Sunday, May 11, 2008

Snakes on a Plane

Alright, did some reading on GameFaqs, and looked into the issue of powerslides and "snaking" on the new Mario Kart Wii. Longtime fans will know that this was a major issue with Mario Kart DS, especially for online play.

Snaking, simply, means stringing together powerslide boosts one after another. In Mario Kart DS, you can activate the red powerslide boost by hopping, then pressing left-right three times while in a powerslide. You come away with a speed boost, the same as if you hit one of those old S.T.U.N. Runner boost pads. Some players - either nefarious or very skilled, depending on your take - learned how to endlessly string together these boosts on straight roads, creating a weaving, snake pattern. It also made them impossible to beat, since they were constantly driving at a higher speed. Mario Kart DS quickly devolved into a two-tier game, between the regular gamers and the snakers.

So this was my big issue for the Wii version. Was Nintendo aware of snaking? Was it intended in the first place, or was it merely unintened consequence? The new game is here now, and I think we can draw some conclusions.

I think Nintendo's overriding concern with Mario Kart is fairness, which means fairness for the novice or causal player especially. It's a democratic system - every player has an equal shot at winning, or at least the learning curve is easy enough for the rookie to become skilled. Snaking, I think, really broke this mantra down. It's not an easy technique, especially not easy to perform again and again, race after race. You really just have to have a certain reflex to pull it off. The problem is that it elevates you into an untouchable realm. By snaking, you've become one of the upper class snobs, while all the poor schlobs are left waddling around with their turtle shells. It's not fair. You can debate the pros and cons all you want, but at the end of the day, snaking just isn't fair.

I don't think this was something Nintendo ever intended, and there are many ways to fix the powerslide system to take this out of the equation. And this appears to have been the case. Powerslides are different on the Wii. Gone is the left-right mechanism which has been in place since Mario Kart 64. Now the drifting is much simpler. Powerslide boosts - first blue, then red - are awarded over time, nothing more. The only way to get that red boost is to stay in the drift for several seconds. The blue boost is effective, but slighter, and in the course of a given race, not much of a factor. In fact, the addition of ramps, bumps and halfpipes strip away much of the advantages of the old powerslides. This is a different Mario Kart, kids.

What this means, in a practical sense, is that it's now far more difficult to snake around the tracks. I'm really curious to see if it becomes a factor in this game. Possibly not. But you can never be sure; trying to find new tricks and tweaks is part of the fun, after all. But if some new trick emerges from Mario Kart Wii, it will be a new one. It won't be the DS snake.

I don't know about anyone else - as if anybody will actually read this - but I'm much happier with the new driving scheme. As always, take my opinions with a serious grain of salt. I don't own a Nintendo Wii, and likely won't for some time. You'll be able to see how it all plays out online; heck, by the time this posts, my thoughts may already be obsolete. Maybe. Maybe not. I just want a fair game that everyone wants to play. Viva Democracy! Games For All!

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