Coins in Mario Kart 8

After 1 month, I’m finally done with summer camp! And while it was an awesome month, I’m glad to be back home, sitting at my computer and typing this blog post up. I was originally going to just do a little update, but I’ve been wanting to write about this since I left for camp: coins in Mario Kart 8.

I’ve enjoyed almost every game in the Mario Kart series since its inception, and Mario Kart 8 is the first one that I don’t really enjoy playing. I’ve only really played it once. There are a number of reasons why I don’t like this game (all gameplay related – the visuals and music are phenomenal, I think the biggest reason is the re-inclusion of coins from Super Mario Kart.

For those of you who don’t know, in Mario Kart 8 you can have up to 10 coins. These coins increase your maximum top speed as well as your boost speed. If you are hit or you fall off the map, you lose 3 coins. This opens up a couple problems right off the bat:

Speedier Karts/Bikes/Characters are better:

I love Toad. He’s one of my favorite Mario characters. However, he’s a light character, so he’s pretty slow. Normally, this is offset by having better acceleration and off road speed. With coins in play, having less coins than a speedier character/kart almost always results in me trailing farther and farther behind. Without coins at least I can try and get some items or do some skillful drifting to catch up, but that’s more difficult when you have 4 coins and they have 7 and are cruising on ahead considerably faster than you.

Rubber Banding (or same place syndrome):

Because of how significant the speed boost is from coins, the rubber banding from items is diminished in its effectiveness. Given two characters of same character and vehicle, one with 10 coins can go about the same speed as one with 0 coins and a Star/Mushroom. That’s absolutely ridiculous, and can sometimes lead to what I call Same Place Syndrome. Let’s say you’re in 2nd place, and you get hit with a red shell and a green shell at 10 coins. You now have 4, and people speed on by you with more coins. If this happens, you may find yourself in 6th/7th/8th place for the rest of the race. This has happened to me and a bunch of people I’ve observed playing a lot, and it’s incredibly frustrating when you feel like the items can’t help propel you forward just because you’ve got less coins.

Conversely, if you’re in first with 10 coins, sometimes you can rocket so far ahead of the pack (assuming they’re not collecting coins like you are) that being hit with two blue shells won’t even come close to putting you in 2nd, especially since one of the items you get commonly in first place are a coin item that gives you two coins.

The first lap becomes a coin collecting contest:

The first lap, I think, is pretty crucial. The players that collect more coins will stay at the top (unless combo’d hard by items), and those that don’t will find themselves struggling until they collect more for the whole race.

It’s disappointing that a game I was really looking forward to has, in my opinion, an awful mechanic for what the series stands for. It looks great, plays great (controls are amazing), and has a memorable soundtrack, but coins really take a lot of fun out of the game for me. I will say that I think coins are an amazing addition to Time Trials, as I think strategic collection of coins leads to increased depth in that area, but otherwise, coins need to go.

Just Sayin’.

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My Super Smash Bros Wii U/3DS demo consensus

E3 has come and gone, the Super Smash Bros. Invitational has passed, and I got to play both the 3DS and Wii U versions of  the new Super Smash Bros. game (which I will be labeling as “Smash 4“). Here’s my take:

NOTE: This game is not in its final stage. It is still in development! Mechanics can (and probably will) change.

What is it like?

It’s like Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Brawl). It felt less floaty and faster, but it definitely retained the Brawl feel. The music and the overall look is great. The move streaks are an awesome touch, and I’m loving some of the new characters. I only got to play as Kirby (my old Brawl main) and Villager, but I had fun playing both!

Also Smash Run is going to be the best mode of all time.

Game Mechanics:

The Good:

– A lot of people were complaining about aerial landing lag, but I didn’t see a lot of it. With both Villager and Kirby, landing on the ground with an aerial felt exactly like it did in Brawl. I was still able to link Kirby’s Back Air -> Forward Tilt, which requires little landing lag on the Back Air. Some characters have a lot of landing lag (See: Marth), but overall the game didn’t look like a total lag fest when landing with aerials. I have no idea why everyone’s complaining when it seems to be only a few characters.

– The hit lag, while more than Brawl, feels really satisfying when you hit. Grabbing someone also feels satisfying.

