Nintendo unleashes Mario Kart DS (Review)

Rev-up those racing cart engines Nintendo DS owners as “Mario Kart DS” has arrived on your preferred hand-held. The latest Mario racer is also the first Nintendo product with online support. The big question is, how does the game fare in comparison to other entries in the series? Short answer, very good!

Lets start with the single player experience. Mario Kart DS offers five different game types where you compete against CPU-controlled opponents. The modes are Grand Prix, Time Trials, VS, Battle and Missions. The VS and Battle modes are also playable available for multiplayer challenges.

As noted previously, the infamous Grand Prix mode returns with new and classic tracks from past Mario Kart titles. As with previous titles in the series you get to select one of three classes to race in (50cc, 100cc and 150cc). After choosing which class to race and playable character, gamers are then left with the option of racing on the Nitro Grand Prix (Nintendo DS exclusive tracks) or the Retro Grand Prix (with popular tracks from the GBA, SNES, N64 and GameCube iterations).

Gamers can unlock hidden characters by completing specific gameplay objectives. The hidden characters are Princess Daisy, Dry Bones, Waluigi and R.O.B. The addition of unlockable characters adds some depth to the single player portion of the game.

The multiplayer mode is what everyone is talking about these days. Not only can you play with other DS owners who are in proximity (standard multiplayer mode), but you can also race with other gamers online using the Nintendo DS’s built-in Wi-Fi capabilities (Nintendo Wi-Fi).

The standard multiplayer mode can be played with up to eight different Nintendo DS owners. Gamers don’t even need to own a copy of the game as content can be downloaded to their hand-held using the Nintendo DS’s “DS Download Play” when playing in the simple multiplayer mode. On the downside, the simple mode limits you to a few courses and one character to choose from (Shy Guy). The normal proximity mode (each user has a copy of Mario Kart DS in their unit) offers all of the multiplayer content for everyone to enjoy.

The Nintendo Wi-Fi component of the game is what make Mario Kart DS so unique. For the first time in the Mario universe, gamers can experience online gameplay and challenge players worldwide. And the best part about it is that its so easy to setup your DS to go online (that is if you have a Nintendo supported router or an official Nintendo Wi-Fi USB dongle).

The online gameplay is everything that one would expect from a company like Nintendo. Its simple and fun! You can either play against friends (using the unique friends code feature) or let the game randomly select opponents from around the globe.

Up to four racers can compete against each other in online mode. Online stats (Wins and losses) are tabulated as you progress, which makes it easy for gamers to compare their skills with others.

The online play is lag free and games run very smoothly (the speeds are comparable with a single-player matchup). A few cutbacks were needed to achieve this lag free game state. As noted previously, only four racers can compete against each other (compared to eight in standard multiplayer). Also, some visual items have been removed (objects can no longer be seen following your character when they are picked-up) in order to speed up the gameplay.

Somethings could have been done better though. There is no lobby system implemented. Such a feature would have been a great way to meet new friends and to chat with potential challengers. Also, it would have been great if Nintendo would have added some form of peer-to-peer voice chat functionality so that gamers could trash talk each other while playing.

Still, Nintendo’s first official online offering is definitely a marvel in itself. With that in mind, Nintendo DS owners shouldn’t hesitate when considering Mario Kart DS. If Nintendo stays dedicated to the online platform and continues to offer a stellar online experience like the one showcased in Mario Kart DS, then gamers have a lot to look forward to when it comes to future online products by Nintendo.

André Barriault is currently a contributor for the Game Invasion channel on Chris Pirillo’s Lockergnome technology network. You can checkout Andre’s game-related blog at www.gamingcult.com – Article originally published in [here] magazine in Nov. 2005

Picking through Trash – A review of Inhuman Games’ Trash

These days, modern day real-time strategy (RTS) games have gotten quite complex. And in many instances, the complexity more than often impedes on the game’s overall fun factor. So when a new RTS with simple gaming mechanics steps up to the plate, gamers should pay attention to the offering. Independent developer Inhuman Games has released “Trash” an RTS that attempts to bring the genre back to its mid-nineties influences.

