My interest in Pokemon Go completely died when I hit level 20

Pokémon Go was a great experience. It really was. I wrote before about all the positive interactions I had with players, especially random people I met on the street. But as a game, Pokémon Go was quite lacking, and once I hit level 20 after a ton of grinding, my interest died.

Several factors contributed to this decline. The game’s concept is still amazing, and augmented reality has a bright future. But how do you sustain interest in a game that, fundamentally, isn’t that fun to play?

Now, saying Pokémon Go isn’t fun might be a little harsh. At first, the game was a ton of fun. Finding Pokémon in my front yard, in the supermarket, sitting on top of friend’s shoulders, in the park—that was exciting! As a kid, who didn’t imagine themselves walking through a forest, finding a Pokémon, and catching it? Pokémon Go made that fantasy a reality.

Many people complained about the substandard battle system in Pokémon Go, and those criticisms are relevant. But to me, the fun was in capturing Pokémon, evolving them, naming them, and helping them grow. Unfortunately, the game was severely unbalanced, and at times unfair, on all these mechanics.

To start, there are far too many Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, as this parody “Pokémon Go Rap” emphasizes:

Everybody learned early on that these Pokémon only had one value: to evolve them quickly to gain experience. Pidgeys and Weedles took 12 candies to evolve, giving players 500 XP. Rattatas took more candy, 25, but there are so many Rattatas I usually have a stockpile of candy in the triple digits.

Once people learned that these evolutions earned quick XP, they started to see the value in Lucky Eggs. This item doubles your experience for 30 minutes. The optimal game strategy is obvious: save your Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles, use a Lucky Egg, then spend the next 30 minutes evolving everything in your bag, racking up thousands of XP.

Farming XP is essential to leveling up quickly. Like all RPGs, the amount of XP you needed for each level gradually increases, making leveling up slower. However, the higher levels are essential to finding better Pokemon.

And it’s in this grind that my motivation died. I did the Lucky Egg trick three times and made a concerted effort to hit level 20. That’s when you get access to Ultra Balls!

I also walked a TON. I logged 97.7 km, 2.3 km away from earning the silver Jogger badge. I hatched 27 eggs. Unfortunately, for all that effort, about half of the hatched eggs were useless Pokemon that I could find in the streets easily.

Everybody has their favorite Pokémon. Finding specific Pokémon, however, was next to impossible. It seemed like every other player but me had better Pokémon.

I wanted so bad to get all the Eevees. Eevee was always one of my favorite Pokémon. Every player that I met told me how easy it was to find Eevees.

Maybe not in my neighborhood.

I worked hard to get my measly 25 Eevee candy. The first evolution was Vaporeon, the second was Flareon. And I never worked hard enough to get the one I really wanted: Jolteon.

Pokémon Go also had a way of insultingly making your treasured Pokemon worthless. I would spend hours and hours catching Pokemon to get a new evolution. And then, after spending all that time getting your first version of an evolved form, like Butterfree, you walk outside and find a random Butterfree that has a higher Combat Power than the one you just invested in. Naturally, you send the weaker one back to the Professor.

A final issue that I had with Pokemon Go is that I was rarely able to compete in gym battles. It seemed like every time I found a gym it was already packed with Pokemon in the 2,000-3,000 CP range. I struggled just to get my Pokemon up to 1,000 CP!

My Pokemon team in Pokemon Go

These are my best Pokémon. It’s so sad that Pidgeot, a very common and weak Pokémon, is in my top three.

This is why I never play competitive online games, like Call of Duty or MMORPGs. There are always players out there who invest more time than me, who are objectively better than me at the game, and I can never compete.

That’s not to say I expect to win all the time: but it would’ve been nice to win more than 10 or so gym battles.

I hear there’s a new update to Pokémon Go that adds a lot of neat features. I’m sure it’s fun. But right now, I’m not ready to go back.

I realized right away, within the first week of Pokémon Go’s release, that the joy derived not so much from playing the game, but with being a part of a fad. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t describe Pokémon Go as a fad as a way of dismissing it! Fads are highly enjoyable, but by their very nature, they fade away.

It was fun to play the game when everybody else was playing.

It was fun to find strangers all over the city, in the park, in the airport, in the store, on campus, EVERYWHERE playing Pokémon Go. The game was an instant conversation starter, and each random conversation was a glimmer of hope that humanity is fundamentally goodhearted. While the faces of those strangers I met are starting to blur, those interactions will stay with me for a long time.

It was fun to discover new Pokémon for the first time, to get new evolutions.

It was fun to hear stories of kids catching 10 CP Pidgeots, and to see the little battle animation above gyms letting you know that somebody, RIGHT NOW, is near you fighting.

It was fun to meet a group of kids telling me to just go around the corner to catch a Spearow. I hadn’t seen a Spearow yet. I searched for it, and didn’t find it, but that’s okay. I felt like an explorer.

But the summer had to come to an end, and the school year started again. While my interest in the game is over for now, I don’t regret the dozens of hours I poured into the game.

For 20 years, Pokémon has seen fad after fad. When Red and Blue hit America, everybody in school was playing it. Then we were watching the anime. Then we saw the first movie in the theaters, and then the second movie, but I never saw any of the others. I played the card game for awhile, and then lost interest.

When Pokémon X and Y was released, I played that game for 4 hours a day for two months. It took me 100 hours just to complete the game because I spent so much time training my Pokémon, catching Pokémon, using Wonder Trade, and battling others.

Even the Twitch Plays Pokémon fad was a glorious 16 days.

And considering I never spent a dime on Pokémon Go, I can’t complain about the hours of enjoyment I had.

Game on,
~Dennis

8 neat things that happened playing Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go has been out for a month, and so far it’s taken the globe by storm. When I first saw the trailer, I was intrigued by the premise, but ultimately not that excited.

Then when the game came out and everybody was talking about it, I had to give it a try.

I’m glad I did. Despite so many server issues and glitches in the game, Pokémon Go is easily the best mobile game I’ve ever played.

Here are 8 neat things that happened to me while playing the game.

1. Finding Marjorie Bailey’s ghost

Okay, so this first story didn’t happen directly to me, but it’s the story that convinced me to download the game.

In college, me and five of my friends rented a house together. It was the first time this house had been rented, as the previous owner was a recently deceased old lady.

