Tag Archives: Arcade Racing

Carmageddon: Max Damage Review

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Ah Carmageddon. It probably seems esoteric now, but twenty years ago (man time files, and boy am I old.) it was a pretty big deal. It was a racer that involved wrecking other cars, wanton destruction, and the wholesale vehicular manslaughter of pedestrians. It caught the ire of the same people upset about the absurd violence of games like DOOM, and Mortal Kombat. So when it was ported to consoles, in some regions it was heavily censored. The game led to two sequels. One was a pretty decent one. The other not so much. So here we are with the fourth game all of these years later. How does it fare?

PROS: Still has gory comedic violence. Fun tracks, and vehicles.

CONS: Not a big visual leap over the old games. No improvements to handling.

WHAT?: Power ups are crazy.

I enjoyed the original Carmageddon back in the day. The sequel was also pretty fun. It was juvenile. It was full of stupid humor. But there was a certain amount of charm in it all. Running over pedestrians for time bonuses, destroying opponents to steal their car, all on dangerous, and silly themed races. There were issues with the games like the inconsistent enemy A.I., and the bad handling causing you to spin out fairly easily. But the underlying game under it all was still goofy fun. Visually these games weren’t much to look at, the car models were blocky, and the pedestrians were even more lo-fi. But that made the mayhem more comedic so you didn’t mind so much.

And the audio, man, was it good. The voice samples, and dialogue went along with it fantastically. Plus it had a pretty cool soundtrack. It was pretty good. But the third game changed things up a bit too much for some, and not nearly enough for others. Plus it didn’t come out in the best state from what I remember. It kind of came, and quietly went. Carmageddon went dormant for a long time.

Over that time,  Interplay, the game’s publisher went into all kinds of financial woes, and the IP ended up at Square Enix. Stainless Games would finally get the IP back in their hands, and upon doing so, brought out the fourth game in the series. First as Carmageddon: Reincarnation, and now that it’s got a console port it’s been retitled Carmageddon: Max Damage. So after all of these years, and all of this time, how does this new game hold up?

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It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Visually, the game does look better than the first three games. But not by very much. This version has some advanced lighting effects, and some other visual cues. But the vehicles themselves are still fairly low on the details, and the pedestrians are still blocky people you’ve been smearing over the pavement since Carmageddon II.  The PC version does feature a robust set of options, so if it taxes your hardware, you can lower some settings. The sound is the same sort of scenario. The sound quality is a bit better than the old games. It doesn’t sound as compressed, and there’s still a hard rock soundtrack to jam along to while destroying other drivers.

Carmageddon: Max Damage also follows the same rules as the second game. You start out picking one of two vehicles, and racing sets of events to unlock new ones. Each set generally has three or more events you need to win in order to get a stamp of approval. Win enough of them, and you’ll unlock the next set of events. You don’t have to play every event to unlock the next set, though it is recommended because you’re more likely to unlock every set that way.

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During the events you can also find tokens that can be spent on upgrades for your vehicle. You definitely need to upgrade your vehicle because later races feature more aggressive opponents who will destroy you pretty quickly if you’re unprepared. To keep yourself from being destroyed, you must keep up scoring points. You get points (and time) for running over people, doing crazy stunts, and blowing up racers.

There are several event types in each set. Some of these are a traditional race, where you need to place first to advance. Others are challenges where you have to get to a certain number of checkpoints first, or kill a number of specific people first. Often times there will be a specific opponent for you to destroy, and in doing so you get to keep their vehicle for your garage. And then the best are the classic events where you can go for whichever goal you want. Killing racers, running over people, or winning the race.

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During the events as you’re earning points doing all of those over-the-top things you’ll start getting rear ended. Or jammed into a wall. Or knocked off of a cliff. All of which start to severely damage your vehicle. The damages will affect how your car handles too. So if you get T-boned you may end up only being able to take left turns. Or you could bang up the front end to the point the car barely runs. You can even get into situations where the car’s engine is shot, and you have no tires.

