Hit by the Hype Train – Game Critique: Pokemon Ruby Omega & Sapphire Alpha demo

Was meant to have written this a while back but back have been busy with more than a few things of late. Oh, well. Such is life.

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Because Nintendo view me as a hyper-consumer of their products, they selected me (& a few thousand others) to test & brag about their demo for their forcoming (re)releases Pokemon Ruby Omega & Sapphire Alpha.

Since there isn’t honestly much to the demos, I’ll take a moment to about the Big N‘s strategy with releasing unlimited demos & special promotions (such as Halloween themes) to their heavily invested consumers before releasing limited versions to the general public through their eShop system.

The main idea in doing this is so those individuals who are already rapid fans of Nintendo & their various products are both kept engaged & are ready to be zealots for the Big N’s cause. Nintendo lose nothing from sending out demos & free bonuses to Nintendo Club members or randomly selected consumers. In fact, they have everything to gain because it is these individuals who are most like to have ways & means (such as I with this blog) to promote these special promos & get other consumers who aren’t as devoted to become jealous &/or intrigued by they aren’t afforded the same deals. That is when, after much internet metaphorical (unless you have a Nintendo logo tattooed on it) dick-waving, Nintendo release a limited use demo for everyone else -such as they did with the recent Super Smash Bros. 3DS demo.

This sort of trickle release in the Age of the Hyper-Engaged consumer means people are always aware of what they are potentially missing out on, so are more able (& eager) to demand their share too (deserved or not).

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What people have been neglecting to notice is that Nintendo has been the quiet achiever of the current Console War of sales of the 3DS in Asia & the increase of Wii U sales due to a steady flow of new release games over the past year. Whilst people focus on the current home console battle between Sony (PS4) & Microsoft (XBone) (in which the XBone is being smashed by the PS4) & how rapid the fans get there, almost everyone has a Nintendo platform of some variety (usually a DS or 3DS). Nintendo are the constant of the video game industry, having beaten Atari, Sega & a myriad of other companies (apart from PC game makers), so no matter your current allegiances, the majority of gamers have played or owned a Nintendo console at some point.

Further to this, as previous written about in my Pokemon article, the biggest driven force for Nintendo still remains as the Pokemon franchise. With consumers demanding both new & reimagined games. Which brings us to the crux (it’s pronounced, crue, the X is silent because it is French) of this rambling article: the demo for the forthcoming remakes of Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire.

The demo is extremely limited. Your character is pre-named as Orlando (you can’t customise appearance even in full game, unlike X/Y) & you can only explore Mossdeep Town as well as a few enclosed dungeons (forests, caves & islands), a few battle areas & one semi-proper quest. You interaction with only a few characters, mainly the Pokemon League Champion Steven but cameos from other major characters (gym leaders) appear too. This is all to get you a taste of the new game, showing off the improved graphics (improved even from X/Y in some cases).

The best example of the improvement in graphics is fly mode with Steven on the back of Latios or Latias. From the back of those Pokemon, you can see the entire Hoenn region in 3D (the 3D effect automatically turns off when out of battle & cut scenes). There are heaps of other little graphical details added, such as grass rustling in the breeze & the way the long grass moves as well.

The other much hyped new feature in the demo is the ability to sneak up on Pokemon who are poking up out of the long grass (in the full game these are meant to be harder to catch monsters or ones with different move sets from the normal ones). It’s done like sneaking in pretty much any game: slightly moving the circle pad in a direct so you move slowly. I thought that this would also lessen encounters in the long grass but didn’t find that to be the case.

Unfortunately, you can’t catch any of these long grass Pokemon. In fact, the only one that you can catch is in the only proper mission, where you have to save a Mega Evolving Pokemon from both Team Magma & Team Aqua lieutenants. I was given a Glali but some people were meant to have been able to have captured a Steelix. You can Mega Evolve the Glali into a neckbearded bit of weirdness but isn’t all that great. You also fight with the top evolutions of the 3 Starters, each with the ability to be Mega Evolved as well. You can also transfer Glali into the full game, once you purchase, along with some other bonuses that you can unlock through repetitive plays (though haven’t found any other Pokemon that you can capture & transfer).