Trash is set in a post-apocalyptic future where humans and mutants fight for survival, control and for the land’s primary resource – trash. Sure, there isn’t much of a back story here, but this doesn’t take away any fun from the game.

Since trash is the game’s primary resource, gamers will need to gather as much of it as possible in order to progress. The junked debris (previously referred to as trash) is dispersed all over the map. The material is also left scattered on the battlefield after the destruction of adversaries units, or when one of your group units is destroyed by enemy fire. The trash element can then be used to build-up your infrastructures, update your technologies and fortify your surroundings.

Trash includes two playable factions, humans and mutants. The humans rely on research an technology to maintain their survival. Humans also depend heavily on air and ground units to defend, repair or discover unfamiliar territories. To continually upgrade mobile units, the faction must invest in research facilities, which in turn increases their chance of survival.

As for mutants, the group uses their mutant abilities as their primary skill. Like the humans, they must also do some form of research in order to upgrade their attack, defence and exploration skills. Instead of relying on technology for defence, mutants have several classes of grunts that will use their mutant specialty to survive a human onslaught.

Disappointingly, these are the only two factions offered in the game. A few more groups would have stretched the game’s replay value. But why should we complain when you can pick up this fun RTS for a mere $19.95USD?

Visually, the game’s graphics are pretty simple when compared to today’s modern real-time strategy titles. In actuality, Trash looks like your typical mid-nineties RTS, which isn’t a bad thing whatsoever. Gamers looking to spice up the visuals can bump up the texture quality to its highest setting. That is, if you have the appropriate visual hardware to do so. No matter how you look at it, Trash’s graphics are far from being bland, and the custom graphics engine offers just enough eye candy to make things visually appealing.

Trash is the perfect title for gamers looking for an old-school RTS that isn’t riddled with modern day genre complexities. The game is challenging enough to satisfy fans of the genre, but easy enough for people new to real-time strategy titles. All in all, Trash is an excellent title that definitely won’t leave you disappointed. A demo of the game is available on Inhuman Game’s official website.

A Look at Conker: Live and Reloaded (Xbox)

Conker: Live and Reloaded

The extreme makeover bug has reached gaming circles, as Rare re-released its Nintendo 64 classic “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” with retooled graphics and a new online multiplayer mode for Microsoft’s Xbox console. Renamed “Conker: Live and Reloaded”, the new iteration serves as a great introduction to the stellar platformer title that was overlooked, to some extent, when first introduced in early 2001. Hopefully Xbox owners won’t let Conker’s mischievous hijinks go unnoticed this time around.

Now how did Rare’s trash talking red squirrel get into so much sh*t in the first place? The game kicks off with our lead squirrel drinking with a few friends at what seems to be a local tavern of sorts. Drunk, Conker decides to attempt to find his way home. But things don’t go as planned. Stricken with a massive hangover, our hero unknowingly heads into the wrong direction, and is now forced to complete various zany scenarios (complete with kooky characters) in order to return home.

The game is full of crazy movie parodies from such films as the Terminator, Saving Private Ryan and the Matrix. Gamers will also have to go through some over-the-top scenarios (the cow sequence being one of them) that will either disgust or have you laughing uncontrollably. With that in mind, it’s important to note that Conker Live and Reloaded is for mature audiences only and shouldn’t be played by anyone under the age of 17.

Not only is Conker Live and Reloaded an extremely fun Xbox title, but it is also one of the best looking titles on the system. Our bushy-tailed hero actually looks like a plush doll that one would purchase at a local toy store. Thanks to its lighting and shadowing techniques and high attention to detail, Conker: Live and reloaded is easily comparable to a modern day CGI feature film. Now imagine how Conker would look using Xbox 360 technology!

Conker Live and Reloaded is not all smiles as the game suffers from frequent load times. After playing “Halo 2” which virtually had no load times, I kind of felt a little cheated by having to go through frequent loading screens. And thanks to these reload screens; the game truly lives up to its “Live and Reloaded” moniker. Get it, “re-loading”!

