Tuesday, May 5, 2009

AA looks at: Wild Riders and Mario Kart GP

The only other arcade games of note that I saw at T&R's funhouse were Wild Riders and Mario Kart, by Sega and Namco/Nintendo.

Wild Riders was designed for the Naomi 2 arcade hardware(as seen in Virtua Fighter 4) and features a cel-shaded graphical style that resembles Jet Set Radio. In this game you're on a motorcycle trying to get away from the cops while sliding under objects and jumping ramps. The Controls are pretty simplistic as you use handlebars for turning/accleration/braking and you can push them forward to slide or pull back to jump.

I didn't find it particularly good. Though it came out in 2001 it feels quite shallow in comparison to Daytona USA or even Outrun. There's really not much to do aside from dodge stuff and going over/under things. I'd still give it at least one look because it's got style to burn but if you try it once and don't like it and/or don't get far don't feel too bad as to me at least this game just didn't feel like being worth the trouble. Also the game suffers from a lack of feedback when you make mistakes. Compared to Crazy Taxi where when you screw up you've got your customers yelling at you, your car slowing down or stopping(or worse) when run into police cars all they do is fly out of the way. Wouldn't that be a good thing? Sure you hear some murmuring in the background insinuating that it probably isn't a good idea and smacking into one too many things can lead to a game over(since you're constantly pursued if the cops catch up to you're a goner) it still doesn't feel like enough to really change the way I was playing(it also doesn't help that ramming cop cars off the road is more fun than not ramming cop cars off the road).

Mario Kart GP was done using the Triforce hardware. This short-lived piece of work was a joint development by Sega, Namco, and Nintendo to produce arcade games. One of the results of this setup is the fantastic F-Zero AX(though Gamecube fans are more familiar with the console version known as GX, which actually includes the arcade tracks and racers if you're a phenomenal gamer or have a cheat device handy). 

This game however well I don't really know what to think but I can't say I enjoyed it at all. Before finally getting the chance to check it out I heard many not so great things about it. This was odd to me because Mario Kart is a hard formula to mess up. You take all of your favorite Mario characters, put them in race carts, and engage in a whimsical grand prix filled with cameos of various characters from the series serving as obstacles while you take down rivals using a large variety of weapons like turtle shells, banana peels, and so on to win. I'm not a particularly huge fan of the series but I've yet to play a Mario Kart I didn't have fun with.

This one though...To start with the player chooses from a variety of Mario or Namco characters(I went with Pac-man). Then one chooses a difficulty from 50 cc to 150 cc(which determines vehicle speed, AI levels, and so on) and then a Grand Prix(which is broken up into four races with three laps a piece. The races are pretty standard fare. You race around the track(don't expect anything overly difficult here, most of the tracks are fairly easy to maneuver through), pick up items(which are shown as a question mark block on the road) that can be used on rivals, and grab coins which increase the top speed of the vehicle. 

Essentially I've described how every Mario Kart plays out right? Well now let me talk about where it goes wrong. First off I'm not really an aesthetics kind of guy. If you've been reading this blog for awhile you'll notice I don't care about storylines and I won't even mention things like graphics and sound in the games I look at. But in this version of Mario Kart I really wanted to strangle the announcer. You know the guys who watch you play a racing game and yell stuff like "Oh man he's catching up!" "Great job throwing that weapon!" and "Yeah those guys are never going to catch up!"? Well take that and multiply the occurences by ten and make the voice doubly annoying and you have something resembling the announcer in Mario Kart GP. Granted Namco is no stranger to this sort of thing as the Ridge Racers tend to have a DJ keeping track of everything going on. This at times is useful like in Ridge Racer 6 when the guy mentions everytime somebody uses nitrous to speed up so you can react accordingly. It gets annoying sure but it's still nowhere near as bad as in Mario Kart GP. 

The weapon system has been modified quite a bit as well, and not exactly for the better. Most of the time in Mario Karts all of the items are available throughout the race though at least in the later versions you tend to get different items depending on where what place you are when you pick them up(this has been the subject of some criticism as well since players in last place are more likely to stumble upon blue shells, which home in on the first place racer and take them out in a large explosion). GP however eschews that and the items tend to be one of three(which are determined before the race actually starts) This seems pointless though as most of the time if you're in first it's possible you won't find anything like mushrooms or the like to help you get further ahead of the pack or even bananas to potentially mess up people closing in on you. So it's not surprising that you're more likely to be stuck holding a weapon with nothing to do with it. Also the game seems to have implemented some targeting system that allows any weapon to home in on an opponent if the player can keep them in their sights for a certain period of time. Mario Karts already have a weapon like this known as the homing shell, was this targeting system necessary at all? If anything it's more frustrating since you're more likely to get beaned by things and there's little you can do about it(especially if the weapon set doesn't give you banana peels or another similar weapon). I'm not even sure if the game allows you to toss weapons behind you(which is a feature in newer Mario Karts). I'll have to check again but this brings me to the biggest issue I have with the game.

Starting a Grand Prix in Mario Kart Arcade costs $1(depending on the arcade). Finishing a Grand Prix on the other hand will run you another $1.50. Why? Well no matter if you win or lose a race in order to advance to the next stage you have to insert 50 cents. I'm sorry but that's just terrible. All this does is bring to mind arcade games like NBA Jam where in order to play a full game it could cost as much as $2. Just to finish a career it could take up to $60, and that's provided you win every game. Why not just buy the console version then? I didn't even bother to continue the grand prix after that as I was too disgusted to bother. 

Feel free to yell at me for not spending more time with this game but from the little I played I didn't find it compelling enough to waste a bunch of cash and with Mario Karts available on practically every Nintendo console an arcade version(even if it does boast online play and a machine that takes your picture) simply feels obsolete. Sure these kinds of games may be good for arcade-owners as they bring in a lot of money so players can maintain their stats and gain levelups to upgrade their gear but to lock out such a substantial portion of the game to gamers without deep pockets strikes me as horrible design(and like anything else I dislike a substantial number of arcade games today are the kind where you can save your stats, grind for exp, and so on and so forth). 

Also this isn't AA related but I visited a local game store known as "Level 8" which was located close-by. The selection is kind of lacking but it looks clean, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, there was Drakengard 2 music playing, and I got near-mint copies of Breath of Fire 4 and Gradius V for 19.99 and 12.99 respectively. If you're in the area there's no harm in giving it a look. 

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