Saturday, December 10, 2011

Top Five Kart Racing Games

Our week of Mario Kart revs on. Hope everyone's Saturday is going just swell. Today I have a top five list to share. To coincide with Nintendo 3DS owners all over the world playing Mario Kart 7, here is a list of my favorite kart racing games. From Kongs to karts, there's something for every speed demon in this list.

5) Crash Team Racing (PS1)

Sony usually does what Nintendoes, so why not follow Rare's example of making a kart racer? That's exactly what Sony told developer Naughty Dog when crafting Crash Team Racing. The game had a story mode similar to Diddy Kong Racing where players competed in cups, races, and gathered the letters "C", "T", and "R" to vie for first place. From Crash Cove to Blizzard Bluff, the track design was quite good, offering up a plethora of clever shortcuts.

4) Mario Kart 7 (3DS)

The most recent game on our list, Mario Kart 7 may not exactly get the item balance right, but it's still an enjoyable kart racer all the same. With sixteen new tracks (my personal faves being Rainbow Road, Wario Shipyard, and Mario Circuit) and sixteen retro tracks (featuring the best choices for retro tracks in series history), an abundance of modes such as Battle, Time Trial, Grand Prix, and Nintendo's best online attempt yet, Mario Kart 7 is a great racer in its own right. The addition of kart customization, amphibious and airborne portions of track, and a first-person mode make for an interesting shake-up to the series.

3) Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! possessed the first true change in franchise history: two participants per vehicle. The pair of karters could exchange places at any given time during a race. One person would drive while the other would aim and chuck items. Each individual racer had their own specialized item such as Mario's fireballs, Bowser's big shell, or Wario's Bob-ombs. The course design was especially well-done featuring drives through prehistoric jungles, sandy beaches, sunny cruise ships, amusement parks, and much more. This was the first game that the blue shell could be used by the computer-controlled characters. However, this did not happen often making Double Dash!! number three on my list.

2) Mario Kart DS (DS)

The ultimate Mario Kart experience, Mario Kart DS was the first game to feature a retro cup, sixteen old tracks from past Mario Kart games. The new tracks were no pushovers either with races through Tick Tock Clock, a fleet of airships, a trip through Luigi's Mansion, a snowy alpine pass, and a race through a pinball machine. This was the first time that Mission Mode reared its head, offering up a variety of challenges and boss battles against familiar foes. Add in twelve unique racers with a myriad of kart variations, and online play, and you have a hit on your hands with Mario Kart DS.

1) Diddy Kong Racing (N64)

While the DS remake was less than spectacular, the original Nintendo 64 version of Diddy Kong Racing remains my favorite kart racer of all time. It introduced to the genre an adventure mode where players partook in races against bosses, silver coin challenges, and normal races across twenty courses from areas such as Dino Domain and Future Fun Land. With two players and a cheat code you could participate in the adventure mode with a friend. With a colorful cast of characters such as Diddy, Timber, Banjo, Conker, Pipsy, Tiptup, and Krunch as well as two secret characters, Diddy Kong Racing is the bee's knees when it comes to kart racing games.


The rare Saturday list has been completed. What say you? What are your favorite kart racers of all time? Present your list in the comments section along with any words you'd like.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Announcing the SuperPhillip Central Best of 2011 Awards!

It's nearing the end of the year, so it is time for SPC's yearly award ceremony of the best of the best in gaming. It's been a big year with such titles like Skyrim, Skyward Sword, Portal 2, Gears 3, Dark Souls, and Uncharted 3. The festivities will begin December 27th and last until New Year's Eve. Wondering about the categories? Well, here they are and the dates that correspond with them:

Tuesday, December 27th

Best Original Soundtrack
Best Multiplayer
Best Presentation

Wednesday, December 28th

Best New Franchise
Most Unexpected Surprise
Most Disappointing

Thursday, December 29th

Most Overlooked
Developer of the Year
Multiplatform Game of the Year

Friday, December 30th

Best PSP Game
Best Nintendo DS Game
Best Nintendo 3DS Game
Best PlayStation 3 Game
Best Wii Game
Best Xbox 360 Game

Saturday, December 31st

Game of the Year 2011

Sixteen awards to sixteen lucky games and sixteen runners-up. It's going to be an incredibly interesting awards ceremony for sure. I hope you will be with me as I celebrate the year that was 2011 starting the evening of December 27th.

November 2011 NPD Results

November 2011 is but a memory, so let us take a look at the American sales of video game products for the month. This well-formatted information comes from NeoGAF.

NPD Coverage: October 30 - November 26 (4 weeks)


Total retail sales: $3 billion (+0.4%)
Total non-PC retail sales: $2.93 billion (-0.5%)
Total software: $1.74 billion (+16%)
Non-PC hardware: $982.4 million (-9%)
Non-PC software: $1.67 billion (+15%)
Accessories: $273.8 million (-34%)


1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (360, PS3, WII, PC)** Activision Blizzard ~9 million
2. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (360, PS3, PC)** Bethesda Softworks
3. Battlefield 3 (360, PS3, PC)** Electronic Arts
4. Assassin's Creed: Revelations (360, PS3, PC) Ubisoft
5. Just Dance 3 (Wii, 360) Ubisoft
6. Madden NFL 12 (360, PS3, Wii, PSP, PS2)** Electronic Arts
7. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)** Sony - 700k
8. Saints Row: The Third (360, PS3, PC)** THQ
9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (WII) ** Nintendo
10. Batman: Arkham City (360, PS3, PC)** Warner Bros. Interactive

xx. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) Nintendo - 625k

**(includes CE, GOTY editions, bundles, etc. but not those bundled with hardware)
Physical retail copies only.


360 - 1.7 Million (+24%)
PS3 - 900K (+70%)
WII - 860k (-32%)
3DS - 795k
NDS - 350k (-77%)