For some reason, it seems like the PR folks behind the title are pushing the Xbox Live portion of Conker: Live and Reloaded as its primary tour-de-force, while promoting the single player portion as somewhat of a bonus. Even if it should be the other way around, this isn’t really a bad thing as the multiplayer gameplay is quite enjoyable.

The Xbox Live portion of the game is an all out 16 player team-based third-person fragfest. The game pits the Squirrels against the evil Tediz in two game scenarios, the Old War and the Future War. A total of six character classes, with specialized weapons, are available (Demolisher, Grunt, Long Ranger, Skyjockey, Sneeker and Thermophile) for your gaming pleasure. Rare also went all the way and included five different vehicles (Mule Bomber, R-Hog, Sky Steed, Toad Jeep and Tankus) that surely help alleviate the mayhem.

Conker: Live and Reloaded is a great action platformer that will definitely keep you glued to your television set for quite some time. The game’s mature humor is what sets this title apart from others. Even if you’ve mastered the N64 version, the graphical enhancements alone make it worth picking-up and playing through the game one more time. The multiplayer portion of Conker: Live and Reloaded definitely stretches the value of the title and will guarantee lots more playing time even after the completion of the single-player adventure (which should take you approximately 15 hours to complete).

Conker: Live and Reloaded is definitely a four star title. Hopefully a sequel is in the works as a new Conker game would surely be a great Xbox 360 title. So if you’re looking for a great Xbox platformer (which is kind of rare these days), then Conker: Live and Reloaded is exactly what the doctor ordered.

A look back at 2004 best PC titles

Each year I go through the daunting task of selecting titles to be featured as the year’s best. With 2004 being one of the most interesting years in gaming, the task of choosing this year’s selection was even more challenging. Although I didn’t have time to play every single game that came out this year, this week, I present to you my list of the top PC titles of 2004. Be sure to pick-up next week’s issue to see which games I choose as the best console titles of the year.

Best Sound (PC) – Doom 3 (id Software): Even without a traditional soundtrack, id Software’s Doom 3 managed to deliver a fair amount of scares thanks to some of the best gaming sound design in recent years. Ed Lima and Chris Vrenna pushed the scope of sound design to its limit with the use top-notch ambient noises that jump at you from all directions. The game’s 5.1 surround sound is one of the best coordinated surround-sound project in gaming.

Best Graphics (PC) – Half-Life 2 (Valve): Powered by Valve’s proprietary Source Engine, the graphics in Half-Life 2 are absolutely breathtaking. The picturesque sceneries coupled with the game’s top-notch animations make Half-Life 2 one of the best-looking PC titles of all time. The game has a cinematic feel that truly enhances your gaming experience. To top it all off, Valve managed to create some of the most lifelike facial animations ever seen on a computer screen.

Best Online Title (PC) – City of Heroes (NcSoft): The colourful City of Heroes (CoH) ended-up being every comic book fanatic’s dream come true. CoH’s deep character customization let gamers finally create the superhero they’ve always dreamed of becoming. The game’s graphics and visual style deliver a unique comic book feel that has yet to be matched. One of the greatest aspects of CoH is that it’s easy to get into compared to other online multiplayer role playing games. If you’re looking for an addicting online title that won’t end-up being an overwhelming experience, then City of Heroes is definitely the title to own.

Surprise Title 2004 (PC) – The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay Developer’s Cut (Starbreeze/Tigon): Like its Xbox counterpart, the PC version of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is a strong first-person shooter that literally took the industry by surprise. The game features a strong cast of voice actors that includes the likes of Vin Diesel, Xzibit and Cole Hauser. Even if you’ve played the Xbox version, the PC port is definitely worth revisiting thanks to higher resolution graphics and its innovative commentary mode, which is unlocked upon completion of the game. One of the most surprising aspects of Escape from Butcher Bay is that it doesn’t feel like a direct console port. A must have for first-person shooter enthusiasts.

