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Review Mario Kart Wii vs. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe | The Problem With Lowering the Skill Ceiling

Discussion in 'Video Games' started by Duo, Oct 17, 2020.

  1. Duo

    Stupid
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    what's up

    I don't know how obvious of a point I've made it on the Discord, but I love Mario Kart Wii. It's definitely one of my favorite games of all time and my exaggerated obsession with this game has kind of become an inside joke with most of my friends. With this joke came the joke that I despise Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and while I can still enjoy the game, it does a lot of things that leave a bad taste in my mouth whenever I play it. Let me reiterate - I enjoy this game. I may not love it, but I do not hate it. I'm going to be using this post to talk about MK8D's shortcomings, MKW's strengths, and some of the consequences that MK8D's shortcomings have.

    For MK8D, I'm going to start off with some positives. The game both looks and sounds very nice, and although this is kind of by default thanks to it being newer, the game is better visually than any other in the series. You cannot talk about this game without mentioning that 48 tracks is a big bonus over the otherwise standard 32, and although there are some pretty big duds in there, I still can't say it's not a point in this game's favor. This game's drifting - for karts, at least - feels way smoother than any other game in the series.

    By far my favorite thing about this game is that it introduces both smart steering and auto accelerate. I've watched young kids play this game, and a lot of the time they've had trouble staying on the road or going the right direction, and going out of your way to actively make attempts to include them is really great. Auto accelerate I assume is for people with nerve issues who struggle to grab onto things, but I'm not certain; maybe this was intended for much younger kids as well. I use auto accelerate myself because I sometimes grip my controller too tightly and end up hurting my thumb.

    Those two things are great because they try to make the game appeal to a wider audience. Keep this in mind for later. But with that out of the way, let's get into negatives. I don't have too many of them, but they're all very major and effect gameplay enough to make me feel sad whenever I play this game.

    Let's start off with the items. Nothing about the items at all feel like it was thought through very well at all, and in the parts where they did seem to put some thought into it, things ended up flopping in practice. Perhaps the most striking thing about this game is that it combines position with distance from the frontrunner (the guy in first, in place you don't know what this means) to determine what item or items you get from a given box. The very first thing you'd think of is that it makes games closer and prevents first place from getting too far ahead, and while this does happen sometimes, they executed this horrendously. I've had very close races where I've been in fifth place, gotten two power items from a box, and jolted up to first just because I've had two power items. One of these was even on Rainbow Road, which is always a track where frontrunning is at its best thanks to all of the boost panels. What this also ended up doing is pushing the player in the bottom even further if someone happened to break ahead of the pack. This is very counterintuitive and kind of the opposite of what Nintendo wanted. If you give the player in fifth place a Golden Mushroom and a Star, then someone further behind has an even lesser chance of catching up, as the gap between them and the person in front of them has no reason to shrink. That's not good for a game that tries to prop up the worse players.

    The new items introduced in this game are all pretty bad if I'm being honest. The Fire Flower and Boomerang Flower are both pretty much impossible to dodge, making them fine to use, but more annoying to play against than anything else. I'm counting the Boo as a returning item, which is pretty fun on paper, but in practice I was always unhappy with what the item gave me. More often than not I've gotten something completely worthless or significantly worse than what I could have gotten in the bottom or lower spots where you typically get it, and it's even more annoying to get your item stolen with all of the Red Shells the game likes to hand out to players. The Boo often takes your only defense against them, which does add a tiny bit of strategy with first place having to hold a Coin in their first item slot, but just isn't fun to play against. The Super Horn on paper is a defense against the Blue Shell, but in practice it rarely gets this use. I don't want this to be a perfect defense against the Blue Shell, but the item does this job so rarely that it just annoys me to use it to block a Red Shell more than I enjoy the rare incident where I block a Blue Shell, and this is further impacted by how often first place gets a Coin rather than something to block an incoming Red Shell. The Coin is by far the worst though, I'd say I hate this item more than any other in the series save the Thundercloud. You get these over half the time in first, and once again because of all of the Red Shells in play, it makes it impossible to defend yourself in many cases. All of this for an item you can literally find anywhere on the ground.