Call of Duty is one franchise that just won't deteriorate in sales for better or worse depending who you are. Skyrim may be a buggy mess, but that didn't stop gamers from embarking on a journey in the open world WRPG. Battlefield 3 continues to do well for EA as does the Assassins Creed series for Ubisoft. Uncharted 3 had a huge marketing campaign and a huge window to sell copies, releasing on the first of last month. It's a bit surprising it didn't sell better. Meanwhile, the newest Legend of Zelda is the fastest-selling title in the series's history even though it is the only game on the list that requires a peripheral. Something that disturbs me is the lack of Kinect software in the top ten. Sure, the hardware is selling extraordinarily well, but who is buying software for the darn thing? Apparently no one. Even the Wii at this stage in its life is still selling software, and that console is pretty much cruising towards oblivion.

The Xbox 360 resumes its dominant position in the industry with Kinect (unfortunately as Kinect is a letdown and hasn't reached its potential), the PlayStation 3 did well, too. The Wii is winding down as it should at this time in its life, but you can't help but wonder if Nintendo prematurely killed its momentum. The Nintendo 3DS outperformed the O.G. DS's first year of sales within nine months. Not bad for a system that started off horribly thanks to awful decisions by its creator. We'll see you back here in January for the December 2011 NPD Results.

Tales of Graces: f (PS3) English Trailer

Tales of Graces: f has been known to be coming to the West for a while now. We just did not know the date. Well, Namco Bandai has answered that question with a March 13th, 2012 release date (at least for North America). Watch this "Friendship" trailer to get re-accustomed to the Tales franchise.

Mario Kart 7 (3DS) Review

It's Friday, so let's party! You get the imitation wine, and I'll get the coffee cake. But don't go anywhere just yet, there's a review to be read! Mario Kart 7 is pretty much blazing a trail worldwide both online and off, and I have had enough time to play through the game's modes, race online, and plow through the cups enough to put forth judgment on the title. Is this yet another must-have for the 3DS? Read on, SPC faithful, read on!

(Not Quite) The King of the Road

Ever since its inception on the Super Nintendo, whenever there is a new Nintendo system to be had, you can be sure that a new Mario Kart will race onto it. Barring the Game Boy and Virtual Boy, one Mario Kart has appeared on every Nintendo platform. What better way to ring in Nintendo's newest hand-held, the 3DS, than with a fresh installment of Mario Kart? Well, that is exactly what the house that the portly plumber built has done with Mario Kart 7, the first numbered entry in the illustrious party franchise. Should you race to a store near you to nab a copy, or is this version of Mario Kart one that wipes out before the finish?

Right away when you boot up your copy of Mario Kart 7 you will notice that the game runs at an oh-so silky smooth sixty frames-per-second, even when the 3D depth slider is turned all the way up. This game is one of the first to have this feature. The 3D successfully helps to gauge how far away or how close objects and turns are from your kart. It is by no means essential to the gameplay, so no worries about not being able to see or use the 3D. Character models are beefed up from Mario Kart Wii (the until now most recent game in the series) sporting more polygons and better shading. Courses have complex geometry, special effects going on in the backgrounds and track-side such as cherry blossom petals raining down onto Mario Circuit's track surface and a downpour of water droplets pelting the road of Neo Bowser City. Even with eight racers duking it out for supremacy and a myriad of effects and items littering the course, there is never a hint of slow-down at all. This is a technologically impressive game, and it shows that Nintendo EAD knows the intricacies of the 3DS hardware extremely well.

Use the bottom screen to know what perils await.

Meanwhile, on the sound side of the spectrum, Kenta Nagata returns from an extended absence of composing for Mario Kart (the last title he wrote music for was Mario Kart: Double Dash!!). With his partner, an original score was scribed. There are hints of melodies from past Mario Karts as well as remixes from games like MK64 and Double Dash. The brand-new pieces are not as memorable as past games in the franchise (though I do have a soft spot for Daisy Hills), they are, however, serviceable and never grating. Character voices are cute and clever, and they are not obnoxious either. There is no "Hi, I'm Daisy!" over and over again no matter how hilarious one might think it is (well, it WAS pretty funny back in the day...).

One of the new features of Mario Kart 7 is that of kart customization. That's right. For the first time ever players can customize their karts to their liking. You select a body, a set of wheels, and a glider (more on the latter later). Depending on the weight of the character you choose-- either lightweight, middleweight, or heavyweight-- and the combination of kart pieces, your handling, acceleration, weight, top speed, and off-road capabilities will be altered. The selection of kart pieces available at the beginning of the game is a meager amount. However, collecting coins in races (you can hold up to ten per race, forty per cup) unlocks new pieces randomly. Yes, grinding for coins is a hassle that most players won't be able to collect all of the parts, but at least there's an excuse to keep someone coming back for more. You will be able to race in Bowser's koopa clown car from Super Mario World fame, a zucchini-shaped kart, a cloud, have wooden wheels, mushroom-made wheels, and much more. Furthermore, coins in races give you a higher top speed, so the more coins you collect, the greater your top speed. Getting hit or falling off the track will make you lose anywhere from three to a majority of your coins.

