Tooth & Arrows: Scientific Theory Applied To… Mario Kart DS?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I borrowed Mario Kart DS from Nyx, a few months back. I’ve done this several times, because – for some strange reason – the urge to play it never shows up when I have the money to actually buy the game for myself.

However, as a result, I’ve now beaten the game approximately 4 times. And as I was playing it again this time, I noticed a pattern. It doesn’t happen until you get up to the 150cc Grand Prix races, though.

In the 50cc, with my experience, I can get first place every race and unlock everything as quickly as the races can be completed. The 100cc is just about as fast – a little faster because the cars have more oomph, and the characters are more competitive – essentially the “medium” mode of difficulty. However, usually I can still practically be so far ahead of the NPCs by the time that I cross the finish line that I’ve actually not only been in first place, but simultaniously, I was also in sixth place. IE, I’m so far ahead that I’ve caught up to and PASSED the cars that are in 8th, 7th, and 6th place. No challenge.

You get to the 150cc, though, and suddenly the difficulty amps up dramatically. The cars are slamming into each other, have great aim with items, and seem to be deliberately out to get me.

Now, I’ve noticed that the computer seems to randomly pick two NPC cars for each set of races, that you will be in the most direct competition with. If I get into first place, the cars that are fighting with me the most for that spot are consistant, throughout all four races of the Cup set. I play Dry Bones (once I have him unlocked) and tend to use his Banisher car – on account of the fact that while it’s slow, it has an incredible acceleration (read: recovery from item attacks) speed, and it gets a wide variety of items out of the boxes, which gives me the most versitility in “fighting” my way to the front of the pack of cars.

By the end of the first race, whoever the top other two cars are (no matter where I land – it’ll be 1st and 2nd if I’m not up there, and 2nd and 3rd if I am), they will be my direct competition for first place throughout the entire set of four races that make up whatever Cup I’m currently playing.

Scientific theory states that you come up with a testable hypothesis, then proceed to put it to the test and try as hard as you can to disprove it. So once I realized what seemed to be happening, I started trying to disprove it.

I played different characters, different cars, and reran the lower cc races, even. However, this hypothesis seems to hold true. The game chooses at random two of your opponents to be your biggest competition for first place, and it goes straight through whatever Cup you’re playing.

Now, however, I was very… invested… in the game. I kept playing, and started to notice another pattern. It doesn’t happen in the lower cc races, but in the 150cc and the 150cc Mirror classes, it seems like you fight through normal opposition to reach first place in the first two races (the “free Cups” that are unlocked from the moment you have access to the engine class – you unlock the other two by getting first place in the first two, then the next one that unlocks, and so on until you’ve unlocked them all). However, once I got to the 3rd Cup, the first unlockable, something changed.

Suddenly, no matter what I did (or how many times I’d run those races before), the first time I played the Cup, I would end up in 3rd Place. And it would literally be through no fault of my own. I’d be in first, going along just fine, and suddenly be hit with a red shell, a blue shell, and maybe even knocked off of a cliff by an object, JUST enough before the finish line that I didn’t have time to recover before the NPC competition got ahead of me and forced me into 3rd place.

The next time I played the same Cup, something similar would happen – except that I would wind up in 2nd place. And finally, invariably, the 3rd time I played the new Cup, I would come in first.

Now, I was driving the same way every time. I was careful of that. I fought just as hard for first place each time. I got almost the same items, though not at the same times, and I made the same decisions. Uncontrolled forces would still force me to repeat the pattern – first run = 3rd place, 2nd run = 2nd place, 3rd run = first place.

This was strangely consistent under all the unlockable Cups. So, being the scientist that I am, I formed a hypothesis that the game was actually programmed not to let you win the Unlockables the first time, or the 2nd – forcing you to go through getting 3rd and 2nd place before you won. To…. what end? Make the game longer? I wasn’t sure. But it was too… constant… for it not to be deliberate.

So I began the process of testing the hypothesis. I started an Unlockable for the first time, I fought for first place.. and due to a red shell a moment before the finish line, I came in 3rd.

Step one confirmed, it would seem.

The second time I ran the Cup, I was hit with a blue shell that knocked both me AND the car right behind me out. The car that had been in 3rd place shot up into first, and I, with the Banisher’s quick recovery time, came in 2nd.

Second step would appear to be confirmed.

Now, I decided to REALLY test this hypothesis. I started the Cup for the 3rd time, and I drove BADLY. After all, if the game was trying to allow me to win this time no matter what, it wouldn’t MATTER how I drove.

Well, to make a long story short, I think I pushed it a little too far. I came in second. But I drove HORRIBLY, at one point driving OFF of the Rainbow Road on purpose. That was my fatal mistake, it would seem… But still – I drove like an IDIOT… and I came in 2nd?! There is no WAY I would’ve pulled that off in a 1st or 2nd run of the Unlockable. I would’ve wound up in 8th place!

So, with first test down, it would appear that my hypothesis is confirmed. Because I would’ve gotten 1st place if I’d driven quite as offensively as I usually do. However, I’m going to have to do further experimentation to confirm the hypothesis.

It just goes to show you – scientific theory isn’t just for class anymore!