Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ghost's Angry Reviews: The Mario Kart Problem

Here we go!
Last Week on Facebook Messenger

Me: One review I want to do soonish is "The Mario Kart Problem"

Daman: Oh man, the Mairo Kart problem INDEED.  Mario Kart is the only racing game I play LOL

Me: Same here... anymore at least.  One thing I do miss about the F-Zero series is the feeling of speed.  You went REALLY fast in those games.

Daman: I feel like Mario Kart just needs to be faster.  Idk

Me: Eh... too much faster will take away the fun and weirdness of it.  It's about perfect where it is.  We just need more games that give us a different racing experience for those of us who want it.

 OH, SON OF A....
(Please note: the above sequence ACTUALLY happened.  It was not made up for the sake of this review.  It was...too perfect to not include)

Ghost here, glad you could drop by.   Let's talk about racing.

Whether you realize it or not, racing has become an incredibly popular activity throughout the world.  Whether it's going to your local drag strip to test out your own machine, sitting down at a NASCAR or Formula One race to watch your favorite driver, watching NASCAR, Formula One, or Top Gear at home, or going to the theater to see Furious 7.  I personally can't wait for Furious 8: The Great Longneck Migration!
 but I digress...

It's no wonder with racing being such a prolific part of humanity that this activity would translate over into video games as well.  In fact, it's one of the best ways to experience racing for those of us on the lower end of the skill spectrum.  Racing can be extremely dangerous and costly.  Sure you don't get the adrenaline rush from sitting at home on a computer or console but you still get somewhat of an experience for 1/30th of the cost and no personal risk involved.  It's a great avenue to explore for games, and the video game industry began developing racing games early in the creation of the medium.

The video game industry has an extensive list of great racing games in its past.  There is a long legacy of  burnt rubber and gasoline fumes if we simply take a look back, but for today we're going to focus on Mario Kart and the problem it poses.
Mario Kart 8 to be specific as it is the latest installment of the franchise.

Mario Kart has been around since 1992, and it's almost pointless to talk about it because most people have seen or played one of the numerous versions of the game out there, but for the sake of argument and to make this longer than necessary I shall do so.  It is my M.O. after all.

Mario Kart is a series of racing games in which characters from across the Mario Universe as well as others such as Link from Legend of Zelda get together to race on various tracks in different worlds including but not limited to the following: The Mushroom Kingdom (Mario), Yoshi's Island (Yoshi), Kongo Jungle (Donkey Kong), and Hyrule (Legend of Zelda).  There are, up until April 23rd, three speed settings for you to choose from based on your skill level.  However it's not just a simple racing game, there are boost pads, obstacles, and items that can be used to attack or make the track more difficult for others.  It's the sort of mad house experience you would expect from Mario being in a race.
In recent years it has gone even beyond that.  There have been additions to the carts themselves that have made the game more diverse and interesting.  Dirt bikes and motorcycles started appearing.  The carts and bikes could turn into a hovercraft for when the track didn't stay on the ground; they used this hovering to become aquatic and perform underwater racing.  They even started adding gliders to the backs for aerial jumps and maneuverability. 

However, the single greatest thing to also happen to Mario Kart is the Online Multiplayer!  You no longer have to be in the same room with your friends to be able to race and battle against them.  You can also be placed in a random room full of strangers from across the world and race to your heart's content.  With the randomness, people's skill, and the sheer number of differing vehicles and courses there's fun to last several years, especially with DLC being released to add more fun to the mixture.

Now I know what you might be saying.

Ghost, it sounds like you genuinely like the Mario Kart series.  So what's this problem?

Of course I love the Mario Kart series.  There are few who don't.  But, in my opinion there is one problem with this series that has subtly sneaked in under the radar of most people, and it's not even a problem that's a common one to have.

The Problem

Mario Kart has become too good.

How on earth could being "too good" be a problem?  I and all manner of amateur, half-witted, and professional critics go around all day complaining about games being not good enough or not up to potential; how could I ever say something was too good?  Isn't that backwards thinking?

Well yes and no.  It's true that we want a quality experience to come from our gaming.  We want something that is fantastic and will last.  In the last few years we've even wanted continued support through both free and paid DLC.  Nintendo listened to what we have asked for with Mario Kart 8 and really hit a home run.  It's everything we could have asked for.  They have delivered a supreme quality product and given how Nintendo has been for the last few years, honestly surprised many of us with just how great it is.  Come to think of it, they've been surprising us a lot here lately with them stepping up to the plate for their fans

Before I get into HOW it's too good, let's conduct a BS experiment shall we?  Give me a name of a racing game that has been released in the last seven years that has been either accepted by a very large number of people both hardcore gamers and casual gamers alike, or has been influential in how racing games are made or presented.

Most of you are probably sitting here not thinking of anything.  There may be a few of you who mentioned Need for Speed or Twisted Metal but let's be honest here, you're saying that out of nostalgia for a series you love not because they are influential on a whole anymore.

