I have been gaming for nearly 30 years. I remember when my brother lied about having a NES to his friends. When they came over to play, he said we lost our NES privileges and it was tucked away in the attic. We didn’t even have an attic.
I thought that I would be that guy that would dust off my original NES and get my kids to play old-school Mario with me. And then I realized that playing an 8-bit game on an HDTV with and RF cable looks horrible. So that plan was quickly thrown out the window. My son didn’t care, but blowing on a cartridge game is incredibly frustrating and finding the right channel just so the game will appear is awful.
I was lucky enough to secure an NES classic with its simple HMDI plug-and-play feature and while my son enjoys playing Metroid, he just jumps from wall to wall without knowing what do to next.
And then it hit me… I grew up in the age of thick game manuals that read like chapter books. I knew the entire history of all the characters that I was playing and their motivation. Often times they would give you the first 10 objectives so you didn’t waste your time. I know how important manuals are because I never bought an original Legend of Zelda; I didn’t know you walked into that first cave to get your sword. I bet $100 bucks that the manual told you that.
My son played Zelda and he did the same thing I did nearly 30 years ago… wandered around without a sword because why go into a cave? He, like me, died and gave up. On to the next game.
And that brings me to Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch, and their re-release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
What I was most excited for about this game (after I had exhausted over 120+ hours into Breath of the Wild) was that it offered two different features that players could take advantage of:
- Auto-drive – Makes it so you don’t have to hold down the A button to accelerate; you just go.
- Auto-steering – Makes it so your kart won’t drive off the course and fall off.
Now most people are going to look at these two features and says “that’s not playing” and they would be right… but for a child who doesn’t play or doesn’t have a history of gaming it’s brilliant.
There’s no manual because there’s no need. It’s just click “okay” and you’re racing. There’s no exhaustive story trying to explain why Mario and Bowser are racing against each other when they are normally fighting over a girl; ala Riverdale-style.
The Switch allows me to use its two JoyCon controllers and turn them into two controllers that my kids can use. I can turn on both features and it gives my kids a chance to play a game with me instead of just watching me. They can place between 6th-12th with multiple computers but still feel like they are actually playing because they are racing.
With my youngest, it’s given her the wrong impression that she’s some gaming genius because she can hold the controller with one hand, eat an apple with the other and still average between 9th-12th place without even looking at the screen. Even when an item is used that screws her brother and dad over, she claims it was her even though she doesn’t know how to use items.
My son though loves to pick his racer and kart and then really play. For him, he doesn’t use the auto-accelerator, just the Auto-Steering. He doesn’t know how to steer well yet, but he’s not falling off a cliff. That alone makes it feel like he’s constantly in the game; falling off the track will always be viewed as “failing” to race because you’ve stopped.
The challenge is just enough to keep him satisfied without getting frustrated. All of a sudden, a game that would be too hard for someone who hasn’t played games for years is now able to keep pace and feel like this is what gaming is about.
His growing curve is now setup in such a way that he’s not banging his head against the wall because he doesn’t know how to drift or that he can’t remember which way to turn on a given map. He just plays.
For some people, it takes the challenge out but there are people in this world who can’t ever get into a hobby because the learning curve is too steep. Mario Kart 8 breaks down that curve so that you can finish a race and feel like you had a big part it in.
There’s a trade-off by using the Auto-Steering; you can’t get the 3rd tier speed boost. Now, my son won’t ever need to get this when we’re playing on 50CC (the lowest speed) but it doesn’t matter. He’s able to enjoy racing; he’s not playing to unlock trophies or racing to come in first. He’s playing for the pure joy of video games.
I get to share that with him. Mario Kart 8 has given me a game that I can play with my son where his joy is mine. This also means that I get to play with him; not tell him where to go or how to play. We are both gamers playing a video game together.
That alone is worth any price.