This is why you need to earn points. You can use the points to fix your car on the fly, or recover your vehicle if it falls into a chasm. Now if you rack up an insane score, you can spend a large chunk of it to constantly keep your car in pristine condition. This makes the game considerably easier. But it still isn’t a cakewalk. Especially as you progress, and begin dealing with more, and more aggressive A.I. There are also Mario Kart styled power ups you can find by driving into oil drums. Some of these are useful, like the Sith Lord Force lightning that you can use to electrocute opponents. Others are just silly, and ultimately useless, like the one that makes you wobble.  Still there are others that are there to troll you, like the power up that blows your car in half, and could lead to a loss if an enemy hits you afterward.

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In between events you can spend the tokens you find on upgrades for your vehicles. These are drip fed to you through the game though because certain upgrades are only purchasable at certain levels. This gives the game some replay value as you can go back with a beefier car to play older events you’ve skipped. But at the same time it can be annoying when you’ve found 7 tokens, and can’t spend them on what you want even though you have enough currency.

The main problem with this one though, is the fact that it hasn’t improved the driving physics over the old games very much. Far too often you’ll find yourself spinning out after attempting to make a hard corner. Or you’ll find the rag doll physics when trying to roll your car over either don’t move enough, or move too much making getting yourself re-oriented an annoyance. It doesn’t make the game a bad one, but it is a big enough annoyance to take you out of the experience. It’s enough of a distraction, you may find yourself playing it in short bursts rather than several hours.

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This isn’t to say Carmageddon: Max Damage isn’t fun. As long as you enjoy dark humor, and cartoon violence it’s got a lot under the hood you’ll enjoy. One of the really cool things I’m glad to see has been retained is the replay feature. When you finish any event in the game you can go back, and re-watch it. As you’re watching it again, you can experiment with a ton of different camera settings. You can change the point of view, for different parts of the play back, you can fast forward, rewind or pause video. You can even take the HUD off if you want. This is also where you can get some laughs, as this is where you’re most likely to listen for the voice samples, and pay attention to the gore. Because when you’re trying to actually win a race you’re probably most focused on driving or other goals.

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The game also supports Mods you can get in the Steam Workshop on PC, and the game supports multiplayer. There isn’t much of an online play community here, but the ability to play the game with a friend does add some fun to the package. I like that this is a game that supports LAN though, so if you do have a few people coming over with laptops, you can do classic multiplayer through your home network.

Overall, Carmageddon Max Damage isn’t a bad game. But it isn’t something I’d tell you is a must-buy either. A big chunk of the package depends on your sense of humor. If you like dark, and violent comedy then you’ll get some laughs out of it, and it is competent in its modes. The thing is, it doesn’t excel at any one racing mode. If the mechanics had been vastly improved over the old games it would be worth a recommendation. But it really hasn’t. If you’re looking to add a technically sound arcade racer to your game collection, there are better options. But if you want something to make you laugh at a preposterous send-up of Death Race, you could easily do worse.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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Reposted Review: Road Rash 64

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(Originally published on the defunct Retro Retreat)

The lauded Electronic Arts series lands on the N64. Except that this entry was not made or published by EA. Confused yet?

Originally an exclusive for the Genesis, Road Rash saw rare ports on the Amiga, Game Boy, before a quick reboot on the 3DO, and Windows before disappearing awhile. EA also brought it over to the Playstation as Road Rash 3D, and took one last stab with Jailbreak. But Electronic Arts final attempts on the Playstation failed to capture the 16-Bit glory days of the series on Sega’s most popular console. Enter the late, THQ with a grand proposal.

PROS: Truly captures the feel of the Genesis classics. 4 player split screen.

CONS: Like F-Zero X it goes with low poly counts. With worse textures.

WEIRD BUT TRUE: The game totally calls bull crap on you for gaming the system.