While looking through one of the drawers, we discovered an old campaign poster for a woman named Marjorie Bailey. We concocted a fantasy that Marjorie Bailey was the woman who died, and now haunted the house.

Fast forward seven years. My college friends and I had a reunion at my parents’ place. Before he came over, one of my former roommates drove past our old house.

And what did he find? A Ghastly in the front yard! He caught it, and promptly named it “MargeBailey.”

Her ghost exists after all!

Ghastly in Pokemon Go

2. Finding a Krabby in the seafood section

A couple days later, I downloaded the game on the way to the grocery store. I was with Mom, so my job was to push the cart. While in the store, I opened up the game. The first Pokémon I caught was a Krabby, conveniently sitting in the frozen seafood section!

Then I caught a Pidgey next to the chicken.

Krabby in Pokemon Go

3. Opening up my imagination

After that first experience catching Pokémon, I walked around my neighborhood, smartphone in hand. Pokémon kept popping up: Rattatas, Pidgeys, Caterpies, and Spearows. While the game has its flaws, still the most exciting aspect is imagining that Pokémon actually exist, and that they inhabit our world!

While I rarely play with Augmented Reality turned on, the camera feature is a nice touch. For a few moments, I get close to realizing a fantasy that’s been living in my head for 20 years.

Spearow in Pokemon Go

Rattata in Pokemon Go

Weedle in Pokemon Go

4. Finding my first lures

A friend and I had a couple hours to kill before dinner, so we took out our smartphones and started exploring downtown.

A couple minutes later we found a pack of teenagers roaming the city. They told us there was an Abra around the corner, and they were really excited that they caught it.

Abra in Pokemon Go

My friend and I went from Poké Stop to Poké Stop. I looked on the map and saw that one Poké Stop a few blocks away had drifting purple hearts over it. I knew this had to be a lure.

We went to the Stop, and sure enough, the kids we saw earlier had placed a lure. There was a second Poké Stop feet away, so they put a lure on that as well.

For the next 30 minutes, we caught Pokémon after Pokémon. And those lures attracted many others, players more experienced than us, who shared tips on how to get ahead.

We met a dozen people during that half hour. Almost everybody was the stereotypical nerd: a bit goofy looking, a bit socially awkward, but also entirely nice. I was in the company of my people, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with the game.

5. Meeting the boys at the mall

I learned early on that high population areas have more Poké Stops, and thus more Pokémon. My neighborhood was pretty barren, plus it was the height of summer, 90+ degrees outside. I headed to the local mall where activity was buzzing.

Upon entering the mall, I found two Poké Stops, each with lures on them. I sat down in the food court and started playing.

Within seconds, two boys and their father were standing behind me, looking over my shoulder. The game had been out less than a week, so most people still didn’t understand how it worked.

I showed the boys my Pokémon, and they watched as I caught a Pidgey and Spearow. They were so excited to see Pokémon pop up right in the food court! They hadn’t played the game yet, and likely didn’t have smartphones themselves.

But I suspect they asked their dad to download it on his smartphones as soon as they left the mall.

Pokemon Go

6. Playing Pokémon Go at church

A couple weeks after the game dropped, my church (Methodist) decided to get in on the action. The church was a Poké Stop, so one forward-looking congregant suggested hosting lure events on the front steps.

Every Sunday and Wednesday nights at 7 the church drops a lure. They have music playing and provide snacks and ice tea to anybody interested. Kids, along with their parents, come out to play. Even the pastor plays!

The lure events have been very successful. Sometimes people simply pass by, but for others it’s a friendly, nonthreatening way to talk to people at the church.

Spiritual conversations don’t happen often, but that’s okay. The church should touch peoples’ lives where they are at. What a great way to show the world that Christians can indeed play video games in a safe, healthy way.

Jigglypuff in Pokemon Go

7. Evolving my first Eevee

One of my all-time favorite Pokémon is Eevee. She’s so cute, and her ability to evolve into many different forms is so much fun.

Eevee in Pokemon Go

When I played Pokémon X and Y, I stuck my toe into the competitive waters. I’d always liked Jolteon, but this game cemented my love for Eevee. I trained a Jolteon and Vaporeon and picked all the right moves. They were the foundation of my fighting team.

Lots of Pokémon Go trainers have Jolteons, Vaporeons, and Flareons. But I have such difficulty finding Eevees!

Finally, after catching hundreds of Pokémon, I had enough Eevee candies to evolve. I spent the 25 candies, and got 950 CP Vaporeon! After training, my Vaporeon is at nearly 1100 CP, and still has room to grow.

Now I just need a Jolteon.

Vaporeon in Pokemon Go

8. Finding a board gaming group

Last night while hanging out at a Poké Stop I met a professor from the university. I met him last year, so I knew him well. He had just started playing the game, and Pokémon was a new concept to him.

We got talking, and he told me that he and his husband host a board gaming group with other professors from the university! I moved to Bloomsburg, PA a year ago and thus far haven’t had any success finding fellow board gamers.

When I lived in Florida (while getting my PhD) and in North Dakota (as an adjunct professor) I had great board gaming groups. That was one of the things I really missed when I came to PA.

Beedrill in Pokemon Go

But now it’s okay; I’ve found a group again! It’s amazing how Pokémon Go, at its best, is a conversation starter. It gives you something to talk about, whether it introduces you to new people, or introduces you to existing friends in new ways.

If you have had any fun experiences playing Pokémon Go, please share in the comments!

Game on,
~Dennis

Censored course names in Super Mario Maker

I just got Super Mario Maker, and I have to say, I love this game so much. The game gives you a lot of freedom in how you design your courses…except when it comes to naming them. The game isn’t always clear on why certain words are banned and others aren’t, so in this post, I’ll share with you my research on censored course names.

A year and a half ago, I did something very similar with censored names in Pokémon X and Y, and it’s proven by far to be my most popular post on this blog. So many people chimed in as the months went on, fleshing out my list of censored words. Pokémon and Mario are both Nintendo products (though Pokémon is developed by Game Freak, whereas Nintendo proper developed Super Mario Maker), so I thought it would be useful to compare the games.

