Tuesday, 15 April 2008

[17] 4 Tracks That SHOULD BE In Mario Kart Wii

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Super Mario Kart was the original 'fan service' game. Released 7 years before the first Smash Bros, it became one of the most beloved of the SNES generation not just because of its tight, addictive arcade gameplay, but also because of its key ingredients: characters and locations from the extended Mario game family.

SMK was a true celebration of its platforming counterpart, Super Mario World. Players were able to revisit areas such as Donut Plains, Chocolate Island and Bowser's Castle in a racing context. Mario Kart 64, Double Dash and DS similarly included these nods, references and allusions to the plumber's primary vocation - with 64's Royal Raceway being situated in the shadow of Peach's Castle, and Super Mario Sunshine's Isle Delfino serving as context for Peach Beach and Delfino Square on the Gamecube and DS games respectively. Even spin-off games got a look in, with the Sherbet Land area from the Gameboy's Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land appearing in both Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash, and Luigi's Mansion getting its own course in both Mario Kart DS and Double Dash.

So, as I pick up and play through the recently-released Mario Kart Wii, I wonder. Where are these little stabs at creative continuity in Mario's latest racer? Sadly, if you're looking for a wealth of references to recent games in the extensive Mario family, you will be sorely disappointed. It seems that the really great ideas for level design have gone into Super Smash Bros Brawl. This is a shame. Since the release of the Wii, the extended Mario franchise has spawned some important hits, including Super Paper Mario, Wario Ware: Smooth Moves and, of course, last year's Super Mario Galaxy. The DS has also become home to one of the biggest selling Mario games of all time, in New Super Mario Bros: a comfortable and resoundingly wonderful masterclass in 2D platform gaming.

Also, along with the introduction of Nintendo's Virtual Console download service, fans have been reintroduced to classic Mario adventures, including most of the original NES, SNES and N64 installments (as well as the previously-unreleased 'Lost Levels'). Mario's market saturation and critical standing is probably at its highest since the early 1990s, so why did the developers not add in more intertextual goodies? Super Mario Galaxy, arguably the greatest Mario game ever, is only referenced in any tangible way on the Rainbow Road course (through quotation of its main musical theme), a course which has appeared in every Kart game in some form or another anyway.

Safe to say, I was personally disappointed. Some of the tracks included are pretty great, such as Coconut Mall and Wario's Goldmine - however, their association with Mario requires a lot of imaginative brainwork. A shopping mall? Could easily be Dawn of the Dead Racer. A careening harem-scarem chase through an underground mine? Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Racer. While thinking long and hard about what I wanted Mario Kart to be, I came up with some tracks I would have loved to have been included. Tracks that would have stretched the imaginations of the designers yet still worked within a Mario framework, giving fans something to feast their eyes on. I came up with 4, a nice even number.

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1. Luigi's Purple Coins

One of my favourite areas from Mario Galaxy was the Toy Time Galaxy. Some of the hardest, yet most concentratedly fun levels involved the same mechanic, and culminated in the level Luigi's Purple Coins (video below). The player must pick up 100 purple coins within the time limit; the coins are spread over a large, floating area, shaped (and coloured) like the pixelated Luigi from Super Mario Bros. Simple enough, but differently coloured tiles make the endeavour much harder. Green tiles shrink and disappear after being stepped on, yellow tiles rotate, revealing a fatal drop. It would be great to play through a track that had certain corners or edges that disappeared after being touched, so that liberal drifters or lazy steering would be punishable. There could be also tiles in the centre of the track, acting as booby traps for asute racers to avoid. A track like this should not be hard to design, drops are an essential part of what makes Mario Kart a punishing game for some players. I want it to be more so.




2. The Comet Observatory

Mario Kart 64 proudly displayed Peach's Castle in the Royal Raceway, Mario Kart Double Dash and DS heavily featured areas from the Isle Delfino. Where's the Comet Observatory in this latest installment? Some critics of Super Mario Galaxy didn't think that this central hub stood up to those in previous games in terms of exploration and design, but I'm surprised that Mario Kart Wii didn't include a track inspired by it. Take a look at it, it wouldn't take much to wrap a Rainbow Road style 'super fiendish' course around it. Then throw in some flying Lumas and The Toad Brigade and you'll have yourself a sweet track.