I’ve played the demo through about a dozen times now, playing missions that only take a few minutes each (mainly missions to flush a Shroomish out of some long grass without battling it). There isn’t anything special to do or great challenge, mainly just battle several basic trainers or one more special one.

In the end, the OS/RA is just to whet the appetites of eager fans & silence nay-sayers that it’s just X/Y set back in Hoenn. Which does make it kind of pointless because people have been waiting for it for so long now, they’ll already have it pre-ordered or pick it up the moment that it’s out (it won’t break street date though, the Big N is very very strict on that these days). It’s something that I already plan to get but having stuff to transfer into it upon purchase is just a nice bit of spice to an already decent meal.

With not much left to say about it, I await any flaming on providing incorrect info on the Console Wars as well as the general haters having a go (before they are deleted) as I try to conquer my Pile of Shame.

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I Have No Idea What I’m Doing – Game Critique: Super Smash Bros. 3DS

Title: Super Smash Bros. 3DS (Super Smash Bros. 4)
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 4, 2014
Studio/Developers: Sora Ltd., Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Nintendo

Get the Hype!
Get the Hype!

I had previously written about the special demo of Super Smash Bros. 3DS & the limitations that provided. Now that I have the full game, I can gladly report that it doesn’t have those issues of controls that I lamented in the demo. It does still have other niggling minor issues, but they shall be addressed in a few paragraphs.

Like with the relatively recently released Mario Kart 8 [reviewed here] & The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds [reviewed here], SSB3DS doesn’t attempt to reinvent the franchise, rather just tweak previous issues. This seems to be Nintendo’s mantra of late. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Fine tuning is good enough”. & this is something that I agree with, for the most part.

Not from the demo
Not from the demo

For whatever reason, someone at Nintendo said that it’s better to incrementally fix things then to reinvent an entire franchise. Other critiques (well, mainly Yahtzee Croshaw) say that is a decisive failing for the Big N (as many -well, me at least- call Nintendo) & is often seen in the Super Mario Bros. franchise, where little changes are made & often the games just seem to be rehashes of previous ones. In my view, that is ignoring that many new games aren’t really aimed at non-invested Nintendo fans. What they are aimed towards is engaging new fans to become invested fans & players who have new tried a franchise before to enter at the latest title & step backwards from there by refining the system rather than building it all again from scratch. That was one reason for the popularity of Mario Kart 8 & the continued popularity of the Zelda franchise & it will be why Super Smash Bros. 4 on both the 3DS & Wii U will sell well.

The core of SSB3DS remains based around fast frenetic fighting. It is the epitome of the button-masher with strategic depth. Where you can wail on the controls until you win or you can think actively plan how to beat your opponent (if you can). The game’s graded AI difficulty plays a lot more into this; because the high the number (ranked from 1 to 9) the more the computer controlled characters (up to 3) take advantage of items, chase the smash ball & exploit the system to knock you about as much as they can. You can wail on them but if you aren’t smart about your timing, the AI can overcome you with a shield dodge & knock you out with a perfect Smash Attack.

Unfortunately, the 3DS isn’t the best system for such frantic controls. Unlike the afore-reviewed demo, you can customise the controls, ridding yourself of the annoying Up to jump & so forth. Unfortunately, the Circle Pad isn’t a very precise method of playing. It feels slippery at times & hard to make the game know the difference between a tap & a hold. I’d honestly would have preferred having the option to be able to use the D-Pad but that’s something Nintendo might be able to amend with a software update. Fortunately, you can completely customise all of the buttons. So you can choose which is best for you. I switched the X & Y buttons from Jump to Attack & Special Attack, making it feel more like a modern Platformer, which is more natural to me as a player. Despite even with this, the nature of the 3DS unit isn’t the most comfort for long term gaming session. So you often end up with some nasty hand cramps if you spend too much time playing, which will cripple many users’ sex lives.

Based on a true story
Based on a true story

I’ll quickly note two other annoyances/negatives before I get back to the good.