PC Game of the Year (PC) – Half-Life 2 (Valve): With Half-Life 2, Valve developed quite possibly one of the best gaming sequels ever made (arguably the best first-person shooter of all time). The developer hit the perfect grand slam by delivering a game that incorporates well-scripted story sequences with excellent graphic and audio capabilities. Half-Life 2 has also proven itself as a strong multiplayer title with the inclusion of Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2: Deathmatch. With the recent release of the game’s software development kit, a slew of home brew levels and modifications will surely start flooding the Internet shortly. Half-Life 2 is a strong physics-based first-person shooter that gamers will definitely be replaying for months, even after completing the single player campaign on a few occasions. Half-Life 2 is the definitive first-person shooter.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is the former co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in [here] magazine in Dec. 2004

Tom Salta’s journey into the video game industry (Profile)

New York based producer, artist and composer Tom Salta is not only a rising star on the music scene, but he’s also making waves in the video game industry. Salta, who’s been involved in the music industry for 15 years, has had his work featured in several titles since crossing over into video games earlier this year. More recently, the composer had a chance to score the cinematic sequences in Electronic Arts’ “Need for Speed Underground 2”.

Salta’s journey into the video game scene is an interesting story in itself, and it all started after a few rounds of “Halo.”

“I had an epiphany of sorts about two years ago. One evening I was playing a game, and the thought occurred to me. I was like “wait, I love this stuff” and this would be perfect for me. The thought of marrying the two things I love to do the most into one art form was incredible,” he explained.

Salta added that he had always been a fan of video games and remembers coming home from the arcades at a young age and playing tunes from his favourite titles on the piano.

“I began to be inspired by the music I started hearing in recent years. Prior to that, video game music just didn’t quite capture my attention. It was nice and it was cool, but I never really felt compelled to compose it until recently. Video game music has taken such a huge leap recently,” revealed Salta.

To promote his music, Salta decided he needed a demo reel of sorts, and the answer to this manifested itself as his first solo album under the moniker “Atlas Plug.” His debut CD “2 Days Or Die” was made available as a way to capture the attention of the entertainment industry for licensing purposes.

“I was finding it very difficult getting into the gaming industry initially because although I had music credits I didn’t have a game credit to my name. So I decided to draw upon all the experience I have producing, writing, mixing etc. and come up with an album’s worth of music that would be perfect for licensing in games.”

After hooking-up with a publisher, hundreds of albums were sent out and things worked out as planned. One of the first companies interested was Microsoft, who at the time, was working on a sequel to the popular off-road racing title “Rallisport Challenge.” Three of Salta’s compositions from the Atlas Plug record were licensed for the game, with one of those tracks becoming the game’s theme song. After licensing a few more tracks for various titles, Salta finally scored his first big gig in the industry, writing music for the cinematic sequences in Need for Speed Underground 2.

“Working on the game was a great experience, definitely challenging at times. I was working with Charles Deenen, the Audio Director at EA in Canada, and he was a great collaborator, I really give him a lot of credit as he knew exactly what he wanted and made sure he got it.”

Afterwards, Salta scored the music to UbiSoft’s “Sprung” for Nintendo’s latest handheld, the DS. The composer added that the experience was very interesting, but found scoring for the DS to be limiting.

“The key word is limiting, and that’s just because of the audio hardware. I finished Need For Speed in 5.1 surround sound, and then I am dealing with a unit where the entire music and all of the samples that were used had to fit under 1MB,” he explained. “It’s a completely different way of creating music. It took me back to the early Nintendo days, but it was good, it was challenging and I like having set limitations that lets you focus more on the art rather than all the technical aspects of it.”

Salta added that he’d love to work on more handheld titles and that he enjoys the challenge.

The composer pointed out that his goal right now is to continue being involved in the gaming industry. Salta also noted that he’d like to start recording music for the next Atlas Plug record, but added that he’s currently wrapped-up in a few undisclosed video game projects.

“I still love writing, producing, and I also hope to get back to working with other artists or groups at a later time. But right now, I’m having too much fun doing game music, it’s just great.”

Visit www.atlasplug.com for more information on Tom Salta and his music.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is the former co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in [here] magazine in Dec. 2004

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