From chassis to glider, make your kart yours.

Another new feature of Mario Kart 7 is the ability to dive underwater or glide in the air for extended periods of time. You can go all amphibious or all airborne pending on your mood and the track. While one is more entertaining than the other, both offer a unique change of pace in races. While underwater your kart sprouts a propeller from behind and handles much differently than on land. You jump higher and turn more loosely. Launching off a light blue ramp causes your glider to extend from the back of your kart as you soar over obstacles. Holding the glider up can grant you more speed and hang-time, allowing you to pass over portions of track for great shortcuts. There is a risk/reward feeling when gliding as you are susceptible to attacks such as shells of both the red and pesky blue varieties as well as lightning bolts while in midair. The most beneficial shortcuts have you risking life and limb over hazards and time-costing hazards.

Fly like an eagle...
Gliding looks and feels great.
The single-player options of Mario Kart 7 are not the best the series has seen. Gone is the mission mode of Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii. Also absent for some reason is the ability to play against the AI on courses of your choosing via VS mode. What is available, however, are four cart classes feature eight cups (a cup features four races) each: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror mode which flips the tracks, so left turns are now right turns and vice versa. Each cc gets more difficult than the last with the computer keeping up with you much more easily and utilizing items to artificially create a challenge. There is nothing more frustrating than running a perfect race only to have your run crushed by a rampant blue shell, an item that automatically targets first place. This makes going for three stars, the best grade one can get in a given cup, all the more infuriating as not only do you have to place first in each race, but you also have to do so in a timely fashion. A last second blue shell can destroy any chance of this occurring. I think the game would be nicer if the computer could not use the blue shell like Mario Kart 64. Any other item would be fair game and would make for a less maddening racing session.

The aquatic aesthetic adds to a new type of racing.

Thankfully, the item balance is much better than in Mario Kart Wii. This is partially due to the fact that there are just seven other racers to worry about instead of eleven. Removed from the Wii edition are the Mega Mushroom and Hot Potato-like Lightning Cloud. Added are three new items: the Super Leaf, the Fire Flower, and the Lucky 7. The Super Leaf temporarily dons the user a Tanooki tail as seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 and most recently Super Mario 3D Land. Twirling your tail can block shells and spin out opponents. The Fire Flower allows the user to shoot out a flurry of fireballs at targets, spinning them out for a short period of time. This item wears out after a handful of uses. Finally, the Lucky 7 item materializes seven items and revolves them around the player. The fortunate racer can then unload them all or risk their safety by holding onto them all. I say risk because another player can brush up against a bomb that rotates around the player and blow both of them up, for example. Returning items include the blue shell which now works similar to how it did in Mario Kart 64 (moving along the center of the track until dive-bombing first place), the homing red shell, the green shell, the banana peel, the screen-obscuring Blooper, the Golden Mushroom, the Mushroom, the invincibility Star, and the Lightning Bolt.

Don a Tanooki tail and start twirling!

But what good are items if you do not have any tracks to use them on? Mario Kart 7 delivers in spades with thirty-two tracks-- sixteen all-new ones and sixteen retro tracks. The retro selection is the series's best yet with such picks as Luigi's Mansion, Coconut Mall, Airship Fortress, Dino Dino Jungle, Daisy Cruiser, Waluigi Pinball, Koopa Cape, Koopa [Troopa] Beach, and the Super Mario Kart version of Rainbow Road. These old tracks have been remixed with added underwater and aerial portions. For instance, the engine room shortcut of Daisy Cruiser has been flooded and inhabited by clams and Unagi the eel, and Maple Treeway's bouncy net portion of track has been entirely placed by a glide to the homestretch.

An old haunt returns in Luigi's Mansion.

The new tracks are no pushovers either. You will be spiraling up through Peach's castle in Mario Circuit, blitzing through a stormy galleon in Wario Shipyard, racing along the keys of a piano in Music Park, avoiding lava geysers in Bowser's Castle, gliding past hot air balloons and windmill blades in Daisy Hills, and experiencing one of the greatest versions of a mainstay in the series, Rainbow Road, yet. Some tracks even alter the formula of Mario Kart by having only one lap. The lap is divided between three sections. Only three courses contain this structure: Wuhu Loop, Maka Wuhu, and Rainbow Road.

Apart from normal racing, you can take part in Battle Mode. There are six maps: three new, three old, and two modes: Balloon Battle and Coin Runners. Balloon Battle has you attacking other players, looking to score the most hits before time runs out, and Coin Runners is all about collecting the most coins in the allotted time. Both can be played with or without computers.

Besides unlocking kart parts, there are nine characters in addition to the eight already available. Some of the choices and exclusions are questionable at best. Sure, Wiggler is awesome, especially when he gets hit and turns an angry shade of red. Nice touch. But where is Birdo, Bowser Jr., Toadette, and Waluigi? The latter even has a course named after him! The character unlocks are not spread out well either. They are all unlocked through finishing first in each of the 150cc cups. The addition of being able to play as your Mii is cool, but why does my Mii sound like Yoshi? Alas, beggars can't be choosers...

At the beginning of the game only eight
characters are available (Mii not included).