The main annoyance is the format itself. The tiny screen on the 3DS means that when the action is zoomed out it becomes really difficult to see where you character is, especially versing 3 other opponents. There are options to let you see things a little better, such as thicker lines around the characters if you choose that option in the menu & a target box if you tap a character icon on the Touch Screen. Unfortunately, these options aren’t explained or easy to find. Also, even with them on, if the action is zoomed well out it can be hard to spot your character in the midst of particle effects & shifting backgrounds. More so if you have an item, like an Assist Trophy such as the Puppy from Nintendogs, hogging up the entire screen.

The other issue that I had was how unintuitive the menus are. There is no way to know where the things you are after actually are. Take the options menu for example: you have to crawl through several sub-menus to find it rather than having it on the very first page. Same with some of the other game modes & side games. Again: I feel that this is something that could be fixed with a software update. Maybe even putting a few menus on the touch screen as favoured short cuts so you can have instant access. It’s not a deal breaker in any fashion but is a tad vexing when you first start up or forget where things are.

Which unfortunately plays into the Trophy selection & purchase system. Like previous games, Trophies are just a pretty little thing to collect & there are several ways to do this. You can collect them in fights, as rewards for beating challenges or doing achievement unlocks. They don’t factor into the game play but reward you with cool information about them -more so if they are Assist Trophies in game. They are then explained what they do & how they affect the game play, which is handy with some of the new ones found in the game.

Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?
Does this look like the face of mercy, motherfucker?

Despite the limitations of the screen, the game play remains insanely fun & even challenging if you put the AI’s level up. Being handheld, you are prone to playing short matches on Smash Mode, which you can have as fully customisable rule sets, including or excluding various factors or focussing on your personally customised characters. These customisation aren’t just aesthetic but also factor in modified moves that you collect in Smash Run & other side games; completely transforming how a character plays from tweaks to moves, weight (the ability to be knocked out of the arena or turned into a Cannonball by your opponent) & other little factors. You can also transfer your specially customised characters to other people’s consoles & to the Wii U edition via the soon to be released Amiibo figures. They work through a NFC chip & are supposedly meant for some games outside of the two SSB releases (such as Mario Kart 8) but they seem like a bit of an expensive investment so far.

The game also boasts the biggest roster to date, which is 48 characters (not including the 3 customisable Mii classes of Brawler, Gunner & Bladesman). Unfortunately, some of these are very much clone characters -like Pit & Dark Pit. The most disappointing is Lucina from Fire Emblem: Awakening who is a move for move clone of Marth, who is already included in the game. I found this a tad disappointing because I loved her as a character in her Fire Emblem appearance.

The character who’s become my go to fighter is female variant of Robin, the Tactician from the aforementioned Fire Emblem: Awakening. She has a great combination of ranged & close attacks not to mention good speed; making for an excellently balanced fighter. More so with her health draining close range attack, Nosferatu. I just wish that I could import the character model that I have in my version of Fire Emblem: Awakening rather then relying on the default Twin Tails appearance that SSB3DS provides.

When playing Smash mode, I tend just to go for random select options, so that I get a good feel for every character. Although there are some real stand outs for me. Such as Bowser Jr, who has varied attacks & alternate forms based upon the Koopalings; or the Duck Hunt Duo, that pairs up a Dog & Duck for some pretty unique attacks & very retro references.

Unlocking the characters is a lot easier in this game too. You can just grind away in Smash Mode, where you encounter an unlock every 10 battles & if that unlock beats you (which can happen easily), you just fight them again after your next battle. You can also unlock them by meeting various conditions in the Quest mode game but just grinding for them is the much easier option.

The arenas in the 3Ds version are all nicely varied, with some console exclusive ones -such as the Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks one. Where you fight on top of Link’s train from that game (where Toon Link drives it, unless you play as that character, then Alfonzo is the driver), making the stage constantly move. Some stages are more fun than others but everyone will find one that suits them. Despite that, Rainbow Road from the Mario Kart series and the retro F-Zero SNES stages are very annoying to be on because of how they constantly shift & have things move onto the battle stage all of the time. I ended up loving the every changing Fire Emblem: Awakening Fenox Arena stage, because of how it wouldn’t stay in one form but also doesn’t try to throw you off like other stages.

