Friday, December 4, 2009

World of Goo (Demo)

World of Goo is a physics-based puzzle game using Goo Balls—among the most unusual construction materials ever imagined. The standard black Goo Ball forms a semi-rigid spar when dragged near an existing structure. Other colors have different properties: green may be repositioned after placed, red inflate into buoyant balloons, etc. Each level is built around the idea of helping Goo escape out of a vacuum pipe positioned in some awkward location. Unattached Goo Balls run on the structure you created in order to escape and serve as a scoring mechanism.

World of Goo Screenshot

Prior interest: high

Of the first round of WiiWare demos, the World of Goo was the only game I'd previously played as it had been released with a demo on PC. Thanks to gushing reviews and a few minutes with the demo, I was already interested in the game. In addition, the publisher (2D Boy) gave away the soundtrack, which I always appreciate. Since then, they posted some thoughts on game design and sold the PC version of the game for, well, whatever you feel like paying. So they have a lot of my goodwill if not my money. The only question I had was if the WiiWare version would be a better choice.

Odds of purchase: high

World of Goo uses pointer control exclusively, which limits the potential platforms for it. On the PC, there is just one pointer: the mouse. The Wii has the ability to display up to 4 pointers using the Wiimote, which ought to be used more often by game designers. Super Mario Galaxy's coop play is a bit silly, but giving the second player an onscreen pointer turns out to be both useful and clever. World of Goo on WiiWare runs with the idea in that 4 players can grab Goo Balls and add to the structure all at once. For some levels, like the giant tumbler level that requires throwing up a tower quickly before the floor moves out from under you, the extra hands are very useful.

Ultimately, the multi-player option is likely to be the reason I'd buy this game. On the PC, it's a fun diversion. The demo shows off some of the game's tricks and certainly leaves me wanting more, but on the PC I'll just move onto one of hundreds of demo or adware puzzle games that proliferate on the internet. But the same game with another pointer or three turns into a community experience. For now, the demo can be pulled out when the family tires of bowling and tennis and eventually, someone will want to do more than just play the first few levels over and over.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits (Demo)

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits (formerly known as Icarian, a far better name) is a straightforward 2D platformer set in post-apocalyptic mythical Greece. You guide Nyx, an angel-like woman in her quest to find and rescue Icarus: a refreshing change of pace. Speaking of which, the pace of the action is appropriately slow to take in the spectacular backdrops Nyx is wondering through.

NyxQuest: Kindred Spirits Screenshot

Prior interest: medium

NyxQuest represents a type of game I'm interested in: puzzle platforming in an atmospheric, well-realized environment. But this particular game has several issues that have kept it from floating to the top of my list. First is the ridiculous name and confusing name change. Even the official soundtrack uses the old name for the title track. Second is the LostWinds series, which seems similar to NyxQuest, has been well-reviewed, and now has two entries. Third, the game disappeared from my radar almost as suddenly as it showed up there. This has not been a well-marketed game.

Odds of purchase: medium

Playing through the demo level, I started to feel like NyxQuest had borrowed heavily from the 2D areas of Super Mario Galaxy. Both share a similar control scheme, beautiful backgrounds, clever yet not punishing puzzles, orchestrated music and 3D models constrained to a plane. It's hard to think of higher praise for a game, but unfortunately the demo came out a few months too late. I'm already playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii which scratches that particular itch for a while. That said, I'll eventually need something to fill that niche in my gaming and when I do, NyxQuest will be waiting.

In addition to providing a demo, the NyxQuest developers have a pretty good promotional website that includes an Oracle trivia game, which rewards the time needed to guess the answers correctly with a nice little prize.

Note to the LostWinds publisher: this might be a good time to bug Nintendo about getting a demo out for your series too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pokémon Rumble (Demo)

Pokémon Rumble is a basic brawler that draws on the Pokémon licence and sensibility: "Gotta catch 'em all!" Game play consists of fighting through six regions with linear areas full of wild Pokémon. Defeated Pokémon either cough up coins to be used for purchasing or upgrading Pokémon, or occasionally leave a body to be recruited onto your team. New team members may be brought into play at any time in order to replace a damaged fighter. Once you obtain a Pokémon of high enough level, you may enter the Battle Royal, which pits you against a ring full of opponents. The demo ends there, but presumably winning the Battle Royal opens up more advanced regions.

