Wait… This Isn’t Mario Kart (RC Revenge Pro)

Halloween is just round the corner, so without further ado, let’s fail to capitalise on this holiday in any way whatsoever and discuss a game from my childhood.

RC Revenge Pro has been something of a wonder for me. It is an arcade racing game made by Acclaim, originally without the “Pro” and as a Playstation One game. Its next generation sequel was essentially the same game, but with better graphics and a few new cars and courses. A HD remake before HD. A remake before remakes. Having spent many hours playing its predecessor, I soon abandoned it in favour of this new edition and spent countless hours driving around the thematically charged tracks.

Jungle Ranger was your main enemy all throughout the Bronze and Silver cups until you unlocked him at the end of the Silver cup.

Many years later, after having a bizarre dream in which I discovered that the series had been blessed with a sequel, I decided to scour the internet for any hints of this being the case. Instead, I found that RC Revenge was in itself a sort of spiritual successor to Re-Volt. More than that, I found precious little news of RC Revenge’s existence in the first place. A quick Youtube search yielded no playthroughs, and hardly any videos in the first place. I’d find out later that there were a few more games from my childhood that fell into this dramatically underrated category, a category born from curse of copious quantity.

I can’t quite explain my thirst for this game. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, and if it was made nowadays I’m sure it’d be a fairly successful indie title which you could sink a few hours into. But as a child, I was obsessed with fully completing the game and unlocking the last two cars; the Concept 3000, and, more importantly, the UFO. Being a child, however, I determined that I could do this by completing the Reverse Platinum Cup by finishing first in every single race. When this failed, I turned my attention to completing all the mirrored tracks, and the mirrored reverse tracks (Acclaim knew how to milk their content). Of course, they were unlocked by completing the Time Trials, a fact which should have been obvious to me had I not be so vehemently against racing through the track by myself.

Cars Attacks was one of my favourite levels of the game, providing interesting scenery and adopting a fun track layout.

I suppose this was my Mario Kart. I didn’t discover Mario Kart (or any Nintendo, really) until I got a Nintendo DS in 2005, at the ripe old age of 10. I loved Mario Kart DS, and my old original DS (none of this Lite or DSi business) is still going steady. I bring this up because it might be amusing to hear that my first impression of Mario Kart was that it was too cartoony; too bright; too dull in its weaponry. There was something boring about throwing koopa shells at people when I’d previously been sending rockets; something bland about throwing banana peels down when I’d been dropping mines. I felt that this was too obviously a pre-existing brand slapped onto a kart racer, whereas RC Revenge was its own beast. And yet, today I’m playing Mario Kart 7 and RC Revenge is but a nostalgic blog post.

I’d love for there to be a sequel, but we’re two console generations ahead and Acclaim is a distant memory. Judging by the lack of footage and the reviews, this wasn’t a game that found its way into mainstream popularity, and for that I am sad. It is worth mentioning, however, that if it were to be remade today, it would likely be condemned as another wannabe kart racer that brings nothing new to the table. If you ever get the chance, though, give it a try, and tell me what you thought of it. If you’re interested in seeing the game in action, here is some gameplay I managed to find of my favourite track in the game.

Thank you FUTUREGAMEZ.net and jeuxvideo.com for providing the images; I do not have the technology to capture my own when it comes to console games.

Pandora’s Box Art (Borderlands)

Years after the first Borderlands game came out, I purchased it and tried it out. And now, years after buying it, I’ve finally mustered the attention span to fully dive in and immerse myself in its world.

I’m currently level 26 and have made my way to New Haven, and so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of content available. I decided to complete all of the side quests in the Arid Badlands, the starting zone, mostly because I’m not that great at the game and if I attempted to only do story missions as they first became available, I’d be skag meat by now. Safe to say, I opted to go collecting skag meat for a few levels, instead.

I swear, Claptrap, tell me you're dancing one more time and I will shoot out your eye.
I swear to God, Claptrap, tell me you’re dancing one more time and I will shoot out your eye.