The music is also to due for! Mixing up some classic Smash Bros. tune with originals & retro remixes. Plus there are plenty of hidden tracks for many of the stages (triggers by hitting a certain button on Stage Select screen). If you can find it, you can access all of the unlocked tracks in the Records area & play them instead of the default these, as well as fav’ing them. No idea what that does but it’s a good option to have.

I’ve even tried my hand at Online Play; choosing the For Fun option over the For Glory hardcore player mode. Despite the lag from my own net connection, I won my first match in a Sudden Death bout. So, like every other online victory I have, it was more a pure fluke then any skill on my part. I personally don’t see online mode as something I’ll stick with, for various reasons, but Nintendo still manage to make a close system very fun to play. Their matchmaking algorithm seems to work well, so you aren’t played with the 3l33test of the 3l33t but you aren’t placed with the scrubs whom you can mow over either. It seems balanced so far but, most importantly, it feels fun. You don’t go in fearing you get some ubergamer waiting to show off his Wang Size in replacement of any other life skills. You get similar players with similar skills & you get the most out of the hectic battles. The lag still bothered me but, again, that’s more to do with crappy Australian net services & a terrible wifi router than system itself.
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Being on a handheld console, Super Smash Bros. 3DS isn’t really made for long gaming session but that doesn’t detract from the fun. Short burst whilst travelling or waiting are good enough. You can do more dedicated sessions if you want, no one’s stopping you really, but the limitations on the current 3DS battery (to be changed with the New 3DS release in Oz in November & next year in the rest of the world) can be a bit of a hindrance on the go. Speaking of “on the go”, the Street Pass system allows you to play an Air Hockey like knock out game, that rewards you with Coins & Trophies if you beat the computer controlled tokens of people who you’ve passed on the street. It’s fun but not demanding. A lazy way to unlock things in a way but you get ranking for each battle you win, supposedly making your icon a target for more serious players but that depends on the likelihood passing another console owner with the game.

In the end, despite the limitations of the tiny screen & the vexation of the menu system, Nintendo has refined Super Smash Bros. 3DS into a superb fighting game. What it lacks in general refinement against such franchises as King of Fighters, Tekken or the granddaddy of them all, Street Fighter, SSB3DS more than makes up for in being utterly chaotic fun. It’s not a serious game for seriously competitive players but what it is more than compensates for that quality. Despite not being able to test the wireless battle mode, basically all the game modes stand up. Some you’ll play once & forget about, others you may return to (such as Smash Run) for all the unlocks & bonuses. Am still waiting to see what special unlocks connecting it with the Wii U version unleash (apart from being able to use the 3DS & game as a separate controller for mutliplayer), as well as possible future DLC. It shall more than likely be a game that I return to again & again for brief bouts of bout fun.

Is your body ready?
Is your body ready?

The Hype Is Strong With This One – Game Critique: Super Smash Bros. 3DS demo

For months now, people have watched the Nintendo Hype Train pulling into the station whilst the PS4 and XBone still lumber down the tracks (especially the poor poor XBone) but the Big N has put a heavy Hype Boot in with the release of demo codes of the 3DS version of the latest game in the Super Smash Bros. franchise.

Choo-Choo, Motherfucker!
Choo-Choo, Motherfucker!

Basically, it was release to limited numbers of Nintendo Club members (4 codes per Golden Ticket), causing people to lose their mother fucking minds of it. Selling & demanding them for hefty prices but is it worth the hysterics?

I got my codes (all gone now, so don’t demand) whilst I was away, so couldn’t download until this past Sunday.

Unlike the free demos that you used to get with old PC magazines (which were basically the entire games), Super Smash Bros. 3DS is an exceptionally stripped affair. you only get 2 game modes -vs CPU & verses 3 other plays via wireless mode- 5 characters (Mario, Adult Link, Villager [Animal Crossing], Pikachu & Mega Man) and a single stage with 2 modes (one with platforms, one without). You also don’t get any configure options, so you can’t change the tricky controls (more on that later). You can get different character appearances by pressing X over the character icon (including getting a Female Villager) but that’s it for customisation in the demo.

As for proving the greatest of the game, I don’t think the demo really does that.

Not from the demo
Not from the demo

As mentioned before: the default controls are pretty painful to use.