Pokemon Rumble Screenshot

Prior interest: none

I've never played a Pokémon game and I didn't have any particular interest in what looks like a dumbed down entry in the series. Pokémon Ranch, a previous WiiWare game, received miserable reviews as I recall.

Odds of purchase: STOP ME!

I now understand the insidious nature of Pokémon. Even though I knew I hadn't accomplished anything special in the first few regions I played, I found myself reluctant to end the game and give up the cute little fighting creatures I'd collected. And there was something mindlessly addicting to wandering around beating up underpowered opponents. It's got the Animal Crossing je ne sais quoi that makes you want to keep doing the utterly boring things the game asks without questioning. Nintendo has a gift for that sort of design.

Again, this sort of game demos especially well. Screenshots and reviews could never do the experience justice. Unlike the Bit.Trip: Beat demo, Pokémon Rumble does not satisfy the casual player who is interested in the title. Rather than being a relatively self-contained demo which may be abandoned after a few minutes, collection games demand hours of work to be truly satisfying.


Last night my son and I played a few minutes of Pokémon Rumble together and the multiplayer option works fine. It's always nice to find games that let parents play with their children, but this game is a bit too shallow for my tastes. He had a pretty good time, which might increase the odds I'll break down. I hope not.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord (Demo)

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord (what a convoluted name!) takes it's tower defense genre seriously. You play as a Dark Lord building levels of a treacherous tower to be assaulted by wave after wave of heroes. And by "you" I mean a pre-teen girl dressed in fashionable, New Romanticism outfits with cute sock-puppet minions.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord Screenshot

Prior interest: none

I've never played a Final Fantasy game, there are piles of free tower defense games on the internet, and the "My Life" meme seems boring and overplayed. Having a demo to try out is the only reason I'd ever consider a game like this.

Odds of purchase: low

It's immediately clear upon starting My Life as a Dark Lord that lots of attention was dedicated to round off any rough edges in the game. Everything seems weirdly pleasing with the possible exception of controlling movement on the large world map. Even the bilaterally-symmetrical maltagonist, Mira, turns out to be interesting. There's plenty to see as the battles play out: heroes rushing into and falling out of the tower, goblins grunting and cheering, sunrise and sunset, and characters offering advice and warnings. Way before I was ready, the demo timed out leaving me wanting more.

On the other hand, it's still a (very well done) tower defense game. So I'm only slightly interested in spending money to continue the game. Further, the demo ends with some teases of the game's story, which seems completely uninteresting. Still, I'd say the demo was a success in terms of getting me interested in a game I wouldn't have even noticed otherwise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bit.Trip: Beat (Demo)

Nintendo recently released the first demos on their WiiWare platform, which gave me several games to try out on my non-existent games budget. All demos take several minutes to download, limit the features of the game, prevent saves and boot you to the Wii Shop Channel on completion. Unlike other reviews, these are from the perspective of how effective the demo is at capturing sales in my opinion.

First up is Bit.Trip: Beat, which is Pong meets side-scrolling shmup meets rhythm game. Tilting the Wiimote positions your paddle/ship/beat-collector in order to catch balls/enemies/beats that approach from the left side of the screen. Successfully bouncing the beats back from whence they came increases your score and failing to do so brings you closer to demise. Doing well is also rewarded with musical beats that add to the background music while misses make a little whiff sound. Stringing together longer sequences opens more complex background images and music while misses cause you to drop into a mode that closely resembles the graphics and sounds of Pong itself. Meanwhile the controller rumble slightly shakes in time to the beat.

Bit.Trip: Beat Screenshot

Prior interest: high

I've been looking for a simple, old-school, action game to play when I have a few moments to fill at odd times. The Bit.Trip series seems like it fits the bill perfectly. I've seen videos of people playing in the groove that look simply amazing. Tilt control may be my favorite feature of the Wii. I hate having to dig through my collection to find disks to play a quick game. Plus I don't like spending a lot of money.

Odds of purchase: low

Overall, the demo is amazing and generous. Too generous. I died before getting to the end of the first song/level and was going on five minutes. Videos of the entire first level, which I believe is available in it's entirety, last nearly 15 minutes. That's pretty much plenty for me. I don't see myself playing this game often and seriously enough to need to play the other two songs anytime soon and certainly not at the cost of $3 each.

