ModNation Racers — Issue 42

The mods must be unimpressed

Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers stum­bles at start­ing line despite wealth of options

When you come for the king, you bet­ter not miss. And, as much as Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers tries to come for Mario Kart, it miss­es by quite a wide mile.
Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers tries, I’ll give it that. There’s depth to be had here for an arcade go-kart rac­er. There are var­i­ous modes to jump into, includ­ing a career mode and online and offline play. Addi­tion­al­ly, the cre­ate-a-char­ac­ter and track edi­tors are seri­ous time sinks. A once-thriv­ing and robust online store for all sorts of mods — the name of the game — is still there. The cus­tomiza­tion remains deep, with var­i­ous ways to dress your char­ac­ter and build a rig that suits your aes­thet­ic. This is where Mod­Na­tion has the advan­tage over Mario Kart, and that’s obvi­ous from the get-go. 
But under­neath the sur­face, Mod­Na­tion starts to fal­ter big time. The tracks are gener­ic and bor­ing and are gen­er­al­ly under­whelm­ing with a clunky design to the over­all feel. There was noth­ing that jumped out as inter­est­ing, and they feel slapped togeth­er and cliche. And, equal­ly as bor­ing is the char­ac­ter design. Despite the char­ac­ters being chibi-rac­ers, they aren’t cute. The super-deformed look works when you can pull it off, and Unit­ed Front Games did­n’t suc­ceed here. The char­ac­ters look gener­ic and stale with no personality.
As bland as the char­ac­ter design is, even goofi­er are the con­trols. Kart rac­ing, while not a pre­ci­sion genre, should be easy to con­trol. Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers is not easy to race in, con­sid­er­ing there’s some­thing assigned to every but­ton on the con­troller and then some. On top of that, the con­trols feel impre­cise, loose, and slop­py. Also, the speed lev­els, while cus­tomiz­able, are not tuned prop­er­ly. What should have been the eas­i­est and slow­est speed for a new­com­er still felt like the equiv­a­lent of 150CC in Mario Kart. That’s not easy, and the con­trols are unhelp­ful in deal­ing with that sen­sa­tion of speed. 
Also, some of the rac­ing mechan­ics are ques­tion­able at best. The drift­ing fea­ture is ter­ri­ble; at no point was com­plet­ing a drift pos­si­ble going as fast as I was going. And, the AI’s con­sis­tent abil­i­ty to pre­vent weapon pick­up even on the eas­i­est lev­el was grat­ing as was the con­stant bump­ing into objects and bar­ri­ers. It’s obnox­ious also that there is no weapons dis­play beyond words and a meter. Explain­ing what the weapons are and their effects would have con­tributed to more playing.
Adding insult to injury, the sound­track is gener­ic and for­get­table. Not a sin­gle track stood out, and much like the lev­el design, seemed half-thought-out and lazy. I kept hop­ing and lis­ten­ing for some­thing, any­thing, to pique my inter­est, but I was dis­ap­point­ed there also.
Mod­Na­tion suf­fers from the adage of too much of a good thing. While it’s nice to have the wealth of cus­tomiza­tion options, it comes across as what the kids call “doing too much.” Every­thing seems extra and a lit­tle bit too much. It’s try­ing too hard to tack on a lot of things that are designed to out­shine the com­pe­ti­tion when it should have focused on get­ting the basics cor­rect. Even where there is depth, some­times you have to know where to rein it in, and Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers stum­bles on the steps on the way to cast their bal­lot for them­selves as the king of kart rac­ing. It’s an admirable but ulti­mate­ly flawed chal­lenge to the throne.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) — Issue 40

