Monthly Archives: March 2013

Go-Karts Built For Two

After last week’s lengthy report on Metal Gear Solid 2 and the reasons I did not enjoy it, I’d like to break things up with a brief ode to one of my favorite games from my college career: Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

DD6

Double Dash was released in 2003, 7 years after Mario Kart 64, it’s direct predecessor. If you have played a Mario Kart game, you know what to expect here. You pick a pair of racers and a kart and then try to cross the finish line first while throwing all manner of debris at your opponents to try to slow them down. There are a few different modes, but I usually just stick to the grand prix.

The other modes are “Balloon Battle”, “Shine Thief”, and “Bob-omb Blast”. These are more direct pvp modes where you drive around an arena and try to pop your opponents’ balloons, steal the “shine sprite” from them, and blow them up with bombs respectively. I don’t know much about them because I’ve only ever played the grand prix mode. I play Mario Kart to race, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this post.

DD5

I would estimate that I’ve put at least 200 hours into this game since I got it in 2005, almost all of it devoted to multiplayer with my college roommate and other friends. I am a person who spends a lot of time playing video games and loves them from deep within the recesses of my soul. When I got to school I was met with a college roommate who had grown up on a farm and never owned a video game system. He dabbled a bit in fighting games and SSX with me in our first year, but it wasn’t until we played Double Dash at a friend’s house that he found a game that really clicked with him. We still play it to this day whenever we get together! There are a few reasons for him liking this game that I think also point to why it’s such a great multiplayer experience:

Cartoony, timeless visuals

Double Dash is a Mario game produced by Nintendo, so it follows that the visuals are goofy and timeless. Nintendo really understands how to create graphics that don’t age and I would wager that Double Dash still looks just as good in motion as it did when I first got it. You haven’t lived until you see a pleased Petey Pirahna flapping his leaves in the wind after a victory.

Perfect learning curve

DD1

The game has 4 different difficulties disguised as engine sizes for your kart (50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and mirror) with 4 grand prix circuits of escalating complexity for each difficulty. Essentially, Double Dash has 16 difficulty levels that slowly force the player to introduce new techniques like powersliding and slide dashes into their game in order to compete. The circuits are short too; if you find yourself out of your depth, you only have to suffer for 4 races before you can go back a circuit and practice your technique.

Like riding a bike

DD2

The controls for individual actions, even the advanced techniques, never ask you to press more than one button at once in conjunction with the control stick. This makes controlling your kart a simple endeavor and it’s easy to pick Double Dash up again after you haven’t played for a few months.

You’re never out of the race or Screw your friends

DD4

In Double Dash, you can pick up items to use against your opponent by running into the item boxes that litter the track. If you’re in first or second, you’ll probably just get a green (non-homing) shell or a banana peel, but if you’re close to the back of the pack, your chances are high to get lightening bolts that shrink all of your opponents or a blue shell that homes in on the lead kart. Rather than using a “slingshot” mechanic, whereby racers in the back get increased speed in hopes of catching the lead kart, Mario Kart uses this item based system to keep every race fair. At least fairer for the people in the back anyways.

If you’re playing the single player mode, the losing racers’ ability to get powerful items is an infuriating decision, because the computer blue shelling you at the end of the last race of a circuit and knocking you into second is awful. However, in multiplayer mode, this gives every player a chance to win, particularly if they’re smart about using powerful items and forcing people into ditches or pits. Mechanics like this don’t make a balanced game fit for a tournament, but they do make it a lot more fun to play with friends of varying skill levels.

Consistent computer controlled threats

DD3

Petey Piranha, King Boo, and Wario are the “best” computer controlled opponents, meaning that they end up in first a lot. I think this was a great choice by the developers. Having a full racing field, but only having 3 of them be truly threatening, gives them a bit of extra personality that makes you try harder to hit them with shells and cuss a little more when they pass you. The three have earned the nicknames “The Plant,” “The Ghost,” and “The Fat Kid,” from my roommate, which, even if they’re not the most creative names, shows that they engender a bit of extra animosity from players who aren’t even familiar with the Mario universe.