The Bit.Trip games seem ideal for demos since they turn on the quality of the experience. There are bound to be people who balk at spending money on a game that is widely seen as short and quirky, but who might be pushed over the edge by a good, immersive demo such as this one. In fact, despite my initial reluctance to pull the trigger this time around having a significant portion of the game available every time I turn on my system just might make the difference when I finally finish the first level.


Well I played a few more times, got better and discovered the demo ends after 7 minutes or so. Which slightly increases my odds of buying Bit.Trip: Beat. Slightly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games

My cousin had a Commodore 64 which was the highlight of visiting his house as a child. While we played a number of great games in those days (Bruce Lee, Spy Hunter, Microsoft Flight Simulator, etc.), I most looked forward to playing Summer Games by Epyx. It (and it's various sequels) had three obvious advantages:

  1. Geared toward multi-player. (Bruce Lee was an awesome game, but it's boring to watch after a while.)
  2. Accessible controls. (Mash buttons or wiggle joystick.)
  3. Considerable layers of what we now call polish. (How cool was it to have opening ceremonies with digital doves flying over the torch?!)

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Screenshot

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games follows the formula of the Epyx classics with three licenses as opposed to zero. Which means instead of stick-figure athletes, players control characters from the Sonic or Mario universes (or a Mii). And instead of a generic Summer Games, the characters compete at actual Beijing Olympics venues. The experience is a surreal, as charming as you might expect, but somehow not very epic. Rather than national (or Epyx) anthems during the medal ceremonies, we get sound bits from the characters exalting or lamenting their own performance. It's repetitive and a bit creepy.

For the most part, the events work the way you would expect using the Wiimote and Nunchuck. Lots of events involve shaking to build and maintain speed including all the track and field and swimming competitions. Despite the fact some events rely on nearly identical mechanics, each feels fairly unique. For instance, the 100m race starts with timing the start followed by shaking to gain speed and the long jump starts with shaking followed by timing the jump. To a bystander, these are virtual mirror image actions, but to the player they feel distinct. High jump, javelin, pole vault, and triple jump play around with the same core mechanic. I can't explain it, but slight variations combined with altered visuals keep these events somewhat fresh.

Other events use fairly unique mechanics. Swimming requires breathing and well-timed turns. Distance races do a pretty good job of simulating pacing and timing the final kick. Relays and hurdles add timed hand-offs and jumps to the formula. Hammer toss requires the Wiimote to be twirled rather than shook to build speed. Skeet and archery add deeper themes to the basic IR shooting mechanic found in Wii Play. Table Tennis borrows heavily from Wii Sports Tennis. Fencing takes advantage of the one-dimensional sport to create a bare-bones fighting game. Gymnastics events and rowing focus on precision button pressing and motions. Then there are Dream Events that add video-game wackiness to standard events.

Each character has unique attributes and are divided into Power, Speed, Skill and All-around categories. Each also uses preferred swimming style from crawl to dog paddle to running underwater requiring different motions to propel them. Apparently the stats for Miis are assigned on the basis of height and weight combinations. For individual events character selection can be a good source of handicap: let a less-skilled player take Sonic in 100m and chose Bowser for instance.

Unfortunately, the designers made a series of missteps that sabotage their own masterly event design. Most of the events are locked from the beginning with no immediate indication of how to unlock them. When you get a bunch of players together, the natural first step is to try out the single event mode to see what might be fun. But the best events are locked from the start and the events that are available tend to be the shaking the Wiimote variety. The only way to unlock new events once your group gets bored or carpal-tunnel is to sit down by yourself and play through all the circuits in Circuit mode.

Mario and Sonic really comes into its own in circuit mode, which should be the default playing option. (Single event appears to be the default, since it's the first option on the main menu.) Circuits work something like decathlons with different mixes of events. Points are awarded in each event according to finish and at the end of the circuit the player with the most points wins. To prevent run-away wins, each player has a bonus coin which can be used to double points for a top-three finish. If you take the option, but don't finish in the top three you get nothing.* Do you take an all-around character to do well in all events or pick a specialized character and go for broke on your best event? Nothing increases the excitement of a contest than taking a big risk to secure a come-from-behind win.

