Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “mr. scratch”

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch

I had thought that Mario Kart 8 was as close to perfect as the series could get, but it turns out I was wrong because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe manages to improve upon it. Wii U owners, such as myself, may be frustrated that they’re getting a re-release rather than a new game, but I’ve seen Mario Kart 8 take-off on the Switch on a way it never did, or ever really could, on the Wii U.

I won’t talk about the general handling or the tracks or anything like that, because I’ve already covered that in my review for the original game ( and the two DLC packs, which are included here ( & Suffice it to say that the handling is perfect and the tracks diverse, exciting and wonderful.

I’ll focus instead on what is added. I’ll begin with one of the most controversial additions, the introduction of ‘smart steering’ to keep you from falling off the tracks and an auto accelerate option. Some people (utter pricks) have criticised their introduction, saying that it ‘plays the game for you.’ Having these features on do not give you any real advantage, as you will always skip shortcuts and never really power slide or boost effectively. You might win in single player 50CC matches but that’s basically it and I don’t think anyone will consider that to be the core Mario Kart experience. It is something which allows the very young, or perhaps disabled gamers, to access and enjoy the game. How anyone could view this as a bad thing is beyond me. However, one tiny niggle is that the smart steering is put on automatically when you start, and this isn’t really indicated to you. It should default to off and then need to be turned on, not the other way around. This is literally the biggest flaw in the game by the way.

There are a couple of interesting changes to the core gameplay from the original. The first is the ability to hold two items at once, Double Dash style. In practice it doesn’t really change things too much, but it’s something nice to differentiate itself from the original product. I suspect that the more significant change will be the introduction of a third level of boost on the power slide, this time sending up purple sparks. The tracks aren’t designed for its use, with few corners lasting long enough to activate it, but the boost is massive and it feels amazing when you do pull it off. Neither of these changes mess with the almost perfect mechanics of the original game, but offer something a bit different nonetheless.

Easily the biggest difference in the re-introduction of a proper Battle Mode, which has been somewhat neglected after it’s arguable heyday in Mario Kart 64. There are plenty of different modes, from the classic balloon battle to the shine catching game from Double Dash. There are new courses too, with the most striking being one based on Splatoon, complete with soundtrack. The Inkling boy and girl are also introduced as racers in this game. The new Battle Mode rounds out and expands an already rewarding package.

All said though, the best addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is more a function of the Switch console than the game itself. Portable, instant local multiplayer is a game changer. The Switch’s appeal may not be as immediately obvious as the Wii’s, but I think this feature is a system seller. Each player can use a separate Joycon to split0screen race, anywhere you go. The single Joycon isn’t the most comfortable controller in the world and I don’t think anyone will be preferring it to a Pro Controller, but it does work, much better than you might expect. I’m not a fan of online gaming generally; I love multiplayer, but I usually only get that rush of excitement when I’m in the room with whoever I’m competing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows me a vision of a bright future for local multiplayer, something which for many years has been steadily dying.

As a final point, I’ll share a video of what I was doing on Saturday night. For clarity’s sake, I’m the guy who’s amazing at Mario Kart, not the guy who’s amazing at rapping. I’m a good rapper at best. This guy is called Mega Ran by the way and he’s great, go see him. Support independent musicians.

I love this console and I love this game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essential.



Alan Wake’s American Nightmare for XBLA and PC

Alan Wake was a classic example of a diamond in the rough, something which entirely exceeded the sum of its parts. The actual combat didn’t really do anything special, but the atmosphere was truly sinister, creating a creepiness which didn’t simply rely on jump scares. Suffice it to say that Alan Wake 2 would be very welcome in my eyes. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, a spin-off of sorts released on XBLA a couple of years after the first game was released, is not Alan Wake 2.

At the beginning of American Nightmare, our author hero Alan Wake is still stuck in the predicament he was left in at the conclusion of the last game, trapped within the strange, dark dimension beneath Cauldron Lake and thought dead by his family, friends and fans. The appearance in the real world of Mr. Scratch, a doppelganger of Alan and an avatar of pure evil and chaos, necessitates  Alan to force his way into our world. Since the world of darkness is influenced by creativity, in Alan’s case writing, he uses a script he once wrote for the Twilight Zone parody ‘Night Springs’ to enter into an Arizona town of the same name to take down Mr. Scratch.

