Video Game Awards 2018: Best Remake/Re-release

Video games are a medium that moves forward quickly. While such rapid progress can be a good thing, it also comes with the caveat of many audiences missing out on what came before. Thankfully, video games have gotten to a point where they’re taken more seriously and, as a result, the industry is more focused on preserving the classics than it was in the past. Older games are now commonly found as downloadable titles on consoles and PC, while some lucky entries are given the full-on remake treatment, which is a far more appreciated concept in games than in movies, due to the fact that the overall game tends to remain the same, but with a few modernized tweaks.

The video game world sees many such re-releases in this day and age (something that – unlike many people – I don’t have a problem with, given the aforementioned reason of preservation). But there can only be one that stands above the others.

 

Winner: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

I was tempted to give this to the SNES Classic Edition, but decided that option seemed a bit like cheating. So instead, why not crown the best Mario Kart ever made better than ever?

That’s exactly what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is. It takes the most polished and refined entry in one of gaming’s most beloved multiplayer series, and improves on it by making some small but meaningful tweaks, as well as rectifying the original release’s one notable flaw (by means of returning Battle Mode to its roots. If it ain’t broke, right?).

Featuring a few additional characters, returning items from old entries, and just a few extra refinements, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a shining example of how to re-release a modern classic (if it just featured more race tracks and removed Pink Gold Peach and Princess Daisy, it would be perfect).

In short, Mario Kart 8 was already the finest entry in one of Nintendo’s best series, and its Deluxe version ascends it to being one of the finest games in Nintendo’s history.

 

Runner-up: Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy

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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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Mario Kart Arcade GP DX Review

MKAGPDX

Mario Kart as been one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises. Every major platform since the SNES has seen the release of a new Mario Kart title, and in more recent years, Nintendo has teamed with Namco Bandai Games to produce a series of Mario Kart titles for arcades. The third and most recent of which, Super Mario Arcade GP DX, can be played in many arcades in Japan and in the west. But just how well does this arcade installment stack up against the traditional entries on Nintendo’s platforms?

In many ways, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is a pretty interesting game. Not only does it bring Mario Kart to arcades, but in many instances you are able to save data so that you keep unlocked features with future visits (though not every arcade provides the means to save progress, and simply have many of the game’s aspects unlocked from the get-go). Then there are silly little details that could only work in arcades, like taking a photo of yourself with a pirate hat or Rosalina’s hair to be displayed over your character for other players to see.

Gameplay-wise, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is a pretty faithful transition for the franchise to arcade cabinets. The game is controlled via arcade wheel, with an acceleration and brake pedal being included to better mimic real-life driving. It definitely feels appropriate for an arcade version, though admittedly the wheel’s controls can feel a tad oversensitive.

Naturally, like any Mario Kart, the game is at its best when played with others. Most arcades that feature the game have multiple cabinets. Players can not only race against each other, but can even team up against computers, or have two-on-two races between players. Some of these modes even include special items that see players’ vehicles join together, with one player temporarily becoming the driver, and the other firing a barrage of weapons, Double Dash style.

On the downside of things, some of the classic Mario Kart aspects – namely the items and tracks – have been watered down. While it’s understandable for certain features to be simplified in the arcades, I can’t help but feel that the game went about the simplification in the wrong way.

Items are now placed into three categories: items that are launched in front of you, items that are dropped behind you, and special items. This not only takes out the variety in the Mario Kart weaponry, but in each race you’re only able to get a single item in each category, which – like your Kart – are determined via roulette wheel. So not only do you not have most of the classic Mario Kart items at your disposal (all but the Koopa Shells are replaced with more generic items like road signs),  but you don’t even have control as to which items you get, or what kart you drive.

The tracks themselves also have a strong lack in variety. Although there are still a few different cups to choose from (each containing four tracks), each track within a cup has a striking similarity to each other in both layout and themes (every track in Mario Cup resembles a beach, for example, while Bowser Jr. Cup is all about airships).

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is definitely a fun time at the arcade, especially if you happen to get three other players to join in. Unfortunately, its feeling of being simplified for the arcades is a bit too prominent, which removes a good deal of variety and depth from the formula. It’s definitely worth a few tokens if you have some friends or other arcade patrons playing with or against you. Just don’t expect to spend a whole lot of time on it, even if you have the tokens to do so.

 

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Mario Kart 64 Review

Mario Kart 64

There are few video games as synonymous with my gaming youth than Mario Kart 64. The number of hours I spent with its Grand Prix, Versus and Battle modes are uncountable. For a good few years, it was my go-to multiplayer game. The Mario Kart series has come a long way since this second installment hit the Nintendo 64 in 1997, so how well does Mario Kart 64 hold up after so many years of Nintendo perfecting the formula?

The short answer to that is… pretty decently, though there are aspects of the game that haven’t aged particularly gracefully as well.

Being the first 3D entry in the series, Mario Kart 64 was capable of certain feats that the SNES original couldn’t pull off. The new 3D racetracks were more robust, with features like changes in elevation, slopes, and long jumps, among others. This helped Mario Kart 64 create some of the series’ most iconic tracks, many of which have been recreated in subsequent Mario Karts.

Mario Kart 64On the downside, these 3D visuals are now rather ugly to look at. Sure, it’s easy to defend it as being an earlier title in the N64’s library, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when playing the game today, it can sometimes strain the eyes. Not only do the environments look blocky, and the character models downright odd, but you can often only see what’s immediately in front of you, with everything else looking like a pixelated blur. This can sometimes make turns and obstacles difficult to see, which can really effect you during a race. This is all the worse when playing split-screen multiplayer, as the tinier screen space means things look that much blurrier.