Did I mention unlocking events is painful? Shaking the controllers to beat a couple of friends equals fun. Shaking the controllers to convince the computer to let you play more interesting contests equal pain in the wrists. About half the events involve running, which requires moving the Wiimote as fast as possible. Since the Wii's controllers are accelerometer based, tight drum rolls represent the best chance of winning. And this sort of shaking starts to hurt after a while. The worst events are high jump and pole vault because they repeat over and over until all participants fail three times. It's realistic but until you know how high to set the bar winning involves ratcheting up slowly which means lots of shaking. And all of this is so that I can earn the right to play events that don't cause my arms to fall off.

Once you unlock the events, the experience begins to level out. Initially success seems possible through indiscriminate waggle, but as with Summer Games there are definite skills to learn. A variety of missions provide individual challenges for those who crave it. For multiplayer sessions, circuits can be customized so that you never need to run 100m again. All sorts of actions unlock various trophies and medals. Theoretically the game offers online leader boards, though in practice they have been thoroughly hacked. (A perfect skeet shooting score in less than a second? Yeah, right.) For the younger audience there are a handful of mini-games which are fairly pointless and easy. Finally, all the Dream Events are reasonably entertaining on their own. (So why does Sega force us to unlock them all?)

On the whole, I think the title does a good job serving the fans of the three licenses and has the potential to entertain open-minded gamers. But Sega seems to go out of their way to make the experience frustrating. Why should I have to work so hard to earn the right to play the best events? Games like Samba de Amigo or Super Monkey Ball have history on their side—previous iterations use unlockable content as a carrot. But Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games is a cross between sports and party games. Sega's model ought to have been Wii Sports or Wii Play, which use locking to direct players through modes in a sensible order. Neither requires you to be good at an event before moving on. Mastery of the game tends to be the best carrot for sports games and interactions for party games. Locking, especially requiring players to win playing solo, defeats the purpose entirely.

* The Bonus Coin works something like the doubling cube in Backgammon. For those not familiar with the doubling cube, it doubles the value of a game during match play. The opponent may refuse the cube, which causes them to lose the game at the undoubled value. Or they may accept the cube, which allows the game to continue and gives the accepting player the sole ability to double the game again. In essence, it provides an extra layer of decision in games that otherwise might become boring decisive victories.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Samba de Amigo

To start with, the controls are great. Early reviewers were either: a) bad at the game, b) confused or c) lazy. Don't worry about the controls. (More on this later.)

Do you remember the final scene in Beetlejuice where Winona Ryder sings Jump in the Line while floating in front of a stairwell? If that seemed at all fun, go out and a get a copy of Samba de Amigo because it is fun. Actually, it's completely addicting.

Samba de Amigo Screenshot

The Wii version is a remake of the Sega Dreamcast game, which is in turn an adaptation of an arcade game. The basic gameplay remains the same: shake electric maracas in rhythm to the music. Each side of your HUD (for lack of a better term) has three targets: high, medium and low. Timing balls emerge from the center of the HUD and head towards the targets. If you shake your controller, which may or may not resemble a maraca, at the right position and the right time, you earn points. There are a few extra moves: rolls, poses, dance moves, crossover, and wide hits. The more hits you string together and the more accurately timed your hits, the faster your score goes up and the faster an energy bar fills. If you stay in the groove long enough, your energy bar fills all the way and you achieve a higher rank (from a low of E to a high of A). Missing hits reverses the process. You don't really need to understand the scoring to play: just stay in the groove.

Initially, you will probably want to spend some time with Career mode, which starts easy and ramps up fairly smoothly. It also unlocks a few songs, which isn't completely necessary since most of the 44 songs are unlocked from the beginning. But when a friend comes over and wants to play "Mambo Number 5" waiting can be a drag. There are also some maraca and dance sounds to unlock, but they don't add all that much to the game.

When you do have friends over, there are six different modes to try out. Each of the modes also work with one player, but aren't as much fun. Most of your time will probably be in Quick Play, which allows you to play one song after another for as long as you can shake the controller. While waiting for a turn, players can finally look at the crazy dancing stuff you quickly learn to tune out while playing. In addition to the cast of wacky characters (Elvis, calaca guitarists, luchadors, bongo playing teddy bears, and so on), you'll see Mii representations of the players shaking away. And of course the actual players shaking away provide entertainment too.

