Playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Online Is Still The Ultimate Equalizer

When the original Mario Kart 8 released on Wii U, I waxed poetic about its online experience. In particular, I enjoyed the simplicity of canned, short phrases exchanged between players, and the amusing anonymity of hiding behind adorable, often terrifying custom Mii characters. The system forces good behavior, and generates a friendly competitiveness not often found in other online multiplayer games. In addition to all of that, I’ve rediscovered something else about Mario Kart 8 while racing online with its Nintendo Switch Deluxe edition. The game can truly do a number on your ego.

 

Most gamers know that if you put in enough practice, you can be the best; probably not in the world, probably not on a professional stage, but certainly within your own friend circle. Take your efforts a step further, and it’s likely you’ll be able to win frequently, not constantly but frequently, when trying against assorted competition online. What’s interesting about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is that it doesn’t care if you put in a lot of effort, and it doesn’t care if you think you should be winning at least slightly more than the less-skilled competition. You’re nothing special, and the game will beat you down with lightning bolts and blue shells of fury until you comply.

A rare victory. Sweet, sweet victory.

Of course, it’s not Nintendo but other players hurling deadly items your way. And yet, much like the disbelief I simply cannot suspend regarding real-life events until shown proof, there’s absolutely no evidence that the red shells converting a first-place finish into an 11th-place flop came from another player. For all we know, they’re simply generated by the game and aimed squarely at the self-assured kart veterans cutting corners and blazing forth with near-permanent pink sparks of Mini-Turbo. While it’s unlikely this is actually the case (and replays reinforce that notion), the point is that Nintendo has designed the game this way intentionally. As such, it may as well be Hideki Konno himself knocking you down a few pegs each time you start thinking you’re hot stuff.

As is often the case with Mario Kart, there are real-life parallels to be had. The irony of Deluxe’s situation is that despite being a game that can never be mastered due to built-in luck and equalizing design for underperforming players (and, to a lesser extent, all players), it is far and away the most addicting game I play online regularly. Think of it; a game designed to prevent hours of investment from paying off in any normal style of direct correlation has been for years my favorite game to play online, now continued with the Switch edition. It’s true that the entire point is to have fun, and I do, but I also get pretty frustrated when eating the dust of racers with an online score half or even a third below my own.

 

I’m reminded of the NFL Blitz remake on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which gave the classic arcade gameplay of Blitz a surprisingly robust online mode, complete with matchmaking. As many remember, Blitz is much like Mario Kart with regard to competitiveness. You can hone your skills all your want, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you or anyone can do to prevent a randomly-generated, devastating fumble. Or two. Or three. The tide of any game can do a complete 180 in an instant, and as fiercely hilarious and fun as the game is, I often found myself wondering why I didn’t put the dozens of hours invested toward being the best at Madden instead.

 

The dreaded Baby Park. They call it Baby Park for a reason.

 

Ultimately human beings are determined creatures who want what they can’t have, which is precisely why these charmingly rigged online endeavors are so endlessly appealing. We want to believe there’s a “trick” to always winning online in Mario Kart, and every so often you encounter the rarest of unicorns, an opposing player who seems to have discovered just that. Of course, because of the game’s limited communications you’re not able to ask them to share their ways, offer tutelage, or reveal the coveted secret of life – the secret of placing first every single race in Mario Kart 8. Also due to this system, you’ll never know if the player in question is simply blessed with occulted knowledge, uses some kind of modern Game Shark, or if said player is even a real player at all. With the simplicity Deluxe’s online system, Nintendo feigning the occasional bot for variety would be just about the easiest white lie around.

 

I think these thoughts, and yet I fully intend to spend a half-dozen hours this weekend buzzing around Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s 48 tracks, winning sometimes and losing more, hoping to uncover a secret strategy and being half-convinced I’ve found it several times over. It’s the element of unknown, I think, that makes this so compelling, and the likely reality is that if somebody broke open the game’s code and coldly explained why continued online play is a fool’s errand, I’d probably up and quit on the spot. This has yet to happen and likely won’t, however, and as such I’ll gleefully keep trying for the foreseeable future.

 

The one instance where I do actually rage-quit is when Baby Park wins the track selection lottery. Seven laps of close-range mayhem fraught with constant shells, lightning, and general heartbreak is just too much self-inflicted misery to take. My suggestion to Nintendo? Change the course’s name to Quit Being a Baby Park instead. Otherwise, I’m fully ensnared by Deluxe’s online experience, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Come Fall and Nintendo’s formal online offering, I may even pay for it.