Mario Kart 7 borrows the racing mechanics of the Wii entry with mini turbos resulting from how long and how sharply you drift. You can get a blue burst for drifting a little or get a longer burst of speed with a red one for drifting even more. The game-breaking "snaking" method from Mario Kart DS is present, but it is really only viable for wide tracks. Plus it does not give as much of a bonus as it did in the DS game. Another helpful return from Mario Kart Wii is pressing the R button right when you launch from a ramp or jump will give you a turbo boost. To further add to the controls, you can race with the Circle Pad or you can go first-person and use the gyro controls. The motion controls are a cool distraction, but on courses without railings they are more of a hindrance than anything.

If single-player is not your cup of tea, and you wish to race with human beings, then hop online. You can join a random session or a Community. Communities are for up to 100,000 people where the creator of the Community makes the rules such as no items, 150 cc, Coin Runners (one of two battle modes), bananas only, shells only, etc. Each racing session uses Grand Prix rules. There is no option to just casually do one race; you must take part in all four races. This might put off some players. Nonetheless, the option to join a like-minded group of players is an excellent addition to the series, and it is actually somewhat forward-thinking of Nintendo to do. I never thought I'd say "Nintendo" and "forward-thinking" when it comes to online, but there you have it. It's on the record! A given person can join up to a handful of Communities before it is necessary to remove themselves from one.

Hop online and take on the world!

The online fun doesn't end there either. With SpotPass you can download Time Trial ghost data and challenge up to seven ghosts in one race to push yourself beyond your normal gaming limits. As long as you have SpotPass enabled, new ghosts will continuously be downloaded for your racing pleasure.

Mario Kart 7 possesses a lot of fun and a lot of frustration in its gameplay. As long as you realize and accept that the best player doesn't always win, you'll gain a lot of enjoyment and lose a lot of irritation playing this game. The selection of tracks ranks up with the best Mario Kart titles even if the choices of characters does less than impress. The dreaded blue shell will cost you many a-race, and the later cc difficulties are intimidating and artificially challenging, but if you persevere, you will discover an engaging and addicting game. Online is the best effort by Nintendo yet, and the addition of Communities is brilliant. Additionally, the 3D is terrific as are the visuals. The omission of mission mode may be questionable, but many players will be too involved with online to care. Mario Kart 7 may not be the most complete and most commendable karting experience, but it is one of the most fun... even if luck doesn't always go your way.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

Want more Mario Kart? Then check out my Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN) reviews!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pushmo (3DSWare) QR Code Puzzles

Pushmo released today on the eShop in North America, so grab it for $6.99. Now you can actually put the exact amount of funds you desire in your e-wallet. Japan has had the game for months, and their aesthetic expertise knows no limits. Check out these puzzles designed with you in mind. Just point your 3DS to these QR codes, and you will automatically receive these puzzles and more! Select from a smorgasbord of gaming icons such as Mario, Yoshi, Link, Kirby, Pokemon, Captain Falcon, Satoru Iwata (president of Nintendo), and Mega Man!

For easy access, right click and go to Open in New Window or Open in New Tab (for Firefox users).

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) Guest Review

I reviewed Uncharted 3 last month as part of my month of platformers. Today my older brother takes a glimpse of this game with his take on Nathan Drake's latest adventure. Will our views on the title be similar or different?

A Deceptive Step Back

Naughty Dog put themselves back on the map as one of the top developers of this generation when they released Uncharted 2 just a couple of years ago. The game really had a great pace throughout, making sure to give you enough breathers that you'd enjoy the ride all the way to its thrilling conclusion. To me, it's a game that took everything that the first one did right and improved on it while shying away from the mistakes that were made. It had a flaw here or there, but overall, it was my favorite Playstation 3 title to this point. With Uncharted 3 arriving in 2011, I was expecting something that would try and rival it. Instead, I was a bit deceived as Naughty Dog decided to take things into a different direction. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there's just something about this title that keeps it from coming close to the thrilling ride the second title provided. What kept it from being as fun as its predecessor? Let's find out.

Uncharted 3 takes pride in its melee combat, even opening with a rather drawn out sequence to get you into the flow of things. The system has been enhanced ever so slightly. Along with being able to punch and dodge with the square and triangle buttons, respectively, you also have the opportunity to push or throw your opponents into the scenery with the circle button. There, if you're in the proper position, you can hit a foe with a nearby object by pressing square again. These attacks generally knock out a foe much faster than if you were just trying to punch them out normally, and considering some of the odds you'll be facing throughout this title, there's plenty of incentive to using the environment to your advantage. The opening combat section also introduces fighting enemies a bit larger than yourself. While that sounds all well and good, these segments generally boil down to doing the same thing over and over again. Actually, now that I think about it, the first fight winds up being somewhat different from the other many, many times you'll be fighting one of these hulking brutes, but this does show that Drake's Deception is a little heavy on repetition.

Thankfully, that repetition generally steers clear of the gun fighting portions of the game. Taking a page from Uncharted 1's design philosophy, you'll clear a wave of enemies to think that you're perfectly safe only to have a second wave spawn in right behind you as you're moving forward and absolutely mop the floor with you. The areas you'll do combat in are generally smaller than the areas the second game had, too, so expect many times to have to choose which enemies you'll want to take care of quickly. Working in your favor, you'll now be able to toss back grenades that enemies have thrown at you with the proper timing. Even if you don't take out foes with your return toss, you'll knock them off balance long enough to either being able to finish them off or focus on their friends for a few more seconds. It's fast, frenetic, and generally fun, but there are times where it feels like there are just too many foes on the screen to have a fair fight with. That wouldn't be as much of a problem if you could clear full rooms with stealth like you could in Uncharted 2, but many areas can only be partially cleared in that manner, and it's only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose, leaving you trying not to get overwhelmed by foes swarming in on your position and fast. This is especially true in the middle and near endgame portions where it feels like it's Drake going up against the world. Before the aiming patch, this experience was an absolute nightmare as you would line up your targets as slow as molasses all the while they're storming in at you. With it, things were made a lot more manageable, and that's why you won't see as many complaints in the controls as you would have a week ago. Still, the fact that a patch was needed just screams that this game was rushed, and that's something I can definitely see throughout this title.

One of the biggest issues I have with Uncharted 3 is in the plot itself. The pace of the game is all over the place, and that's not something a patch could ever fix. While the game starts off slow, it does give you motivation right off the bat. Still, somewhere along the way, things just sort of deteriorate into a jumbled mess, and this winds up affecting the gameplay as well. Puzzles are generally a welcome reprieve in the series, yet I can't recall opening Drake's journal after the halfway point for one of these. Literally, the game goes along at a more puzzle-oriented pace with one or two big gun fight sequences for the first half of the game only to try and become mostly a straight up action game from there on out. I say mostly because there is one chapter in the late game that tries desperately to do everything it can to take you right out of the game. I understand the need to try and be more cinematic, but I really don't see the point in pushing forward on the analog stick to watch my character move at a snail's pace to advance the plot. It's a part of the game I don't care to repeat again any time soon and wish it would have been relegated to an extended cutscene just so I could skip the whole thing in any subsequent playthroughs. Too many times, Uncharted 3 takes you out of the action by forcing a few boring stretches at you where you do all but nothing. I think Naughty Dog tried to create more of a experience rather than a game at points, and it shows.

It's definitely not all show, though. Oddly enough, Uncharted 3's biggest disconnect with the plot arguably winds up being the most fun I had with the title. While I won't spoil the details, I will say that the middle of the game has a rather lengthy sequence that takes you away from the main plot and puts you into a personal playground for Drake. You'll be getting into a couple of massive firefights, climbing up a rather large structure, and even fighting a miniboss that isn't a glorified QTE fist fight... although you'll have to deal with one of these early on in said segment. Still, the variety and execution of this part of the game was really the one that felt the most complete, which is odd considering how ridiculous the whole scenario is when it's all said and done. One thing that I didn't mention about the shooting is that there are segments where you'll be hanging from ledges and aiming up and around to take on enemies trying to take you down. It's truly the part of the game where everything clicked the whole way through.

And while I loved that filler segment of the game, it's not like Uncharted 3 doesn't get it right throughout a few other moments, either. I had quite a bit of fun jumping around a few other areas including a certain segment that brought back fond memories of Uncharted 2 as well as the third Indiana Jones movie for that matter. Sure, it's utterly ridiculous when you stop to think about it, but video games are supposed to be fun, and you'll get few complaints from me here. The only problem is that these fun moments are in such short bursts outside of the aforementioned area that I found myself feeling a bit bummed that there weren't more of them. I will say that the ending of the game was pretty darn fun to go through as well, even if it ended in a similar fashion as it began.

In the end, I felt as though Uncharted 3 has made some mistakes that modern game design has brought about. Too many times, I found that Drake's Deception wanted to show players cool moments instead of letting you experience them. At its worst, it turns said experiences into simply pressing the right button prompt or slowly walking forward. Not exactly my idea of fun. The lack of balance brought about in both the plot and gameplay really keep you from ever getting into that real groove that I found myself having with Among Thieves. There's nothing wrong with not reaching the heights of that one, but some of the design decisions really scream of mistakes that I wasn't expecting to see from Naughty Dog in this third installment. I can see some getting a bit more playtime from the superfluous multiplayer, but at the core of the game lies a deceptively trying experience that may push some players away. This isn't a title for everyone, but I think it's an adventure worth taking on, even if it doesn't always know where it's going.

[Overall: 7.25/10]

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

QA Quandaries: How Nintendo Dropped the Ball This Gen

If you own a copy of the latest Legend of Zelda release, Skyward Sword, you are probably familiar with the game-breaking glitch that the title possesses late in the game. This is yet another glitch that stops dead the progress of players from Nintendo. What happened? When did the quality of Nintendo's QA drop so suddenly between generations?

The first glitch takes place in the infamous cannon room in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The glitch occurs when players save their data in the room and then quit or reset the game. When Link wakes up, the cannon room attendant who was there before disappears. When players try to warp out of the room, Midna stops them stating that the room attendant is watching when he actually isn't. If Links attempts to walk out of the room, an invisible (see: glitched out) room attendant stops him, not letting Link out. If players come across this glitch and do not have an alternate save from an earlier point in the game, they have no choice but to restart the game from the beginning. This glitch only affects older copies of Twilight Princess as newer ones have the glitch fixed. Has this happened to you? I somehow avoided this as I felt no need to save my progress and quit inside the room.

Link might be a silent protagonist, but even he'd curse
if he had to start his journey all over again because of a glitch.

The next glitch, although not game-breaking, just game-crashing, happens in some PAL versins of Super Paper Mario. The glitch involves Mimi in Chapter 2-2 while the player is searching for Merlee inside her mansion. If one speaks to Mimi before retrieving the needed key and after entering the room with the falling spiked ceiling, the game will crash. The owner of their Wii will be forced to hold the power button on the console down for approximately five seconds to get things back to normal. Future editions of Super Paper Mario do not apparently have this glitch in it.

Returning from games crashing to games impeding one's progress permanently, Metroid: Other M has a game-breaking bug which halts the player's ability to advance. This occurs if players obtain the Ice Beam weapon, backtrack to the save room after destroying the "two-legged spiked enemy" in lieu of going to the next door and opening it. If players simply move forward after the fight, the glitch should not happen. Nintendo copped up to the bug, and gave players the option to send the SD cards to a Nintendo facility to have the problem fixed. It was an inconvenient solution to a botheration that should not have been there in the first place.

Forget the baby. The bug, the bug, the bug, the bug, etc.

The next game-breaking bug takes place within the realm of Skyloft in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. When players reach a plot-relevant three-way quest (the quest will be obvious to those who make it to this point of the game), if players talk to Golo the Goron twice without finishing the three parts of the quest, proceeding in the game will be impossible. Players will have to start the entire game from the beginning. There is no word on a fix to this obstacle such as sending one's SD card to Nintendo to have them remedy the situation. Nintendo themselves have owned up to this issue, but as said there is no solution other than restarting the game.

Just don't talk to Golo the Goron again, and you'll be fine.

The final and most recent glitch happens online in Mario Kart 7 on the Maka Wuhu track (the sunset-soaked Wuhu Island race). It happens if a player falls off the course in a certain section. The racer will then be dropped off by Lakitu way further ahead on the track. This exploit is something that is common with players who care more about winning than actually having fun and racing fair (see: people who snake). Hopefully, you have a decent community where players who pick Maka Wuhu won't exploit this unfortunate glitch.

The main problem with Nintendo's glitches is that they are not able to be patched like the HD platforms. As stated with Metroid: Other M, players who ran into the save room glitch either had to restart their data or send their SD card into Nintendo for them to fix. This makes QA exponentially important for Nintendo as they cannot just skimp out on testing and hope for the best. Even with hundreds of hours invested in QA, these aforementioned problems persist and exist. Some glitches can be fun to use, but the ones listed are completely hazardous.

Have you encountered any of the above glitches or glitches not mentioned in various Nintendo games? If so, let everyone know your horror stories via the comments section.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nintendo 3DS Hardware Review

I've had the Nintendo 3DS since August. It was an early Christmas gift from my brother. I've tinkered with the functions, played the games, and now I render my verdict. Is the 3DS worth purchasing at this stage in the game? Let's find out with my review.

A new dimension of fun

The Nintendo 3DS's start was quite rocky. It had anemic sales, an oasis of a library, and a high cost to purchase. All three of these problems have been rectified, and the future of Nintendo's newest handheld system looks a lot brighter than it did in, say, the summer. Introducing for the first time on a gaming platform glasses-less 3D, the Nintendo 3DS may be selling better than ever, but should you enter this new glasses-free dimension of gaming?

Turning on the 3DS for the first time is a delight as is viewing the depth of the 3DS's patented 3D. The start-up menu is well-designed with several icons that can be lined up into one row or a series of rows via smaller icons. There's a myriad of software already loaded onto the 3DS such as the Sound Channel, the eShop, Face Raiders, Mii StreetPass Plaza, and several downloadable ones as well.

With the Sound Channel one can put MP3s onto an SD card (the 3DS already comes with one inside the system which is easy to take out, and there is no special brand needed unlike the upcoming PlayStation Vita). The songs can be listened to with the 3DS in Sleep Mode (closing the system while it is still on).

The glossy finish of the 3DS is a fingerprint magnet.
(Japanese model not included.)

The eShop is the marketplace of the 3DS. It possesses videos that can be viewed in 3D such as the special and awesome biweekly Nintendo Show 3D, DSiWare games, 3DSWare games (as of this review the selection is modest at best), the 3D Classics line of titles where classic games are given the 3D treatment, and Virtual Console games like Metroid II: Return of Samus, Donkey Kong, Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX, and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, to name a handful. The shop layout can be a bit troublesome to sift through, the pricing structure can feel like you're being ripped off, and there is currently no download queue or way to download a game in Sleep Mode. Coming soon (at least at the time of this review) are downloadable demos for various retail games like Super Mario 3D Land and Monster Hunter 3G (for Japan anyway). All in all, the eShop is serviceable, but there is much more room for improvement.

A game already installed on the 3DS as soon as one turns it on is Face Raiders. With the built-in gyro motion controls the system has, players twist around in a circle, blasting floating and flying faces of friends, family, enemies, and more to shoot for a high score. Just line up the 3DS with a human face (either a live one or a picture of one) using the 3DS's frontal cameras and take a picture. There are multiple levels of Face Raiders, and the game itself is a worthy distraction and greatly shows off the various features of the 3DS.

Blast Obama (if you're a conservative)
or bomb Bush (if you're a liberal).

Miis return from the Wii and DSi for players to personalize. One can make their own Mii with a flurry of facial features such as eyes, noses, mouths, hairstyles, accessories, and wrinkles. One can scour the Internet for QR codes to capture and create other 3DS owner Miis effortlessly. All it takes is a quick glance of a QR code in the 3DS's frontal camera, and bam! A Miis materializes right before the eyes. With StreetPass, a feature that when turned on allows for 3DS systems that pass by one another to trade Mii data as well as other game data such as character figurines in Dead or Alive Dimensions, for instance. Stranger Miis can be used in an RPG-like game to collect special Nintendo-themed hats and to get puzzle pieces for several jigsaw puzzles of numerous Nintendo games. Play coins, earned by walking with the 3DS in tow and powered on, are used to purchase new pieces of puzzles as well as to unlock items in games that support the coins.