I think one thing that attracted me to Borderlands, despite its visual style (more on that later), was the gun system. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, Ratchet and Clank happens to be my favourite video game series of all time. One thing that franchise focuses on in terms of gameplay is various unique styles of weaponry, from a gun the shoots flying stars which split off and home back in on a target, to a gun that shoots black holes. Borderlands feels like a logical step up from that era of play, with third person cartoonish combat replaced with first person shooter. You may not be able to upgrade the guns as you can in Ratchet and Clank, but you are instead upgrading your character, in both levelling up and weapon proficiency skills. The weapon classes and quirks (explosive ammo, scopes, etc) mirror the custom guns aspect of Ratchet and Clank, whilst the actual loot system is more akin to World of Warcraft – another personal favourite.

I find Borderlands to be similar to Fallout 3 on many levels, mostly the base gameplay. You’re in a wasteland, there’s RPG elements, there’s bad dudes, there’s guns. Shooty shooty pow pow loot grab dash. All that good stuff. The thing is, I never really liked Fallout 3. (OPINION ALERT!) I found the overall theme and aesthetic to just be too… gloomy. And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make it a bad game, it achieves what it sets out to do. But that green filter over the screen just depresses me, and the serious tone just doesn’t really appeal to me. Fallout 4 looks like it’ll be less dreary, at least, so maybe I will be able to get into the Fallout universe sometime. But Borderlands’ cel-shaded landscapes appeal to me in ways Fallout never could. Aesthetically, it’s brighter, clearer, and a damn sight less bleak.  I’m not exactly a kid who needs a bright and cheerful world to feel at home, but I’d take the Arid Badlands over the Capital Wasteland any day. It’s just personal preference.

That moment when a purple is in every way worse than the rifle you found five levels previously.
That moment when a purple is in every way worse than the rifle you found five levels previously.

The loot collection system is more satisfactory than any other RPG I’ve played. It may help that it uses the white, green, blue, purple, and orange system that I’m already accustomed to in the sense of feeling accomplished. However, whilst collecting loot was infuriating at the start of the game due to limited backpack space (this was actually one of the things that originally put me off), your backpack grows over time and soon you’re hauling a whole personal armory on your back. The random chance of gun you’re going to get is enrapturing, too. Throughout the entirety of the Arid Badlands zone, Sledge is hyped up to be the main boss dude that you have to confront before moving on with the game. At level 19, after struggling through the entire level, I found a purple assault rifle immediately before the Sledge fight which had promising stats. Figuring I’d give it a go, I took him on with it, downing him in just five seconds of continuous fire and dozing down all the minions that were giving me trouble beforehand. 7 levels later and this gun is still superior to any other I’ve found.

One thing I’ll fault this game for is its inventory system. Comparing guns against each other is a pain in the ass, and on a controller the story grows worse. This was the other thing which caused me to question playing Borderlands to begin with. You can only track one quest at a time, there’s no minimap, and I only just discovered the page for milestone goals yesterday due to having never hit the Y button in the quest log screen. (Alright, maybe that one was on me.) I play with a controller on PC due to personal keybinding issues (and I’m a noob scrub who needs to git gud), and whilst controller support per se is not an issue, the prompts still all show the keys I’d need to press rather than buttons, causing some initial frustration whilst I was new to the game. Some of these problems are addressed and improved in Borderlands 2, I know, but some still remain. It is, however, an oversight I believe I can cope with when posed against the rest of the awesomeness of Pandora.

I’m glad that I finally have a shooty pow pow loot grab dash game that I can happily stick on and get lost in for a while. I’ve had some problems, personally, getting into a good FPS that comes with replayability and decent content. Fallout was too bleak, Destiny was too expensive; speaking in broader terms, many other FPS games are campaign based or just never really grabbed me. It’s been a while since I’ve been so completely satisfied with just playing an RPG, and whilst I may be six years late to the party, it’s still as an enjoyable experience to me and it must have been on release. It’s just that now, I have Destiny and soon, Fallout 4 to compare it against.

