mostly likeable slices of brilliance in the form of virtual humans and the oddly well explained supernatural. Raiden was one such character - The key word in this sentence being 'was'.

Raiden can still maintain his 'badass' persona in Platinum's spin-off, but he's lost some personality in the process.
Mind you, Raiden actually started out as a bit of a snob, but rightly due to reasons that shouldn't be explained for the purposes of avoiding spoiling 2002's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Without spoiling anything whatsoever, the once annoying protagonist of the first MGS release on Sony's second major console became rather likeable towards the end of the game, but it was in 2008s excellent PS3 debut, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, that Raiden's true colours glistened through. In the series' last home console release, the once snobby 20-something had transformed into, simply put, a total badass. Typically in this modern age of third-person shooters and first-person shooters and what have you, characters like Gears of War's Marcus Phoenix are considered suitable to fit under this title, but even if the muscular blockhead did, he'd be hundreds of classes below Raiden. Unfortunately with the gameplay-focused Metal Gear Rising, the character who made the transition from unfitting protagonist to gallant cybernetic warrior has now grown a bit stale, fitting more under the true definition of badass according to Dictionary.com; A difficult to deal with, mean-tempered character. Raiden may have a reason to be angry in his latest appearance, but he found himself in the same situation in Guns of the Patriots and I remember him maintaining a level-headed nature in that release no matter what happened to him or his comrades. And he got his arms decapitated. That's rough. Rising's portrayal of Raiden, on the other end of what I like to call the 'badass spectrum', is an insane cyborg Hell-bent on justice in a war-bound, bleak future.

If anyone can make a good hack 'n' slash, it's Platinum Games. With little involvement from Kojima Productions, however, this certainly ain't like no Metal Gear that's ever come before.
Of course, there's a chance that Metal Gear Rising might once again see Raiden going through the same process he did in his PS2 debut, making yet another transition due to... certain reasons. Again, I'm trying my hardest not to spoil things here. Regardless, nothing can sway Rising's ectopic nature away when it comes to the setting of the game. Again, this aspect doesn't in any way look like something to complain about, or even something overly bland, it's just not the sort of thing you'd expect from Metal Gear. Granted, MGS4 was set in a war-torn future where nano-machines controlled everything from war economy to mooing Gekko, but Rising's world takes things a bit too far. The raging battle in Rising seems a lot less sophisticated, at least judging from the overly action-packed trailers. This game is clearly being developed by Platinum, the subsidiary of the late Clover Studios (before they split and ended up making Okami) who brought us the excellent ultra-violent beat 'em up MadWorld and soon enough, it's spiritual sequel Anarchy Reigns (which you may be seeing an article on here in the blog some time soon). This action element of Metal Gear has always been sophisticated and clever, with the occasional epic set-piece and brilliant boss fight turning things up an notch on numerous occasions. I don't think I'll ever forget the incredible Shagohod chase sequence at the end of Snake Eater or the final battle of the entire Solid series chronologically, quite possibly the greatest boss ever seen in a videogame. Like the warring environments a wrecked Raiden finds himself in, the action loses its sophistication in Rising, not to say slicing up helicopters, Gekko and watermelons with the clever 1:1 slicing mechanic doesn't look fun.

Despite all I've said in the past few paragraphs, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance looks anything but charmless. Granted, you'd never hear a Depeche Mode song in a typical Metal Gear trailer, nor would you see non-stop, not too well thought out action sequences, but none of this stuff looks bad or in any way generic. The 1:1 slicing I mentioned previously looks unique and satisfying, and the excessive gore you'd expect from Platinum only compliments this. This game is a spin-off through and through, and while it's one I'd eliminate from the main series canon if I were to revise entire Metal Gear saga, I can't stress enough that Rising is most certainly going to be a hit when it drops in the first quarter of next year, at least judging from what we've seen of it. Even if it turns out pants, we still have the recently confirmed Metal Gear Solid 5 to look forward to (a game which I'm absolutely certain will follow on from Peace Walker and Snake Eater). I haven't gone ridiculously in-depth about the core game in this post, but you can expect a possible preview of Metal Gear Rising not too long before the title is released. For now, though, look forward to future pieces (of which there are many coming this month) and have a nice day!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Feature: My Impressions of Nintendo's E3 Conference [Part 2/2] [2012 Edition]

We suitably ended part one of my Nintendo E3 2012 Impressions on a cliffhanger of sorts, and now it's time to finish it. Following the reveal of Super Scribblenauts, Nintendo of America's main man Reggie returned to the spotlight and was quick to introduce a short showcase of games set to arrive on Nintendo's upcoming home platform, the Wii U. Some of these were titles we saw last year, but I can't help but discuss a few specific chunks of the oncoming storm that is the Wii U. Opening up the video, cheesy background music and all, was Darksiders II. The original Darksiders was thumped for its slight unoriginality in both combat and storytelling, but the sequel looks to be in the same boat as Red Steel 2, in that it appears almost entirely different and vastly improved when compared to its predecessor. Now, I haven't played the original game, but I'm certainly excited for its sequel. The fluid beat-'em-up gameplay and Zelda-like exploration, dungeon crawling and puzzle solving, as well as various RPG elements will most likely make for a winning recipe and a more than welcome release in the Wii U's launch window. Granted, we saw some of Darksiders' sequel at last year's conference, but to complain about this would be nitpicking on a minuscule scale. This could be one of the Wii U's first heavy hitters.

Next up was Mass Effect 3, and I think I've pretty much summed that up in one sentence. Back to new games, Aliens: Colonial Marines (hilarious how both a punctuated colon and the word colon are used in this title) is looking rather good. Coming from Gearbox, the same lovely folks who developed one of the best shooters of the last few years, Borderlands, as well as one of the most hilariously bad, Duke Nukem Forever, this Alien spin-off looks to be both true to the franchise and impressive in its own right. Judging from what we've seen of it, Colonial Marines seems to have a sort of Metroid Prime-esque vibe to it, with dark, dank lighting and the deadly antagonists jumping seemingly out of nowhere, paired with harrowing exploration as opposed to linear levels. Whether or not this will top, be on par or fall short of Metroid Prime is down to the final release, the Wii U version of which is said to be the definitive version directly from Gearbox, but judging from the run-up to the release this just might be a game to look forward to, folks. Various other games were shown in the video, including a new version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, cult indie sequel Trine 2 and the still-ultra violent Nintendo-published version of Ninja Gaiden Sigma 3, but I think it's time to move onto the next major announcement...