Now that we've done that and got you thinking, how exactly is Mario Kart TOO good?

Mario Kart has been filled with so much content while maintaining it's level of fun and ingenuity that it basically has eliminated the need for almost every single other racing game in one fashion or another.

Seriously.  Mario Kart could be the only racing game we have at any point and most people probably wouldn't notice or care.   Yes, a few people would would be wanting their Need for Speed and NASCAR simulators but overall what your common video game player will want can be provided by the Mario Kart experience  The proof of this comes from (probably) not only your answer to the question I presented above, but just the simple fact that though racing games aren't exactly my favorite genre, I had to look up what all racing games were even released in the last 7 years aside form Mario Kart but I SURE knew exactly how many Mario Kart Games have been released in that time period.

My own collection of games can reflect this fact as well; completely unintentionally as well.  I only realized the "Mario Kart Problem" a few days ago as of the writing of this.   Let's look at our modern generation and the generation before that.
I've got Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart Wii, and Sonic Riders Zero Gravity.  The latter of which was bought out of sheer curiosity and played maybe 1/20th as much as Mario Kart Wii and that's being generous.

Looking back at previous generations however, before Mario Kart perfected it's craft we have a different story.
I've got Mario Kart Double Dash, Mario Kart 64, and Kirby Air Ride which was a Mario Kart wannabe with half the fun, but I also have Automobili Lamborghini, Star Wars Episode 1 Racer, and F-Zero GX which offered entirely different gameplay experiences.

There simply were more games with more diversity before Mario Kart perfected itself.  Now there's no need for any of those game franchises outside of lingering nostalgia.  You can find almost everything you need in Mario Kart 8.

Need Further Proof?  Let's take a look at some racing games from the past/present and stack them against Mario Kart 8 and see what we have.  Obviously each of these racing games have MORE to offer than what I'm placing in the scenarios below but I'm trying to go with what stands out to me while avoiding repetition.

And for the heck of it
As you can see, destructible surroundings, real life race tracks, and the feeling of using a gas and brake pedal with your foot are pretty much the only things that Mario Kart is missing as a whole.  Well that and a lot of different kinds of real life cars but that could be an easy DLC even for the current game.

I realize that there are markets and people who want that experience of racing in NASCAR; there are people who want the thrills of Twisted Metal and Need for Speed, but with Mario Kart having most of everything you need then, from a producer/developer standpoint, what's the purpose of trying?

And that's my problem.

What Am I Getting At?
Mario Kart has basically perfected the family friendly racing experience.  One simple update or a hardware release could easily even fix the things I mentioned above that the series doesn't currently do.  My problem with this is that especially on a Nintendo console, there's no reason for the company to put any money into any racing experience other than Mario Kart.  It doesn't matter how much you pump into a WiiU release of a Need for Speed Game it will never come close to the content, sales, or likability that the Mario Kart game has, or worse will just be considered a "second hand clone" of Mario Kart.  

If there's no chance of making a difference in the market with the other racing products as-is then racing games will have to go above and beyond to make something different and stand out/beside Mario Kart.  This means taking a risk and potentially a sizable one.  Game developers take fewer and fewer risks now days because there's no guarantee of it selling especially with all the game avenues and indie scenes popping up.  If your only options are to sell poorly because something else exists that does what you want better,  have the potential to sell poorly because of making a mistake with a risk, or pouring your money into another project what has a better chance for success what are you honestly going to do?

Things like Twisted Metal are at a slight advantage in this situation because it has always been a Sony Exclusive.  If you're a Sony fanboy and don't even have or care about a Nintendo product then you're in the clear because Mario Kart isn't messing up your market.   If you're a NASCAR fan and the only experience you want is racing across America as if you were a real NASCAR racer then you're not affected by this either as that's not what Mario Kart is about and you're probably playing the NASCAR game on PC.  There are niche and very specific markets that other racing games can thrive in but they are few and far between. 

I've love to see another Podracing game because Star Wars Episode 1 Racer was a very underrated and wonderful game.  I'd love to see something like a good version of Sonic R come out where the characters are mostly not in cars and doesn't feel like it's piggybacking off Mario Kart's success.  I'd love to see another F-Zero game come out for Nintendo but with Mario Kart hanging out there what are the chances that they would pour money into something that won't sell as well or do as much?  Short answer - they're not.

It's long been said to never bring up a problem unless you have a solution, but in this case, I don't know of a solution to provide.  Nintendo is doing EXACTLY what they should with the Mario Kart series.  They are making it a game that people everywhere, including me, love.  They are going above and beyond with this series and I couldn't be more happy with the Mario Kart 8 experience.  I will keep playing the current one and I will buy the new one when it comes out.  I just wish there was a way for great racing titles, especially F-Zero, to not only be funded and made but to shine at least 3/4ths as brightly as the "almost" perfection of Mario Kart.

This is Ghost fading into the Darkness.
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