Sequels typically have one of three purposes. They are either meant to continue a story, to make a game more “current” or sensible to modern trends (we see this often with fighting games), or to simply improve the original. Usually, a combination of those three purposes can be seen when a sequel is announced with new features or characters to make you want to buy the next edition; I mean, if it were the same game, or an intentionally worse game, there would be little motivation to purchase it. Sometimes, the sequel is different enough to motivate us to return to it regularly, whether that be for the story, level design, or some other reason. For many games, though, especially in competitive series, when a sequel is released the previous title is abandoned almost completely. I find it helpful, occasionally to return to the oft-inferior predecessors to see just how far we have come and maybe appreciate something we lost along the way to where we are now.
Today, I will be comparing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch to Super Mario Kart for SNES. It is handy that Nintendo has just re-released the latter via SNES Classic, so if you want to experience the difference that 20+ years makes to a sequel, Nintendo has made it easier (as long as you can get your hands on one)! There are so many ways in which the series has improved, but I would like to focus on the ways that the original has some advantages over the most recent entry. Also note, some of these features are shared by other entries in the series but were phased out at some point along the way.
I know that “simplicity” is my fancy word for “fewer features”, but hear me out. When you boot up Mario Kart 8, you are greeted with a host of options and customization possibilities which the game may or may not explain to you. Yes, the options may seem primitive, and MK8D has its own options to make it easier for newcomers, but it is still a lot to process when you first boot it up.
With SMK, there are eight characters, each with their own attributes. No need to worry about whether the kart choice is the best or whether your tires are giving you the best advantage. Each character is a little different. Mario and Luigi are well-rounded, while Bowser takes it slower but has much more control. It makes it easy for someone who has never played to pick up a controller and not have to worry about harming their chances with a customization choice.
2: “Retry” button
Flow is important in multiplayer games. You want to keep the action quickly moving with few interruptions. In MK8D you first have to set the number of races in each set, which means you have a definite start and end to the set. After those races, the game kicks you out to the main menu and you start over again. In SMK, unless you decide to play a cup, the game sets you loose to play as many races as you want in a row, only keeping an overall win counter.
When my wife and I play Mario Kart, we often find ourselves wanting a rematch on the same track. MK8D kicks you back to the track select screen each time (a product of setting the number of races you play), whereas SMK gives you the option for an immediate replay without any loading time. I know this seems like a nit-pick, but having to go back through a menu when you want a quick rematch takes you out of the experience a little bit.
3: Donkey Kong Jr.
It has been a while since this little guy has been swept under the rug. A forgotten relic of a bygone era. Rest in peace, little buddy.
4: The Feather
Now, I know the feather is present in MK8D, but they removed it from the racing mode, which took away much of its usefulness. Need to make a shortcut? Use a feather. Need to cut a corner especially tight? Use a feather. Need to get out of the way of a red shell? … Well, that leads into my next point.
Items are kind of the bane of my existence in MK8D. If someone hurls a red shell at you (unless you have properly-placed protection, of course), it will hit you. It will snake around just about every corner and object, break all speed barriers, and it will hit you. In SMK, as long as you are paying attention, you can duck around a corner to outsmart it. You can fly into the air using a feather, because, as it should be, shells stay on the ground. Also, if you are especially skilled (or lucky), you can place a well-timed hop to dodge a shell on its way toward you. The newest entry removes just about any skill element to this dynamic. Your fate is sealed.
6: NO BLUE SHELL
Ever been bumping along in first place, no one is around, you are having the lap of a lifetime. Then, the dinging starts. You know what that means…
The blue shell is on its way to ruin your day. Now, I do want to point out two things. One, the blue shell was implemented to give everyone a chance at winning a race. But does that mean the blue shell should be as common as it is? Perhaps once every third race is more appropriate (as more of a “Hail Mary” than an “Oh, I’ll just wait till whoever is in last throws one”). Second, MK8 did introduce the “boom box” (I honestly do not care what its actual name is) to give the assaultee a possible defensive mechanism. These seem to be more rare than the blue shells, though.
Super Mario Kart, if I am not mistaken, is the only game in the series without the blue shell. This means that not only is the game kind to beginners (keeping the options simple so they can jump in right away), but it also rewards the skill of experienced players without punishing them for their hard work.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a great game to play, and I recommend it if you have not yet picked it up. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the features we have lost along the way, though, and I am glad we will always have the classics.