I started by entering most of the censored names from Pokémon into the course names for SMM. I quickly found that SMM is much more lenient than Pokémon X and Y when it comes to the words you use. That being said, I didn’t check every last name from my Pokémon post. However, if you make it to the last section of this post, you’ll see a big caveat when it comes to the leniency of SMM. In some ways, SMM is more restrictive than Pokémon, which can make it tricky to figure out what words you can use and which words you cannot.

Warning: This post contains strong language, obviously, but is used in the interest of educating the reader on exactly where Nintendo draws the line when it comes to censorship.

Anatomy

As in my Pokémon post, I started with human anatomy. So many naughty words exist for describing certain parts of the human body that my assumption was that, like Pokémon, most of these words would be banned.

I was partially wrong.

The following words for female anatomy cannot be used in SMM: cunt, pussy, snatch, titty, titties, twat, and vagina. That’s it. My list on the Pokémon post was much longer (though interestingly, titty in the singular was allowed in Pokémon, but no more in SMM). I’m really not sure what to make of these findings, but all of the following words CAN be used, which were banned in Pokémon: boob, breast, clitoris, labia, tit, and vulva.

The following words for male anatomy cannot be used: ballsack, choad, cock, dick, nutsack, pecker, penis, schlong, scrotum, testes, and testicle. This list is largely the same as Pokémon, except in Pokémon testicle was an acceptable word. Additionally, Pokémon banned the word balls, yet balls is acceptable in SMM. Nuts, numbnuts, prick, and sack can be used in SMM, but not in Pokémon.

Pokémon also banned alternative spellings of these words, to some success. I haven’t tested all combinations of alternative spellings, but I found that words like c0ck (with a zero instead of an “O”) and d!ck work. This is important to know, as one of the first levels I designed I wanted to call “Cock of the Walk,” as in, rooster, but could not. Instead, that level is now named “C0CK of the WALK” (the caps are so that the larger zero doesn’t look as far out of place).

The only banned general anatomy terms I found were anal and ass. And this is a very important point: in Pokémon, most words that contained the letters “a-s-s” were generally banned, like assassin. However, so far, I’ve found SMM to be much more forgiving when it comes to using the root “a-s-s,” which is actually a huge relief.

The following general anatomy terms were banned in Pokémon, but are now acceptable in SMM: butt, gonads, and genital. You can still use bosom, bust, butthole, and nipple, just like in Pokémon.

I’m going to use a term throughout this post that needs a little explaining. When you start typing words into the Wii U game pad, it will provide “suggested” terms above the keypad. This is similar to the autofill feature on Google, for example. What I find fascinating about this feature is that many times it will suggest words that, in my mind, should be censored (under Nintendo’s admittedly opaque guidelines). Throughout this post, then, I’ll refer to “suggested” terms that Nintendo freely provides to the player.

For example, if you start writing “butt” the Wii U will suggest buttocks. It will also suggest arse, circumcise, hymen, phallic, phallus, and taint. In Pokémon, arse was banned.

This doesn’t exactly relate to anatomy, but I also found that SMM bans more than 4 numerals in a row, presumably to prevent kids from sharing their phone numbers and other private information online. Thus, you can’t write something like 5318008 (type it in your calculator, turn it upside down, and it spells “boobies”).

Bodily Fluids

As in Pokémon, words for bodily fluids are generally banned: crap, cum, jizz, piss, semen, shit, and turd. You can use feces, pee, and poop if you want. And dung and urination are suggested words.

Sexuality

Given how loose SMM had gotten on the anatomy words, I was thinking a similar looseness would accompany words related to sexuality. Here I was wrong. The following words are banned: fuck, fuk, hardon, hooker, masturbate (and the misspelling masturbat), milf, molest (but molester works), pedo, pimp, rape, rapist, sex, shag, and whore. Prostitute is acceptable, even though it was banned in Pokémon.

In Pokémon, panties was banned, but in SMM, panties is now acceptable. Other words for undergarments that were acceptable in Pokémon remain acceptable in SMM, such as bra and thong.

As with anatomy, SMM suggested words that don’t make much sense, like abortionfetish, fornicate, and suck. Orgy is banned, not surprisingly, but surprisingly, orgiastic was suggested. Erection was suggested, even though stiffy is banned. Woody is acceptable.

Horny, hump, screw and XXX work, but were banned in Pokémon.

If you start typing in erot, SMM will suggest erotic, erotica, and eroticism!

Substances

What greatly surprised me about Pokémon was that all of the general terms I could think of for alcohol, tobacco, and drug substances were allowed. Given that the common names were allowed, I assumed that slang terms would also escape censorship.

SMM is largely the same. The only substance word I could find that was banned was cocaine (it was allowed in Pokémon). What’s different about SMM, though, are these suggested words. If you start typing any of the following , the Wii U will suggest: alcohol, cigar, cigarette, drugs, ecstasy, heroin, hookah, marijuana, and weed.

Violence

The following words related to violence and war were banned in Pokémon, but are now acceptable in SMM, including: damn, damnation, Hitler, Holocaust, kill, killer, jihad, murder, Nazi, and terrorist. In fact, when you start typing in “terror” one of the suggested words is terrorism.

Hell was always an acceptable word in Pokémon, and it works in SMM as well. Furthermore, when you type in hell, SMM will suggest words like hellish, hellfire, and hell-bent.

Name Calling

Lots of insult and derogatory words are banned in SMM, including bastard, bitch, chink, dyke, lesbo, fag, faggy, faggot, nig, nigga, nigger, spic, and queer. Interestingly, b!tch works in SMM, though it was banned in Pokémon. Douchebag is banned in SMM, but douche is okay.

Wetback is acceptable, though was banned in Pokémon.

Perhaps the biggest change concerning name calling surrounds LGBT terms. In Pokémon, gay was acceptable but lesbian was banned for some reason (it’s not an offensive term). Additionally, homo was banned, but hetero was acceptable. In SMM, gay, lesbian, and homo are now acceptable words.

Non-English Words

Perhaps the biggest relief I found with SMM is that viola is an acceptable word, whereas in Pokémon it was banned! Let me back up and explain the context here. In Pokémon, viola was banned as “viol” is French for “rape.” Players can trade Pokémon with players in other countries, so I guess Game Freak was trying to protect their French players from getting an American Pokémon named the equivalent of rape. What didn’t make sense, though, is that the name of the first Gym Leader was Viola!

