November 2003

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Nintendo’s Newest Mario Kart: Double Dash Revamps the Old Classic

Nintendo Headquarters, SEATTLE – As I prepared for Nintendo’s first annual College Media Day, I found there was one event I was looking forward to even more than the full tour of Nintendo nostalgia heaven. The event? A few hours of hands-on testing with Nintendo’s Mario Kart: Double Dash (GameCube).

If you’ve played any of the Mario Kart games for Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 or Game Boy Advance then you’re already familiar with Double Dash’s cartoony, vehicular combat racing style. But Nintendo’s latest update to the series adds much more than the fairly by-the-numbers sequels that came before it.

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Releasing a platforming game at the beginning of the year is a little like releasing an action movie in the early fall. In both cases, fans of the genre have gotten their fill during the boom period of the past few months: the "summer blockbuster" period for movies and the winter selling season for video games. Acclaim’s Vexx for the Playstation 2, X-box, and GameCube does little to distinguish itself from the wave of "winter blockbusters" like Ratchet and Clank, Rygar, and Shinobi that came before it.

The biggest thing that Vexx has going for it is the wide variety of highly imaginative challenges presented to the player. While some of the goals simply require Vexx to climb to the top of a level or collect X number of floating heart pieces, most require him to solve some elaborate puzzles or play an interesting mini-game to reach the prize. Each goal is accompanied by a rhyming couplet that indirectly hints at the goal, but doesn’t spell it out completely. Players have to use their brain to figure out exactly what the game is asking of them, a feature that a few of the more direct platformers could learn a lesson from.

But despite the lofty presentation and design triumphs, Vexx suffers from a number of technical problems that made me feel more frustrated than entranced with the game as a whole.

Another huge technical obstacle is the game’s frequent and overly long load times. Levels can take upwards of 15 to 20 seconds to load, and require an additional 10 to 15 seconds when Vexx enters particular sub-sections and mini-games inside the level. Player’s can look forward to additional loading every time they collect a wraitheart or return to the main menu after losing all their lives. There is no excuse for these interminable load times when games year-old like Jak and Daxter provide beautiful, persistent worlds that are virtually free of any visible loading.

With so many technically superior platforming games already on the market, I find it hard to recommend Vexx. Hardcore platforming fans should give it a rental to see what it does right. Others should stay away for all the things that it does wrong.

There are at least two very distinct experiences a player can have when playing Guilty Gear X. Which one you get depends on whether you’re a master or a masher.

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