Mario Kart races back to form in Wii U edition

There comes a time in every Mario Kart fan’s life when you have to make a choice of whether you still love the series or if you don’t. I assume this, of course, because I have no idea if any­one still plays Mario Kart or not. I assume they do, and I just don’t know it. The series hit that fabled peak of ques­tion­abil­i­ty for me when Mario Kart Wii was released. GI wasn’t using a rat­ing scale when we reviewed it (editor’s note: This was reviewed in 3Q2008), but suf­fice to say it would not have received a good score. Mario Kart had a lot of work to redeem itself for me, a long­time lover of the series who start­ed in 1992. The lat­est orig­i­nal entry, Mario Kart 8, has made sig­nif­i­cant effort to pol­ish the series again.
Mario Kart, at its core, has always been about arcade rac­ing. There’s noth­ing real­is­tic about play­ing as var­i­ous Mario and oth­er gen­er­al Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters while romp­ing through var­i­ous Mush­room King­dom locales. It’s always been about the Mario charm expand­ed to fit with­in a palat­able dri­ving scheme that makes any­one a cham­pi­on go-kart enthu­si­ast. Mario Kart 8 does not shirk on this charm. If it’s a mem­o­rable Mario char­ac­ter, they’re prob­a­bly in this game. 
And, in a nod to the appeal of Nin­ten­do crossover and nos­tal­gia, there are new addi­tions from out­side the port­ly mus­ta­chioed plumber’s usu­al sus­pects: You can now play as Ani­mal Crossing’s Isabelle and The Leg­end of Zelda’s Link. While they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tribute any­thing new to the series, their pres­ence is enough to elic­it excite­ment because it means Nin­ten­do is final­ly open­ing Mario Kart up to the gen­er­al ros­ter. There is much to mine from, and if you’re ques­tion­ing any of this, look at the lead Smash Bros. has tak­en in this field.
Mario Kart has always been the sort of series that takes its his­to­ry seri­ous­ly. Entries after Mario Kart: Dou­ble Dash have begun ref­er­enc­ing the pre­vi­ous tracks of yore, some­times with var­ied results. Mario Kart 8 man­ages to gath­er a lot of stel­lar new tracks and some old that aren’t favorites but will suf­fice as entries. A lot of the old­er tracks are from more recent entries but make no mis­take — they are there for the pur­pose of draw­ing you in to remind you of the good times and then send you on your mer­ry way to try the new tracks. Tug­ging at my heart strings with a mod­ern SNES Rain­bow Road remake will get you every­where, though there are caveats to these remakes. 
While the tracks are great graph­i­cal­ly, the music is hit or miss. When I say I want a Rain­bow Road throw­back, I also want the orig­i­nal music to go with it. It doesn’t need a musi­cal over­haul because the orig­i­nal music was bril­liant. I’m not sure why Nin­ten­do thought it need­ed to have the sound remade, but it wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly great deci­sion. Oth­er remas­tered stage choic­es, includ­ing Grum­ble Vol­cano and Music Park, are fine. And a lot of the new tracks are great; Drag­on Drift­way and Excite­bike Are­na are def­i­nite standouts.
Graph­i­cal­ly, the game looks amaz­ing. It’s the best-look­ing Mario Kart pro­duced yet. All the char­ac­ters look life-like, and the stages are incred­i­bly detailed. Even the water par­ti­cle effects look amaz­ing. There are times when there’s a brief lull in action that I can soak up the sur­round­ings, and I’m impressed by the Wii U’s under­stat­ed capa­bil­i­ty. Mario Kart 8 shows what the sys­tem could poten­tial­ly do. It’s a tes­ta­ment also to just how good Mario Kart looks in the mod­ern era.
Now, here’s where we may have some issues. I’m not fond of the AI rub­ber­band­ing, and I haven’t been a fan of it since the Mario Kart 64 days. We are a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry grown up and past that, and we’re still hav­ing issues with last-minute vic­to­ries by the AI. This is a known issue at this point, yet it rears its ugly head still. Also, while a lot of the new tracks are cool — Excite­bike Are­na among the best of the bunch — there are some that do absolute­ly noth­ing for me. Track selec­tion is impor­tant, and this entry has dullards. Big Blue, for what­ev­er rea­son, keeps show­ing up in mod­ern catchall Nin­ten­do games, and it’s here, too. I’m not impressed with the track at all, and they could have come up with some­thing else. 
Also, while I love the Ani­mal Cross­ing track, it needs some­thing else than the series’ cute motif and catchy music. It’s your basic, run of the mill dri­ve around in a loop track, but it needs some­thing else to give it some pop. Same thing goes for the Hyrule track. It’s basic, too. What makes this worse is that the tracks are part of the DLC bun­dle for the game. If you’re ask­ing me to spend hard-earned mon­ey on extras, the extras need to be super spe­cial. I’m not get­ting that with those two tracks, specif­i­cal­ly. Thank­ful­ly, there are oth­er extras to be had that kind of make up for those.
Over­all, this is a sol­id entry in the Mario Kart sphere of influ­ence. This is the best entry in years, and it deserves some high praise for a lot of the things that it gets right. There’s always room for improve­ment, but the rac­ing king con­tin­ues to show why it’s the arcade rac­ing champ and why it con­tin­ues to rule the road of go-karting.