Back in 1999  (Has it been 13 years already?) a strange thing happened. It’s not uncommon to find late ports of titles showing up on a competing platform. It is however strange to see a franchise entry be created by a developer with no apparent ties to that franchise’s IP. Stranger to see that entry be published by a publisher that doesn’t own that IP.

Strangest of all, seeing that title in a store, on a shelf, and all completely legitimate.

But that’s exactly what happened. Back in the early 90′s, Electronic Arts published a 3 game motorcycle combat racing series called Road Rash. A Genesis exclusive, the first title later saw ports to the Commodore Amiga computer, and the Game Boy handheld. As it’s ports were not on traditional consoles, anyone who wanted to play the series on the big screen had to buy a Genesis. It was a great series too. Going head to head against friends, while you swung bats at each other while driving bikes at 200 mph was a blast.

So much so that gamers temporarily put aside the petty console war, and challenged each other whenever they ended up at the Sega kid’s house on a Saturday. The series briefly made an appearance on the 3DO when EA founder Trip Hawkins left to create the 3DO company. That version made it to Windows 95. After the 3DO was defeated by the Playstation, and it’s rivals however, EA would bring the motorcycle combat racer to Sony. When they did bring over Road Rash as Road Rash 3D though, they toned down a lot of the fighting aspects, and focused on the racing portions. This probably would have been passable among the series’ most ardent fans if not for the fact that RR3D had no multiplayer mode whatsoever. EA tried to make up for it with Road Rash Jailbreak, (USA gamers got it late) and reception while not bad, was still a far cry from it’s days on the Genesis.

Enter the late THQ. Around this time it was finding pretty modest success on the Nintendo 64 with it’s World Wrestling Federation games, and previous World Championship Wrestling titles. Besides this, the publisher always seemed to attempt filling gaps on the platform. It tried publishing Quest 64 during the N64 launch period to give RPG fans something to play in the wake of losing Final Fantasy. While that was a very blunderous miscalculation, with today’s title the practice was one of their successes.

THQ contacted EA, and worked out a publishing deal to make their own original motorcycle battle racer using the Road Rash moniker. They certainly didn’t squander the opportunity.

Road Rash 64 took everything fans knew, and loved about the Genesis games, then amped them up to eleven. Moreover, the game even did a few things some of your favorite modern racers do. Like the 16-Bit originals, RR64 will have you racing against other psychotic bikers in violent races for blood sport. Make it from point A to B in one piece while placing in the top three you qualify for the next race. Make it through all the races, and you will find yourself in the next circuit. RR64 also does all of this on one large map. While being A to B distance racing, the game does not put up any invisible walls. You can feel free to drive off-road, drive lines through “S” winds of track, or even attempt to skip long areas of track.

But don’t think that any of that will help you. Because Road Rash 64 also calls you out for being conniving. Get used to seeing the question “Cheat much?” crop up in red, and white if you do anything the developers found questionable. If you flat-out try to skip a race by driving around the preplanned route, right to the end you can expect your bike to mysteriously break down while a warning “Cheaters never prosper.” taunts you. You won’t want to break down either, because each breakdown takes away prize money. Prize money is very important in this game because you need it to buy bikes. Why do you need bikes?  Because later circuits require faster bikes to enter. If you can’t afford a bike that meets the race requirements, you can’t progress. So you’ve been warned.

The game also brings back police chases. Biker cops will show up to crash your party. Unlike the other bikers who may need to keep making you total your bike until it can’t race anymore, the police only need to make you crash once to arrest you. Get arrested, you lose money for bail. Run out of money, and it’s game over. So not getting arrested is just as important as not crashing, and having the nicer bikes. Be that as it may, the real fun of the game ARE indeed the fights, and crashes. Road Rash 64 features amazingly, hilarious crashes. Where other games will infuriate you because one tiny mistake cost you a victory, here you will laugh, and wonder how your racer is still alive. It even has an award called “Cascade”. It will pop up when half of the racers are involved in the same crash. Bodies will fly hundreds of feet in the air, rag doll in the street, and then be run over by traffic. There are also pedestrians you can hit during races for bonus points.