– Air dodging into the ground produces significant lag. This is great because it used to be an incredibly safe option in Brawl, and now it can be punished. Also they appear to be much shorter, which is great.

– The jab finishers are really cool. I hated all the rapid-jabs, so I’m glad they’re gone.

– Hit Stun can’t be canceled with an air dodge. Combos do exist!

– The new ledge mechanics to prevent sharking are cool. I’m actually on board with the whole “kick-off” mechanic, too.

The Bad: 

– No dash dancing. I think this is something Smash 4 needs so that the primary movement isn’t air-based.

– Throws are really odd. It’s very hard to follow up with them and it doesn’t really put the thrown opponent in a bad spot so it feels like they’re always the less superior choice. A few characters, however (MegaMan and Villager are the two that come to mind) have some follow ups out of throws.

– KO’ing takes a very long time. I saw people live up to 150% from Smash attacks.

– Auto sweet spot ledges with Up B.

And that’s really all I have to say about it. Overall, I’m really hopefully for Smash 4. I was worried I wasn’t going to like it, but after watching the Invitational and playing both versions myself, I can confidently say that I’m very excited for this game!

Just Sayin’

REVIEW: Super Mario 3D World

Apologies for last week; school has just started and so I was a little preoccupied with transitioning into school mode. But, enough of that, it’s time to review Super Mario 3D World!

I won’t bore you with the plot or characters. It’s standard Mario fare, except Peach is a character you play and the victims are a group of fairies. What’s really important is the gameplay.

Gameplay:

If I were to sum up the gameplay of Super Mario 3D World, it’d be “wow”. With this addition each character (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad) has different properties – Mario is the most balanced, Luigi jumps the highest (but is a little slippery), Peach can float (but is the slowest), and Toad is the fastest (but jumps the lowest). This allows for some pretty interesting gameplay choices within each level, as some characters have a vastly easier time with certain platforming elements depending on the level.

Speaking of levels, the level design is fantastic, and you can see the thought put into the 4-player co-op with each level. While the worlds are pretty standard (Grassy, water, desert, lava, etc…), I loved most of the designs, some of them proving to be quite challenging.

Because each level doesn’t brutally murder you for having 4 players (like New Super Mario. Bros), playing with friends is very fun. The twist to playing with multiple players is that, instead of everyone having their own lives, the players are share them. That means that playing with friends, while more fun, is also much more dangerous. Expect game overs, even if you’re experienced with Mario games. My brother and I probably accumulated 3 or 4 game overs throughout the main portion of the game due to us sharing lives.

Thankfully, unlike in New Super Mario Bros., you cannot bubble in the air. This is great because it means you can’t just haphazardly attempt to make a jump and just bubble to safety. I always hated that feature because it decreased the game’s difficulty while playing multiplayer. I like how punishing it is now, because it forces cooperation. The ONLY problem with bubbling is that you can get out yourself, and sometimes, the bubble will hover above an abyss and you’ll pop out yourself and die again (I can’t tell you how many times this happened to me). Even near land, the bubble would literally hover just off the ledge and so you had to wait until you popped out. I would rather get back to the action as fast as possible, not wait 10 seconds for the bubble to be over land so I don’t die again.

Oh, and let’s not forget the new power up, the Cat Bell, which transforms Mario and co. into a cat that can dive and climb walls. This is, without a doubt, the best power up Mario has ever used. Platforming is a breeze once you master how to use the cat suit. It’s an awesome power up, and the little “meow!” that Mario and co. say after beating a level is absolutely priceless.

Atmosphere:

There’s not a lot to say, unfortunately. Pretty standard Mario fare, although I liked a lot of the level designs and the art. Nothing really captured me, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it.

———

All in all, Super Mario 3D World is a fantastic game, especially for co-op. If you’re a Mario fan that still loves the series or even someone who’s been a little bored with the series, I recommend it. It’s a breath of fresh air to the Mario franchise co-op wise, and that’s something, I think, a lot of Mario fans have been yearning for since New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Gameplay: 10/10
Atmosphere: 7/10
Final Score: 9/10

Just Sayin’

OPINION: Smash – the Items, the Stages, the Random

Recently, thanks to the good graces of Smashboards on Facebook, I came upon a Super Smash Bros. for WiiU stage discussion thread. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, in competitive Smash certain stages are banned from competitive play, making stage lists an element when it comes to tournaments.