Voice acting

The voice acting in Double Dash is a small point and it was a criticism against the game in some circles, but I love the character voices in this game. Using a combination of Daisy and Birdo to annoy your opponents or anyone else unlucky enough to be in the room by switching them repeatedly and having them alternately say “Hi I’m Daisy!” and “ROOOWWWRRR” over and over again is still one of the great pleasures in video games. Here is a short video of the technique in action:

See how annoying? It’s just brilliant.

That’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! I imagine that my roommate and I will continue to play this game whenever we meet until our Wii’s crap out. It’s not a great single-player experience, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. The game embodies everything that a multi-player game should be about: accessible controls, handicaps for the people who need them, and screwing your friends.

Metal Gear Solid 2 Is Disappointing

I finished Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty about 3 weeks ago and I’ve been putting off writing about it because I couldn’t decide what I thought of it. I’ve now come to the conclusion that the game was tiring and not really worth the effort of suffering through it. I played the original PS2 version and used that for screenshots rather than the HD re-release because I already owned the PS2 version.

MGS2-9

Released in 2001, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is the sequel to the original Metal Gear Solid (MGS) that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The first quarter of MGS2, called the “Tanker Chapter”, is played with Solid Snake two years after the original game. Snake has joined an organization whose purpose is to stop the proliferation of Metal Gears, heavily armed walking tanks  that are becoming the standard in military groups all over the world. Snake is trying to find the new Metal Gear model that was developed by the Marines on an oil tanker to take photos of it and leak them to the press. The last three quarters of the game, called the “Plant Chapter” is played as a new character named Raiden two years after the “Tanker Chapter”. Raiden is to break into a marine chemical plant and rescue the President of the U.S., who is being held hostage by a terrorist group called “Dead Cell”. When the president is saved, he reveals that American society and politics are controlled by a shadow group called “The Sons of Liberty”. Their complex machinations are to blame for the events of both games and for the convoluted plot in MGS2.

Here are my thoughts on the game:

Characters

The characters and their designs stand up to the pedigree of what was established in the first game. They’re creative and outlandish without jumping the shark. See what I mean:

Solid Snake

Solid Snake

Solid Snake is gruff, world-weary, and emotionally scarred, just like in the last game. In a hilarious twist, he spends a lot of this game going by the name Iriquois Pliskin. Kurt Russell and I are tickled.

Raiden

Raiden

Raiden is the player character for the majority of the game. Raiden’s usurpation of Snake’s leading role was controversial at the time of this game’s release. See the further reading section for an article on this. Disappointingly, he only uses the sword in his character art at the end of the game. Fortunately, a game completely devoted to Raiden and his sword just got released.

MGS2-10

The Internet has always led me to believe that he is a crappy character, but that wasn’t the case for me. In fact, he came as a welcome reprieve from Snake’s melodrama and feelings. In short, it was nice to play as a dope who didn’t know what he was doing instead of a grizzled war veteran with regrets.

Olga Gurlukovich

Olga Gurlukovich

Olga starts the game as an enemy helping to overtake the tanker in the “Tanker Chapter”, but later switches sides to release Raiden from imprisonment. She is motivated by her child, who has been kidnapped by The Sons of Liberty and will be killed if Olga doesn’t comply with their demands. Olga’s boss fight is the only one in this game I really like. It’s just a shootout where she uses environmental obstacles like tarps and lights to screw with your aim. It’s extremely simple and elegantly executed. Also, she has armpit hair.

Fortune

Fortune

Fortune is one of the three members of the terrorist group known as Dead Cell. At the end of the “Tanker Chapter”, her father, a  marine general, dies at the hands of Revolver Ocelot, pushing her into a suicidal depression. Since her father’s death, Fortune has wanted nothing more than to die, and joined Dead Cell for this reason. Unfortunately for her, Fortune’s power makes bullets change their course and go around her rather than hitting her, meaning that she can’t be killed in a gunfight. Her appearances are excellent…I’ve always found this kind of suicidal nihilism in characters alluring and she just oozes it. She has some unfortunate things happen to her later in the game that I’ll save for my Ladies of MGS post later. Her skin is notably darker in the game than it is in any of her concept art.

