Thursday, June 26, 2014

Chaos and Control in 'Mario Kart 8'

Luigi: always looking up to Mario.
While everyone has been hanging on every goal in the World Cup, I’ve been experiencing the agony and the ecstasy of another sporting event that happens only once every few years. That’s right: Mario Kart is back.

If you heard our podcast this week, you know that both Jorge and I think Mario Kart 8 is pretty great. Maybe it’s just hitting at the right time, but the game’s mixture of randomness and skill is even more entertaining than I expected. That combination inspired the PopMatters column, as I feel like Mario Kart 8 proves that Nintendo has perfected the precarious seesaw between rewarding skillful players while giving the newcomers a fighting chance. The combination of items and counter items rewards reflects, but also long term strategy. I’m glad they stuck with the coins that give you small, but crucial speed boosts on tracks that are just varied enough to provide depth for people looking for it.

I’m increasingly convinced that Mario Kart is best compared to a game like poker: there is an element of chance that can lead to upsets, but the best players will win consistently over a long enough time frame. Jumping into the online matches provides some quantifiable evidence: you’re rewarded with points for placing well and docked points for placing poorly. Playing against anyone with a mountain of points means you’ll be breathing their exhaust 9 times out of 10, which make that win all the sweeter.

Interestingly enough, it seems like the general consensus is that the randomness of the wacky items is a core part of the game. Jorge and I tried to jump into custom item-less matches and had to back out for lack of competitors. We literally couldn’t find someone to play with whereas are full item games were full 12-person races. Unlike competitive Smash Bros., which takes place on flat arenas devoid of items, it seems like the best players embrace the chaos. I’m not quite sure what that means, but it’s refreshing that the most serious players also seem to be embracing the sillier nature of the game.

Finally, I think the social and clip sharing features in Mario Kart are an immense step in the right direction for Nintendo. The replays show off how beautiful the game looks and easy YouTube integration means you’re sharing triumphs and tragedies in a way that’s comparable (if not better) than Sony and Microsoft’s efforts. There are still some dopey limitations around clip length and the lack of voice over, but it’s a great proof of concept for how to foster a community and build usable tools into a game.

I said it on the podcast and I’ll say it again: this is an almost obligatory game for a Wii U owner. Thankfully, it turned out to be a delightful one as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment