I knew that before I selected the first series of four races on the Mushroom Cup, racing my kids wouldn't be easy. Like most boys a year apart in age, they're fiercely competitive and had already honed their Mario Kart skills on the original Wii and 3DS. In practice, they were more than proficient, boosting around corners and finding shortcuts that I had barely noticed. I won, but make no mistake: The game's automated guidance kept them (and occasionally me) in the running a lot of the time.
From my experience, Nintendo has created a racing system that accounts for fine margins. Sure, you can put the Joy-Con or Pro Controller down and the game will complete the race on your behalf (in some cases winning), but it's also adept at recognizing when a player isn't new to Mario Kart. Attempt a drift too late or too early and the auto-steer function will kick in, but you'll lose nearly all of your momentum, allowing human and AI racers to catch up. It won't just let you mash the 'A' button and zip around the course with no regard for the layout of the track.
While Nintendo has dialed down rookie driver frustrations, it's still kept the essence of what makes Mario Kart, erm, Mario Kart. As a teenager, I remember getting into arguments over Mario Kart 64 when my friends would "blue shell" me while leading on the final corner of the last lap. Going from first to third in a couple of seconds will always leave me salty. In MK8D, power-ups are often unrelenting (you can carry two weapons at a time), and in all honesty were the only real bone of contention with my boys.
It's pretty hard to temper a child's frustration when he feels he's racing well and he gets hit by an ink attack, shrunk by lightning and then hit by a barrage of red shells, causing them to slide down the ranks. However, I think I'd rather have that than have them constantly slide off the side of Rainbow Road and generally find it hard to keep the kart moving forward at speed. My kids are constantly begging me to play, so I can only see that as a good thing.
Despite being an ardent Nintendo fanboy, the announcement of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch did little to stir my interest. Of all the games announced between the console's first reveal and its official launch, it was by far the least interesting. Sure, Mario Kart 8 was a great game -- but it was also "just a port," a game I'd already played to exhaustion. Like the HD remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on the Wii U, I expected it to hold my attention for a weekend or two at best before fading to the back of my library. Instead, the game has dominated my Switch playtime for the past few weeks. Maybe I'm wrong about Switch remasters of Wii U games.
From a purely clinical point of view, my knee-jerk reaction wasn't wrong. For the most part, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the exact same game I grew tired of on the Wii U -- the same tracks, most of the same characters and, with the exception of a few bonus multiplayer modes, all the same features. And indeed, the first evening I tried it on my TV, I found replaying it all pretty underwhelming. The next day, however, I took my Switch out of the dock and played it in the bedroom. Then I took it to a friend's house and played local multiplayer. The next weekend, I brought it with me to Silicon Valley Comic Con and played both single-player Grand Prix and local multiplayer battles while waiting in line for panels and talks. The game hadn't changed much, but the experience had.
Ultimately, this is a story I've told before. The Nintendo Switch's portability has consistently surprised me at every turn -- not only by keeping me entertained on the go, but by enabling bespoke social experiences on the fly. I knew this worked with games like Puyo Puyo Tetris and Snipperclips, but I didn't expect the hybrid nature of the console to revitalize a game I'd already put aside. If the Nintendo Switch was nothing but a typical TV console, I probably wouldn't have played the game for more than a few hours. Instead, I'm obsessed with it again -- challenging friends, trying new Kart combinations and struggling to learn how to drive in 200cc mode. Last month, the idea of porting old games to the Nintendo Switch sounding dull to me. Now, the idea sounds amazing. I'm starting to wonder if I would have given up on Wind Waker HD if it was this easy to pick up and play.
Reviews Editor, Engadget UK
I love Mario Kart 8. It's the first racing title I've been truly enamored with since turn-of-the-century PlayStation classics Gran Turismo 2 and Crash Team Racing. Back when MK8 was first released, I studied vehicle and character attributes, risk-assessed shortcuts and bested every challenge the game offered. At the time, I returned to it regularly in an attempt to shave milliseconds off my best lap splits, occasionally hopping online to demoralize opponents with my newly perfected lines. Both DLC packs were immediate purchases. And yet, there's absolutely no chance I'm revisiting the fantastic game on the Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Perhaps I'm bordering on hypocritical, because I don't think ports and other forms of re-release are always a bad thing. As a former Halo 2 addict, I was fidgeting with excitement the day Halo: The Master Chief Collection was due to be delivered, only to abandon the game when its fundamentally broken multiplayer element irreparably soured my perception.
I can even understand the hype Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered generated. For as long as I can remember, every new entry in the Call of Duty franchise has felt like the same chaotic shooter with new box art. That gamers would want to revisit Modern Warfare and play the first title that was set outside World War II, when there was still some originality to the series, makes sense.
But Modern Warfare Remastered hasn't turned out to be a particularly fan-friendly affair. The game, available solely as a bonus within the "Legacy Edition" of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, doesn't include the original's DLC map packs. The cherry on top is that these additional battleground bundles are now nearly twice the price they were ten years ago when Modern Warfare was first released. There's been a renewed outrage this week in certain corners of the internet (and rightly so) when the Variety Map Pack DLC landed on Xbox One and PCs -- and I regard Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with similar sentiment.
The obvious rebuttal is: "Shut up and stop moaning ... nobody is forcing you to buy it."
I paid £40 for Mario Kart 8 when it first came out, and shelled out (pun intended) a further £14 on the two DLC packs, taking my total spend to around £54 (roughly $70 at the current exchange rate). And that's not even factoring in that MK8 was the primary reason for buying a Wii U more than a year after the system launched in the first place. And now Nintendo thinks I'll spend more than £40 to buy basically the same game again for the Switch? Fat chance.
The obvious rebuttal is: "Shut up and stop moaning ... nobody is forcing you to buy it." It's a fair point, but it's not just the money situation I'm frustrated by (even if my only meaningful avenue of protest is to boycott the game — voting with my wallet, as they say). The thing is, I almost want MK8D. Not for the couple of extra vehicles and Splatoon characters, nor the improved battle mode, which still doesn't amount to enough additional content for my liking. It's more that the Switch hardware makes multiplayer so much more accessible, letting you face off with a friend, each with one little Joy-Con in hand, or pairing multiple handhelds locally for serious sessions.
If it were a cheap, download-only port, or if Nintendo at least offered a heavy discount to owners of the Wii U version, I could maybe entertain picking it up. But like I said, it's not just about the money. I think it's a pretty lazy, unimaginative attempt by Nintendo to pad out a sparse launch lineup -- which Zelda: Breath of the Wild is propping up almost exclusively at this point -- while making a quick and easy buck from everyone caught up in the Switch fanfare. And selling it for the same price as the original, three-year-old game is the icing on the unpleasant, greedy cake.
At least I have a new NBA Jam to look forward to.