Saturday, 28 July 2018

Star Wars: Republic Commando - Hard Contact Review [Books]

The Republic Commando series started as a video game where players followed the story of Delta squad. While a second game was planned, it never saw the light of day. Meanwhile, the tie-in book dealt with another squad of clones – Omega. The book series – written by Karen Traviss – continued following the events of the game and expanding the world of the Republic Commandos.

Hard Contact – the first of the novels – released in 2004, and while I didn’t own it on release [after all, my first introduction to Star Wars was the tail-end of 2006] it became one of the first novels in my Star Wars collection. Just like with Battlefront 2, you could say there is some nostalgia clouding my thoughts. This review should say why that isn’t the case.

Four clones who have lost their squads in battle are formed as a new squad – Omega. Their mission is to sabotage a nanovirus research facility located on a Separatist-held planet – operating with no backup and a limited supply of weapons. Help comes in the form of a Jedi Padawan, though she isn’t the best and is unable to call on her experience when she needs it most.

Darman and Niner are the two clones who have their points-of-view explored. As squad leader, it is Niner’s job to keep his squad alive and well. And it is with Niner’s POV that we see the squad bonding together. There’s the feeling that the hard times are forming them into a squad, and it’s the same thing we see with Darman and Etain.

Etain is the Jedi Padawan – stuck on Qiilura when her Master accepted a mission on the planet and then got himself captured. While she might lack Jedi experience, she was able to use her other qualities to source a massive amount of intelligence that Omega needs to complete the mission. Her point-of-view deals with her coming to terms with her own inexperience, being thrust into a new situation all Jedi now find themselves in, along with her growth into becoming the Jedi Darman sees in her.

All three viewpoints are written well, dealing with the situations with the right amount of pacing and the right amount of maturity. While it isn’t as apparent with Hard Contact, there are still areas where the realities of war make themselves known. And it works. What also works is the way it goes about introducing the Mandalorian philosophy.

The story is effectively Mandalorian versus Mandalorian. We learn that the clones were trained by Mandalorians all hired by Jango Fett himself, and the fourth viewpoint in this story is a Mandalorian by the name of Ghez Hokan – the chief enforcer on the nanovirus project. Here we see how effective the squad’s tactics work, as Hokan makes tactical guesses about what he is facing and how best to deal with the situation.

The story wraps itself up nicely with the final battle forcing yet more creativeness on the squad’s part, showing how much Etain has grown in a short amount of time, as well as having all the characters here face the reality of the cost of war and showing how each of them deal with that.

Hard Contact sets up quite a bit of stuff to come in the future, showing characters who will become an important part of the story, along with more ideologies of Mandalorians. It creates a team in Omega who the reader wants to see succeed, as well as Etain’s growth. Also here is something that becomes even more of a focus in the future as the clones experience more of the outside world and start to question their existence.

Hard Contact is a great start to a series. It is definitely worth a read to those who are interested in a more mature take on a Star Wars story – Rogue One aside. While I can’t really do a sum-up of the entire series yet, I can say that the same style of writing carries on through all the novels, with a nice flow from book to book.

Star Wars Republic Commando Review Series

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Future of Mario Kart - Characters Come Together for Chaotic Crashes [Gaming]

The Future of Mario Kart series has so far looked at what retro tracks I’d like to see return, new and returning features, as well as reworking the Grand Prix mode. Now, I’m here to discuss characters, as all mascot kart racers aren’t complete without them.

With the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, I have a label for a group of characters called the Heroes Majority, which basically groups all those characters that appeared in Sonic Heroes as one group as characters who are more than likely to appear in any game. With Mario Kart, the same rule can apply – but the group name becomes the Double Dashers.

The eight original characters of Super Mario Kart of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Bowser, Koopa Troopa, Yoshi, and technically Donkey Kong have appeared in every single game [except for Koopa Troopa who got replaced by Wario for 64 and Super Circuit]. Double Dash then introduced Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Waluigi, Bowser Jr., Diddy Kong, Toadette, Daisy, Birdo, and King Boo who have become series staples or show up on occasion. Paratroopa and Petey Piranha are the only two from Double Dash who haven’t returned in any future Kart game. The name of Double Dashers can still apply though, considering Cream and Big of the Heroes Majority hardly show up in Sonic games.

So all the Double Dashers I call to the roster list. As for those from games after Double Dash, there are a few characters I would bring in. Rosalina has become a popular character, which makes sense to add her to the roster. Dry Boswer and Funky Kong are also fan requested characters. When both were not included in Mario Kart 8 – especially as they were shelved to include all seven Koopalings – people were saying they’d much rather those two have been included instead. Same goes for Dry Bones.