One especially positive aspect of the game is that unequally skilled players can play head to head. When I play Hard and my six-year-old son plays Easy, we get scores in the same ballpark. The lyrics have been softened where appropriate. So instead of "Tequila!", the lyric is "Amigo!". (I don't want children picking up potentially unwanted vocabulary, but nothing prevents an older group from shouting the original lyric.) My arms can attest to Samba de Amigo's exercise potential and it probably doesn't hurt player's rhythm and dance skills.

At launch the game cost about a dollar a song. Now you will find it for half or a quarter that much. Master tracks featuring the original artist comprise just under half of the songs and the other half are reasonable covers. In addition, there are three downloadable song packs (3 for 500 Wii points). I haven't bought any, but they look to be high quality. Even more value can be squeezed out of the package by browsing the online leaderboards. These have not been completely hacked yet (unlike Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games) so the top scores are probably real. You can also compare to friends if you have their friend code or find your rank on the overall leaderboard. I can't really think of anything that should be added to the package.

Now let's talk controls. I have a theory about what went wrong with so many reviewers, so let's start with some observations:

  1. Most reviewers had played the Dreamcast version and preferred it over the Wii version.
  2. Most had few complaints about the Easy and Normal difficulties, but found they couldn't keep up with Hard and Super Hard.
  3. And most had problems shifting from the high to low positions and vice versa.

Now the Dreamcast version had two different control schemes: hitting buttons on the normal controller and expensive maraca controllers that measured the height above a sensor bar on the floor. There's only one control scheme on Wii: tilt control (with either two Wiimotes or a Wiimote and a Nunchuck). Sega used the Wiimote's tilt control well in Super Monkey Ball and used it again in Samba de Amigo. Tilt the nose of the controller up for high note, down for low notes and level for medium notes.

Having watched videos of people playing the Dreamcast version, reviews of the Wii version and experimenting on my own, I believe most reviewers expected the controls to work identically to the Dreamcast or arcade game. And amazingly for easier difficulty levels, they do. Lifting the controller above your waist naturally tilts its nose up and dropping it below your waist registers a downward tilt. It's a touch unresponsive, but the beats are slow enough so that it's possible to keep up this way. Once you start playing songs on Hard the beats get faster and more complicated. At that point, you need to remove inefficient motions, practice and become more precise.

Understand that I'm not great at rhythms or difficult games. I played tuba in band and I'm stuck half way through Super Monkey Ball and Super Mario Galaxy. So it was with some trepidation that I started up Hard levels in Career Mode. Sure I missed some beats and maybe some of them were not my fault, but I cleared all of the Hard songs in the first or second try with the exception of "Mexican Flyer". And I've passed some of the Super Hard songs too. If you play the right way, the game is not punishingly difficult. It might even be too easy.

If you are having problems, here are a few tips:

  1. Find the "Game" setting on your digital TV. It might not make a difference, but an extra millisecond or two to react to a beat can't hurt.
  2. Use two Wiimotes rather than the Nunchuck setup. The Nunchuck reduces accuracy because of the tether and because it's difficult to find its level position.
  3. Experiment with calibration. I've found that tilting too much in calibration makes hitting high and low beats slow, but tilting too little narrows the range for medium beats so that I don't hit them all the time.
  4. Go back through the Normal levels in career mode trying to use your wrists more than your arms. Imagine playing Super Monkey Ball.
  5. When you miss, don't assume the hardware is to blame. For instance, I notice that when I move too quickly I sometimes over-rotate on high beats so that the controller is starting to be upside down. That's my fault, not the controller's. Relax and try to get back in the groove.
  6. If all else fails, consider using an alternate shaking motion. Instead of shaking vertically, a motion that can be confused with changing locations, shake to the side or make a stabbing motion. It doesn't look as much like a maraca shake, but it works.
  7. A suggestion I can't vouch for is to buy the maraca shaped attachments. Supposedly they help find the high and low positions. Perhaps because they make the angles more obvious.

I've seen videos of people getting perfect scores on Super Hard using the button mashing scheme on the Dreamcast. And I've seen dedicated players struggle through the Easy difficulty with the expensive Dreamcast maracas. And I've seen people breeze through Hard levels with Wiimotes. My best explanation for the harsh reviews of Samba de Amigo for Wii is that reviewers were muddled in their memories of the previous game. If Sega is interested in re-releasing the game with Wiimotion Plus support, it probably won't make a difference. Adding a button pushing option, probably would.