Fatman

Fatman

Fatman is the second member of Dead Cell. He is, as his name suggests, a fat man. What his name doesn’t tell you is that he’s obsessed with explosives and rides rollerblades, in what may be the only known appearance of rollerblades in popular media after 1996. Fatman’s coat is also invulnerable to bullets. It’s times like these when I wonder why it’s only video game antagonists that seem to have the technology to create things like bullet proof trench coats. His reason for joining Dead Cell is a vainglorious wish to be remembered for his bombs after he dies. While he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, you do spend the first half of the “Plant Chapter” running around and disarming the bombs he’s placed all over the plant.

Vamp

Vamp

Vamp could be the most ridiculous character I’ve met yet in the Metal Gear franchise. He has a vampiric taste for blood, acquired after he was forced to live off the blood of his family while he was trapped in the rubble of a destroyed church. He also has been implanted with nanomachines that grant him extreme agility and speed along with the ability to heal quickly. Vamp is also a knife expert. These things are not why he is named Vamp though. He is called Vamp because, according to Snake, he is bisexual and had an affair with the Marine general (also Fortune’s dad) that was killed in the Tanker chapter. Now he’s good friends with Fortune and a part of Dead Cell.

This type of thing is one reason that I have hard time caring about the story in this game. The story spends so much time twisting in on itself that it becomes an incestuous fairy tale that I just can’t abide.

MGS2-10

Backstory aside, Vamp is still a fun character. He is vampire, garlic allergy or not. Vamp dies several times during the game, only to rise up and fight again. I happen to know he appears in MGS4 and am excited to see what Kojima does with him there.

Solidus Snake

Solidus Snake is the apparent leader of the operation to take over the chemical treatment plant and has enlisted Dead Cell to help him do so. You can tell Solidus Snake is the leader from his stylish cape and eye patch. He spends the first part of the plant chapter with the name “Solid Snake” until the real Snake calls him out. Solidus wears a suit that allows him to become a Reagan-era hard body at the drop of a hat, granting him super strength and speed. At the end of the game, he finds out he’s been duped by the Sons of Liberty and Dead Cell. Yes, both organizations have been playing him. It’s almost enough to make you feel bad for him.

Revolver Ocelot

Revolver Ocelot

Revolver Ocelot is a return character from the first game, this time serving as the chief antagonist of the game. He double crosses Dead Cell, Solidus, and the Sons of Liberty, proving himself to be one bad mother. His character design is still spaghettiwestern-tastic with his duster, spurs, moustache, and revolver, but he has had his arm replaced with the arm of Liquid Snake, who was killed at the end of the first game. Ocelot surprisingly good with his new hand, but the arm also carries the consciousness of Liquid, which seeks to overtake Ocelot from time to time. Eventually, through Ocelot, Liquid gains control of a Metal Gear Rex unit and blows everything up. If I remember from my brief time with the MGS4, Ocelot eventually gets completely overtaken by Liquid, which is disappointing, because his Western bravado is really interesting in this modern terrorism ridden universe.

Boss Fights

The boss characters are exciting and creative, but the boss fights less impressive.

Take the fight with Fortune midway through the plant chapter. Since Fortune can’t be hit by bullets, the player has to hide from her for around 90 seconds and not get hit by the boxes she’s flinging around the room with her rail gun. That’s all. You just run from box pile to box pile trying not to get hit.

Fatman’s fight consists of disarming bombs, tripping him with mines, and then shooting his exposed head when he falls over.

The fight against Solidus and Vamp riding a harrier jet is exactly the same as the helicopter fight from the first game, stinger launcher and all.

These encounters lack the intricacies that were involved in every fight in the first game. The boss fights wouldn’t have been a big deal to have re-use all of the boss fight patterns from the first game if it would have meant avoiding these pedestrian charades. The fact that they just took one fight from the first game makes it seem like they ran out of ideas. To my mind, there’s nothing in this game on the same level as the bosses in the first game, particularly the tank and the Metal Gear fight.

Speaking of Metal Gears, the most disappointing fight for me in MGS2 is the one with 9 Metal Gear Rexes at the end of the game. Metal Gears are the eponymous walking tanks, so this fight sounds like it should be intense, but it’s just a slog. The problem with a fight like this is that if you’re fighting a lot of big enemies on one life bar, they all have to have short life bars or it will get frustrating for the average player. In this case, the short life bar of Rex makes you wonder what the threat was in the first place. Normally, enemies in fights like this are holograms or something similar to explain the small life bars away. Here, we have one man with one rocket launcher that kills 9 of these things and this is what the world is frightened of? I don’t buy it.

