Monday 1 August 2011

E14 Ideas

Here at E14, you'll have noticed that we regularly engage our critical faculties in order to best recommend purchases in all manner of media things to you, the fine E14ies. However, this week, I thought I'd weigh in with some of the things that I think could not only work well, but also be really, really bollocking awesome.

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I got inspired when playing Forza Motorsport 3 the other day, and it got me to thinking that there were gameplay elements of this game, as well as others, which would make for an incredibly engaging experience if applied to another particularly popular racing game. I speak, loyal E14ies, of Mario Kart.

2. My idea for Mario Kart

Recently, the criticism of Nintendo (which is not without merit to a certain degree, though I think the critics go too far at times), is that Nintendo has lost sight of its core fans and have engaged purely with the casual fan when it comes to their core franchises, serving up franchise updates in lieu of new IP. Like I say, it’s not without merit (as the big game to get excited about on Wii currently is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword), but it seems like Nintendo get a bad rap for it, where on Playstation 3, Sony announces a reboot of Twisted Metal and everyone loses their shit. Just saying.

Anyway, the criticism of Mario Kart is that it’s the same-old formula every time. With the exception of Mario Kart: Double Dash, which allowed you the equivalent of a sidecar-rider who could then distribute power-ups and so on, the game has stayed pretty similar in terms of formula. Before anyone says it by the way, I’m well aware that the Wii version of the game added bikes. However, they didn’t really control differently in any significant way, and didn’t really vary up the formula in any significant way where the general gameplay was concerned.

What, then, is the solution? Well, the Wii U promises a significant power upgrade, but Nintendo’s graphics have always been more of a cartoony, colourful décor, rather than going for the hyper-realistic fare sported by the other two consoles. For my money, the hyper-realistic stuff actually ends up looking more artificial, but that’s just me, and I can certainly appreciate the Nintendo style just as well as the other game console styles. In fact, I can regularly be seen playing a so-called “kiddie” game with cartoony graphics, just as often as I can be found slaughtering the Locust Horde on Gears of War.

The solution, therefore, is simple: Use the additional processing power to make the game more robust. I’ve been saying since Resident Evil 4 that graphics could stay where they were, and I’d be really happy to have seen game worlds fleshed out, enemies increased in scale, that sort of thing. It has to be said, too, that a lot of entitled Internet fanboys would have less to complain about if their £40 spend on a new game went a little bit further. Of course, they’d still complain, but you’ll never get rid of that unless you make every game free and everyone just made money from wishes. Even then they’d probably dislike the rate of money they got from each wish.

Anyway, this is my suggestion for the Mario Kart franchise. In line with my assertion that the future of gaming should be lengthier, more in-depth experiences, developers could send Mario Kart in precisely that direction. Of course, it goes without saying that the traditional mechanics associated with the game could still remain, as Blur proved that there’s a market for games which employ power-ups alongside more in-depth racing mechanics, and ended up being critically popular if not commercially successful.

So in order to make it more in-depth, this is what I propose. Firstly, keep the existing mechanics available and in-place, but maybe call it the “Casual” or “Arcade” mode. This could go for all the different modes, including the existing Mario Grand Prix mode. As it currently stands, the player goes through 4 races accumulating points to win the various cups, and there are initially four different track combinations available. Grand Prix races come in three different speed variants: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc, with additional reverse tracks once you’ve completed all three speeds. So that’s 16 tracks, 3 speeds, 3 laps each, with options for a 4th course once you’ve done all the speed variants. If that doesn’t seem like enough, you might enjoy my new concept for the series.

By adding in a “Grand Prix” mode proper, instead of what would find its way into the “Arcade” mode, users would be able to get a more in-depth experience. Even something as simple as increasing the number of laps per race from 3 to 10-15 would be a step in the right direction. Being as the wave of the future is going towards competitive multiplayer, particularly in the online space, this’d make for some much more immersive (and of course longer) multiplayer sessions. Having competed in a number of long races on various racing games, I can say that if anything you get even more immersed. Rainbow Road, in particular, would be epic.

Better yet, add some more depth to it by increasing the number of cars on the tracks (you might have to make the courses a touch wider to accommodate, but it’s totally doable). Now, it’s true enough that Formula 1 races are traditionally run with 22 cars, but even I think that would be a bit of a stretch, unless you started to throw in characters from other franchises. Hey, it happened in Super Smash Bros: Melee, where they threw in Sonic as well as Solid Snake, so it’s conceivable that Sonic could make his way into Mario Kart, particularly as his own racing series hasn’t caught on.

Also of note in terms of things to be included could be the qualifying. It’d be somewhat necessary, if for no other reason than to improve track position on a now crowded racetrack. It’d only need to be one lap, as there’d be no real sense in making it any longer. After all, you don’t want it lasting more than an hour realistically, as it’s still going to be arcade racing at the core. Or is it?

So let’s go to the racing element. The success of Forza Motorsport and games like Gran Turismo shows that there is absolutely plenty of scope for games with a heavy amount of customisation when it comes to tuning up cars. Now, that would then lend itself to different cars, different tuning set-ups and so on, but I’m not saying that the game needs to go into such depth as to have fuel refills or tyre changes and so on. The model in Forza Motorsport 3, where cars drive through the pit lane at a limited speed, then come out with a perfectly repaired car having lost about 5-10 seconds, is absolutely fine, and would work well in this instance.

Agree? Disagree? Thought of more ideas I didn’t cover? The “Comments” section below is the place for you! Let’s just agree on this much: there are worse applications of the franchise than the one I just pitched. Case in point:

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