Overall, there's almost nothing to lose by trying the game out. Probably the game is more fun on Easy and Normal and easier on Hard and Super Hard than you imagine. And compared to other games in the genre, Samba de Amigo would be a bargain at twice the price.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

M&M's Kart Racing

My defense: M&M's Kart Racing was a gift. Sometimes games are bad because they just aren't worth the money you pay for them. I would have been a lot harder on Go, Diego, Go! Safari Rescue and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz if I'd paid full price for them. Other games are bad because they are a waste of time. This poorly implemented racing game falls into the later category.

Looking at the menus, you might think the game offers a lot of play modes and options. "Quick Race" is a single player race. "Training" is the same thing, but with no other karts. "Arcade" is a race for points rather than strictly time. "Tournament" is a single player race just like "Quick Race". "Tournament" is the only mode that makes any sense to play since winning a race opens up new tracks for the other modes. And you'll want to open up more tracks since the three you start off with are boring. Finally there is a "Multiplayer" option, which is just a two-player, split-screen mode. It has two modes: "Quick Race" and "Full Throttle". The difference is that first is one lap with no extra karts and the other is three laps with opponents. "Options" sounds promising, but just allows you to adjust the music and sound effect volumes. (Hint: it doesn't matter since the game should always be played on mute.) "High Score" is pointless since you can't enter your own name.

Lack of modes is forgivable in a racing game, if the tracks are fun. We begin our circuit with the "Chocolate Factory". You might expect bright colors and wide-open spaces. Maybe the track would feature tricky conveyor belt and packing machine obstacles. Sadly, the track is a series of boxy rooms with drab, factory-like decor. Racing consists mostly of getting through the doors between rooms before your opponent and being careful not to run into anything. Turns pop up around each corner, so you have to keep on your toes (or memorize them). There are usually signs pointing the next turn, but they sit on immovable posts that will bring your kart to a dead stop that will force you to reverse away from the post. Annoying.

Next up is "The Streets", which ought to have been called "The Dark Alleys". Most of the course is a series of narrow alleys with protruding door steps designed to slow karts down. Part of the course is a wide boulevard with a giant truck (not moving) and you start to wonder what the game would be like with wide-open courses. Then you take a big left turn into a dead end with a small opening back into the alley. If you can find it. To be successful, you need to memorize the awkward layout of each track, which does nothing to add to interest in the game.

Each course has two types of power-ups that are placed in fixed locations. First are chocolate coins that can be used to purchase new carts. Sadly, the new carts aren't that interesting or beneficial. Once you've bought them all, the coins are best avoided as collecting them blocks your view of the track ahead with an update of the number you have. The other power-up is a cup of coffee that give your kart a speed boost. Invariably, the coffee is at the end of a long straightaway so picking up the coffee will boost your speed into tight, twisty turns. It's the last thing you want.

The House level is more or less the same idea a The Chocolate Factory: boxy rooms with narrow doorways. The Farm actually turns out to be interesting. It's more open than the other courses and it has a difficult hay bail maze section. After running through the course several times, I discovered there is a shortcut through the maze. After three mindless, unrewarding tracks, the first unlockable gave me a glimmer of hope the rest of the game was going to be better. Like, maybe the initial tracks are sort of tutorials.

This tiny nod to rewarding gameplay got me excited to play the next level: The Forest. Here was another chance for a wide-open track with shortcuts and maybe less drab visuals. Sadly the forest the designers seem to have had in mind is Mirkwood. There are no shortcuts, no brightness, no escape. If you stray even for a moment from the path, you are likely to be caught by, well, monstrously large blades of grass or stuck behind huge mushrooms with the M&M logo. In addition, you can't see very far. Or rather, trees pop into existence when you get close enough to them. Initially, I thought this was an issue with objects being loaded into memory when beginning a level. But no, each time around the trees suddenly appear.
M&M's Kart Racing Screenshot

I don't have the heart to continue racing in the horrid forest level, so if there are more surprises like the farm, I'll never find them. And to be completely clear, the farm is only a good course relative to the very poor alternatives found in the rest of the game. No matter how cheap the game, it's too expensive. It's just not worth your time.