Pokémon X and Y was notorious for banning words that were offensive in other languages, and given that players can trade levels in SMM with people all over the world, I figured Nintendo would take the same stance to protect international audiences.

My command of offensive words in other languages is quite limited, so if you are a reader from outside the US, please confirm which words are banned in your language. I can’t remember why, but dago was banned in Pokémon; it’s banned in SMM as well.

Other foreign words that were banned Pokémon (read the comments on that Pokémon post to understand the speculation why) but are now acceptable in SMM include: chi-chi, hektor, kukka, lana, laputa, mona, penelope, and pik.

Big Caveat: Use caution with the “acceptable” words

This list of banned and acceptable words is by no means complete, but at least it’s a start to this research. If you find any other words that are banned or acceptable, please let me know in the comments.

That said, I caution you against using any of the accepted words for the following reason: Nintendo might still flag your levels as inappropriate! I didn’t know this at the time, but SMM actually runs on Nintendo’s Miiverse system. I’m curious if the banned words in SMM are the same as those banned across all games that utilize Miiverse. I couldn’t find a decent website that listed banned words in Miiverse, so this is an open question at the moment.

When I started finding all of these acceptable words that were banned in Pokémon, I got suspicious. I thought, perhaps, you are given a lot of freedom for how you name your courses in private, but once you upload them to the SMM server, then they might get flagged.

I performed a simple test. I used one of the default SMM levels, named it “boob and uploaded it. Boob, of course, is an acceptable word. I was thinking once I uploaded it SMM would tell me I couldn’t use that word.

Nope! The level uploaded just fine, and somebody even played it.

My curiosity piqued, I thought I’d go all out. What if I packed a course title with as many offensive, but acceptable, terms that I could? I created another simple level and uploaded it with the title “death to nazi muslim molesters.” Now, I’m not even sure what that title means. I didn’t want to inadvertently offend somebody, so I planned on taking the level down within a few minutes anyway. I hit upload, and sure enough, the level uploaded with no issues.

I continued testing words and planned on uploading a third level with “acceptable” words, as I couldn’t believe these terms were getting through. But then I hit a snag. I couldn’t upload levels anymore. I was told to go to Miiverse and read the error messages.

And then it became clear. My first level, boob, was deleted for “inappropriate or harmful content.” According to the Miiverse Code of Conduct, this kind of content is defined as “anything that promotes dangerous behavior or illegal activities.” So boob promotes dangerous behavior or illegal activities?

The second level was also promptly deleted for “hateful or bullying content.” That makes sense, and Miiverse defines this content as “any content that slanders, or misrepresents another person, as well as any discriminatory, harassing, or abusive content.”

Fair enough. What upset me, though, was that I was banned from posting anything in Miiverse for two weeks! I can play other people’s SMM levels, but can’t upload my own. Here’s what I was told:

You have been banned from writing messages and community posts for two weeks due to a violation of the Miiverse Code of Conduct. This ban applies to any other users who access Miiverse using this device. If further violations of the Miiverse Code of Conduct occur, you and any other users who access Miiverse using this device may be permanently banned from writing messages and community posts.

This is why I say, then, to use the acceptable words with extreme caution. Apparently SMM has an explicit list of banned words—the game won’t let you use terms like fuck in any circumstance. However, it seems there is also a hidden, implicit list of banned words, ones that users won’t learn of until they transgress the Miiverse Code of Conduct.

So, because of this infraction, I hesitate to continue this research: I want to keep uploading levels to SMM! And if I do get banned from Miiverse, the penalty doesn’t just apply to me, but to ANY users of my Wii U. Thus, I wouldn’t be able to simply create a new Mii or user profile to get around the ban.

Hopefully this post is helpful in figuring out what words work and what words don’t in SMM. In a way, the system is looser than Pokémon, provided you keep the levels to yourself. But use caution in uploading them to Miiverse, as it seems there is somebody at Nintendo who checks Miiverse posts against a secret list of banned words. And you won’t know what that list is until you have your content blocked.

Game on,
~Dennis

Which is Better: Mario Kart 64 or Diddy Kong Racing?

With the imminent release of Mario Kart 8 (I’ve got my Mario-themed Wii U pre-ordered and everything!), I thought it appropriate to revisit two classics of the kart racing genre: Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing. Released within a year of each other (MK64 was first), these two racers defined the Nintendo 64 party experience–but only one series went on to produce sequels while the other died after one game.

Many others have already voiced their opinions over the past 17 years (has it been that long?) about which game is better: ultimately it comes down to personal preference. When examining these games, I’ll incorporate both my experience as an 11-year-old and now as a 28-year-old playing with these games.

Without further ado, let’s get down to the merits of each game!

Character selection

Kart racing has always been distinguished from more realistic racing games, in my mind, by their characters. In a realistic racing game, like Cruis’n USA or Need for Speed, the draw isn’t really the character you race as: many of these games don’t even give you a unique driver. Instead, the appeal is to race real-world cars, cars likely too expensive for most people to afford.

Kart racing, though, is different. Part of the fun is playing as cartoony characters from beloved games: nobody really appreciates kart racing games for the awesome kart design.

Mario Kart 64 character selection

Peach and Toad were my two favorites.

Let’s start with MK64. While later MKs would boast much larger driver rosters, MK64 only had a humble 8 characters, all standard Mario characters. Some characters, like Toad, Peach, Bowser, and Wario, hadn’t appeared in too many playable games before this point, so playing as some of these characters was quite special. The roster was decent, but honestly, I avoided Mario and Luigi whenever I could (and have since in all successive MK games): I’ve played as these two plumber brothers in other games for more hours than I can to remember.

Diddy Kong Racing character selection

If I had to choose a favorite, Banjo, but he’s a heavy character and I’m not good with them. I’m best with Bumper (I always call him Badger), even though he’s my least favorite. What a doofus!

DKR initially provides the player with 8 characters, just like MK64, though the game also features 2 unlockable characters, which gives DKR a slight edge over MK64. The characters in DKR, however, just aren’t as interesting. Rare was trying to establish an identity with DKR, so many of the characters come from Rare games. In addition to Diddy Kong, we had Banjo, Tiptup, and Conker, all characters we’d see in other Rare games. Krunch was a baddie from the Donkey Kong Country series, but really, who wants to play as a kremling? It’d be like if MK64 featured a goomba instead of Bowser. King K. Rool, on the other hand, that would’ve been a better choice.

