Thursday, December 5, 2019

Mario Kart Tour (iOS, AND) Review

Mario Kart Tour revved up its engines and roared onto mobile devices several months ago. Now, that the exhaust has settled, it's time to take a deep dive into the game two months after the game's launch. Has it improved? Is it a worthy title to spend time with? Let's get behind the steering wheel and race for the finish line with SuperPhillip Central's review of Mario Kart Tour!

More of a Tour de Farce than a Tour de Force

Nintendo's mobile offerings haven't exactly set the gaming world on fire. They're meant as more of a sampling--a tease, if you will--to get mobile players gaming on Nintendo systems by providing them with a taste of what will come from buying, say, a Switch or whatever. Between Miitomo, Super Mario Run, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Fire Emblem Heroes, and on, Nintendo's found varying degrees of success, but mostly less than satisfactory results. Nintendo hopes to change that with one of its largest properties, and instead of bringing but a small tease of Mario Kart to mobile, Mario Kart Tour is pretty much a valid Mario Kart experience in phone and tablet form. However, as we'll see with my review, a valid Mario Kart experience on mobile has plenty, and I do mean plenty of bumps in its road.

The main draw of Mario Kart Tour is its seasons. Each season in Mario Kart Tour is comprised of multiple cups of three main races and a Mario Kart DS Mission Mode-like event. The latter can be things like time trials, passing through rings, defeating as many Goombas as possible, avoiding damage, and so forth. The actual racetracks featured in Mario Kart Tour are throwbacks from Mario Kart 7's selection of new tracks and retro track selection. Few of the returning tracks from past Mario Kart games come from anywhere but Mario Kart 7, such as Mario Kart Double Dash's Yoshi's Circuit.

With regard to Mario Kart Tour's various seasons, it's not just about getting first place in a race (though that's somewhat important as is); it's about getting enough points to pass thresholds to acquire Grand Stars, which open up new cups in a given season. You earn points from doing all sorts of tasks--hitting opponents with items, performing tricks, collecting coins, and gaining hang time from flight sections of racetracks. Chaining actions together is paramount in achieving high scores on tracks. All of this adds up to a grand total, which determines how many Grand Stars you earn for that particular race.

However, Mario Kart Tour implements a system where even players who race more than adequately and cross the finish line in first place may and probably will still not have enough points to earn five Grand Stars in many races. Each track in a cup has a specific character, kart, and glider that gives different benefits for using them. The most egregious example of this comes from all tracks needing a specific racer to earn the ability to get three individual items upon driving through an item box. This can also result in a "Frenzy" when you get three of the same item, allowing you to enter invincibility and use as many of that item as you like until the effect wears off.

If you aren't fortunate to have the driver a specific track wants you to have (which you generally won't), you might be stuck with a racer who can only hold two items at once, or worse off, just one--which puts you at a severe disadvantage both race placement and point-wise. Using track recommended karts and gliders also helps in adding a bonus multiplier as well as increasing the amount of time your chain multiplier lasts. Seeing as the characters, karts, and gliders you unlock to use are mostly luck of the draw from pulls that require the use of expensive and hard-to-acquire Rubies, it can be darn difficult to stay competitive in the game.

I say "competitive", but outside of weekly tournaments where you compete against your particular tier of twenty players to see who can earn the most points in a specific cup for prizes like gold and Rubies (good luck if you don't have the "right" racers for the chosen tracks), there is no multiplayer to speak of in Mario Kart Tour. Yes, the racing series synonymous with multiplayer fun with friends and family does not yet have this feature. That said, the feature is coming, but I worry how balanced it will be (or not be) if the same rules for single player play out in multiplayer.

Of course, it wouldn't be a freemium mobile game without microtransactions and a Gacha system. Nintendo has unfortunately satisfied both conditions to be a freemium mobile game with its repulsive pricing and downright scummy odds with driver, kart, and glider pulls. Rubies are handed out like candy at first in Mario Kart Tour, but soon they become like water to a Koopa in Dry Dry Desert--incredibly hard to come across. Considering every pull in Mario Kart Tour--that is, launching a reward out of the pipe for a chance at earning something new--whether that's a new racer, kart, or glider--costs five Rubies. The odds of getting one of the featured items of each season is disgustingly low, but the odds of pulling multiple copies of characters, karts, and gliders you already possess are frustratingly high. Yes, duplicates of already possessed goodies do eventually level up your drivers and such to make them earn more points in races, but it can be absolutely deflating to make ten pulls and have nothing but lame, low rarity items to show for it.

Then, there are the microtransactions. This is Nintendo kowtowing to investors who wanted the company to go all-in on MTXs because the prices on display here are hilarious in how bold and brazen they are. For example, Mario--the character that Mario Kart is named after--once was in a pack for $20. Yes, the main character of the game isn't even available at the very start of Mario Kart Tour. You either had to get lucky and get him from a pull like I did, earn enough coins to buy him from the shop, or just give in to the evil pricing strategies being conveyed here and straight up buy the pack.

That's not even the worst of it. There's also a Gold Pass that unlocks more rewards for players for going through the various seasons. You earn more Rubies, more Gold, more goodies like drivers, karts, and gliders--but the catch here is that the Gold Pass costs $4.99. Oh, I'm sorry. I left out an important piece of information. That is $4.99 PER MONTH, a price that is insane. While you can try the Gold Pass out for a two-week trial (just be sure to cancel it before you're charged a day before the two-week trial ends), you better believe that this isn't really worth the asking price. Not by a long green shell shot.

And that's a shame that Nintendo seems to be doing everything with its pricing strategy to turn people like me off from the game, as Mario Kart Tour is rather fun. There is no real stamina system to worry about, which would otherwise limit how many times you can race per day. Instead, the amount of coins you can earn is capped at 300 per day, and the amount of experience you can earn per driver, kart, and glider is also capped at a limit per day as well.

Pretty much all of Nintendo's mobile offerings have been poor man's versions of its popular franchises. With Mario Kart Tour, you pretty much get the full experience of Mario Kart on a mobile device. Obviously, unlike say, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch, with Mario Kart Tour you're able to play with just one hand, using your finger to slide from left to right on the screen in order to steer and drift. In order to launch an item, you swipe either forwards or backwards to fire off in the desired direction. That said, it's quite a bit of a challenge to properly aim an item in the direction you want all while negotiating a turn and especially a drift.

Mario Kart Tour constantly keeps you driving forward. There's some auto-steering involved and boundaries to make for a less frustrating experience. What I mean by the latter is that in Mario Kart games where it'd be easy to fall off the course, you automatically hug curves as if there's an invisible rail keeping you on the track. The only opportunity to plummet off a track is when you're hit by an item in midair while crossing a chasm, for instance.

It can be a bit frustrating to avoid items in Mario Kart Tour, especially because racers automatically hold whatever item they have on deck right behind them. This makes it all too easy to steer into it, making your character careen off course and lose precious podium and places and seconds of time. That said, it also makes it so you don't have to hold a button down to have an item trailing behind your character for safety purposes, so there's a pro and a con with this setup.

Mario Kart Tour's tracks forgo the typical three laps that the series has seen used since Mario Kart 64. Instead, Mario Kart Tour's races are two laps each. While the amount of total tracks isn't very high, and they do repeat a lot each season, the game cleverly alters how you race on them. There are four versions of each track--a normal version, a reversed version where you drive on it backwards, a trick version that has a multitude of ramps and other places to perform point-accumulating tricks off of, and a reversed trick version.

Additionally, the "Tour" in Mario Kart Tour refers to how many of the game's seasons sport a featured track that takes place in one real world location. So far, New York, Tokyo, Paris, and London have been featured as locales with unique tracks of their own, but these haven't been too exciting overall design-wise. They're certainly appealing to look at aesthetically, but they don't get the adrenaline driving as much as I would have hoped--particularly the Tokyo track, which was quite a letdown. Hopefully, Nintendo continues bringing new tours as well as new returning tracks into the roster of races to keep things fresh, in addition to new characters, karts, and gliders.

Mario Kart Tour's tracks look absolutely delightful and brimming with color and personality. This is a mobile game that looks really good, even if it is a bit too taxing on my iPhone 5S (thus resulting in a lot of crashes--one every four or five races--before and after races). It's also quite a battery hog, quickly taking down my phone's battery, though this is somewhat remedied with the power-saving mode that helps lower the depletion on my phone's battery but downgrades the visuals severely. Sound-wise, Mario Kart Tour takes nearly all of its sound and music directly from past Mario Kart games with the only new compositions coming from menus and the new tour tracks.

Overall, it says more about how much I love Mario Kart that I can put up with the slimy Gacha and microtransaction practices than it does my delight for Mario Kart Tour. While the game is structurally sound on a gameplay note, the systems designed to inhale all of the contents from players' wallets are just horrid and completely disgusting to me, especially coming from family-friendly Nintendo. For most players, I feel Mario Kart Tour makes for a stopgap as they wait for Mario Kart 9 to come out (whenever it does--maybe even Nintendo's next system at this rate), and even then, it's a poor one. You'll most likely find yourself wishing to go back to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. As for me, I see myself sticking with Mario Kart Tour for a little while longer, hoping I don't get to a point where I'll get truly repulsed and put off from playing the game for good--but deep inside knowing that I probably will.

[SPC Says: C-]

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Super Mario Maker 2 (NSW) A Legendary Update

After the arrival of online multiplayer with friends and the promise of new course features, Nintendo has revealed both fresh new course tools and a release date for these tools with this trailer for Super Mario Maker 2's second major update. Including new course elements such as enemies like Spike and Pokey, dash panels for Super Mario 3D World, and a certain hero of Hyrule that changes the game up considerably, Super Mario Maker 2 ought to spur the creative spirit even more in players when the update releases December 5th.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

One & Done: Games Without Sequels - Part Three

After a year's absence, "One & Done" is back, talking about those games that didn't receive sequels of any kind--whether spiritual or straight-out sequels. There could be multiple reasons for this: a game just didn't sell well, isn't marketable anymore, or the creator/development team simply wanted to move on to something else. We have games from a variety of eras on this edition of "One & Done", so sit back, get comfortable, and prepare yourself for a trip down memory lane.

For a look at SPC's previous two editions of "One & Done", check out part one and part two.

Tearaway (PS4, Vita)

Media Molecule became well known for a plethora of PlayStation fans for its work on the LittleBigPlanet series and have gone on to work on an even more ambitious creative gaming suite with Dreams. However, in between these two projects came a game that didn't receive as much buzz by virtue of being on the PlayStation Vita. That game was Tearaway, a charming 3D platformer that utilized the Vita hardware in glorious and ingenious ways. From using the rear touch screen to raise up platforms from below to utilizing the camera to take a picture, thus using the image to colorize a papercraft creature in need of color, Tearaway remains one of the best games to feature the Vita's various knickknacks and tools. A PlayStation 4 version would release--Tearaway Unfolded--adding new content and retooling the controls to work with the PS4's DualShock. Here's hoping that some day Sony brings back Tearaway in some shape or form.

The Bouncer (PS2)

Squaresoft's first game for the PlayStation 2 was little more than a title to get its proverbial feet wet with development on the system, and while the end result, The Bouncer, was gorgeous game for its time, it left a lot to be desired. The main point of contention critics and players of this 3D brawler was that the game was ridiculously short. In fact, the generous helping of cutscenes fattened the length of the game up tremendously, and without those, you were left with a quick romp for a full priced game. Still, The Bouncer was something of a project that I would have loved to have seen expanded upon, fleshed out more, and made into a fuller experience. This obviously did not happen as Square's attention understandably turned to its Final Fantasy games, its cash cow of sorts. That said, there's always a part of me that wonders what could and would have been had The Bouncer been more than a mere tech demo under the guise of a full game.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (3DS)

If one were to give an elevator pitch to Intelligent Systems' Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., it could be given as such: "Historic and storybook figures like Abraham Lincoln and the Lion from the Wizard of Oz take on an alien threat in a game with Valkyria Chronicles-like combat." Of course, if one were to give such a pitch, hopefully the person they were giving the pitch to wasn't drinking a cup of coffee, as they would be sure to spit it out in surprise. It's quite an odd premise, but Intelligent Systems managed to make it work with tactical gameplay, focusing on a steam mechanic that is exhausted as players move and attack enemies. Efficiently managing their steam to an effective degree is all the difference between a mission's success and a total failure. Battles were unpredictable and kept players on their toes with their stiff challenge, making for one "One & Done" game that makes this strategy RPG fan lament that we won't be seeing a sequel any time soon.

Dewy's Adventure (Wii)

We conclude this edition of "One & Done" with a trio of Wii titles beginning with Konami's Dewy's Adventure, a delightful fixed camera 3D platformer with a unique control scheme. In Dewy's Adventure, players held the Wii Remote NES controller-style and tilted it forward, backward, leftward and rightward to move the water droplet protagonist through eight worlds of unique challenges and perils. Dewy himself could take on new forms by being frozen or being exposed to heat to solve puzzles and take down enemies that were otherwise invincible in his normal dewdrop form. Dewy's Adventure entered and exited the gaming sphere like morning dew, only to have what little hype it had evaporate into nothingness as many looked past the game. While Konami's other all-new Wii-centered exclusive, Elebits, managed to find enough success for a sequel--though on the Nintendo DS--Dewy's Adventure, unfortunately, did not.

Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure (Wii)

Despite struggling with the motion controls (and sometimes to the point of utter frustration) in this next game on this list, Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure brought with it a charming art style, set of characters, and gorgeous, colorful art style that suited the weak Wii hardware quite well. The game itself was a puzzle adventure game where players needed to find and use tools correctly in order to complete each level, and some of these tools required the use of the Wii Remote's motion and gyro control functionality. Most of the time these worked well, but when they didn't--woo boy! Regardless, part of why I'm devoting three spaces on this edition of "One & Done" to Wii games is because I'm nostalgic for that era of experimental gaming--damning to hell the poorly implemented motion controls that plagued the system notwithstanding. It was an era where we saw some really "out there" ideas and games put forth by big publishers--something in this HD era that is mostly left for indies nowadays (though still appreciated).

We Love Golf! (Wii)

Speaking of Capcom and loosely tied with Zack & Wiki is We Love Golf! Nintendo didn't develop a Mario Golf game for the Wii/DS generation, so instead, its usual golf game partner Camelot turned to Capcom to create We Love Golf! While the assortment of golfers were vanilla and generic as all get out, one could unlock Capcom-inspired costumes from such series like Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Phoenix Wright, and yes, Zack & Wiki. The actual golfing was inspired, and while players didn't swing the Wii Remote like an actual club, a swing motion was required to drive, putt, and otherwise hit the ball through the game's eight 18-hole courses and three unique par 3 courses. I spent so much time with We Love Golf!, and it's a shame that the series didn't continue, though sales show the obvious reason why it didn't. At least we'll always have Mario Golf to look forward to with Camelot and Nintendo.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review Round-Up - November 2019

If SuperPhillip Central reaching its 900th review didn't shock you,
perhaps the quality of Capcom's Resident Evil 2 remake will!
November was the month featuring Thanksgiving for most Americans, and for SuperPhillip Central, the month was like a turkey review-wise--stuffed! Check out the four reviews posted this past month with a brand new, revamped Review Round-Up!

We first took on the Last Resort hotel in Luigi's Mansion 3, a remarkable third entry in the series and one of my favorite games of the year. It used its Poltergust G-00 to suck up an A grade. Next, SuperPhillip Central went questing with an unlikely duo--a cat and a dog--in Cat Quest II, getting a C+.

Moving forward, we then went to different, though familiar territory (or should I say terror-tory?) with Resident Evil 2, SuperPhillip Central's 900th overall review! The game got an excellent A grade. Finally, we took to the mean streets of River City with River City Girls, kicking butt and earning a C+ for its troubles.

Check out every review ever posted on SuperPhillip Central with the SPC Review Archive!

Luigi's Mansion 3 (NSW) - A

Thankfully, as noted endlessly within this review, Luigi's Mansion 3 is also just amazing to play. Each floor I played, each boss I encountered, and each secret I discovered brought me so much joy. Luigi's Mansion 3 is just a pleasure to play, and the hotel setting is a wonderful compromise between the connected mansion of the 2001 original and the more disjointed mission-based structure of its Nintendo 3DS sequel, Dark Moon. I foresee plenty of my future gaming time being devoted to tackling those last achievements in the game, despite my needing to cover other, more pressing titles coming out. Alas, I think you're most definitely worth it, Luigi's Mansion 3. Like a friendly ghost, I won't mind you "haunting" me for a little while longer since you're one of the best games of the year.

Cat Quest II (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) - C+

Cat Quest II is a game that certainly doesn't outstay its welcome, as I feel any further padding would just add to the occasional tedium and repetition I felt while playing the game at times. For this reason, for me, the game was best to play in bursts rather than an extended period of time (other than my first gaming session with it). Filled with charming personality, clever humor, a colorful world, satisfyingly simple and accessible combat, and enough cat and dog puns to last you till you wait for the inevitable third installment, Cat Quest II is far from purr-fect but by no means a cat-astrophe either.

Resident Evil 2 (PS4, XB1, PC) - A

Resident Evil VII had brought the Resident Evil franchise back to its former glory days, and now with Resident Evil 2, the series has ushered in a brand-new golden age. Resident Evil 2 is a sensational remake in every sense of the word. Capcom didn't rest on its laurels by just upgrading its graphics and gameplay--it totally reworked the game to modern game standards, and the end product is without question one of the best games released this year. Resident Evil 2 isn't just good--it's scary good.

River City Girls (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC) - C+

I would say that between the gorgeous sprites and detailed backgrounds, the mostly amusing combat, the fun enough script, and plentiful bonus content that River City Girls is indeed worth its $30 price tag. While I won't find myself continuing to return to this type of beat-em-up as much as say, a more linear, focused type like Double Dragon or even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, I did like my time with River City Girls regardless. The humor's hit and miss, the game can grow a bit repetitive, but as a whole, the River City Girls kick butt.
November isn't known for being a particularly scary month (having to spend time with your family aside),
but for SuperPhillip Central, our highlighted games this past month were of the creepy variety!