There are so many fun weapons to use here too. Of course there are the typical B-movie biker staples like bats, chains, or clubs. But you can find pool cues, steel pipes, mace that can be used to blind other bikers, and the greatest weapon for this sort of game: a taser. Even once you make it through the main game you’ll have a lot of multiplayer modes to play. Thrash mode is probably going to be the best of the bunch. This mode lets you, and three friends race on any of the tracks featured in the campaign. All of the weapons are available to you, and as in the main game, you can pick up other stuff like damage amplifiers.

Other modes are lap based modes on tracks not seen in the main game. Here you can run a 1,3,5,or 7 lap race against one another, or play variants of these like tag mode (Everyone has to gang up on a specific player before the game assigns IT status to the next player). Deathmatch mode is here too. In DM you get a frag for each lap you make, and if you are knocked off you lose a frag. The final multiplayer bit is Pedestrian hunt. This mode sees players trying to run over anyone standing in the street or on a sidewalk. Whoever hits the most at the end of the track wins.

There is one major off putting thing here though, as you can probably tell by the screen caps. That’s the graphics. Even at the time of release they are far below what most players expected. The N64 did have a lot of games people cited as visual power houses. Turok 2, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark to name a few. But Road Rash 64 goes just a minor step above the fidelity found in SNES games like Star Fox or Stunt Race FX. One likely explanation for this is the lower polygon numbers increase performance. Even Nintendo’s own F-Zero X did this. But even F-Zero X had pretty respectable textures in comparison.

Nevertheless, Road Rash 64 does take advantage of the Expansion Pak cartridge. Players who have one installed in their N64′s will have access to a few graphics options to mildly improve the quality. Widescreen mode (Although it’s really stretch o vision), Letterbox mode ( Really more of a window box. Makes the screen smaller, and centered to sharpen the image.), and then there’s the option of using Higher Resolution Textures at the normal 4:3 setting. For most  players, the typical Normal setting or the Hi Res mode are the best options. Hi Res doesn’t add much of a performance hit either. So if you have the Expansion Pak, it’s probably the best bet.

Road Rash 64 is the odd duck of the series. It’s a game that nobody ever expected to see, and then when they did see it, they had to do a double take. While it isn’t very much to look at, it is a great example of gameplay over graphics. It’s a lot of fun, and is the only four player entry in the series. It’s also not terribly expensive, so if you’re looking for another party game to add to your Nintendo 64 collection you can easily do a lot worse.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10 (A lot of fun despite it’s faults.)

Mario Kart 8 Review

The 8th mainline Mario Kart is here for the Wii U. Is it worthy of all of the praise, and accolades the press has handed it?

PROS: New innovations, improvements, and features.

CONS: The roster could have been a little better.

DON’T PISS HIM OFF: Luigi’s death stare is a meme now.

What can I say about Mario Kart 8 that hasn’t been said already? It has even the biggest Nintendo detractors talking it up. It has a lot of 9 out of 10’s in the professional reviews department. It has also given the world the funniest meme since I was frozen today.

Mario Kart 8 at its core is still the long running game we’ve enjoyed since Super Mario Kart came out on the Super NES. The game features an 8 cup campaign, half of which are retro tracks. The retro tracks this time around are a pretty nice selection, and have some alterations to fit in with the rest of the game. As with every Super Mario Kart, there are three engine speed difficulty levels. 50cc is the slowest, with the easiest computer controlled racers. 100cc is the medium difficulty, and of course 150cc is the highest difficulty coupled with the fastest speed.

As in previous games, playing through the campaign, and shooting for gold trophies will unlock cups, tracks, and other secrets. Mario Kart 8 differs in that playing on a higher difficulty setting will grant the rewards of winning on a lower setting. So those who jump right into 150cc racing, and win trophies will also have the trophies in 50cc, and 100cc races.

