Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 was not only the best-selling game on the Wii U, and one of the system’s best titles, it was the best Mario Kart to date. It abandoned the luck-based nature of Mario Kart Wii, and gave it a sense of polish like the series had never seen before. There was, however, one glaring flaw with Mario Kart 8.

Despite all the improvements MK8 made to the core racing mechanics of the series, it somehow managed to butcher the series’ beloved Battle Mode of all things. Gone were the arenas where players did battle. Instead, players had to pop each other’s balloons while wandering around the racetracks, hoping that they could manage to even find one of the other players.

Thankfully, it seems Nintendo realized they made more than a little bit of an oopsie with Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode, and decided to revamp it entirely for the game’s relaunch on the Nintendo Switch. By taking an already exceptional game, rectifying its one great flaw, and sprinkling in several other small changes, Nintendo has ensured that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is as essential to the Switch as its original incarnation was to the Wii U.

This being a re-release, the core mechanics of the experience are nearly identical to what they were in the original Mario Kart 8. The racing is as tight and intricate as it was back in 2014. You still get boosts for drifting and for performing stunts, the racetracks still posses anti-gravity sections, and the items are still more balanced than in previous entries in the series.

There are, however, a few subtle changes that improve the already smooth experience. You can now drift longer for even greater boosts (represented by pink sparks flying from your wheels), and the infamous “fire hopping” trick (which gave an advantage to those who could pull it off) has been removed, making the racing all the more balanced.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in gameplay is that you can now hold two items at once, a returning feature from the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. You can even find double item boxes, to immediately gain two items at once.

These may all sound like small changes, but you’d be surprised just how much they change things up. This is particularly true for the double items, which make getting and maintaining first place a greater challenge than before.

There are other changes present as well: Beginning players can now enable “Smart Steering,” which prevents your kart from falling off track (though this feature disables the pink sparks, and makes certain shortcuts harder to reach, should they require you to jump from one track to another). You can now change characters and karts in between online matches, instead of going back to the online lobby in order to do so. Additionally, the randomization of items seems to have been tweaked, with speed-boosting Mushrooms – while still the most common item – no longer feeling annoyingly frequent, while more useful items aren’t quite as rare, though not common enough to ruin the game’s balance.

We even get two items returning from older entries in the series: Super Mario Kart’s Super Feather allows players to jump over obstacles, and Mario Kart 64’s Boo turns players ethereal, making them impervious to enemy items, while also stealing an item from a random opponent.

To top it all off, the game includes every character from the Wii U version, including the DLC originals like Link from The Legend of Zelda, Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Tanooki Mario, and Dry Bowser, as well as five brand-new characters: King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr. and the boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon.

On the downside of things, the only unlockable character is Gold Mario, who is merely an alternate color for Metal Mario, who already seemed like an unnecessary character to begin with. Mario Kart 8 had a mixed bag of characters as it was, with every timeless video game icon like Mario, Bowser and Donkey Kong being countered with a throwaway addition like Baby Daisy and the creative low that is Pink Gold Peach. The five brand new characters do bring a bit more proper franchise representation to the game, but the more lackluster characters still sour the roster a little.

Of course, the big news here is the Battle Mode, which has been brought back to its former glory, and features five different gameplay styles.

Naturally, there’s the traditional Balloon Battle, where players fight in an arena and try to eliminate the other players’ balloons by using items. Then there’s Bob-omb Blast, which is essentially just Balloon Battle, but where every item is replaced with Bob-ombs, making for pure chaos. Coin Runners sees players trying to hold onto the most coins by the time the clock runs out, with players losing coins every time a weapon strikes them.

