Mario Kart 8

mario_kart_8_boxartDate Completed: November 13, 2014

Mario Kart 64 was always my game.   I may not have been able to kick your butt at Quake or StarCraft but if you tried taking me on on Mario Kart you would lose – bad.  Back in college people in my dormitory heard of my prowess and sought to defeat me, and they all failed.  I recall once a fellow dorm resident walked into a room where I was playing and remarked, “Wow! He is amazing!”.  And it was true.  I was.

In move that I can only describe as a shining testament to my superior skill, one of the RAs specifically excluded my floor from a dormitory-wide Mario Kart tournament that he had organized.  The only purpose of excluding my floor was so that he would have a shot at winning his own tournament, and thusly scoring the free Pizza promised to the winner.  Anyone who has suffered through college knows how big a deal free food is.

I told my wife that when Mario Kart 8 finally released I didn’t care how bad my Tendonitis was, I was going to play until my fingers bled and my forearms swelled to the size of Popeye’s.  I didn’t quite play it that much, but I did push myself a little harder than I should have.

Unlike back in the day, Mario Kart has expanded to offer an absurd number of playable drivers and vehicles.  I find it a bit overwhelming – testing out all of the combinations to find the best choice for my playing style is simply not plausible.  Instead of my old policy (always be the Princess) I pick a racer and kart combination that I feel like I haven’t used before.

The new ‘gimmick’ of this Game is the Zero Gravity features on the tracks.  While driving on the walls and ceiling makes for some very impressive screen shots and replay videos it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference while actively playing. Even so,  if you are doing anything but grinning like a mad fool while racing up a freaking waterfall on the Shy Guy falls you may have no soul.

The new tracks are all fantastic, although they seem to be a little less ‘Mario’ and a little more ‘Cool Concept’.  The Electrodrome for example doesn’t appear to come from any previous Mario game I’ve ever played, but it’s still one of my 32 favorite levels.  I was also very pleased to see the return of some of my favorite N64 courses such as Yoshi’s Valley, Royal Raceway and Rainbow Road in the classic races.

I found the 50cc races to be far too easy and I achieved three star rankings on all of them first try.  100cc was similarly easy and I picked up all three stars with relative ease.  I was a bit disappointed by the difficulty until I tried 150cc.  It’s fast, brutal and infuriating, exactly like Mario Kart was meant to be.

My sons both loved watching Mario Kart, and my older boy (who is 5 now) was even able to play somewhat competitively on 50cc, although on 150cc he was left in the dust.  I usually gave a non-operational Wii Wheel to my 3 year old who enjoyed pretending he was playing as much as the rest of us enjoyed the actual game.

If I hadn’t already owned a Wii U I would have bought one to play Mario Kart 8.  If you are reading this and you don’t yet own a Wii U and / or Mario Kart 8, you are out of excuses.  The time is now.  Buy this game and you won’t regret it.

Pros

  • Ridiculous number of playable racers / kart combinations.
  • Zero Gravity Courses

Cons

  • It’s so awesome, you’ll be forced to buy a Wii U (If you don’t already have one)
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 9/10
Length:  ~8 hours
System: Wii U
Genre: Racing
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LittleBigPlanet Karting

Date Completed : April 25th, 2013

I’ve been a fan of LittleBigPlanet since the original.  It’s one of the few games I have a Platinum trophy on.  Unfortunately the quality of LittleBigPlanet games is far from consistent.  While LittleBigPlanet 2 is a worthy sequel the PSP LittleBigPlanet release lacked the spark of life.  LittleBigPlanet Karting sits somewhere in between being totally soulless and soulfull greatness.

The game itself is very similar to Mario Kart.  There are all the power slides, weapons and shortcuts you’d expect but the most similar aspect is how badly the game cheats (hint: it cheats so bad).  Enemies fly out of nowhere, smash you into walls, shoot you, destroy your Kart and laugh as you drop from 1st place to 8th in microseconds.  Fortunately you only need to place in the top three to advance to the next race.

Picking up weaponators (weapons) is a frustrating ordeal.  Other racers were constantly stealing weapons just as I was about to pick them up and I’d often go entire laps without getting anything.  When I did get a weapon it was rarely useful for improving my position in the race.  Immediately upon shooting someone another racer flies out of nowhere and fills the space.  I found the most effective strategy was to race my best and use weapons defensively.  When you’re racing in 8th place you often get ‘fast forward’ or ‘rocket ship’ items that speed you back up to the other racers but these items have an irritating tendency to drop you off somewhere awful.  Long story short, I would have preferred a more vanilla racing game without the weapons.

The game is played on several different planets.  Each planet has about 4 story levels and about 10 versus levels.  The versus levels are not required for story progression and usually required 2 or more players so I skipped all but a few of those.  The normal story mode levels come in three types – Races, Battles and Beat the Clock.  All of these modes behave pretty much exactly as you would expect them to.  Not much to say about them.

The game is family friendly so I was able to play it with my boys watching.  They didn’t really see the point to the game and mostly ignored it.  The graphic stylings of LittleBigPlanet just don’t have the toddler appeal of a Super Mario Bros.  The part they did enjoy was when I picked up a rocket weaponator and was able to ride it for portions of the race.  If the game was nothing but riding on the back of a rocket I think my kids would have been happy with this title.