This is quite a nice feature since in previous games players found that they had to re-beat the game on lower settings after winning to get certain characters or karts or bikes unlocked. This brings up another change. Coins make a return in Mario Kart 8, and collecting them will not only increase your Kart’s top speed, but work toward the unlockable items. This also carries over to multiplayer so even players who skip the Grand Prix can still find some of them. Collecting 50 coins will begin the treasure hunt. After a certain point the number doubles.

Nevertheless, you should play through the game’s Grand Prix mode to get the trophies, and unlock the tracks the game has to offer. In addition to the aforementioned retro tracks the new tracks in Mario Kart 8 are nothing short of amazing.  Nearly all of them take advantage of the new gravity mechanics as well as underwater sections. Tracks have certain blue striped bars that when driven on lead to alternate paths. Many of these paths will bring back memories of F-Zero GX, as they corkscrew over other sections of track. Sometimes you will be driving on walls or ceilings. Other times this will be blended with underwater sections, or combined with the glider system which has been carried over from Mario Kart 7.

Cart  customization has been completely overhauled too. In the past you would pick your character who would decide what vehicles you could use. Some characters were too heavy to use some vehicles, and some were too light to use others. With Mario Kart Wii, the series would also throw bikes into the mix.

In Mario Kart 8 any character can use any vehicle. The stats will change depending on the combination, but nothing stops you from using what you want. On top of this, you can mix up tires, and different gliders or parachutes for your vehicle. All of which change stats from not only speed or acceleration, but weight, and cornering too. Mario Kart Wii gave us bikes. Mario Kart 8 retains them, and also gives us A.T.V.s to boot. These can be tweaked as well as the karts.

You’ll really want to experiment to get the right feel for your particular play style too. Because Mario Kart 8 is pretty cut throat. While the rubber band A.I. has been reduced it is still prominent. You may very well hold a lap long lead on Rainbow Road. But don’t be fooled. It is very likely the computer will pull off a last second victory, putting you in fourth place. You will rage after barely losing your opportunity to be champion.

Nintendo has also thrown in a few new equalizer items to try to balance things from being so casual things become purely luck, and so skill based newcomers ought not bother. The biggest, and best is the new horn power up. The horn can help in a number of ways, the sound can cause nearby racers to crash. But more importantly it can destroy weapons. So really good players who want to keep their lead can use it to get rid of the blue shells. The #8 is another new one. It will give players a random eight items orbiting around their vehicle. There is also a boomerang that can hit on the way out or the way back.

The actual racing mechanics will also feel a little bit different to lapsed players. You will still be drifting around corners no doubt, but the feel will change with every vehicle combination made. Stunt jumping makes its return too. Pressing the drift button just after going off a ramp results in a trick jump, granting a boost. The drift boost is back as well. Moreover, the speed on some of these tracks approach the level of F-Zero, where one minor misjudgment can have you going off of the track.

In the gravity themed sections players also have to worry about how they bump into one another. Swapping paint gives both players a boost, but the player who hits the other in the correct area will go farther. This also causes both players to spin out AS they boost. So once again, doing it incorrectly could lead to falling off the track.

Fortunately, Lakitu no longer takes his sweet time to get you if you do fall off. He swoops in immediately, costing you only a few seconds. He does however take coins away from you which reduces your top speed until you replace them with more.

The new features, along with the established tropes make Mario Kart 8 one of the best Mario Kart games in years. It may even be the best one in the series depending on who you ask. But there’s still more.

Online multiplayer has carried over from Mario Kart Wii but with a lot of improvements. For starters it now uses the simplified Nintendo ID system. So you don’t have to go sharing or posting friend codes anymore. It also allows you to easily befriend anyone you race with. So if there is someone you enjoyed racing with online you can add them. Setting up a game with friends also lets you choose what stipulations you want. You can even turn off items, so those who always decry the amount of luck in Mario Kart can make it about pure racing.

It also has a really cool tournament feature. With tournament feature you can create your own room, name it, set it’s time schedule, stipulations, and then give the code out to whoever you want.