    I mention Red Shells all the time, and I cannot exaggerate how many Red Shells there are in this game. This game hands an absurd amount of Red Shells to anyone in the middle or upper spots, barring first place of course. Items like Green Shells and Bananas just become "items to defend yourself" rather than items you'd use to snipe someone or items you'd use to try and trap opponents. So no matter what, you feel forced to hold them while playing, and that leads to frontrunning especially but even playing in the middle spots being a lot less fun than it otherwise would be. I already mentioned that the Coin makes you helpless to them in first place though, and that's when they're at their absolute worst, but even when things like that don't happen they're still a negative effect on the game.

    This may seem random, but Nintendo also made snaking completely unviable and firehopping impossible. For those who don't know, snaking was a strategy in many previous Mario Kart games where you drifted back and forth in a line to go slightly faster on a straightaway when the next turn isn't coming up for a while. They made this unviable by lowering the player's speed when drifting, and I'm certain they did this to remove snaking, since there is no other good reason to do this. Firehopping was a strategy in Mario Kart 8 specifically where you hopped in a specific way and time after releasing a mini turbo, thus extending the amount of time that your mini turbo lasts. Both of these were really simple techniques that had a bit of depth for them and weren't the hardest to master, both gone in an attempt to simplify the game and lower the skill ceiling. Also worth mentioning that in their place is a way to hop over some patches of offroad with drifting, but this isn't as enjoyable or fulfilling as any other advanced technique seen in any other game yet.

    All of this about lowering the skill ceiling would honestly be acceptable, between the terrible item balancing and the removal of tech, if not for the fact that it's completely worthless. Nintendo's attempt to lower the skill ceiling was to give anyone a chance at winning, right? They failed. Every single time I play this game, there are definitely races where the most skilled player loses, but this was the case in all other Mario Kart games. If I were to tell you that "more often than not the better player gets better results, but not always," then that would describe every Mario Kart game to a tee, MK8D included. The fact that they failed to lower the skill ceiling in itself is not a problem, but it's the way in which they did it that, in my opinion, screws the game over and makes it a lot worse than it could have been.

    Let's look at this from my perspective. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a much simpler game than Mario Kart Wii that's a lot less enjoyable to drive because of its lack of advanced techniques. There are an excessive amount of Red Shells that make it impossible to lay Banana traps, which alongside the lack of extra things to do like chaining wheelies that were taken out after Mario Kart Wii, things are now kind of boring if you're frontrunning, if not frustrating thanks to how you consistently get a Coin in first. If you're in the middle or the back, then you have to deal with terrible item distribution. In everything's place is the hop techique I mentioned earlier, which just isn't as fun as any of the rest.

    But not everyone is going to share this opinion, and I know that. It's just to show that Nintendo has completely shoved their more "hardcore" audience to the side, for lack of better terms. I don't think a game should ever push a part of their audience away, but it would at least be understandable if they were to make the core game better. I think they tried to patch this up with 200cc, and while 200cc is definitely good, it's not a mode you can just pick up play with casual friends. There is some level of a learning curve to 200cc, since the huge boost in speed completely changes how you have to approach the game. This also doesn't change the fact that you only rarely get to play 200cc in the online matchmaking. It's a crutch for sure, but it's not a great one, and I think the way Mario Kart Wii did all of this was just a much better approach.