Generally, legal stages are “flat/plat” (flat or flat with platforms only) stages, such as Battlefield or Final Destination, and this causes a rift between more liberal and conservative (in terms of stages and even items) competitive players. The thread I was reading was basically an amalgamation of these two kinds of players arguing with each other about what stages should be legal (and some even saying items should be included).

I thought I’d chime in with my own opinion.

I don’t like stages with hazards (and when I mean hazards, I mean the F-Zero racers in Mute City/Port Town Aero Dive, the lava on Brinstar, the cannon and bombs on Halberd, the bullet bill on Peach’s Castle (in Super Smash Bros. Melee) and random stage changes (Pictochat, Brinstar Depths, WarioWare, to name a few). To me, I think these introduce a certain amount of randomness that not even the best players can avoid at times, and it leads to unfair advantages at no cost to the player given the advantage.

Some people will argue that these new elements introduce a new layer of depth to the competitive game. A player should not only know his character and match-ups, but also the hazards and timers for each stage (while random, many stages have a “timer” that tells the stage when to spawn a hazard or change the stage). The same case can be made for items.

The other argument for a more liberal stage list and items are that “there’s an equal chance that it will happen to everybody”.

I could have agreed with these two statements…but I also play Pokemon competitively.

Pokemon is a game that, no matter what, randomness is an inherent part of the game. In Smash, you have the option of turning off items and stages. You do not have that option in Pokemon. In Pokemon, there is no choice to learn risk management and randomizer mitigation – you have to to be a successful player. The best players in Pokemon are consistent because of this. Yet, yet, there is always that time that something goes horribly wrong. “Hax” is a term thrown around in Pokemon, namely because of the randomness in the game. While consistent, some of the best players will lose games because of an unlucky critical hit, freeze, extra turn of sleep, full paralysis, miss, flinch, or confusion hit. All of these (except for critical hit) result in a wasted turn.

Despite all the training one can do, when it comes down to it that one critical hit or full paralysis can be completely game-changing, yet it stays at 25% chance for paralysis no matter what. There’s always a 10% chance Ice Beam will freeze, but sometimes it freezes two turns in a row, sometimes it never freezes. Sometimes a pokemon will hit itself 4 times in a row in confusion. It’s an equal 50% chance for every pokemon that is confused, but it’s still random. Sometimes, despite all efforts to mitigate risk and “hax”, it still happens, and you end up losing because of it, despite being the better player.

This is something that competitive Pokemon players have come to terms with, but in a game where you have the ability to test who is better with raw skill only by turning off random elements, I don’t see why you wouldn’t. Pokemon, while popular, can be scoffed at because of its inherent randomness. No one wants to lose a game they should have won because their opponent got the critical hit they needed to win the game (in fact, I lost a game of Pokemon I played this morning because of a critical hit). You’re playing the odds sometimes, and that takes no thought – all you’re thinking at that point is, “If I get a critical hit this turn, I’ll win.” Notice the ‘if’, there. You have no control over whether or not you get a critical hit the next turn. There’s no depth there. There’s a ton of depth in trying to mitigate odds and maximizing your risk/reward safely (which Pokemon has and is what makes it satisfying to play for me), but you can’t ‘mitigate’ odds in Smash. There’s no move that prevents the lava from rising or to make Pictochat have the spikes come and not the trampolines. All you can do is hope that that capsule you just grabbed is an explosive. Hopefully that Pokeball you just got isn’t Goldeen.

There’s something to be said about how Pokemon can deal with risk, despite the inherent randomness involved in playing it competitively. You can make plays to protect yourself from “hax”. There are moves in the game that stop status effects (Safeguard and Taunt, namely). You can’t do that in Smash, but what you can do in Smash is turn off items and stages that have random effects. Turning off items and hazardous stages is the Safegaurd in competitive Smash. It doesn’t matter that there’s an equal chance you’ll both get an item or hit by the stage hazards. There’s a 20% chance for every pokemon that’s frozen to thaw out but some thaw out the next turn, some never thaw out the rest of the match, and some thaw out the turn they’re frozen.

There’s clearly no skill involved in a pokemon being frozen. There’s no depth there. So, I ask you, where’s the depth in that % chance that your capsule’s an explosive one or that once the timer activates, Pictochat spawns the man’s head that blows wind instead of the piranha plant?

I love items in Smash. I love crazy stages that screw people over. I enjoy playing on them them. I do NOT enjoy playing on them when I want to prove that I’m better than someone else. I want to know that I won because I made the better plays; not because a bomb dropped on you while attacking my shield, and not because the Pictochat spikes appeared right as you were jumping to avoid an attack I made.

Just Sayin’.

Smash 4 thoughts

So, last week was E3, and with it came a lot of really awesome stuff (my favorite of which was probably Sony sniping Microsoft about everything people were complaining about the Xbox One), including a trailer and a Nintendo Direct with Sakurai about the next installment of the Super Smash Bros. series. As a long-time fan and past competitor in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I was excited. My thoughts:

– Villager is INSANELY hype. This was, by far, my favorite addition to the game. This man alone has spawned a ton of hype around the Internet at large depicting him as some sort of demonic figure, which I think is hilarious. I will definitely be using him as my main character or a secondary after Kirby.


MegaMan was also a big surprise, and I think it’s cool they secured him He looks really cool, and I think he’ll be shaking up the metagame competitively. Of course, he won’t be able to do anything against Villager.


– In what is probably the most ridiculous thing Sakurai has done (in a good way), the trainer from Wii Fit is now a character. While a lot of people have been complaining, I LOVE that Sakurai decided to put in such a well-known but obscure character. She looks really fun.


Before I head into the more mechanical side of the game, let me say what I want to be in this game. I like every Smash game. Brawl is my favorite, but it has some very noticeable flaws (as does Melee). This game, I’m hoping, will aim to correct some of those mistakes.


The three big things I want out of this game:


     – Brawl ledges with Melee ledge-grab mechanics.


Let me explain. In Brawl, there’s something know as “auto sweet spot”, which means a character doesn’t need to be perfect about recovery, and will instantly snap to the ledge and grab it. In Melee, this isn’t the case. You have to sweet spot the ledge yourself. However, in Melee, if you roll off the ledge and are CLEARLY off the ledge, your opponent cannot grab it until your roll animation has ended. That’s dumb. Combining the good parts about both games’ ledge mechanics will make for a better ledge-game.


     – Bring back hitstun


In Brawl, you can cancel your hitstun with an air dodge or move. This makes DI less important and combos nigh-impossible. Basically make it what Melee does, and give the characters real hitstun.


     – No grab armor


I don’t know if this is true in Melee, but in Brawl you can grab through a move so that you take the damage but get the grab. This is ridiculously overpowered and can ruin competitive play when it happens by chance since no one attempts to grab armor moves. Take it out so that grabs aren’t overpowered.


Luckily, I got to see a video of an actual match at the Nintendo show floor at E3, and luckily, it looks like at least one of my three has been met. There’s hitstun.


What I also noticed:


– No auto sweet spot


– Brawl’s air dodge


– No tripping


It’s been confirmed that there’s no tripping, which is good (although it never bothered me to begin with) for those who hated it. I’m very happy they kept Brawl’s air dodge. I think it’s way better than Melee’s. Overall, the game looks faster, too.


The art looks amazing. Even on the 3DS the game looks crisp, but on the Wii U it looks fantastic. The move particle effects are really nice, too, as Smash games have never really had particles come out with their moves. You can definitely see Namco’s influence, there.


The new Smash is really looking good to me. Hopefully my other two big criteria are met. Even if they aren’t, the game’s looking good enough for me to jump back into the competitive scene, so I’m very excited for its release. If you’re a Smash fan, I’d go check out smashbros.com for more info about the characters and some videos. It’s lookin’ hype!!


Just sayin’

Was E3 2012 as horrible as it was made out to be?