Choices That Matter

Firstly, if you don’t want to risk becoming jaded to the make-your-own-choice type games (typically Telltale), I’d recommend not reading this blog post. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, it may open up a few behind the scenes workings which change how you approach the games and allow less enjoyment from them.

Now, I have a bit of an issue with the choices-matter type games that have been appearing as of late. When I first heard of them, I thought they were amazing, a concept which I didn’t know I wanted but totally did. Even more so on Telltale’s part; I was now able to create my own story within a pre-existing universe. And I won’t fault them; the writing is superb, from what I’ve seen and played. I’m very much enjoying Game of Thrones, the one I’m actually playing, and have enjoyed others by watching them played by streamers or Youtubers.

The problem is that they have many episodes to go through, and should all your choices affect the game world as much as you’d expect them to, they’d end up branching into so many varying paths that you’d require a massive amount of development to pull it off. I understand that. The issue is (minor spoilers ahead if you can gather which game and plot point I’m vaguely referring to) that some options break this illusion entirely. For instance, if I have the option of saving a character or running for my life, I don’t expect that character to pop up next episode a little miffed and giving only the vaguest “you wouldn’t want to know what I did to survive” explanation. This character was done for, and the fact that they survived was completely immersion breaking, but they were obviously required for a later part in the story.

Another problem is that you grow to expect these algorithms; if I’m given the option to send someone from the room, then there’s probably a reason for it, and so I expect a betrayal. If I’m given the option to kill or spare a major character, I realise that whichever option I choose won’t matter because it’s such a major plot point, the character will end up wherever the story requires. Most of your options change people’s attitudes towards you, nothing more.

That said, I must emphasise that this does not entail bad writing. I’ve still been completely shocked by a betrayal, by a death, by an outcome. I still very much recommend the genre. I just hope that it’s built upon, given larger development teams in order to truly create the sense of decisions that matter. I would love to sit back some day and try and write such a story, whether it be in game format or some other invention.

There are two notable games that have not been made by Telltale Games that I’d like to discuss here. Firstly, Life Is Strange. At this time of writing, we’re waiting for the last episode to come out. This game is very similar to Telltale Games’ style barring one thing: you can travel back in time. This is interesting as it allows you to see the outcomes of many options, though at the same time makes decision feel less consequential as a result.

The other game is Until Dawn, which does things a little differently. The game focuses heavily on the Butterfly Effect, mentioning from the beginning that the choices you make in the early game could impact the entire outcome of the story. However, having watched only one playthrough, I’m blind to whether this really is the case; sadly, I’ve heard from a few sources that the possible story doesn’t change all that much, with the characters seeming to get over deaths incredibly quickly due to various nature of the game. Characters are acting on the basis that their friends, from a technical standpoint, could or could not be standing beside them, and this puts characterisation in jeopardy. One thing that I absolutely commend Until Dawn for, though, is the fact that characters can and do die based on your decisions and skills, and adds an extra element of player control to the picture which Telltale type games currently lack. You genuinely feel tense and on edge; the life of the person you’re controlling really does depend on you. And that is brilliant.

This genre has an incredible amount of potential and as a storyteller and someone who is personally very interested in the idea of a butterfly effect, I can only hope that it continues to grow. Maybe it will become a new, standard method of storytelling someday, such as movies and manga and the like are today. I believe that, done right, it has the power to more readily encourage people to stop and consider the effects that their decisions have in everyday life.

Mobile Gaming

A few years ago, being short of a PC or current gen consoles, I was heavily into mobile gaming. I used to download a variety of games onto my iPod Touch and play them throughout the day, going as far as to use other apps to find out about more games via reviews and notifications about price drops and such. I used to bristle when people complained about the state of mobile gaming, for I was still very much into my Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride and Tiny Tower and, well, you get the point.