The Y & X buttons are set to jump, which makes it clumsy after decades of having B or A used as jump buttons. To add to complications, UP on the Circle Pad also makes you jump but is needed to do certain types of attacks.

The attack buttons are also confusing, because it’s hard to tell at a glance if you are doing a normal or special attack & if you hit the wrong direction whilst pressing either button, you get an entirely different attack.

Supposedly, according to import hands on, you can completely customise the controls in the full game. I hope so, because the default is very confusing & SSM3DS is such a fucking frenetic game.

Which leads into the other issue: playing on the tiny 3DS screen.

When you have 2 other player who all look very similar you can easily make a mistake. More than once I was looking at the wrong character trapped in a blast of flashing light effects thinking that it was mine, only to have my character fall off the ledge because couldn’t see where he was.

That was also a general problem when playing Super Smash Bros. Wii on an old analogue TV but the compact nature of the 3DS screen does mean that you have to really pay attention.

I haven’t tried it in 3D mode yet. I don’t often use it, so tend to forget that it’s even there. According to others whom I’v3 spoken with, the 3D helps you see things a little better, especially dodging moves & background but the game can still easily be played in 2D mode (for those who got the 2DS wedge).

I have no idea how the work on the New 3DS with its Wii U GamePad like button set up but don’t think it will impact much.

So, what is good about the game?

Well, despite the control & screen issues, it’s still very very fun.

the Smash Bros. has always been a Beat’em Up light style of game. You can casually play without hassle or get hardcore into it, learning all the little tricks. The game caters for both style of plays & so does the demo.

All the move sets for the characters are unlocked, including their Final Smashes (super moves trigged by acquiring the right item). As are all the items that pop into the battle. There are so new interesting ones so far, especially Pokeball related assists. There are also a ton of Assist Trophies too. I found that the best one was Isabelle from Animal Crossing: New Leaf because she cheers for you & drops healing items (food). You can also get near one hit smash items (knocks opponents out of the arena) but they take a while to wind up, so it balances out. The towards screen smash do look awesome on the 3DS, even if they block gameplay for a moment.

The demo also allows you unlock Smash Coins, which are the in game currency. These coins carry over to the full game once you buy it (similar to the Bravely Default items in that game’s demo), allowing for you to purchase unlockables (not to be confuse with DLC micro-transaction, they only use in game stuff).

All matches are limited 3 minutes. Any more than that & you’d probably have a heart attack trying from all the Hype.

In the end: the demo is but the tiniest, inciest taste to get you hooked on the full thing. Making the Big N your typical high end drugdealer. The lack of control customisation is vexing but can be dealt with. I’m not sure that you truly get enough to get you salivating over the full experience but it’s enough t make your mouth moist.

Supposedly the full game will be able to be hooked up to the Wii U version, so you can play it with your customised characters & use your 3DS as a controller on the big screen. That’s a function I’ve been waiting for in Nintendo consoles since the Wii was meant to hook up to the DS for certain games.

With only a few weeks until the full game is available, Nintendo have done a lot to get the Hype Train up to full steam before the pre-Xmas glut of games. They themselves have at least a dozen things coming out in a short space of time, so they need to get people prioritising their purchases (doesn’t help that they are doing sales in their console stores that offer download discounts on related game franchises).

So, whose ready to claim aboard the Hype Train already?

Get the Hype!
Get the Hype!

Not just the same old race – Game Critique: Mario Kart 8

MarioKart8BoxartTitle: Mario Kart 8
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: 31st of May 2014
Studio/Developers: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1
Publisher: Nintendo


It’s been roughly 20 years since I started playing the Mario Kart series, beginning all the way back with the first Mode 7 game on the SNES. I do count myself a veteran of the franchise, despite not playing MK Double Dash!! on the GameCube or Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. The former because was more into F-Zero GX on the GameCube & the latter because of the still outrageous prices on 3DS games.
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At any rate, I’m still well versed in many of the mechanics of the series, having played an extensive amount of Mario Kart Wii a few years ago.

Like so many other games that Nintendo makes these days, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t revolutionise the franchise but it does refine it in the most perfect manner.

If we were to turn this into a more mechanical metaphor, it is as though Nintendo have fine tuned the engine to enrich performance at the same time they trimmed down all the useless weight and refined the handling whilst leaving it feel familiar.