3. Generic Galaxy Course

Maybe using specific areas from Super Mario Galaxy is a little too much to ask. The areas, galaxies and planets are a little too indistinct, certainly against Isle Delfino and the Mushroom Kingdom. However, I'm still very surprised that little aspects of Super Mario Galaxy weren't put in. Why isn't there a course spread over various planets of different shapes and sizes, connected by Launch Stars, along with enemies from across the whole game. It couldn't be as free-form or as zero-gravity as SMG, of course - this is a racing game, not a platforming adventure - but still. Where is the love? Alternatively, why not rework a Mushroom Kingdom track to take place during the Star Festival?


4. The Virtual Console

OK. Here is my last ditch attempt at prime blue-sky crazy. A Virtual Console Level. Why not? They've had battle levels based on the DS and the Gamecube before. And Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros, Super Paper Mario AND Wario Ware all show a comfortable, slightly nostalgic, but entirely permissable look towards past glories. Here is how it would run.

- The racers start by driving over the length of a Wii-mote, being launched into a Virtual Console icon, like a channel icon on the Wii Home menu.
- The race then cycles through various classic Mario stages from various Mario games, these sections could be designated as 'rooms', or the players could 'jump' in between, like the use of cannons or pipes in other Mario Kart levels. These will include:
- Level 1-2 from Super Mario Bros, boosting off a platform over the top of the cavern's 'roof' into the warp zone, leading to...
- A Birdo battle (with flying carpets, turnips, eggs all over the place) from Mario Bros USA then...
- A section on Bowser's airship from Super Mario Bros. 3 (with cameos from the Koopalings)...

...And so on. It needn't be restricted to just canon Mario games, as it is a Virtual Console track, after-all. The Karts could race across a huge Picross board, or zoom by a Punch-Out!! boxing ring. The list is (relatively) endless.

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That's it for me. Have you got your own dream Mario Kart course? That's what comments are for.

6 comments:

Jay said...

Man, that Virtual Console idea is amazing, I would have loved something like that. Or even a simular one that covers the whole Wii menu...driving through the Mii channel as your Miis run around trying to avoid you would be hilarious.

Thomas said...

So, three of your four suggestions revolve around Super Mario Galaxy? You mention some other games, like Super Paper Mario, but don't use them for ideas . . .

A Virtual Console course sounds like a good idea, but ultimately doesn't sound like Mario Kart to me. Or, at least, Mario Kart as it is now, which is about the Mushroom Kingdom. Outside of Diddy Kong and Pac Man in the arcade, the Kart series is not a Nintendo universe game like Smash Bros. is. If it were, and I wouldn't be completely opposed to this, I'd like to see Hyrule Castle and Brinstar stages before I see three Mario Galaxy stages.

Zephiroth said...

haha cool post...

i agree with you on the Observatory course :S... i mean, im happy about Rosalina being in the game, but mario galaxy has a lot more potential to be in the mario kart universe...

Josh said...

3 Galaxy stages? I understand Galaxy needs a little more love, but 3 courses? Comet Observatory does sound awesome, but...
Anywa, you mentioned Super Paper Mario, which actually inspired me. How about a Flipside/Flopside stage? Setting the whole thing up in 3-d view would be sweet. The look of Flipside in 3-D would make it seem like a flat walled Isle Delfino. To go from Flipside to Flopside, you'd go through that one temple spot, and then to get back from Flopside, you could go into that pipe that gets built (for a lot of moolah).

Mike Leader said...

Hi guys, thanks for commenting.

Thomas, Josh, I realise that I mentioned more games than I included in my suggested tracks. This is more due to my inability to at the time think of NSMB or SPM inspired courses (Flipside/Flopside is a great idea, though). I retained the three Galaxy tracks because I thought there was a nice progression from basing it on a level, to an area, to evoking an 'atmosphere'.

I agree that as the games were in parallel development, there couldn't be drastic references to Galaxy, but it's an opinion piece. It's still a pretty good game with flaws (check my review), but this was a mostly blue-sky kind of post anyway. The exclusion of these tracks doesn't ruin the game - it was just a minor niggle. I do think that the Observatory would have been a shoe-in, but maybe that will appear in the next MK game, fingers crossed.

Thomas, my Virtual console idea would have sticked to the Mario franchise, maybe it would have been a neat way to introduce lots of the retro tracks that weren't in MKWii. Maybe I was going a little far bringing in Punch Out and Picross (they do feature Mario, but I suppose that is more Brawl territory). I was just thinking that the last two MK games featured strange levels based on their respective consoles, and it would be a cool idea for this latest installment.

Thanks for taking the time to read the post!

Mike

Simon said...

I'd argue that Maple Treeway was inspired by the Gold Leaf Galaxy (I can't think of what else it could be referencing)...