One of my personal favorites is Shine Thief, a returning mode from Double Dash!! that sees every player fighting for a single Shine Sprite. Whoever can hold the Shine Sprite for a count of twenty is the winner. As you can imagine, holding the Shine Sprite makes you the target of every other player, and though reclaiming the Shine Sprite will continue your counter from where it left off (until it reaches five or below), getting it back after losing it is easier said than done. The hectic action of Shine Thief is matched only by Renegade Roundup, a brand-new Battle Mode that is divided into teams. One team takes the role of “The Authorities,” identified by the Piranha Plants with police sirens attached to their karts, while the others are the “Renegades.” The goal of the Authorities is to capture all of the renegades via the Piranha Plant, while the Renegades simply try to survive within the allotted time. This may sound like it heavily favors the Authorities team, but the Renegades can free their captured teammates by driving into a switch, making things much more competitive.

Having a proper Battle Mode rectifies the one big mistake Mario Kart 8 made the first time around, and the fact that it comes in five variants makes it feel like Nintendo went out of their way to make up for its omission in the game’s original release. Battle Mode gives a great alternative to the racing, and all five versions of it are extremely fun.

If there’s any disappointment to be had with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it’s simply that there are no new racetracks added to the game (not counting the battle arenas). Yes, the track design in Mario Kart 8 is the best in the series, and the fact that Deluxe comes with all the original’s DLC tracks out of the box means there’s no shortage of variety. But considering how Nintendo went above and beyond the call of duty for the Battle Mode, you can’t help but wish they’d have done the same for the core racing by including a new cup or two.

Even with the lack of new racetracks, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has in store. Mario Kart 8 already had great gameplay, and more polish than any entry in the series before it. But now the few kinks that were present have been ironed out, making it the smoothest and most polished kart racer around.

You also couldn’t ask for much better in terms of presentation. Mario Kart 8 was always a gorgeous game. Though it’s hard to tell if the graphics have been improved at all, that’s just a testament to how stunning the game always looked. Its colorful characters and locales, fun and varied art direction, and sharp graphics come together to make a game that looks simply stunning, and whose visuals perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s an outright beautiful game to look at, and the orchestrated soundtrack is just as pleasing to the ears.

Combine all of this with the more streamlined tweaks, and an online mode that is sure to keep you coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe proves to be one of the finest of multiplayer games. Mario Kart 8 was already the closest thing the series had to a definitive entry, and now as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it undoubtedly belongs on any list of the best Nintendo games.

 

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Top 10 Wii U Games (So Far)

Wii U

The Wii U is a devastatingly underrated system. It’s ousted the GameCube as Nintendo’s least-selling home console of all time. Because of that, gamers all over the internet, true to their  cynical nature, see that as a reflection of the quality of the system itself (of course, they also dismissed the original Wii because it sold well, so go figure). But despite being the butt of jokes on the internet and its less-than desirable sales figures, the Wii U actually boasts a really impressive library of games.

Sure, Nintendo really needed to emphasize the console over the controller in its early marketing strategies, the Gamepad needed to be used more effectively in more games, and one can’t help but think that simply naming the console “Wii 2” could have helped boost sales by itself (because seriously, what does the “U” mean?). Despite this questionable decision-making and marketing, the Wii U has ultimately proven to be a terrific console where it counts, and that’s the games.

Yes, the Wii U had a slow first few months, but once it started picking up steam around mid-2013 it’s released some of the best games in recent years. Arguably the best part is that you can’t play them anywhere else. Though console exclusives are becoming rarer on competing hardware, they often prove to be the more definitive titles of their generations, and it’s an area in which Nintendo always excels.

Though the Wii U still has some big games on the horizon (including a new Star Fox and The Legend of Zelda), I think it’s safe to say that rumblings of Nintendo’s next console, codenamed “NX,” means that its days as a priority for Nintendo are slowing down. Sure, Nintendo has stated that they’ll still support the Wii U even after NX launches, but I think the Wii U’s underwhelming sales will make it a short-term continued support (Wii U might have a good few months and a couple of big games after NX, but I can’t imagine it would go much farther). I feel now is a good time to reflect on the many great games the Wii U has provided over the past three years, even if I may have to make a revised edition after the last waves of big games hit the console in the year ahead.