If you played Mario Kart Wii or Mario Kart 7, you know what you are getting into -especially with the MK7 additions of hang gliders & underwater levels- but the new items as well as vehicles help to enliven the gameplay from the previous games.
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Most notably is the improved AI in the opponents, making even the easiest difficulty (50cc) a challenge at times, with AI controlled opponents using shortcuts, boosts & items more cleverly. Yet best of all is the lack of blue shell spammage when you are in 1st place (you still get it but not as much) as well as the Horn item that allows you to prevent blue & other shells from hitting you. The AI gets smarter the higher the difficulty but I never once (so far) felt as though the AI was using exploits to win. Pretty much all non-1st place results for me have been my fault; drifting at the wrong time or accidentally hitting myself with a rebounding green shell.

These refinement coupled with the seriously impressive 1080p 60f/ps graphics makes Mario Kart 8 one of the prettiest current gen games out there.

Another nice tweak is that all the new tracks have branching paths, so you can choose which way to go. Some offer speed boosts, others have items, whilst many just offer a pretty alternative way to go. The older (read: reused) tracks from previous games have also been altered a little but offer nothing new but they fit within the new gimmick that the game offers.
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That is the much touted ability to hover & have invented, looped tracks. This pretty much turns it into a cartoonie version of F-Zero GX, which makes me scream out for another game in that near forgotten franchise. Yet the anti-gravity sections of the track do add their own little mechanics & challenges, such as getting speed boosts from hitting your opponents not to mention the added risk of falling off (or being knocked) the edges of the track -making Rainbow Road even more frustrating in this incarnation as any previous (if you don’t come to it with the right mindset that is).

The lack of overall tracks is a bit disappointing. Only 16 new tracks (4 for each 4 cups) with another 16 reused tracks but they all flash by so quickly when you’re racing that it all seems so little in the scheme of things.
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This is honestly one game from Nintendo that I’d welcome DLC for but only if it offered entirely new tracks & power-ups for a decent price (not to mention the dreaded Australia Tax that we will probably have to suffer on any possible DLC).

I do like how it drip feeds you unlocks, such as a randomly picked new character for every cup that you finish & a new part for every X amount of coins that you gather in any of the racing modes (supposedly including all the coins collected in online/offline multiplayer races).

Unfortunately, as of time of writing, I am yet to try to online functions, due to dodgy internet connection in my house but reports from friends is that it a solid experience, with the game still running at 1080p 60 frames per second every with 15 other opponents on screen. I don’t think any Xbone or Ps4 game can come close to claiming that (or even being able to play anything in 1080p as of yet).

Of course, the game has already generated a ton of memes but the most popular so far seems to be the Luigi Death Stare. Once again highlighting how nerds get obsessed over the tiniest, inconsequential detail in things (something I’ll hopefully write about soon).

Another great thing about this game, at least at time of writing, was Nintendo offering a free high end game download with purchase. Basically, sign into the Nintendo club, register MK8 & wait 48 hours for a link to pop up sending you to the free game collection screen. This offer does run out on the 31st of July & not sure how many games of new consoles it will push out doors but if you’re paying a high price for full games it is an exceptionally good offer. I went with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD because basicaly played all the other games on offer & wanted to play Wind Waker again in shiny new graphics.

In the end, Mario Kart 8 does nothing to shake up the bedrock of the franchise or the kart racing genre in general but it still does everything exceptionally well. With an unbelievable level of polish & challenge (prepared to get slaughtered when you jump up to 100cc mode) that levels any pretender Mascot racer games in the dust!

One thing I would want though if/when they continue the franchise is for them to turn it more Super Smash Bros. & make it more a general Nintendo mascot racer. So add characters from The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Animal Crossing & Metroid. Not sure how you’d be able to get Pokémon involved but sure some fan out there has already thought of a way.

But, basically, if you have a Wii U: get it!

If you are yet to get a Wii U: buy the MK8 premium pack (with bonus Mario Kart Wii steering wheel) & claim the free game so you have two games to play whilst you wait for friends to buy their console so you can mutliplayer it up!

I’ll be waiting.

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