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DS Racing Games: Mario Kart vs. Speed Racer by Mischief Maker 06/16/2010, 12:59am PDT
Okay, fuck Mario Kart. Fuck it in the ear. I've always been ambivalent toward the Mario series. Even as a kid, to me they were the tech demos Nintendo bundles to show off the new hardware, the real games are the ones you buy separately. The love showered on the Mario Kart was especially puzzling to me. Why were people so enthusiastic about a game where stuffed animals slowly race around on go-karts when F-Zero is RIGHT THERE and lets you race rocket hovercrafts?

Fast forward to the present. I was getting sick of DS games that look like they were made for the super nintendo and wanted SOMETHING to show off the 3D capabilities of the system. Mario Kart is consistently #1 or #2 on "Best DS games of all time" lists and most of the slavering tongue-baths that pass for reviews of this game ended on the note, "Hey, it's MARIO KART, what more do we need to say?" So I picket it up, years after it was released, still selling for the full $30 (which was quite a rude awakening when I had just previously bought Outrun 2006 for only $10).

Wow does Mario Kart suck! Yep, pretty much what I thought it was, a bunch of stuffed animals slowly tooling around on go-karts. Add to that a cheating bitch of an AI and the fact that if you're in first place you NEVER get the good powerups, and if you're at the end and get the good powerups, enjoy shooting them ineffectually because you've already lost to the aforementioned AI. Plus the stages are lame. Luigi's Mansion, racing around a haunted mansion with ghosts and possessed furniture, how could you fuck that up? How about by only having 10% of the race happen in the mansion, and the rest spent getting stuck in the muddy surrounding swamp. But even WORSE are the classic SNES tracks, carefully rendered in an accurate imitation of the shitty Mode 7 effects. Boy, this game would suffer if those green pipes were rendered as 3D objects instead of 2D sprites on a flat plain as Jesus intended.

The only explanation I can come up with for the adoring praise showered on this game and the series in general is that, like Goldeneye, people played this with friends in the dorms and got an inflated opinion of the game that way. Played alone in an airport terminal, its shittiness is allowed to shine through.

And who the fuck thought rapidly sliding from left to right on the D pad was fun???

Speed Racer, on the other hand, is a multi-platform tie-in for a Wachowski Brothers movie that I picked up on a whim from a bargain bin. All indicators point to suck. Yet! It's a zillion times better than Mario Kart and possibly the best racer on the DS.

Let me quickly temper the review by saying it's definitely not perfect, a solid 8.5 out of 10. Still, wow! What a difference from slow boring Mario Kart. It plays like a goofy mix of F-Zero and Burnout. You zoom around on these crazy loop-de-loop rollercoaster tracks performing aerial tricks and smashing up enemy cars to build your rocket boost meter. The four wheels on your car rotate independantly so you can race and steer at full speed sideways or backward, but you need to face forward to use your batman jet booster. It's impossible to crash, but grinding the rails, fucking up your tricks, or getting successfully attacked by enemy cars loses you speed and the game's rubberband AI is very unforgiving. The environments are bright and colorful (Did you hear that, GTA Chinatown Wars? Color!) and the sense of speed is exhilarating

The thing that amazes me about this game is it runs at a steady 60 fps! Might and Magic CoH, a 2d turn-based puzzle quest clone has slowdown! Bangai-O is an entire game built around bringing the DS processor to its knees quickly and frequently. Yet here I am zooming at full speed through colorful complex environments with a fully 3d car against 3d car opponents and I've yet to encounter any noticeable slowdown. How does a multi-platform movie-tie-in game end up more technically competent than dedicated DS games? Seriously, if you discount Ninja Gaiden, which uses 3d characters on prerendered backgrounds ala. Resident Evil 1, this could be the most graphically impressive game on the system.

It does have one huge glaring flaw. When you're close on an opponent's tail, a little B appears over them. If you hit the B button, your two cars enter an orange zoomy line anime bullet time while the easiest Quicktime event in the world plays out and the AI always sucks at it. If you succeed, you knock the opponent back a little ways and get a big increase to your boost meter. It's really easy to use this technique to leapfrog your way to first place early in a race. The one thing that mitigates it is the more difficult non-quicktime methods of crashing opponents are quicker and more effective and trying to eke a last minute victory with this technique will fail because it takes several seconds and your target can cross the finish line before you hit him.

Still, great underrated game a zillion times better than stupid fucking Mario Kart. It's not in the slightest bit realistic, but you're playing with a fucking D-pad so how "sim" can your racers even get? If you see it in a bargain bin, snatch it up!
DS Racing Games: Mario Kart vs. Speed Racer by Mischief Maker 06/16/2010, 12:59am PDT
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