The other day I attempted to make a return to mobile gaming, and I don’t know whether it’s due to my raised expectations from PC / console gaming or what, but I found the state of the scene terrible. The free-to-play but pay-for-fun model that’s slowly been infecting gaming lately originated from mobile gaming, and like an origin planet of a galactic invasion, revisiting it proved that it’s only increased in potency. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a few fun games like PAC-MAN 256 and Combo Quest, but even Pac-Man has a microtransaction model to it. I tried to Need For Speed: No Limits, and was quite quickly pestered to feed EA the money which they so desperately need to survive. All my other games from back in the day suffer from lack of continued support, and many of them aren’t even widescreen.

As I use my iPod for mostly music nowadays (as is its intended use), this isn’t a huge problem. As long as I have a few fun games to use when I don’t want to look like I’m awkwardly standing around waiting for someone, then there’s no real harm. It’s just sad to see such a good potential for a revival of quick, arcade gaming buried under the greed of corporations with an unending desire for more money.

Oh, and Apple, I don’t want to download iOS9 for my iPod 5. We both know that’ll slow it down and force me to buy an iPod 6. Stop asking me.

Nostalgia vs Reality (Runescape)

Who here remembers Runescape? Raise your hand, come on, don’t be shy. Back in secondary school it sort of fell into an embarrassing guilty pleasure for whatever reason, but it’s just a video game and we’re all friends here. Come on, you know that Lumbridge soundtrack, sing it with me. Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo-doo.

Well, anyway, I still play it sometimes. I was crazy about it in January and bought a year’s membership that, ah, hasn’t been used for its value. But whatever, I still hop on from time to time, and if you’re not in the know, the game is still being updated and is likely far different to how you remember it.

And before we go any further, I’d like to say that I like Runescape. I do. It’s fun. I enjoy it.

But is it a good game? Hell no!

There’s nothing wrong with the development or anything. It’s an MMO that they’ve created well, and put plenty of time into. It still gets regular updates after 14 years and if that’s not impressive I don’t know what is. The quests are superbly unique, the lore nowadays is surprisingly rich and the combat’s been revisited beyond the click and wait that it once was. (That being said, I prefer to use Legacy Combat.) The game is large, it has substance, it’s been designed well.

It’s the base that the game is built on that’s the problem. You have a number of skills to train and many of them include clicking and watching your character chop a tree or harvest memories or create a bow, and then clicking again. The xp curve required to reach higher levels is insane, with 92 out of a possible 99 levels being the technical halfway mark in terms of xp required. The game is quite literally a grindfest.

The other problem I have with the game is more a gripe of personal preference than anything. Should you die, you drop all but your 3 most valuable items, and whilst you have the opportunity to run back to your corpse, this makes me edge to the “stupid boring” side of the risk vs reward spectrum.

I’m not trying to insult the developers of the game here, for they’ve done a fantastic job. You can tell how much love and care has gone into the development of the game, despite what the somewhat toxic community might shout at you. This isn’t really meant to be a negative review, per se, for I enjoy the game and do recommend people to try it and see if it suits them. It’s just more of a Cookie Clicker than an RPG.

I maintain a faint aspiration of owning a skillcape someday, though with my highest level being 78 woodcutting I think it’s fair to say I’m a ways off. Due to the age of the game and it’s efficiency-crazy fanbase, you’ll often see world messages of players reaching level 99 in a skill, 99 in all skills, or even further milestones. Many people continue gaining xp for a skill past level 99 and use third party programs to estimate what level they would be, with 120 being the new 99 in most cases. There’s world messages for that, too. Makes me feel terribly inadequete.

Well, regardless, I’ll probably keep on playing this game casually until all of my skills are at a level where I’d have to grind for weeks to advance one level. Then I’ll probably give up and forget about the game for another five years until I make a new account. Such is the Runescape life.

faintly hums the Lumbridge Song