On the bright side, the core gameplay is still a lot of fun. The control scheme is simple enough (A to accelerate, B for breaks, and Z to fire weapons), and is among the select Nintendo 64 games that are still fun to control. And it’s different modes bring out a lot of fun in the gameplay.

Mario Kart 64Gran Prix sees one or two players taking on computer-controlled opponents in a complete set of races. Time Trials consist of single player races against a “ghost” player in an attempt to get the best time. Versus mode consists of singular races of two to four players without the computer opponents. Finally, Battle mode has two to four players facing off in enclosed arenas as they gather items and try to pop every other player’s three balloons (this is also the only time in the series where defeated players in Battle mode would become bombs that could ram into a surviving player to eliminate one of their balloons for a little revenge from beyond the grave).

"Where did you learn to drive?"
“Where did you learn to drive?”

The modes are all fun in their own right, with Battle mode probably being the best of the lot. Though there is one huge downside to the game’s multiplayer that should be addressed. When playing a game with the maximum of four players, there is no music to be heard. This was probably due to technical limitations with the Nintendo 64, but it doesn’t change the fact that playing the game without music definitely takes away from the experience. And Mario Kart 64 has a pretty good soundtrack as well, which makes its absence in four player games sting all the more.

This puts Mario Kart 64 in an interesting situation where – despite being an entry in a multiplayer series – the single player modes have probably aged better. Though you can still have plenty of fun playing Mario Kart 64 with friends, the added blurriness to the visuals and the lack of music are really noticeable when playing today.

Mario Kart 64As for the character roster, players can take control of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser. This game basically established the “primary eight” characters of the Mario universe (though Rosalina and Bowser Jr. probably make it a primary ten these days), so there aren’t any complaints with the selections (no babies or Pink Gold Peach here), though players may feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of unlockable characters.

Mario Kart 64 is a more basic entry in the series then. But while it may lack the content and depth of many of its successors, it’s still a lot of fun to play. It has its fair share of attributes that show their age, but it’s still way more fun than a lot of other multiplayer N64 titles are when playing today.

If you want a more definitive Mario Kart, just pop Mario Kart 8 into your Wii U and have a blast. But if you want to revisit a N64 classic that can provide hours of fun for you and some friends, you could do a whole lot worse than Mario Kart 64.

 

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Mario Kart: Super Circuit Review

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Though every Nintendo console and handheld since the SNES has had its own iteration of Mario Kart, the Game Boy Advance’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit is the only entry that plays like a direct sequel to the SNES’ Super Mario Kart. If you’re a fan of the original, then Super Circuit may be worth a revisit. Just know that it hasn’t aged quite as well as Super Mario Kart, and its transition to the Wii U Virtual Console has removed some key features.

Super Circuit retains the play style of Super Mario Kart, where courses are mostly flat and straightforward when compared to the other sequels in the series (though they retain the fun Mario themes). Much like the original game, it feels more like the tracks are moving instead of the character, which can take some getting used to, especially when one realizes the turns are much sharper and the vehicles more slippery than in Super Mario Kart. It doesn’t feel as immediately fun as the SNES game, but for those with the patience for it, Super Circuit ends up being a similarly entertaining experience.

There’s also a good sense of balance with computer AI and the items. Playing on 150cc will still prove incredibly difficult, but playing on lesser difficulties make things feel more fair and less random than in some entries of the series. The items consist of all the basics like bananas and shells, and lack the more overpowered weapons of later Mario Karts.

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe character selection is identical to that of Mario Kart 64: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Toad, Donkey Kong and Wario are all playable, with no secret or surprise characters making the roster. Even back in 2001 when the game was first released on GBA there was no shortage of Mario characters to work with, so the recycled selection is a minor bummer.

The visuals are the aspect of the game that have been most affected by age. Though the game is colorful and the game’s merging of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64’s art styles is interesting, it looks neither as lively as the former or even as visually pleasing as the latter (normally you’d expect an early 3D game like MK64 to have aged worse visually than a 2D game like Super Circuit, but somehow the exact opposite is true). The game’s Virtual Console release is also better suited for off-TV play on the Gamepad, since playing on the TV stretches the visuals and exposes its datedness all the more. Some of Super Circuit’s rotation effects might even prove bothersome to those with sensitive eyes.

The single biggest drawback to the Virtual Console release, however, is that it no longer has a multiplayer option. That’s right, it’s Mario Kart without multiplayer now. If you can track down an original GBA copy of the game and a couple of link cables, you can still have some multiplayer fun. But without a means to replicate the link cables, or a split-screen option to make up for it, the Virtual Console version of the game lacks the series’ defining feature.

Still, there’s fun to be had with the core gameplay. And additional single player modes like Time Trial and Quick Run (a more customizable VS. mode) ensure that there’s more to do than the Grand Prix mode. You can even unlock all twenty tracks from Super Mario Kart on top of the twenty tracks introduced here, giving Super Circuit more courses than any entry in the series up until Mario Kart 8 introduced DLC into the mix. So despite the limitations, there’s still plenty to do for solo players.

If you cherish the gameplay of the original Super Mario Kart, then Super Circuit is still worth a spin, though preferably in its original GBA incarnation. For those who feel the series has improved for deviating from the SNES game’s blueprints, you may want to hit the brakes before downloading Super Circuit.

 

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