As for who isn’t making the cut, clone characters I can understand being in the game, but when they’re power-up skins, that’s when it goes a bit too far. As such, Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach are not being added to the roster. I also think the amount of baby characters has become a bit too much. However, that is easily fixed. Mario Kart 8 started to allow skins for characters such as Shy Guy and Yoshi, then when the DLC came out the same happened for Villager.

Now, I’m not suggesting skins in the sense of Smash Bros. or other fighting games, but more along the lines of folders – where grouped characters get put into the same icon. After all, if we have more than thirty characters for the next game, the character select screen is going to be very full. This allows for the Koopalings to have one icon present on the screen, with the baby characters all sharing one as well. Koopa Troopa, Paratroopa, and Dry Bones would collapse to one icon, with Bowser and Dry Bowser sharing one as well. For me, it isn’t so much the characters themselves that bother me, it’s the amount of spaces they take up.

For now, the roster looks like this:

Light – Baby Mario / Baby Luigi / Koopa Troopa / Paratroopa / Diddy Kong / Bowser Jr./ Toad / Toadette / Dry Bones / Baby Peach / Baby Daisy / Baby Rosalina / Wendy / Lemmy / Larry

Medium – Mario / Luigi / Peach / Daisy / Yoshi / Birdo / Ludwig / Iggy

Heavy – Donkey Kong / Bowser / Wario / Waluigi / Petey Piranha / King Boo / Rosalina / Dry Bowser / Funky Kong / Roy / Morton

As you can see, the light characters dominate the other two classes, with 15 characters. Heavy class has 11, with medium class only having 8. To be fair, I would swap Baby Rosalina with Shy Guy, but that doesn’t affect the overall totals. And since a kart racer is easier to balance for than a fighter, adding more characters for variety is always a plus. As it stands with those numbers, I wouldn’t want to be adding any more to the light class, but then it’s just a case of adding characters that people know or would want. And before anyone asks, I don’t think characters from the RPGs are gonna make the cut, so I won’t pull any from them.

Pauline from Odyssey would be making the cut as one of the latest representatives of the Mario-verse [even though she’s technically one of the oldest], and Nabbit from the New Super Mario Bros. series. Since his introduction in the WiiU game, he’s shown up around various spin-offs, so now would be his time to shine in Mario Kart. However, putting him in the medium class is stretching it a bit, considering he’s a rabbit. As I said before though, this is going to be as even as possible with all three classes. A third medium character I’d add is E. Gadd from the Luigi’s Mansion series.

That leaves eight characters to find – four for each class. Since I covered a few mediums, I’ll move to heavies for a bit, and one that springs to mind is a character many have been asking for to appear in Smash Bros. That character being King K. Rool. Bowser’s here as the main Mario antagonist, so K. Rool makes sense for the Donkey Kong side of the franchise. The Galaxy series already has a representative in Rosalina, but one thing I’ve always found odd is why she is a heavy class. She doesn’t look much different to either Peach or Daisy, with the only main difference being her style of clothes. Rosalina I request moves down to medium while Lubba takes her place as a heavy. After all, he was the main guide of Mario in Galaxy 2.

And now we reach that thing I mentioned earlier. Power-ups taking up roster space. Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach provide heavy alternatives for Mario and Peach, but there isn’t a need to do so just to have the mains represented in all three classes. The more obvious reason for their inclusion is that unless you dive deeper into the enemy and spin-off bases, there just aren’t enough memorable characters left. However, if the power-ups really are going to be a part of the roster, don’t just keep it at metal forms. There’s various power-ups to form as, such as Tanooki, Cat, Penguin, Bee, Ice, Cloud – and all can fit in one of the three classes. However, I don’t think having them as power-ups works when you can just have certain of the animal allies be represented.

And if that’s the case, the six final spaces in my list are filled with Mother Penguin Chargin’ Chuck for the heavy class, with Kamek and Spike for the medium class. The newly added list of characters now looks like this.

Light – Baby Mario / Baby Luigi / Koopa Troopa / Paratroopa / Diddy Kong / Bowser Jr. / Toad / Toadette / Dry Bones / Baby Peach / Baby Daisy / Shy Guy / Wendy / Lemmy / Larry

Medium – Mario / Luigi / Peach / Daisy / Yoshi / Birdo / Ludwig / Iggy / Rosalina / E. Gadd / Pauline / Nabbit / Kamek / Spike

Heavy – Donkey Kong / Bowser / Wario / Waluigi / Petey Piranha / King Boo / Dry Boswer / Funky Kong / Roy / Morton / King K. Rool / Lubba / Mother Penguin / Chargin’ Chuck

Now, if you count them, you’ll find I’ve left both heavy and medium classes at fourteen, and the reason for that will become clear when I talk about crossover material next month.

Future of Mario Kart Series