Despite Nintendo being backed into a wall in regards to the Wii U, or perhaps because of it, Nintendo has ended up creating some of the greatest lineups of games in their history for the console. It’s given us the most balanced Mario Kart, the most intricate Smash Bros. and the best version of the best 3D Zelda yet made. But which Wii U games are the best?

The following is my list of the top 10 greatest Wii U games. The ten Wii U titles that are the most fun. The 10 most definitive. The 10 games that all those people who still refuse to get a Wii U are missing out on the most. Seriously people, stop using the whole “waiting for Zelda” excuse as a crutch. Nintendo consoles are more than just a Zelda title.

One final note, I have decided not to include The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD in this countdown. Despite being one of my favorite video games, it would feel kind of cheap to list a remake here with all the original Wii U titles, even if Wind Waker HD has some of the best uses of the Gamepad.

So without further ado, the top 10 Wii U games! But first, some runners-up! Continue reading “Top 10 Wii U Games (So Far)”

Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)

2014 was quite an interesting year for video games. Most of the hyped, high-profile titles that were “destined for greatness” ended up disappointing most. Destiny, Titanfall and Watchdogs, which were all supposed to be the year’s biggest games, quickly fizzled out upon release. But that doesn’t mean 2014 was full of duds.

Quite the opposite, actually. 2014 saw a few truly great games. Namely, fantastic sequels to greats like Dark Souls and Bayonetta shined, and 2014 turned out to be the year the Wii U truly proved its mettle, with the Big N releasing one quality title after another.

So maybe the memorable games of 2014 didn’t come in the forms everyone expected, but when they did show up, they came in full force. Here are the five games that had the biggest impact on me.

Continue reading “Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Online Multiplayer

Today, it seems most games give players from all over the world the opportunity to face one another. Online gaming has become a huge part of the gaming community, and it’s hard to argue the addictive nature of battling faceless opponents from around the globe. It was tough deciding which game was the most addictive online experience of the year, but in the end…

 

Winner: Mario Kart 8

Luigi Death Stare

It was a bit of a coin toss which game would get Best Online Multiplayer between Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, as both have taken countless hours of my free time. In the end it boiled down to smoothness. Smash Bros., while mostly a solid online experience, can get really laggy when it wants to. So while they may be equals in terms of their addictive nature, I have never encountered a slow race in Mario Kart 8, so it gets the edge.

But why not one of the more hyped FPSs of 2014? Simple, because Mario Kart 8 represents Mario Kart at its very best, and its online functionality is at the height of the series. There’s no game-breaking mechanics like Mario Kart DS, the items feel less chaotic than Mario Kart Wii, and it allows more players (and better level design) than Mario Kart 7.

In a nutshell, it’s the very best Mario Kart has to offer, for up to twelve players in matches that are as smooth as silk. You can even record your races and upload them directly to YouTube, a feature I hope Nintendo revisits down the road.

The items will fly, the racers will drift, and Luigi will death stare. Be weary though, a ‘few quick rounds might just turn into hours of cursing at your television screen as you get knocked off course repeatedly and lose first place.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Mario Kart 8 Review

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 is essential for any Wii U library, and possibly the most fine-tuned entry in the beloved series. The HD visuals combined with the colorful Mario aesthetics make it an absolutely gorgeous game, but the real highlight isn’t in the visual department. What makes Mario Kart 8 work so well is its overall structure.

Weapons like Koopa Shells and Lightning Bolts return, it wouldn’t be Mario Kart without them. But while most entries seem to favor the racer who was lucky enough to nab the best items, Mario Kart 8 balances the items and instead emphasizes player skill and understanding the track designs.

Drifting and stunts give players a small boost, as they have in past Mario Karts, but here you’ll find the tracks are largely built around them. Ramps and curves are liberally spread out across the tracks, leaving the player to learn every last one of them. Missing even a single drift boost can impact where the player scores when they cross the finish line.