    Let's go over Mario Kart Wii's new items and their implementation. The Mega Mushroom is basically a lite version of the Star that you get in middle spots instead of bottom spots, and and the POW Block is a similarly comparable lite version of the Lightning. Both of these were implemented differently enough to actually add to the game, though. The Mega Mushroom makes you bigger, and you're still not invincible to Stars or Bullets, but you're still partially invincible and immune to things like Red Shells and most notably Lightning. You also don't gain a boost to your top speed except for when you're drifting, but you can drive offroad and get a big boost to your acceleration. The POW Block is possibly one of the most strategic items in the game despite how it seems on surface level. There's a practically universally known trick where if you do a trick while the POW Block activates, you won't lose any speed and will keep driving as normal. The thing with this is that it takes away your ability to turn while you spin, so you can use it to target specific people around corners or over ledges to force them to slow down in preperation for the POW Block retaining their momentum. Other things of note is that if you're on the recieving end, the POW Block gives you time to react accordingly so you can get easy counterplay to it, it only affects the players in front of you, and it makes those affected lose their item, making it useful on tracks where Mushroom shortcuts are important.

    I avoided mentioning the Thundercloud until now though, and that's because I need an entire paragraph to talk about it. This is by far the worst item in Mario Kart history. Getting one gives you a speed boost and immunity to offroad until thirteen or so seconds pass, when it'll strike the person holding it and shrink them. The only way to get rid of it is by bumping someone else within those thirteen seconds. While on paper, this gives the holder an advantage and makes it a fair game of hot potato, MKW's bikes are much more agile than typical karts and both the holder and the target are on even grounds. The only times you'd want this are when you're around a crowd, when you're about to pass through a cannon, or when you're about to finish the race. No matter what, someone is going to be shrunk though, and this makes for a worse experience for that person. Not a bad idea, but it was executed terribly. This isn't enough to completely kill the experience, though, and even though you can avoid item boxes in places where the Thundercloud is common, having to avoid item boxes isn't fun at all either.

    I briefly mentioned before that bikes are more agile, and that's because of how much thinner they are. Using the drift button to hop can give you just enough maneuverability to easily dodge items that are on the ground or other unexpected hazards, but only if you have the reaction speed. It's still possible to do this in MK8D, but you overall have much more control of your vehicle in MKW. Part of this is because of how unbalanced the game is, which people often cite as a point against this game. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I don't think this game being unbalanced hurts it. A majority of all vehicles are at least usable in casual play, and using the best vehicles only impacts competitive races, where there's no reason to use anything that isn't a top bike or maybe a top kart if you're used to how they drift. Even so, top karts aren't as good as top bikes, but they're still viable in competitive play, and these all apply to MK8D. You can only use karts and bikes of a certain drift type in MK8D, but it doesn't matter at a casual level.

    I mentioned MK8D's lack of tech, and MKW has that in spades. Wheelies are a fantastic inclusion to the game because they introduce multiple things that make racing more consistently interesting and promote skillful play in a way that only matters at a competitive level. If you do a wheelie, your top speed will rise by 12%, but you have to slowly accelerate to that level. If you release a mini turbo and wheelie immediately, then you won't have to slowly accelerate and will instantly reach that top speed. For bikes, mini turbos are very small, so you don't have much time to align your wheelie properly. You have to get the perfect line to get the best wheelie, since dropping a wheelie and altering your path will lower your speed and you'll have to watch it slowly accelerate. On top of this, wheelies automatically drop after a few seconds, so you'll have to try and wheelie again as soon as possible. You start to decelerate back to your original top speed as soon as it goes away, but if you wheelie again while you start to decelerate, you won't have to accelerate back up to your wheelie speed for as long. Doing it on the exact frame or two when it drops is called a "chain wheelie," and it's only a very minor boost, but doing a bunch of chain wheelies will add up and create noticeable differences. This once again is not something that will matter at a casual level, but adds to the depth of the game for those who really like it.

    There are also a ton of shortcuts in this game that the developers clearly didn't want to exist, which mostly add to the game. A majority of them are high risk, but high reward, and those end up making races much more exciting than they would be otherwise. Many of these involve slowing down or have ways of getting better alignment to get faster times, and optimizing these can be very difficult on top of the pressure of doing them in the first place. Quite a few of these shortcuts are difficult for even high level players, so there's always some level of risk to doing them, and they only add to the experience. Once again, this is not something that will impact players on a casual level.

