Welcome to the new generation of strategy guides.
Game Xplain is the kind of thing that seems like it would have come around much earlier. It’s basically a strategy guide on DVD, chock full of how-to videos and helpful narration. The edition I reviewed is for Mario Kart: Double Dash, and there will soon be volumes available for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (presumably for people who are playing these classics for the first time on the Zelda compilation disc). The company (also called Game Xplain) is planning to eventually be releasing DVD guides on a regular basis, for all the major console game releases.
The key difference between Game Xplain and traditional strategy guides is that you’re being shown where to go and what to do, rather than being told through text and tiny screenshots. For a game with complex maneuvers and strategies, like Double Dash, being able to see the tips in action makes a huge difference. The benefits of video are probably not as significant for other types of games, like RPGs. There is also the issue of information density. With traditional strategy guides, you can get tons of information from maps and tables, but it takes some effort to look through the material and find what you need, and sometimes it may not be clear how to implement what you’ve learned. In contrast, Game Xplain offers less total information, but what is there is very rich, easy to understand, and quick to access from the main menu. Again, this approach is probably going to prove useful for certain types of games and not others.
The video guide’s presentation is fantastic. A straightforward DVD menu gives immediate access to all the chapters, with cool transitions between screens. In the Mario Kart guide, there is a chapter for general driving techniques, another for battle mode strategies, and then one chapter for each of the game’s sixteen tracks, for a total of somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes of total playing time. (There is also a bonus clip that shows an incredible shortcut in Viewtiful Joe.) Each technique is shown with full-screen game footage, and at key moments, the video will freeze to help you master the timing. This feature is quite helpful for Mario Kart, since the game is so fast-paced. The video footage looks great, while the game sound has been turned down to make it easier to hear the narrator. He explains what is going on in each clip and gives extra details that may not be apparent from the video. One of my few qualms with the product is this guy’s speaking style, which is extremely dry and monotone. I suppose it’s better this way than to have him screaming “radical” every five seconds, but some kind of compromise would be ideal.
The strategy itself is rock solid and exhaustive. I’m no Double Dash amateur, but Game Xplain showed me dozens of nasty item drop locations and even a couple of shortcuts that I was previously unaware of. The entry-level techniques, like basic power-sliding, are given little attention; the guide spends most of its time explaining the kind of hardcore tricks that advanced players would want to exploit against their frequent opponents. These guys are truly pros, and they’re sharing their best techniques with us regular folk.
One issue with Game Xplain which will affect some users is that the guides are burned to DVD-R discs. That means you can’t play them in all but the newest models of PlayStation 2 or certain standalone DVD players. The discs will play in any computer’s DVD-ROM drive, as well as on the Xbox, if you have the DVD kit installed. Game Xplain says 87% of set-top players can play their discs, but apparently mine is in that unfortunate remainder, as I had to watch the guide on my PC.
As long as you have the means to play DVD-Rs, Game Xplain comes heartily recommended. You can buy one exclusively through the Game Xplain website; they accept payment only through PayPal, and they currently only ship to customers in the U.S. and Canada. The guides are priced competitively with paper guides, at $14.95 USD for a typical issue (shipping included). It’s a small price to pay for the satisfaction of utterly demolishing your friends in Mario Kart.