Gameplay

The gameplay is much improved from the first game with the advent of the dual shock joystick as part of the control scheme. The player character goes where you want him to and controlling him doesn’t hurt my thumb anymore. I appreciated the ability to shoot from first person as well rather than using Snake’s unwieldy laser pointer.

MGS2-11

Punching and kicking is still a bear, but there aren’t any forced hand-to-hand segments in this game, so while the hand to hand controls aren’t any better than they were in the first game, they’re never a hindrance. In conclusion, the game is an absolute joy when it’s letting you play, which leads to my next point.

Cutscenes

MGS2 is a mess in terms of pacing and it’s because of the interminable cutscenes. This is Metal Gear Solid‘s thing and I understand that, but the game suffers for it.

I replayed the tanker chapter the other night to record some things. Since I knew what I was doing, I should have been able to breeze through it. I would have been able to, but the cutscenes took longer than my gameplay did, so my time investment doubled. I spent as long watching cutscenes as I did playing.

MGS2-12

It’s even worse in the plant chapter, which I’m playing through again now. I can expect to enjoy gameplay segments of 2-4 minutes before a cutscene plays. The cutscene will probably be 3-5 minutes.

I don’t understand how this game is so beloved if it doesn’t even let you play! There are many different meanings for the word “game”, but I don’t think any of them involve watching this many cutscenes. The end of the game is an atrocity, with two 15+ minute cutscenes bookending a 2 minute battle with the final boss. The gameplay to cutscene ratio is completely out of hand. All of this for a preachy story about how we’re all valuable and we can all make a difference. Ugh. Hideo Kojima has all of these interesting characters and he’s spending time showing me how my actions can make a difference in the world? It all feels like a waste.

MGS2-13

If the story weren’t so convoluted OR if it weren’t so melodramatic OR if it weren’t so preachy, then I might have more patience for it and all of these cutscenes. Unfortunately for my attention span, this game hits all three of those buttons almost constantly.

What canon??

First, some explanation. In MGS, you acquired a special item depending on whether or not you made it through the torture sequence with Ocelot. This would affect which character, Meryl or Otacon, you were able to save at the end and the survivor would give you the support item that they were using throughout the game. Otacon gave you his stealth camo, which makes Snake invisible, and Meryl gave you her headband, granting Snake infinite ammo.

Now for the confusing part. For the entirety of the “Tanker Chapter” and when Snake reappears later in the game, Otacon is acting as Snake’s tactical support. Snake uses a stealth camo unit at the start of the game, so this makes sense. At the end of the game, Raiden worries that Snake will run out of ammo, but Snake cheekily points to the bandanna on his head as if to say, “Don’t trouble yourself, friend. I have infinite ammo.” This comes after 6-7 hours of game where there has been no mention of Meryl at all. Ugh. Where did the headband come from? I’m not normally a stickler for this stuff, but come on. One of them had to die. I happen to know that both characters actually show up in the fourth game, so maybe the first game did the Dallas dream thing and never actually happened? Hard telling.

In conclusion, I’m feeling pretty lukewarm about the Metal Gear Solid series just now. The first one was good fun, but the second game felt like the people that made it either didn’t care or didn’t respect the people that are playing their games. It’s hard to feel loved when they never let you play their game.

SO MANY CUTSCENES. Maybe they should just make a computer animated feature length film.

The Dorkly agrees with me.

The Dorkly agrees with me.

It would help if I could drum up a little interest in the story, but I just can’t. Everything is happening so far beyond Snake and Raiden’s control that it felt at times like they may as well not even be present in the game. Of course they’re involved in the plot, so maybe it’s me who shouldn’t be there.

I’ve committed myself to playing through all four of the core MGS games, so I’m going to, but I’m starting to think I won’t like it very much. The gameplay, like I said earlier, is excellent, and hopefully it will be able to shine through more as the series moves along. This series is loved by lots of people, including several people I hold in high esteem, so we’ll see where it takes me.

Further Reading
Metal Gear Solid 2: Gaming’s Greatest Con Job by Jeremy Parish
On Playing Metal Gear Solid 15 Years Later by Me