Luigi Death Stare

That doesn’t mean the game is overly demanding. This is still Mario Kart, after all. While it may take some mastering to be able to whiz through the tracks, the aforementioned items – no longer taking center stage – are now used to smooth things out.

New items include the Boomerang – which can be used up to three times, with each throw having two chances to take out opponents – and the Piranha Plant, which chomps nearby racers, giving you a boost in the process. Then there’s the Super Horn, which sends a shockwave that not only takes out other racers, but incoming projectiles as well. That includes the infamous Spiked Shell.

These new items join most of the series mainstays, and help bridge the gap between player abilities, making races feel more unpredictable than they might otherwise be. Though Nintendo might have gone a tad overboard when trying to balance the frequency of these items, as Mushrooms seem annoyingly common, which may get frustrating given the limited effectiveness of their boosts.

It’s not just that the mechanics have been refined that make Mario Kart 8 such a blast, the track designs themselves are among the best in the series, and greatly benefit from anti-gravity sections, which allow for some creative twists to what is to be expected from Mario Kart tracks. Turning the courses upside down and driving against walls brings to mind Super Mario Galaxy or the bonus stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and it brings a sense of freshness to the Mario Kart series. Retro tracks return, with slight modifications to take advantage of the anti-gravity segments. They’re all the better for it.

One track sees you driving against waterfalls, grabbing small boots so you don’t fall behind in its current, while another seems to be Nintendo’s recreation of Sugar Rush from Wreck-It Ralph. The tracks boast some of the most fun designs in the series (not to mention a diversity of stunning visuals between them), and it lacks that gimmicky stage or two that seemed thrown in to some of the past few entries.

Mario Kart 8If only the character roster could share in that creativity. While the obvious favorites like Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Peach return, many of the newcomers feel like bottom of the barrel selections. The Koopalings are a welcome addition (even if they do take up a good chunk of the roster), but too many alternate versions of existing characters (namely baby versions of the Mario Bros. and Princesses) feel tacked on. And Pink Gold Peach may just be the low point in Nintendo character ideas. It’s true, the play styles of the characters and karts are what’s important, but given this is a series with no shortage of heritage to draw from, the inconsistent roster feels muddled.

But the vehicle diversity – which includes the return of Mario Kart Wii’s bikes – largely make up for the wonky characters. You’ll find that each vehicle adds its own tweaks to the gameplay, which makes for a more varied experience.

The online features will probably have you returning more than anything. Mario Kart 8 will have you testing your abilities in races or tournaments with players from around the world, meaning you’ll always have someone to play with, and it all works so smoothly that you wish Nintendo’s other franchises could offer such an online experience. You can even choose your own settings (limiting items or no items at all, for example), and hosting tournaments creates its own Miiverse community, making communication between players all the easier.

Best of all, you can now take the replays of your races, and post their highlights in a video directly to YouTube via Miiverse. You don’t exactly get a lot of editing tools, but the option to upload videos directly from the game is a treat, and another feature I hope makes return appearances in Nintendo titles.Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8’s one great drawback is the Balloon Battle mode. Since the series inception, Balloon Battles have been one of Mario Kart’s greatest highlights. But here it’s all watered down. Gone are the battle arenas, now Balloon Battles are held in one of the standard race tracks, with the anti-gravity sections omitted of all things. You still must deplete your opponents’ balloons with the use of items, but the experience has been sullied of the very aspects that made it one of the most memorable experiences in the series. It’s a bit baffling that Mario Kart 8 gets so much right, and yet it’s the battle mode of all things that is left out of its vision.

When considering the overall package, it’s a small detraction. Mario Kart 8 is as fun and addictive as any party game Nintendo has made. The control options are a plenty, whether you prefer traditional methods or motion controls, Mario Kart 8 has them all fine-tuned. And the presentation, from the eye-popping HD visuals to the beautifully orchestrated score, Mario Kart 8 delivers in spades. It has its missteps, but they are forgivable when you consider this is likely the finest of all Mario Karts. And doesn’t that say it all?

 

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