The other characters in DKR have no established personality outside of the game. Bumper the badger, Timber the tiger, Pipsy the mouse, Drumstick the rooster, and T.T. the clock…I always found it hard to get invested in these characters. I know next to nothing about any of them. The roster would’ve been much stronger if they had filled it with unique Rare characters, such as other characters from the DKC series (like my girl Dixie!), any of the Battletoads, or B. Orchid from the Killer Instinct series (that last one may be a joke).

Track selection

As crucial as the characters are, the tracks are more important. We come to these games to race! MK64 features 16 tracks whereas DKR features 20 (in addition to 6 boss tracks only available in single player). While DKR might have more tracks, MK64 has more variety. Most tracks have a unique theme, something DKR has less of. In MK64 we visit a dairy ranch, a monster truck stadium, a castle, a jungle, a turnpike, a desert, a chocolate mountain, and even a rainbow in space. DKR, by contrast, only has five unique themes: dinosaur, winter, water, black forest, and space: four tracks for each theme. So if you are looking for diversity in backgrounds, go to MK64. But if you are looking for variations on a theme, try DKR.

But these two games should be compared on more than just the number of tracks or the themes of the tracks. What really separates the tracks is playability. In short: MK64’s tracks are much “harder” to navigate than DKR’s tracks. MK64’s tracks have a lot of objects on the screen, from moles that jump from the ground to penguins to snowmen to rolling boulders to a giant spinning Yoshi egg to coconuts and more. How many people can honestly complete an entire race on Toad’s Turnpike without crashing into a truck or car?

Mario Kart 64 Rainbow Road

I wish just one of the Mario Kart games would feature ALL the Rainbow Road tracks: The Rainbow Cup, it’d be called.

Not only does MK64’s tracks feature an excessive amount of physical obstacles and barriers, most also feature hazards on the side of the road. Whether these obstacles are ponds you can fall into or ledges you can tumble over, you fall off the road a lot in MK64. Lakitu will pull you up and set you in place, but this takes several seconds and you’re almost guaranteed to fall into last place because of it.

DKR, on the other hand, has no ledges to fall from or ponds to drive into. Well, sort of. There are a few levels with water or ice patches on the side of the road, but if you hit them, you neatly bounce back onto the course. You lose about half a second, not the 3-6 seconds you lose in Mario Kart. While there are occasionally objects to crash into in DKR (like a dinosaur), they are much more avoidable.

Maybe DKR doesn’t have the track variety that MK64 does, but if I’m being honest, there are very few courses in MK64 that I actually like. Wario Stadium and Rainbow Road are easily my favorite precisely because of their lack of hazards and ledges to fall from. I hate the Yoshi level, Donkey Kong level, and Bowser level, among others.

The power-ups

What separates kart racing games from more realistic racers is the use of power-ups. You can win not only by being fast, but also by blasting your opponents. Both games feature power-ups and weapons, but their approach is very different.

The Mario Kart series famously (or rather infamously) gives players a sort of sliding scale when it comes to the random power-ups they grab. If you are in first place you get the worst power-ups, and as you move back to last place, you gradually get better and better power-ups. The purpose of this system is to make the races as evenly matched as possible, all the way until the last turn of the last lap. In Mario Kart, it really doesn’t matter how well you do in the first two laps of any race (unless you really mess up and fall behind): everybody can remember a time when they were in first place the entire race, only to be dethroned at the very last instant by a well-placed Lightning Bolt or Blue Shell.

Diddy Kong Racing boost power-up

The boost can be useful, but the mushrooms are much more useful in MK64.

DKR’s power-up philosophy is completely different. First, power-ups aren’t random. You pick up balloons placed around the track, and the power-up contained within the balloon is determined by the balloon’s color (red balloons are missiles, blue balloons are boosts, green balloons are oil slicks). The placement of the balloons is the same each time you play a course. The person in last place gets no assists in DKR. The other feature of DKR is that the power-ups graduate in value the more you grab of that balloon. For example, one red balloon will give you a single straight-shooting missile. Grab a second balloon and you’ve got four homing missiles. Grab a third balloon and you get 10 straight-shot missiles.

DKR’s system asks you a question each time you grab a balloon: use it immediately for a possible short-term gain on the competition, or wait and save it up to get more powers later in the race? The system could be more intriguing if the powers were more interesting. There is an obvious advantage to saving up red balloons, but the advantage of saving up any other color is almost negligible. The purple and yellow balloon will give you a shield, which lasts for a few seconds. Pick it up again, you get a slightly longer shield. Pick it up a third time…a slightly lower shield still. Considering that some courses only have one or two of a certain color balloon on each lap, to get three of some balloons would require you to forgo using any balloons until the final lap. The advantage just isn’t there.

While many people don’t like Mario Kart’s system because of the way it nullifies a person’s skill, overall the system is more effective and enjoyable to play. I enjoy the strategy of saving up balloons in DKR, but the only balloons worth grabbing are red balloons.

Single player mode

Single player in MK64 is very basic: race through the four circuits, advance through the 50, 100, and 150 CC stages, unlock mirror 150 CC mode, and that’s it. Not that this is easy: it can be challenging to place high when first introduced to the game. But it’s a bare bones experience.

DKR’s single player is multifaceted. Not only does it have the standard racing circuits, but it also features an overworld, a concept that is still very cool and very weird to me. What racing game features an overworld? The overworld connects the sub-domains, sometimes features unique races against the elephant, Taj, and even features collectable gold balloons. In retrospect, there really isn’t much to do in the overworld, and if you are looking at getting to a race quickly, it can be cumbersome to navigate. But it’s still a neat idea, and one I applaud.

Diddy Kong Racing boss race

The boss races can be very hard! DKR also featured a very tiny amount of voice acting, very rare on the N64. In retrospect, the voice acting is terrible! The characters sound like a dad reading bedtime stories to his kids trying to make-up voices on-the-fly for all the characters. It’s like the voice “actors” just dropped into the studio and recorded their first takes and called it good.