Mario Kart Tour — 4Q2020 issue

Mobile Mario Kart still stuck at start­ing line

Grow­ing up as a gamer, there was always a series I could count on to pro­vide a lot of enjoy­ment: Mario Kart. High qual­i­ty, fun rac­ing ensued as did a famil­iar­i­ty with the sys­tem that made up rac­ing in the Mush­room King­dom. But as time has marched on, there are dark clouds over the king­dom and it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly Bowser’s fault for the fool­ish­ness for once; it’s Nintendo’s greed.

Mario Kart in mobile form has always been a safe bet for the Nin­ten­do rac­ing fan. Being able to race with your favorite Mario char­ac­ters and take it on the go? Where do I sign up? But Mario Kart Tour, the lat­est mobile prop­er­ty for the gam­ing giant, is not a fun tour … er, trip. It’s Mario Kart for the SNES dumb­ed and watered down with gatcha ele­ments tacked on for good measure.

Mario Kart Tour takes the usu­al Mario Kart for­mu­la and adds things like gatcha pulls to unlock spe­cial char­ac­ters, karts and glid­ers, usu­al­ly in the high-end cat­e­go­ry, as well as lev­el up your estab­lished ros­ter. The gatcha pulls are obnox­ious because it’s depen­dent on luck of the draw using real mon­ey to fund the pulls. The real mon­ey — that you’re pulling out of your wal­let — is spent in the form of rubies, which allow you to pull from pipes pos­si­bly con­tain­ing the high-end items in batch­es of one pull for five rubies or 10 pulls for 45 rubies. Though the rubies are mod­er­ate­ly priced, it’s the fact that you must buy the rubies or com­plete some­times ridicu­lous chal­lenges to get rubies that makes it beyond the pale.

And, just as infu­ri­at­ing­ly, there’s the character/kart/glider sys­tem that’s tied to the stages cho­sen for each tour. Each lev­el has three or four spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters that are favored on this track. Usu­al­ly, the char­ac­ters that are favored are the fla­vor of the tour; that is, a char­ac­ter or vari­a­tion cre­at­ed espe­cial­ly for the spe­cif­ic tour. As always, they are high-end and exceed­ing­ly hard to acquire. Because this is tied into the pipe pulls, it’s also a cash grab designed to pull in the most ded­i­cat­ed who have the most mon­ey and time to spend fid­dling around with a mobile game. These “whales,” as they are called in online cir­cles, keep this cash grab going and endorse this con­tin­ued behav­ior from Nin­ten­do, which, in all hon­esty, is atrocious.

In addi­tion to the tool-like sin­gle-play­er mode, there is the mul­ti­play­er mode from hell. I wish I could some­how con­vey the trash-like qual­i­ties of mul­ti­play­er in words, but I’m at a loss with­out get­ting an FCC fine for pro­fan­i­ty. The mul­ti­play­er plays like garbage and ignores any sort of mechan­ics that Tour attempts to cre­ate in the sin­gle-play­er cam­paign. It is utter chaos in every match and those lucky enough to do well have to be doing that with sheer luck. It can’t be from actu­al skill and good mechan­ics, because Tour is miss­ing the mark in both areas.

The mechan­ics, lack­ing in skill and refine­ment, are a seri­ous prob­lem. Now, I’m cog­nizant of the fact that this is a mobile game, so we’re not talk­ing pre­ci­sion like a main entry would have. How­ev­er, this is rough even for a mobile game. Often, drift­ing is dif­fi­cult and ultra mini-tur­bos are next to impos­si­ble. Giv­en that I’ve mas­tered the drift­ing fea­ture in Mario Kart with every entry start­ing from the Nin­ten­do 64 days, I shouldn’t have this much trou­ble main­tain­ing a drift. The com­bo sys­tem, while inter­est­ing and a great fea­ture, is not refined as well as it should be. There should be a meter that shows me the length of time between com­bo actions and how much time I have left if you’re going to tell me that I have a time lim­it on those actions. Some­times, com­bos drop inex­plic­a­bly, ruin­ing a run at a chal­lenge that requires a cer­tain number.