Take a picture and have the 3DS make a Mii out of it,
or capture a QR code. The choice is yours.

Another interesting addition to the 3DS is the Activity Log. This displays the playtime of all 3DS, DS (the 3DS is 100% backwards-compatible with nearly all Nintendo DS games), and downloadable software. It shows how many hours and minutes one had played, the first and last date they've played, the average playtime, and how many times they've played a particular game. I find it addicting to see how much I've invested into each game or hardware function of the 3DS.

One of the coolest parts of the 3DS is AR or augmented reality. The system comes with a series of AR cards that when placed in front of the 3DS's camera displays a 3D model of a Nintendo character (Mario, Young Link, Samus Aran, Kirby, Pikmin, or a Mii or series of Miis) in a real world setting. One can play AR games like fishing, target practice, a bowling type game, and much more with these cards. Sure, it can be difficult to keep the card in the camera's view, but it is still quite cool.

The gang's all here.

The build of the 3DS is relatively light and the size of the DS Lite. It fits easily in one's jacket or pants pocket, but it comes with a potential problem-- smudges and scratches from the lower screen to the top screen. I still to this day do not know where in the world the microphone on the system actually is, and the location of the stylus (the back of the system) isn't in the best spot. I'd prefer it on the right side like with the DSL. Additionally, turning on the system by pressing down a small square button below the face buttons sometimes takes multiple attempts to actually turn the darned system on, and the start and select buttons don't press in at all. They feel odd to me. Furthermore, the battery life of the 3DS isn't too terribly impressive, lasting 3-5 hours on full brightness and full 3D. The system comes with a charger as well as a cradle, so if you're like me and play your portables at home most of the time, this is not a huge deal. For those who go out and about with their handheld systems, then be forewarned that extended play sessions will drain the battery rather quickly.

Unlike the PSP before it, the 3DS uses a circle pad for analog movement in three-dimensional games. For games that use it, it controls the action rather well, feels great, and offers more precision than the PSP's cursed analog nub. Some might argue that the lack of a second circle pad on the right side of the system is a negative and will bite Nintendo in its metaphorical butt. However, I believe the touch screen can be substituted for the second circle pad, and if one doesn't like that, they can purchase the upcoming Circle Pad Pro.

The 3D effect itself varies from game to game. Sometimes it is incredibly impressive while other times it is just there. Games like Super Mario 3D Land, Pilotwings Resort, and Star Fox 64 3D display a prominent and wonderful 3D effect while games like Rayman 3D, Super Monkey Ball 3D, and Pokemon Rumble Blast pretty much do not. For those who are too young and shouldn't utilize the 3D, parental controls can shut off the 3D or the 3D slider on the right side of the top screen can be pushed down to nothingness.

Those who think the library of the 3DS is empty simply haven't taken the time to do any proper research. Yes, there are remakes of Nintendo 64 classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Star Fox 64 3D as well as ports like Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, but there are plenty of exclusive-to-3DS titles, too, like Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Dead or Alive Dimensions, Pilotwings Resort, Tetris Axis, and Ace Combat. 2012 is looking even better with a plethora of looking-to-be-excellent software such as Luigi's Mansion 2, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Paper Mario (tentative title), Mario Tennis (tentative title), Monster Hunter 3G and Monster Hunter 4, Bravely Default, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Resident Evil: Revelations, and Tales of the Abyss.

By far the most impressive use of 3D is in Super Mario 3D Land.

Overall, the Nintendo 3DS is a worthy addition to one's collection of portable gaming entertainment. While all the kinks of the system haven't been ironed out such as scratched screens, lack of a second analog, small window to view the 3D effect, among others, the amount of content available for Nintendo's newest gaming platform is more than enough to jump in. A Nintendo faithful knows how much the company loves crafting redesigns to their handheld systems, so if you are hesitant to get a 3DS for this reason, wait. Or you can purchase a 3DS now and trade on up to the redesigned 3DS with a better battery life, bigger window to view the 3D effect, larger size, and other beneficial bonuses. The new dimension of fun is here, and its name is Nintendo 3DS.

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]

Monday, December 5, 2011

Best of... Mario Kart

Mario Kart 7 raced its way onto store shelves in North America yesterday, so now racers from 'round the world can duke it out and jock for position. To celebrate I believe it is time we take a glance at the best the Mario Kart series has to offer in various different categories. From the entry with the best tracks to the best characters to the best items to the best game overall, your good buddy SuperPhillip will decide all. Note: Mario Kart 7 will not be considered for any awards. Let's get started, shall we?

[Best Characters]

Runner-Up: Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

The addition of two racers per vehicle allowed for an exhaustive list of characters to choose from. You could mix and match as much as you wanted. Pair up a lightweight with a heavyweight or have two middleweights share a kart. This was the first game that brought Waluigi, Daisy, Diddy Kong, King Boo, Petey Piranha, Paratroopa, Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, Bowser Jr., Birdo, and Toadette into the racing spotlight, so any game that does that is worthy of being the runner-up, don't you think?

Winner: Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

Not just quantity (which Mario Kart Wii has the most racers in any Mario Kart) but quality as well, Mario Kart Wii succeeds in offering the most bang for one's buck character-wise. New challengers approached such as the for some reason heavyweight Rosalina, Baby Peach, Baby Daisy, Funky Kong, Dry Bowser, and even one's Mii. There were three classes of weight, and each class had the same amount of characters but different karts and bikes for each class. It is for the aforementioned reasons that Mario Kart Wii is victorious when it comes to characters.