As with almost everything in this DLC, the ‘Night Springs’ setting feels half baked and never succeeds in living up to its potential. Where the original game did a great job of evoking a strong Twin Peaks/Stephen King vibe, the Twilight Zone pastiche never really picks up. Sure, the odd bit of Twilight Zone style narration is fun, but the environs of American Nightmare never really impress. Part of what made Alan Wake work was that we started out in the day; seeing these pristine and picturesque environments transformed into chilling and oppressive hells was why they worked. American Nightmare skips all that, refusing to take it’s time or pace itself, which cheapens the atmosphere. Possibly the single most egregious element of this game was the repetition of environments. Now, I really hate when games do this, and this is possibly the most obnoxious example that I’ve seen, pathetically justified by the plot. At least in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, a game let down by repetition of environments, a concerted effort was often made to make these environment feel new, such as the flooding of the forest area. This isn’t the case in American Nightmare. There is a motel, an observatory and a drive-in movie theatre. You will fight your way though each three times before this product limps to a close. This is unacceptable, and clearly signals a sharp cut off early in development before this could be properly fleshed out. I honestly think Remedy are better than this.

Alas, the plot of American Nightmare never really comes together either. Mr. Scratch is a great villain; I always enjoy campy villains who know they’re evil, and love it, and Mr. Scratch is certainly one of those. Mr. Scratch and Alan could have made for some interesting duality, but it never really manifests. Alan is basically the same, which is odd considering that he spent the last two years trapped in an unimaginable alien hellhole. American Nightmare employs a time loop structure to justify its repeating use of locations; I love this idea in theory, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is one of my favourite games ever and absolutely mastered the ‘Groundhog Day’ structure, but American Nightmare squanders the potentially interesting idea, just as it squanders almost every bit of potential it has. I did enjoy the return of the manuscript pages, but where in Alan Wake these were used intelligently, sometimes illuminating the past and sometimes giving the player terrifying glimpses into the future, here they seem pretty random, giving us the odd little detail which, whilst usually interesting, never really coheres.

American Nightmare, lacking the atmosphere of the original game, has to fall back on the somewhat suspect mechanics of the old ‘flashlight then shoot’ technique. This actually works really well in small groups of enemies, but with large groups it just doesn’t work. You won’t be doing much else apart from shooting your way through enemies, with little room given for exploring or straying from the track. Don’t get me wrong, the mechanics of Alan Wake’s American Nightmare are functional and solid, but uninspired, and difficult to get excited about.

The voice acting, a high point of the last game, is pretty weak here. It’s a bit difficult to tell whether it’s the writing holding the actors back though, as these characters are written truly awfully. The game actually looks very nice for an XBLA title, with the lighting effects of the torch as impressive as ever, and there are some stunning pre-rendered cut scenes bookending major events in the game. A major step back can be seen in the character animations, which are as stiff and awkward as one would expect in a PS2 game, making potentially tense scenes feel somewhat ridiculous. Now, one element which does live up to the original is the soundtrack. Much as Stephen King packs his novels with references to bands which he loves, Alan Wake was filled with musical cues from figures as diverse as Roy Orbison, David Bowie and Depeche Mode. American Nightmare isn’t long enough to do this, but it’s licensed music still packs a punch, with ‘Club Foot’ by Kasabian used to great effect. Best of all is the return of Poets of the Fall performing as ‘The Old Gods of Asgard’. The Old Gods, aging prog rockers who once fought the darkness with their music as Alan fights it with writing, were probably my favourite element of Alan Wake’s plot, so the return of their music was entirely welcome and works incredibly well. I truly hope that Remedy manage to keep Poets of the Fall on board if they ever make a proper Alan Wake 2.

This review probably reads more negatively than Alan Wake’s American Nightmare warrants. There’s a lot done well here, and at times American Nightmare evokes what made Alan Wake great, but it falls very short of the mark. There’s a laziness to this release which infuriated me, and the plot, so strong in the original, doesn’t really work here. Now, I bought this for half price, and, if you liked Alan Wake, it’s probably worth the money at that cost. At full price? Don’t even think about it. AlanWakesAmericanNightmare

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