Second, DKR features a variety of single player modes. Completing a race in first nets you a gold balloon: gold balloons are used to unlock new levels. Each world also features a “boss” race, another concept absent from MK64. Each world has a hidden key, plus, after you defeat the boss, you are asked to play through the levels again, this time to find 8 silver coins hidden on each track (usually placed out of the way). And once you complete everything, unlock the final world, and defeat Wizpig for a second time, you unlock Adventure 2, which features even harder tracks with even more obscure silver coin locations.

Plus, to unlock T.T., there is a time trial mode for each track where you are tasked with beating T.T.’s ghost, no easy feat.

So, there’s a lot to do. While I enjoyed this as a kid (I certainly unlocked T.T. with the help of my brother, but I don’t know if we ever beat Adventure 2 [there’s no real incentive to]), as an adult, beating the courses so many times in so many ways gets quite tedious. Some of the silver coin races are easy to beat, whereas others might take me up to an hour to beat, requiring near perfect driving and considerable memorization of the course.

The challenge is definitely there. What’s not good about the challenge, though, is that the courses available in multiplayer mode are directly linked to what you’ve unlocked in single player mode. It could take 10-20 hours to unlock most of the single player content just so you have a decent selection of courses in multiplayer mode. Lame.

Multiplayer mode

This is where the games are hardest to compare. All factors considered, the multiplayer modes on both games are very good. Most people who owned these games spent far more time in multiplayer than single player. And even though the games are very similar in many ways, the multiplayer modes appeal to different gamers. MK64’s multiplayer is best suited for casual players, or groups with a range of skill levels, due to the sliding scale of power-ups. While DKR’s tracks are easier to navigate, the power-up system provides no support to people in last place. Assuming player skill is roughly equal, DKR races can often be determined by who gets in first place first. Once you fall behind in DKR it’s very hard to catch up. If you want to play a game based on skill, turn to DKR: there is no randomness in the power-ups here.

Mario Kart 64 multiplayer

In my gaming philosophy, screen peeking is always acceptable!

Another way to compare the multiplayer modes, though, is through the legacy of each game. MK64 has the staying power; DKR didn’t. Case in point: I never owned either of these games as a kid (and just purchased DKR a couple months ago at a used game store for $15); however, I knew plenty of people who did, so I’ve logged considerable hours into both. While I played DKR a lot as a kid, as the years passed, I played far more MK64. Simply put: more people have that game, and more people are familiar with the Mario Kart formula, so this is the definitive kart racing game that gets played at tournaments, parties, and get-togethers.

Let’s not talk about the battle modes in both games, okay? They are a fun diversion for 5 minutes, but I wouldn’t miss them if they had been nixed from the final product.

The final verdict

In many ways, I like DKR better than MK64. The tracks are better, the power-up system is innovative, the music is great, and the overworld still tickles me. And we haven’t even talked about the biggest difference yet, the choice of up to three different vehicles in DKR! The different vehicles, all with different speeds and handling, offer players a few choices. It’s really a testament to the developers that such diverse vehicles can be used on the same course and the race still be relatively balanced. Mario Kart didn’t add multiple vehicles until later, and even today, the vehicles are all variations of wheeled-contraptions: no planes or hovercrafts here.

But for all of DKR’s theoretical merits over MK64, if I had to examine my life objectively, if I looked at how these games performed in actuality, there’s no question that MK64 is the better game. Because the game is better known to people, is more accessible, and is still being played today, I can easily say that I have had more hours of pleasure playing MK64 than DKR. Not only that, but I have played MK64 with a wider group of people, including in many cases complete strangers, yet the interactions were always enjoyable.

Even if I have fallen off the edge of that stupid Yoshi level more times than I care to admit.

Game on,
~Dennis

Which of these two games do you think is better? Which are you still playing today?

Censored Names in Pokemon X and Y

I’ve been out of the Pokémon loop for a few years. I recently picked up Pokémon X and have been blown away by all the changes since my last adventure, Pokémon Silver. Pokémon X and Y contain all sorts of internet features, like battling foreign trainers or trading with strangers. I had heard that with internet connectivity, Nintendo instituted a policy of censoring certain Pokémon names.

Being the family-friendly company Nintendo strives to be, I had heard that in the previous generation, Pokémon Black and White, common swear words were censored; the player is unable to use them in names for his or her Pokémon. Presumably the fear is that players will put swear words in their Pokémon’s names, then share them online with little kids, who are impressionable and easily corrupted.

While I’m all for free speech, even in games, I didn’t anticipate that I’d have a problem with Nintendo’s censorship policies. After all, I was never one to give my Pokémon names like Nasty Bitch.

But to my surprise, I’ve had several attempted names denied by Pokémon X, names that I did not think contained swear words. I decided to investigate the topic further to see exactly which words are censored and which words are not. For ease of reading, I’ve listed banned words in red and acceptable words in green.

Warning: This post does contain strong language, obviously, but is used in the interest of educating the reader on exactly where Nintendo draws the line when it comes to censorship.

Anatomy

I started with human anatomy. Not surprisingly, most words relating to male and female genitals and private parts are censored. The following words for female anatomy cannot be used: boob, breast, clitoris, cunt, labia, tit, titties, vagina, and vulva. The following words for male anatomy cannot be used: balls, cock, dick, nuts (and derivatives like numbnuts and nutsack), pecker, penis, prick, schlong, scrotum, and testes. And general anatomical words that could apply to either gender cannot be used: ass, butt, gonads, and genitals.

Note that in general, these words just have to appear somewhere in the name. For instance, ass is banned, including its numerous derivatives, like jackass and asshat. I personally ran into a problem with boob, TWICE!, though not intentionally. The first time, I caught the panda Pokémon “pancham.” Pokémon are often named after some feature related to that Pokémon; pancham’s name is a portmanteau of “panda” and “champion.” I wanted to give my pancham a unique name, so I decided to reference a panda-related noun: bamboo. But instead of naming him Bamboo, I decided to switch it up: BooBam.

Not the most original name, I know, but I tried it. And Pokémon told me: “You cannot use that word.” What? I didn’t take me long to figure out why; my name contained the word boob. I even tried naming him Boo Bam with a space, but that didn’t work either.

Later, I caught a ghost Pokémon and wanted to name him after the To Kill a Mockingbird character, Boo Radley. I wanted a play on words and tried naming him Boo Bradley. But once again, I was denied. I rebelled and used the Leet character for “b”, the number “8”, and spelled the name Boo 8radley.