Equal­ly prob­lem­at­ic are the weapons sys­tem and the AI lev­el. I tend to race com­fort­ably on 100cc, but I will race on 150cc and 200cc (with a pur­chased Gold Pass) if I’m work­ing on improv­ing scores in the bi-week­ly ranked cups. In the months since I’ve begun play­ing, I’ve noticed the aggres­sion of the com­put­er-con­trolled karts steadi­ly creep­ing up, which is a prob­lem. It’s most­ly notice­able on the week­ly favored track, which quick­ly gets infu­ri­at­ing when you’re try­ing to main­tain a rank­ing and the com­put­er is hell bent on keep­ing you from achiev­ing this goal. The weapons sys­tem plays a large part in this because it’s near­ly impos­si­ble some­times to receive your character’s spe­cif­ic weapon or a fren­zy or even a use­ful fren­zy despite your char­ac­ter more than like­ly being a high level.

Also low­er­ing Tour’s fun fac­tor is the char­ac­ter sys­tem. As in oth­er games in the series, there are a vari­ety of char­ac­ters from the Mush­room King­dom and Nin­ten­do in gen­er­al that can be and have been added to the ros­ter. The sheer vari­ety is great but the need to unlock and pay for these vari­eties is the prob­lem. It’s greedy as hell that you have to buy rubies to pos­si­bly unlock a char­ac­ter to do well in the fea­tured tour track or mag­i­cal­ly come up with the ways to earn them, which are far and few in between. Basi­cal­ly, Nin­ten­do wants you to spend mon­ey and they’re not afraid to pimp out Mario Kart to achieve this goal, so they’ll nick­el and dime you constantly.

And I hope you love a lot of the tracks already pulled into Tour because track vari­ety is lack­ing. There are a lot of not-fun tracks that seem to be repeat­ed quite often. That decreas­es the enjoy­ment of rac­ing because you know you aren’t going to want to mess around with a cup that has an obnox­ious track (I’m glar­ing at you, 3DS Rain­bow Road).

Visu­al­ly, Tour is fine. It looks like Mario Kart and has all the ele­ments of the rac­ing god we’ve come to know and love. As a mat­ter of fact, the game looks like a bet­ter ver­sion of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, just below Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. Those oft-repeat­ed tracks are gor­geous recre­ations of old faith­ful favorites from the SNES, Nin­ten­do 64 and Game Boy Advance titles with a few new cities of the world tracks thrown in the mix. In the begin­ning there were a lot of dif­fer­ent city tracks, but because of the pan­dem­ic, work on the tour has been kept to already estab­lished tracks from the series that can quick­ly be con­vert­ed for use in Tour.

Musi­cal­ly, Mario Kart is known as hav­ing a banger sound­track for every game. Tour doesn’t slouch in that depart­ment with the new tracks, but it does mess up with some of the old­er tracks. I’m not quite sure how a game can get one part of the sound­track right but mess up the oth­er parts, but Tour some­how man­ages to do it. Any of the new tracks that were cre­at­ed for Tour are excel­lent. The menu themes are excel­lent, as well, with new tunes mixed in with remixed favorites from pre­vi­ous games. But then you get to an old­er track, let’s say Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES. It does not sound the same as the orig­i­nal ver­sion at all. The pitch sounds off by a few notes, as if some­one recre­at­ed it for Tour and kind of, sort of remem­bered the way the orig­i­nal sound­ed. Rain­bow Road from the SNES has the same prob­lem. It sort of resem­bles the orig­i­nal tunes but also … not real­ly. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get from tour to tour, so I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get my hopes up in terms of music qual­i­ty when I see an old­er track announced.

All my prob­lems with Mario Kart Tour are fix­able, but that’s up to Nin­ten­do to work on and decide if it’s worth it this far in. With increas­ing fre­quen­cy, how­ev­er, I find myself say­ing this might be the part of the Tour that’s my last stop.