It’s all fun and games until there’s a Blue Shell inbound


Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)

Yes, it’s another remastered/redux/rehashed game this week. I know, I know, it’s rather stale isn’t it? But nothing could be considered stale about the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, or its newer, more refined little brother, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the delightful Switch. Ah, the Switch. What a machine, eh? When I saw its revealed specs, I had it down as a dud in waiting. You know, 32GB storage space, seemingly poor battery life, still underpowered in comparison to the Sony and MicroSoft juggernauts – all of the same pitfalls that made the Wii U the most unimpressive doorstop you ever saw.

My dismissal of the Switch ensured that it went on to sell absolutely hand over fist in its first year, and even now there are luckless saps in Japan queuing up for lottery tickets just to earn a chance to purchase a Switch. It’s said that Japanese retailers haven’t been this abuzz about a product since lifelike tentacle monster toys were invented.

The Wii U having arrived to markets in an advanced state of rigor mortis, Nintendo nonetheless made valiant efforts to preserve their ailing new flagship and claw a bit of shelf space back from Just Dance 2014 for Wii and heaven knows how many Skylanders lumps of nonsense.

The console designers and imagineers might have been having a day off, but Nintendo weren’t found wanting on some of the games, and it’s probably fair to say that the initial release of Mario Kart 8, plus its two excellent DLC packs, probably cements it as the best of the Mario Karts. Yes, sorry Double Dash fans. Mario Kart DS fans, your time is up – quite literally, as the online modes are now as dead as the Wii U. And Super Circuit fans… oh hang on, that’s just me.

Mario Kart 8 worked so well because it was simply no-nonsense. Mario Kart Wii could sometimes be fun – so long as you weren’t the one getting pelted by nine items in a row before being given the horrendous Thunder Cloud item as if that was supposed to form your comeback.

Double Dash was good fun, though lacking in courses and the two-driver mechanic was just an interesting experiment really, a moment of madness that some Japanese workaholic dreamt up as he waited for his turn at karaoke, not something that was never really meant to be in the game until accidentally it just happened and that was that.

And we mustn’t forget the 3DS’s Mario Kart 7… or perhaps we can, because while it was decent it played things a bit too safe.

None of that for Mario Kart 8, oh no. Not too many items bashing off your head, and smart play meant you could defend yourself from Link spamming Green Shells as he rode past in the Blue Falcon. Wait, what? Plenty of courses too, with 32 (later expanded to 48, the most in any Mario Kart game) and each of them looks lush except Excitebike.

And the biggest new change, anti-gravity karting, allowing you to drive upside-down, rightside-up, inside-out and all over the place as you fight to stay ahead. Improved Blue Shell mechanics and a bonking soundtrack make Mario Kart 8 an unbelievable contender on all fronts.

The game should have seen the Wii U go from strength to strength, and indeed the game bundle combined with a price drop did help some of the black and white lugs off the shelves. But thanks to the Jasper Carrott hardware, Mario Kart 8 never got the playerbase its whimsical effort deserved. Until now.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t exactly offer much new. A couple of new items, new characters, true. But it’s more or less the game you bought back in 2014, something which will inevitably cause you to assume a furtive look on your face around your significant other when it came time to double dip and get something new for the Zelda playing machine that was your Switch.

“But why get the same game twice, love?” he or she would cry, as you explained to him or her that the groceries were going to have to be own-brand and little Timothy was going to have to go without extra-curricular activities yet again that week. Proper order – there’s another €60 Nintendo game that needs paying for and you’re damned if you’re gonna be left behind.

You would of course reply “Because this time it’s properly portable, it’s two player out of the box without one player having to suffer dreadful hand cramps holding the Wii U behemoth of a gamepad, and there might even be an online presence this time. Plus the battle mode’s fixed and the feather’s back!” They would do the classic 1-decibel disparaging comment as you closed the door behind you, but you’re actually happy enough to let it go – after all, the greatest kart racer in existence awaits.

But your long-suffering husband or wife need not be totally put out, because this time the game is even casual-friendly. And that’s important because, when I first played Mario Kart 8 at a friend’s house and found myself coming 10th or worse almost every single time, my reputation as a pro gaming authority was under severe threat and scrutiny. More to the point, I was becoming butthurt.

It took a bit of getting used to, those drifts, and it sometimes seems that there’s no straights at all in this game – your character spends so much time skidding sideways that I swear Link’s ears almost poked me in the eye on more than one occasion. In any case, if you can’t drift in the Wii U original, then you’ve got no chance. If you can’t drift in the Switch game… You actually still have a chance, because you can have modes enabled that will automatically turn the corners for you, drift for you… even accelerate for you if you happen to be royalty and your button pressing butlers all have the flu that day.

I’m telling you, it’s a godsend – as starkly obvious as the aids will seem to you, your girlfriend will not suspect a thing even when the kart turns right despite left being held and other cornerstones of physics are being utterly flouted. Very quickly indeed, they’ll get used to the tracks and how they flow.

But that’s one of the beauties of this game, its wonderful flow. Just about every circuit has a wonderful fluidity to them, and when you get experienced enough to chain well-drifted corners together… the full juice of the game becomes apparent. Christ, you’ll even spend an extended period of time in the Time Trial mode, I guarantee you that.

So all of the previous issues with Mario Kart have been fixed, and this is the refined re-release of the game with the most content of the series… I almost hesitate to say it, but I can’t exactly see how Nintendo are going to improve upon this beast for Mario Kart 9, if that comes out anytime soon. I can only really see them going for some nuts 3-driver gimmick or some sort of ill-advised Need For Speed crossover slop. Or perhaps this is the moment where Nintendo can temporarily shelve Kart and put focus back onto F-Zero? No? Anybody…?

31 January 2018

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