[Best Kart Variety]

Runner-up: Mario Kart DS (DS)

Besides having seven karts available for each character such as a bulldozer, a terrific off-road tank, the Egg-1, a kart shaped like the Donkey Kong Country helper Rambi, and even a Koopa clown car, players could unlock the ability to have all of the karts available for each character regardless of which racer they chose. Of course, online you'd only see one of two or three different karts (usually the tank and the Egg-1), but that still does not deny the excellent amount of karts available for players in Mario Kart DS.

Winner: Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

Was there any doubt? Whether you're speeding on a mach bike shaped like Bowser to jetting along Rainbow Road in the Blue Falcon from F-Zero fame, there's a kart or bike for you. Each weight class has its own designated set of vehicles to hop on or hop in. Choose from unlockables like the Dolphin Dasher, the Magikoopa-like Magikruiser, the duck-shaped Quacker, the Cheep Charger, the Piranha Prowler, and the Turbo Blooper, to name a handful. Each kart or bike controls differently than the last, so choose wisely and tear up the track.

[Best Items]

Runner-up: Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

Offering an abundant selection of items, oftentimes obliterating everybody in mass chaos, Mario Kart Wii's items may not have been balanced, but they were pretty cool to use. From the from-worst-to-near-first Bullet Bill, to the Bob-omb, to the cloud which shrank whoever was unfortunate to be the loser of a game of hot potato, to the Blooper which obscured the screen with its black ink, to the Mega Mushroom, the items in Mario Kart Wii could certainly not be considered boring. For that reason alone, the Wii installment takes the runner-up spot.

Winner: Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

Not only were there two Mushroom Kingdom denizens per kart, but each individual racer had his or her own unique item to use on the competition. Bowser and his son had a giant spiked shell that bounced off walls, annihilating all who dared to drive by it, Peach and Daisy had a protective heart shield that grabbed items used against them, Mario and Luigi had fireballs, the duo of koopas had a trio of shells to utilize, Wario and Waluigi had Bob-ombs, and Yoshi and Birdo had homing eggs that when cracked open, revealed three items on the track. There are so many more items in addition to the specialized ones that Double Dash!! winning this category is a no-brainer.

[Best Music]

Runner-up: Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

The carefree tunes of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! are insanely infectious. Whether listening to the marimba on Peach Beach, the charming tune of the circuit tracks, or hearing the riff from Mario Kart 64 in the GameCube's version of Rainbow Road, the music presented in this pleasant package is fantastic. Take a listen to these samples to know what I mean:

Winner: Mario Kart 64 (N64)

Chalk it up to nostalgia if you like, but Kenta Nagata hit it out of the park when he composed the music for the Nintendo 64 multiplayer classic, Mario Kart 64. The songs get ingrained into your subconscious as you continuously listen to them. The credits music especially is one of the best of all time, and you, too, can hear it along with these other fine examples:

[Best Tracks]

Runner-up: Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

With sixteen glorious new tracks ranging from races on frozen lakes infested with skating Shy Guys, deserts full of prancing Pokeys, a Delfino-inspired beach owned by Princess Peach, a luxury cruise liner just off the coast of Peach Beach, and one of the better versions of Bowser's Castle, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! has a ton of interesting tracks. Even the circuits like Mario Circuit which wraps around Peach's Castle and has one ornery Chain-Chomp, a brigade of Goombas, and an array of Piranha Plants along the side of the road as well as Yoshi Circuit which is in the shape of Mario's dinosaur companion.

Winner: Mario Kart DS (DS)

Mario Kart DS possesses some of my favorite tracks in series history such as a romp through Luigi's Mansion where after driving through the haunted halls of the mansion, players drive through a graveyard and then the back stretch which is covered in mud and walking trees, planted to block one's path. Delfino Square is one of my all-time faves featuring a leisurely stroll through the city blocks of a Delfino town. Other incredible tracks include Airship Fortress, Mario Circuit, Waluigi Pinball, and Shroom Ridge. I don't even have to include the sixteen retro tracks, a then new addition to the franchise, to make a convincing case that the DS iteration has the greatest set of tracks in franchise history.

[Overall Best]

Runner-up: Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GCN)

It was a simpler time-- even with the introduction of two Mushroom Kingdom citizens in one kart and character-specific items. The blue shell wasn't overused to death like in future Mario Karts, and the tracks and characters were colorful and creative. My favorite pairing would always have to be Waluigi and Bowser Jr. so I'd have Bob-ombs and big Bowser shells at my disposal. Nothing like sharing a kart with another player, or hooking up the GameCubes up for an 8-player LAN party. This was an age where Nintendo did not know what the Internet was. Is it a type of cake?

Winner: Mario Kart DS (DS)

The reigning champ is Mario Kart DS-- the ultimate kart racer in the series. From having thirty-two tracks to choose from (as stated before the new ones being the best in the series), twelve characters, multiple karts of varying stats, and for the first time ever on a Nintendo system, online play. Yes, it was rudimentary, and half of the tracks were not available to race online, and yes, there were hackers and snakers, but play with a decent group of friends, and fun times were had (that concludes this run-on sentence). The item balance was there unlike Mario Kart Wii, and the visuals were impressive for the time and for the system. For the greatest in Mario Kart action, Mario Kart DS should be in your collection.


That concludes this award ceremony. Would your results look somewhat similar or completely different? Let me know in the comments section along with whether or not you enjoyed this celebration of all things Mario Kart.