However, my theory about root banned words is not applied consistently. So while tit and titties are banned, titty in the singular is not. The root butt is banned when used in isolation, but buttocks and butthole are acceptable names. The root balls is banned, along with ballsack, so I initially assumed the root sack was banned as well, but no. Sack is just fine.

Interestingly, not all slang words for body parts are banned. Breast has numerous acceptable synonyms: bosom, bust, gazongas, jugs, melons, nipple, teat, and udder. You can even name your Pokémon Busty Chick if you really wanted. Other sexual organ synonyms that are acceptable include hymen, phallus, pudenda, and surprisingly, testicle or testicles!

Bodily Fluids

Words indicating bodily fluids are generally banned: crap, feces, piss, poop, semen, shit, and urine. But some words get through, such as dung, the root pee (which will allow you to name your Pokémon Peeping Tom if you want) and poo.

Sexuality

Related to banned anatomy words are banned sexual words. Words related to sex acts, not surprisingly, are banned: fuck, rape and sex. Words related to sexual predators, understandably, are banned: molest, molester, the root pedo (as in pedophile), and rapist. Interestingly, masturbate is banned, yet fornicate is acceptable. Shag is banned, which I thought was a stretch (I tried naming a very furry Pokémon Shag Carpet to no avail).

Words related to sex for money are banned: pimp, prostitute, and whore. The word ho, sometimes used as slang for whore, is acceptable, although I’m guessing because this root is common in so many words that it would be irresponsible to ban all instances of H-O. Milf is also banned.

While the word doesn’t necessarily have sexual connotations, panties is banned. What’s most confusing is not that panties is banned, but that all other words for undergarments are acceptable: boxers, bra, briefs, g-string, panty in the singular, thong, and underwear.

Violence

Some words related to violence are banned, like kill, killer, and murder. Considering Pokémon is a violent game, they can’t reasonably ban all violent words. Choke and hit are acceptable (you could even name your Pokémon I’ll Choke U). Death and hate are acceptable, as is the name I Hate You.

Mafia is acceptable.

A few select war-related words are banned, notably Hitler, holocaust, jihad, nazi, and terrorist. But banning these words sends such a mixed message. Holocaust is banned, yet genocide is not. I found out jihad was banned when I tried to name my Rhyhorn Jihadi. I chose that name just as a joke: the Pokédex description for Rhyhorn says that his stomps are so powerful they can destroy buildings. So jihad is banned, yet not blitzkreig. Terrorist is banned, but not September 11. A murderer like Hitler is banned, yet Osama, bin Laden (the name is too long to fit all together), Adolf, Stalin, and Joseph Stalin are not. Likely the names of other dictators and terrorists are acceptable.

Thinking about the banning of jihad and not Osama, I wondered if maybe the word was banned for its religious connotations, not violent connotations. But I tried all of the following religious words and they all worked: atheist, Christian, God, Islamist, Jesus Christ, Muslim, Satan, and sin. The root damn is banned (and likewise damnation, the only other religious word I could find), yet hell is acceptable (I even named by Talonflame Hell Hawk just because I could).

I didn’t expect these names to be banned, but Barack Obama and George Bush are both acceptable. Dick Cheney, however, is banned, though that’s probably because of the word dick, not any hatred the developers have toward Cheney. 🙂

Substances

Given Nintendo’s hard stance on so many content areas, I was confident words related to substances would be banned. To my great surprise, all of the following substances are acceptable names: alcohol, cigar, cigarette, cocaine, drugs, heroin, marijuana, and meth. There are dozens more words that I could’ve tested, but so far I have no indication that substance words are banned. If anybody finds a substance, though, that is banned, comment below.

Name Calling

There are a number of words related to insults and name calling that are banned, and yet again, inconsistencies abound. Words like bastard and bitch are banned. An alternate spelling of bitch is banned: b!tch. However, an alternate spelling of bastard, basterd (as Quentin Tarantino spelled it in Inglourious Basterds) is acceptable.

Many racial slurs are banned: chink, nig, nigga, nigger, spic, and wetback. The American localization team, though, forgot to ban redskin. KKK is also acceptable, so you could name your Pokémon KKK for Life if you wanted.

Finally, words related to homosexuality are banned: fag, faggot and queer. I can understand this to a point, as these words are often used as disparaging terms against the LGBT community. Homo is also banned, though hetero is acceptable (heterosexual, though, is not because of the root sex). What’s most shocking to me in this category of words, though, is gay. Gay is acceptable, yet lesbian (and the more disparaging dyke and lesbo) are not. Lesbian really confused me, as women who are attracted to women often self-identify as lesbian. At first I thought gay was acceptable because maybe it was a root word of a certain Pokémon (the Pokémon Nosepass contains the word ass, yet is thankfully not banned). But as far as I can tell, no Pokémon (at least in the English version of the names) contains the root gay. So I’m really not sure why gay wasn’t banned, given that all other LGBT words were banned.

So why are these words banned?

Nintendo has always been a family-friendly company, so presumably these words are banned because kids might see them. This is especially a danger in modern games like Pokémon X and Y, which allow you to battle or trade with trainers all over the world through the internet. It’s a somewhat reasonable policy, though as I’ve shown, there are so many inconsistencies that it is unclear why certain words are banned and yet not others.

What really bothers me, though, is that so often legitimate names I choose for my Pokémon are not allowed. Recently I caught a Chingling, a psychic Pokémon that looks like a jingle bell. It has an attack called Uproar where it shouts really loud at you, hurting your Pokémon. I caught it, but it almost killed me. So I wanted to name it, appropriately enough I thought, Psycho Mouth. It’s a psychic Pokémon with a loud mouth: Psycho Mouth. Yet I couldn’t! I tried Psycho by itself and that worked. Only later did I figure it out: the H-O at the end of Psycho plus the M-O at the beginning of Mouth spells homo. Good grief.

Nintendo cannot be expected to find every possible offensive word, especially considering gamers often invent their own slang without the influence of the developers. As I have shown, there are ways around some of these banned words if you get creative phonetically.

I personally believe games should allow players to enter whatever name they want: that’s how they always used to be in the 1990s. If Nintendo is worried about children being exposed to bad words, then why not try this as a solution: any time you battle somebody online or trade Pokémon with them, all names revert back to the Pokémon’s original name. That would address the concern of kids being exposed to these words while still giving people the freedom to name their Pokémon whatever they wanted on their own private game.