    Some of the shortcuts do have bad side effects for the game though, and those are the Ultra Shortcuts. For those who don't know, Ultra Shortcuts are shortcuts that cut off entire laps of a given track, in some cases lowering them down beneath even five seconds when they're usually thirty seconds to a minute long. Tracks like Grumble Volcano, Mario Circuit, and Wario's Gold Mine have Ultra Shortcuts that are easy enough to the point to where you could regularly see someone doing them if they practiced enough, and these can destroy those tracks' driveability. Everything becomes centralized around those shortcuts, and you're screwed if you don't know them. A lot of them objectively are not bad for the game, since they are TAS-only or are too difficult to ever be reasonably pulled off in a race. For the ones that are easy, though, competitive racers have to just disallow them, which is very possible for competitive scenes to do and keeps the game intact. On top of this, they helped give the game the life it has even over a decade after it released, with three new ones being found just this year.

    There are sill some tracks that are centralized around the more tame shortcuts, though. Some tracks have shortcuts that skip multiple turns, which makes them pretty important to learn. Even so, from what I can tell, they don't seem to be mandatory even if very useful. Tracks like GBA Bowser's Castle 3 have shortcuts where placing a Banana or a Fake Item Box in the right place can block it off, and tracks like Grumble Volcano and Mushroom Gorge have easier strategies as alternatives that still save some time even if not close to the full amount. And, once again, this does not effect the game at a casual level.

    I keep mentioning that a lot of the things that make me like MKW don't matter at a casual level, but how is the game at a casual level? Well, it's almost undoubtedly worse than MK8D at least to some extent. MK8D has many more tracks, looks better, and has a nice style to its music, among other things. The biggest reason I'd see MK8D as a turnoff is because of its bad item system, but I haven't heard many casual players complain about that other than the excessive Red Shells, which even then isn't a killing blow to the game. I don't think any of this makes MKW a bad game casually, it's just outclassed. Back to the main point though, what do you think is a better game, one that is great for competitive players and still good for casual ones or one that is great for casual players but goes out of its way to push away competitive ones for no good reason?

    I think a game being well-rounded is important. MKW gets this balance down very well, and MK8D fails at this in ways that upset me a lot if I'm being honest. I understand that Nintendo is doing this because they don't want their games to be known for their competitive edge, but the Mario Kart series will never be known for this no matter how much attention gets brought to the competitive scene of MKW. Mario Kart will always be the console-selling series that anyone can pick up and play, and nothing is ever going to change that. For a comparison, Super Smash Bros Ultimate has a competitive scene that is now officially being supported even if only by mention from Nintendo, and Ultimate had sold better than any other game not just in the series, but of any fighting game ever. Having a competitive scene is not going to dissuade anyone from playing their games, and while the damage it causes will be completely unnoticeable, there's no reason for Nintendo to not actively avoid it with Mario Kart like they seem to want to.



    Also, seperate from the review - let me know if you disagree with any of this, I'm always down to hearing more opinions as long as we're civil about it.
     
    #1 Oct 17, 2020
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020
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  2. Wizard

    Wizard Hit it until it BREAKS!

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    This was a great read! I've adored MKWii for over a decade now and much prefer it to any of the other entries in the series, particularly MK8 and MK8D. I am notably harsh and critical towards MK8, mainly for the base vehicle mechanics. Stand-still mini-turbos and wheelies are part of what made MKWii so fun in my eyes. There isnt much I could say right now to expound on your reasonings, but I will say that I agree with most of what you said. (P.S. Mario Kart please bring back other Donkey Kong characters)
     
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  3. Gazi

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    You make some good points that I've never even considered. I enjoy both of these games, and I guess when the only people I'm playing with are coms or my siblings, who are as good at the game as I am, or my mom, who really isn't that good at all, I don't really notice all of the subtle differences. Whether I'm playing wii or 8, my skills feel about the same...about (for reasons I don't understand, I'm really bad at 8 deluxe in a way that I never was at 8. I just can't get used to the controls).
     
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