E3, one of the big gaming events of the year, was last week, and although I had finals, I did take some time to explore E3 and what it had to offer. As I perused, I noticed that almost everyone held the same opinion about the event as a whole – that it sucked. And I found myself disagreeing. Ultimately, I think it’s because too many gamers aren’t critically thinking about what decisions each company has to make and because they were expecting big surprises, but I digress; let’s dive into the big three conferences, first:

Microsoft:

This was the worst conference according to popular opinion, and I do agree that Microsoft’s was under the bar. There was a lot of ‘apps’ being shown and not a lot of games – of course, there was Halo 4, Gears of War, and the like, but this is a problem that every company had – a lot of their games shown were of franchises that have been out for years. In short, they’re safe bets, but I’ll talk about why I don’t think this is that bad later. Besides that, Smart Glass looks cool – if they can pull something off with it next year I’ll be impressed.

It seems to me that Microsoft is trying its arrest to be that one system that every family wants to have – a true entertainment hub. Honestly, I think it’ll do fine – great, even – if it gets there. I think anyone can see why they’re trying to go for the ‘entertainment hub’ angle. If they beat Sony to the punch, they’ll pull out ahead.

Sony:

Sony’s was definitely better – a new God of War, Tomb Raider, Beyond, and The Last of Us all looked solid, and as you can see, a mix of some newer games. There was a lot about the Vita and ‘apps’, though, which disappointed a lot of people, but like Microsoft, Sony is trying to be a hub of entertainment for people. Sony’s style usually is, “take something and make it better,” so when you look at how Sony has developed, it’s easy to see why they’re trying to bring out new material to show that they can make better ‘apps’ than Microsoft and Nintendo. And they still had some great-looking games thrown in. The Wonderbook is a huge source of anger for gamers, but I found this to be fascinating. I realize that many hardcore gamers think this is trash, but look at the possibilities! Now, Sony has a way to compete with Nintendo for younger ages. In a market where Nintendo generally dominates the younger market thanks to kid-friendly characters like Mario and Kirby, parents may now decide to purchase a Playstation and Wonderbook instead.

It has to be good, so I’m not really sold, but it has a lot of potential.

Nintendo:

Because Nintendo is more of a first-party developer than a third-party one like Microsoft and Sony, it had a lot more on the line when it came to their franchises. What’s more, it had 3 conferences to cover everything it wanted to. I only saw the press conference and 3DS Showcase, so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

The press conference, I thought, was just as good as Sony’s. The Wii U looks awesome, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. What really jumped at me was Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Pikmin 3, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, and ZombiU. All of them look awesome, and because I am a huge fan of Nintendo, I do intend to purchase all of those games. The Super Mario’s looked good, and Nintendo Land looked interesting and fun. One of my problems with the conference was how long they took to explain one mini-game in Nintendo Land. It was really stupid. Besides that, Nintendo’s press conference, I thought, was good.

Their 3DS showcase was, for me, AWESOME. I got to finally see some real Paper Mario: Sticker Star gameplay, which I’ve been wanting for a long time, and hearing the New Super Mario Bros. 2 is co-op was a pleasant surprise. The new Castlevania game coming to 3DS looked nice, and they showed Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance with better trailers than ones I had seen before. The new Epic Mickey I did not care for, and it didn’t look very good to me.

——

All in all, I enjoyed all three conferences, which many people I talked to were surprised to hear. Many wanted something new and big. They wanted a huge surprise like Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs (which does look sick!) but instead got games that were, as I said before, safe bets. But that isn’t bad. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all laid their new cards (Wii U, Smart Glass, Wonderbook) on the table, and to complement that they laid out games that will, more or less, sell well. This allows them to work on new games and hopefully have some big surprises next year.

The 3DS showcase garnered a lot of disappointment because it only showed games we had already heard of and games releasing this year, and this is not just Nintendo – all three companies were getting complaints about this. To that, I ask – why would they show you something that’s going to be released next year? Wouldn’t that be something for another event like the Tokyo Game Show? Maybe next year’s E3? It just didn’t make sense to me.

While I was watching the 3DS showcase, all the comments were, “Where’s the new Animal Crossing/Zelda/Fire Emblem?!” Hey, guys, ever thought about them coming out next year? Why get gameplay for something that’s not going to come out for another year or two? That’s a stupid thing to do, in my opinion.

Just wait until next year’s E3 – that’s when I think all the surprises are coming. For now, I’ll be content with my Super Mario’s and Paper Mario‘s and ZombiU.

Just Sayin’.

P.S.: I would comment on the booths, but I wasn’t there. I heard all of them had way more games than showcased during the presentations, so that’s good to hear!