Yet, Nintendo’s censorship policies really seem like a solution in search of a problem. Are gamers really using these words to name their Pokémon or characters? Maybe sometimes. In X and Y, not only can you name your character, your friends give you a nickname, which you also choose. My friend, who is black, tried to make his nickname Big Nigga and similar variations, to no success. But he’s 22 and should be able to do that if he wants.

However, most people that I have interacted with through Pokémon X and Y’s online services don’t give their Pokémon offensive names, nor do they attempt to get around these censorship policies. I have traded quite a few Pokémon with other trainers around the world, at least 50-60, and yet almost every single time, can you guess what people name their Pokémon? Nothing! They use the Pokémon’s given name, like Eevee or Charmander or Squirtle. I’m actually kind of disappointed people don’t name their Pokémon something funny, but that’s a separate issue. In my experience, nobody is naming their Pokémon offensive names or even attempting to get around the censorship with alternative spellings.

So what’s the problem Nintendo is really addressing? I have yet to figure it out.

Game on,
~Dennis

Note

I did not attempt to exhaustively discover every banned word in Pokémon X and Y. There are probably a hundred more words I could’ve attempted. If you know of any other banned words, please comment below. What’s more interesting to me, though, is not the words that are banned, but similar words that are not. If you find banned words, try to find related words that are acceptable.

Update: 4/1/2014

  • I caught a Horsea today and wanted to name him Hoarsea (not the best pun, I know). I was denied. Hoarsea contains the root arse.
  • I did a Wonder Trade with a person in Virginia named ComeDumpster. Apparently that is an acceptable name. I realize that banning the root come would be unfair, especially because it appears in other, non-offensive words, like Comet. But it’s just interesting to see what words get past the censors.
  • I had read that Pokémon banned words that were offensive in other languages, like French, German, Spanish, Japanese, etc. This seems a bit too far, as certain combinations of letters in English might not be offensive, except to foreign players. Again, is the fear that foreign players will trade Pokémon with an English-speaking person and be corrupted? I haven’t tested the extent of banned foreign words (I don’t really know any), but I knew that the word Viola was banned (apparently it means rape in French). I even tested it. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I fought the first Gym Leader, Viola. Pokémon X and Y is entirely based around French culture, so certainly if Game Freak had the foresight to recognize that “viola” meant something bad in French, then why give that name to the first Gym Leader? And why ban players from using it? The word isn’t remotely offensive in English.

Update: 12/10/2014

Wow, this post is by far my most popular and commented post! Thanks to everybody for adding your insight. It’s still very strange which words get banned and which do not.

I went through the comments section and have found that the following words are also banned. Those with asterisks have no clear reason to me.

Beaver, Burner*, Connor*, Coon, Cum, Dago (slang for Italians), Fanny (but Fannypuss works), Fuk, Georgie (contains orgie), Gordon*, Hatching*, Hard, Hektor (but Hector is fine), Hooker, Horny, Jizz, Kakashi (perhaps “kaka” or “caca”), Kukka (French for “flower”), Kyke, Laputa*, Mudso Budso* (someone suggested “bud” is banned, not sure why), Muff, Ostin*, Passerby (contains ass), Penelope (because “pene” is a word some people use for penis?), Pickles*, Pig*, Pik (apparently “pik” is Dutch for penis, though Pikachu?), Pussy, Ritsuka*, Rock* (so many problems with this banned word), Screw (though Scréw does work), Shazam (“shaz” is pervert or deviant in Arabic), Shooter (but shootér works), Slave (but S.L.A.V.E. is okay), Snatch (but this is a Pokemon move, so…), Sobek*, Sober*, Spicy*, Tart*, Thumper (because of hump, though you can get a Steelix from a Hiker called Thumper…), Torpedo (because of pedo), Tucker*, Turd, Weed (but Cannabis is legal), Violet (contains “Viol”, French for “rape”), and XXX.

Some other interesting tidbits. In Pokémon Black 2, ass and fag are both banned, but apparently Assfag is not. Blueballs is not banned, though I found that sometimes the root balls is banned, so not sure why there’s a discrepancy. Mussolini and 9/11 are fine. Somebody got from the Wonder Trade a Pokémon named TittySkitty though from my research, tit and titties are banned, so somehow there’s an exception.

Somebody got a Dugtrio named ThreeD!cks over Wonder Trade. One person was able to get around the censorship with some clever misspellings: Fa-Gi-Oh, Fu-K Yo Mama, Kum Bubble, Alasha-zam, and Twa-T Taco.

Other acceptable names: 3===D, BadAssCHU (really?!), BladeRuner, BIoodyMary (capital “i” instead of an “l”), Butshole, Cassidy (though usually words with the root ass are banned), Dead Soul, Drunkard, FatSackOCrap, G-Spot, GayThoughts, HitchC0ck (use zero or circle shape instead of “o”), Idiot, Knives, Marijuanamon (this one is funny to me), Mourningwood, MYdingaling, OilLeakSUX (suck and sucks don’t work), PelvicDive, P.M.S., and T-Bone.

One player in Germany said that most of these banned words are banned there as well, but some get through. He fought a Rapeface and P!mpMcBunny from another German trainer.

When trading with somebody, the person was shown a F you D-bag. Wow!

So I’m not going to go out of my way to play the new Alpha and Omega remakes, mostly because I still have plenty of post-game content in X and Y to get through, should I get back into the game (after investing 100+ hours, I sort of lost interest. But I got my money’s worth, especially considering it was “free” as part of a deal Nintendo had). And let’s be honest, do I really want to play Alpha and Omega for the amazing story? All the Pokémon are the same as what I have now.

But anyway, if somebody has Alpha or Omega, I’d be curious if you could test some of these words, not just the obvious ones, but the ones that make no sense, like Rock and Pik. Did Game Freak get their act together?

~Dennis

Update: 11/25/2015

Check out my new post, Censored Course Names in Super Mario Maker! I conducted a similar investigation about that game, trying to identify which words players can use and which ones they cannot. While Pokémon and Super Mario Maker are both published by Nintendo, they actually have very different stances when it comes to censorship!