The racing mode isn’t bad, but it’s not great.  I’d say that’s forgivable but where the game really fails is on the DLC.  When creating my character and Kart I opened up the pop-it like I was used to from LittleBigPlanet 2 and started trying out different looks for my character.  My boys would point to objects on the screen they wanted me to wear such as a blue shirt (my son’s favorite color) or a funny mustache.  While these objects were displayed when I tried to wear them I would be prompted to purchase them in the store.  Content you don’t own and are required to pay for is displayed with content that you do have and can use.  This is not acceptable.

There were other irritations with the interface as well.  After a race all I wanted to know was how I placed, my percentage of items collected and what items I won.  What they display are screens and screens full of useless information that I did not care about.  I didn’t want to wait for all of the screens to cycle but pressing any button skips them all.  I cold not find a way to make the screens cycle quicker or display only the information I wanted.  There are also several start up videos that need to be skipped individually EVERY TIME YOU START THE GAME.

LittleBigPlanet Karting was fun enough for what it was but I have no desire to play it anymore.  I played a few community levels, did some trophy farming and now I’m done.  While I might go back and play LittleBigPlanet 2, I have no intention of touching LittleBigPlanet Karting again.  It simply does not have the same timeless appeal as it’s big brother.

Pros

  • Play / Share / Create

Cons

  • Unpurchased DLC displayed with content you own.
  • Other interface irritations.
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 6/10
Length: 6 hours
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Racing

Mario Kart 7

Date Completed: April 1st, 2012


If you’ve played previous titles in the series you’ll know how being in first place is a good way to get yourself blasted to bits. In earlier Mario Kart games some of the items such as blue shells and lightning bolts weren’t as common but in this game I was pretty much guaranteed of being shot by at least 3 blue shells on a single track and at least 1 lightning bolt. Since performing well results in your destruction it’s really hard to judge how hard this game is.

I figured that I should finish all of the modes before I wrote about Mario Kart 7. I beat every mode with at least a 1-star ranking on each mission so I’m not actually sure if there is a ranking lower than 1-star. I guess it’s possible that after 20 years of playing Mario Kart I am simply so good that I am incapable of scoring less. I think I’ll just assume that is the case.

If you’ve played Mario Kart before there isn’t a whole lot of new stuff going on. The most interesting change is the addition of a hang glider. Hang gliding is fun and if done right there are several short cuts that can only be reached with skillful hang glider runs. There are also underwater sections that are pretty much identical to the normal portions of the game.


I played most of the game with 3D on high. Several of the new levels were obviously designed with 3D in mind and they looked amazing. Like all action games it could become pretty difficult to not move the 3DS and blur your entire view of the game. When I got too behind and played too frantically I would sometimes have to shut the 3D off but for the most part it was on and I preferred it that way.

I loved this game as much as any Mario Kart before it. The levels were great and the retro cup brought several of my old favorites back. The action really got my heart racing at times and I had to stop playing before bed because it made it hard to go to sleep afterwards. I highly recommend Mario Kart 7.

Pros

  • Mario Kart in 3D
  • Hang Gliding & Underwater Sections

Cons

  • If you do well the game will murder you.

Is it fun: Yes
Score: 8/10
Length: ~8 hours
System: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Racing

ExciteBots: Trick Racing

Date Completed: July 11th, 2011

I was lucky enough to purchase a Wii on launch day but I was not lucky enough to be able to pick up Twilight Princess with it.  There weren’t many games available at the time so I had to plug the Zelda shaped hole in my heart with a game that I probably wouldn’t have considered in other circumstances – ExciteTruck.

Surprisingly I really got into ExciteTruck.  When playing I would usually start in a seated position but I always wound up hopping up to my feet and jumping all over the room.  ExciteTruck stands out to me as one of the best examples of how motion-based gaming can actually work well.  ExciteBots is the sequel to ExciteTruck, and it includes Wi-Fi so I naturally had to pick it up.

My first impression of this game is that ExciteBots is silly.  While ExciteTruck was over-the-top fun motion based action racing ExciteBots adds on several layers of buffoonery that at first I wasn’t sure what to think of.  In addition to the jumping, spinning, drifting and crashing action of ExciteTruck, in ExciteBots you’ll also find yourself bowling, throwing darts, playing the tambourine, fishing, putting together a sandwich, saving butterflies and kicking field goals.  No longer will you be driving something so mundane as a ‘truck’.  Now you’ll be driving an insect or lizard based robot that can transform into a bipedal running machine.

Fishing?  In the middle of a race?

Simply put, this game is nuts.  In a very fun way.  After getting into the game I couldn’t stop playing it.  Races take under 5 minutes so it’s a pretty easy game to pick up and put a few minutes into at a time.  You win by collecting stars, not by finishing first so your first goal is to pick up as many stars as possible.  Most courses have several routes through them which may yield different amounts of stars, depending on your Bot.  Some bots are better at jumping, some are better at drifting and some are faster.  You have to pick the right route through a course to maximize your star collecting potential.  There is actually a surprising amount of strategy involved.

 
ExiteBots has additional modes such a Poker Run, unlockable trophies, unlockable paint jobs, unlockable Bots, and extra play modes such as Super Excite and Mirror mode.  The game itself may not take long to play but it’s not hurting for content.  I’d say that this game is a great value and a worth choice for any Wii game library. (it’s pretty cheap now, under 20$ new)
I was never able to use the Wi-Fi mode of this game.  I tried talking some of my friends into buying this game but no one else was interested.  Sadness.
Pros
*Short fun levels.
*Lots of unlockable content.
Cons
* My friends wouldn’t buy it and play me on Wi-Fi!!!
Is it fun: Yes
Score: 7/10
Length:  ~5 hours
System: Wii
Genre: Racing