This has already been a big hit on gaming community forums like NeoGAF, and other communities like Reddit. Allowing big groups from one place to meet up at a scheduled time to play. It’s also nice in that not everyone in a specific community may be friends, but they can still participate if they want.

In addition to the tournaments, and friends lists players can play solo or local multiplayer online. One player can go online against strangers or a second player can join online on the same Wii U playing split screen. The one disappointing thing here is that one of the two players cannot have the gamepad screen to themselves while the other player uses the television. Other Wii U games do this, so it’s perplexing Nintendo didn’t do that with this title.

In all of the race modes the vote system from Mario Kart Wii returns, putting up three track choices, and a random option. The one that is voted on most wins, and that is the track that is raced on. A minor nitpick here is that players cannot just go through the map list, and pick the individual one they would like to vote for. But I suppose this is a sacrifice that was implemented to ensure all of the tracks are played instead of just the few most popular ones.

In any event, online play is a lot of fun. In my play tests I never ran into any lag, even playing against worldwide opponents. The game ran as fast, and frantic online as it did playing alone.

Offline Multiplayer is back as well. Players can still invite friends over for the vintage 4 player split screen races we’ve been enjoying since Mario Kart 64. Playing with four players does have a noticeable effect on the game’s frame rate. But it is still very playable, and still has fewer hiccups than previous versions have. It’s the perfect game for local multiplayer nights.

The only thing that brings it down is the battle mode. Battle mode is still fun, but not as much as it used to be. The big reason is because it fails to deliver its own distinctive maps.  Here, instead we see recycled track sections. You still try to do a last man standing by taking out each other’s balloons with red shells, banana peels, and other arsenal. But with the unoriginal tracks the strategic element of it is gone. There’s no camping on a rooftop, or driving into some other zone to throw pursuers off of your trail. Instead it’s the carnage you love, on a section of track meant to be raced on. It isn’t as bad as other people may tell you, because there is some fun to be had. But it is a let down, and you’ll want to focus your time on the racing.

The good news is that the racing is so much fun you’ll come back to it again, and again. In any mode be it online or offline. This could really be considered a killer app that the Wii U really needs. I didn’t even talk about the visuals yet. They will be one of the first things you notice when you start playing.

To be sure, if someone really wants to be a sourpuss they can nitpick on small details like AA being off, or the occasional medium detail texture. But 90% of the time Mario Kart 8 looks amazing. From small details on character models, to NPC’s in the backgrounds to the reflective effects on puddles it is great stuff.  So great in fact that when you begin playing with the Mario Kart TV feature you will really start looking for new things you hadn’t noticed before.

Mario Kart TV is a really cool, if limited editing tool. It allows you to broadcast clips of your races to your YouTube account. It allows you to do minor edits to them, and even lets you keep a small list of your most loved ones on file. It includes a slow motion tool that has also birthed the Luigi Death Stare meme.

As with most Wii U games you can still post screen shots to Miiverse, social networking sites, or your image host to display elsewhere online.

The elephant in the room is the roster. It should have been more varied than it is. That much is certainly true. While the Koopalings are a very welcome addition, and the baby version of Rosalina was expected, Princess Gold Peach does come off as a bit lazy. Bringing back King Boo, Petey Piranha, Birdo, or even a different Mario character like Wart would have made more sense. In the grand scheme of things though the roster change really shouldn’t dissuade you from playing this game.

Mario Kart 8 isn’t perfect, but picking it up is highly recommended. It has very fun, and challenging racing mechanics. It has the party game atmosphere long time fans have come to expect. It has amazing track design, and some of the best online multiplayer gameplay Nintendo has ever put out. It also has some of the best driving tunes in the series. Each track has a musical style that complements its setting beautifully. There is a wide variety of locales in the game, so there is also a wide variety of music. The soundtrack is simply wonderful.

You won’t get flawlessness with Mario Kart 8, but you will get a game that does indeed deserve the accolades. It really is worth a high score, as well as being in any Wii U owner’s collection.

Final Score: 9 out of 10