Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) Review

Worth the Double Dip?

The popular mascot kart racer returns for the Nintendo Switch, but this time it’s an updated port of an older game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes the original 2014 Wii U title and spruces it up, including all the DLC characters and tracks while adding an improved Battle Mode on top of it. The question is if these new bells and whistles are enough to warrant a double dip.

Here is the video review for your viewing pleasure!

For this review, I will be focusing on what’s new in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. A large percentage is identical to its predecessor. You still participate in kart races of up to 12 participants, trying to earn the gold in a variety of beautiful tracks, made more remarkable due to logic-defying antigravity mechanics that send you twisting upside-down and on the walls. As in the original, you can customize your karts or bikes to most effectively burn rubber, dive underwater, and take to the skies. And in typical Mario Kart fashion, you can easily lose a race simply because everyone decided to bludgeon you with hard-hitting items moments before the finish line. All the fixings are in place, and if you’re new to Mario Kart 8, then the Deluxe version has everything and more.

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Everything is included in one beautiful package.

For anyone else acquainted with the original, this is a tougher sell. On the one hand, this full package includes all of the predecessor’s DLC packs. On top of that, MK8DX introduces five exclusive playable characters: Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, King Boo, and the Inkling kids (or are they squids) from Splatoon. Unfortunately, there aren’t any exclusive new racetracks. At least the ones from the DLC are among the most fun in recent history, coupling captivating settings with well-suited antigravity twists and turns. Truly interesting are the crossover tracks and characters, introducing assets from Nintendo’s other popular series, like The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing, into the once-exclusive Mushroom Kingdom kart races. Futuristic racer F-Zero even gets some tracks. In all, the game has a mouth-watering 42 playable characters and 48 racetracks.

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Because why not kart race as Link through Hyrule?

Everything is already unlocked, except for the customizable car parts, so you can play with anyone and do whatever you want from the get-go. You could even start with 200cc, the fastest engine class to date, if you wanted.

Beyond that, there are small but nice mechanic changes. Most notably, you can now hold two items at once à la Mario Kart: Double Dash. This makes it easier to reach and retain first place, though it also means an increase in red shells, lightning bolts, and everyone’s favorite, blue shells. The new “ultra turbo boost” helps veteran racers who have the need for speed. By holding a drift for an elongated period, you can now achieve a third level of turbo boost, denoted by purple sparks. Though this doesn’t drastically change the game, well-timed boosts can decide races or, at least, net you better records in Time Trials.

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Smart Steering can even the playing field in multiplayer.

The more meaningful mechanic changes actually make the game easier for players. The optional Smart Steering prevents players from falling off the course, automatically guiding you away from the edges if you get too close. Coupled with the Auto-Accelerate option that moves the kart for you, these accessibility features work wonders for less experienced racers, younger gamers, or players who benefit from special accommodations. This creates a more equal playing field, allowing more fun for everyone. Though these options can be used online, players need not fret since Smart Steering also removes the ability to take shortcuts or use the new ultra turbo boost, keeping it fair for more experienced gamers.

That’s it for the racing alterations, and that alone may not attract most Wii U adopters. Your purchase decision will likely depend on the biggest addition to MK8DX, its revamped Battle Mode. This classic playstyle pits racers against each other in a no-holds barred showdown where items are your weapons. You may recall the Wii U version’s Battle Mode, which limited you to duking it out on established racetracks. This made no sense since you were essentially running laps hoping you’d find someone else to attack.

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Somehow, I don’t feel right attacking Baby Peach as regular Peach.

MK8DX seeks to amend that mess with its eight new arenas, large battlefields stylized after existing tracks. One of my favorites is a stage based on the ink shooter, Splatoon. The other arenas are also well-designed, with multilayer levels and copious use of antigravity. You even get some items exclusive to the update such as Boo, which lets you steal items as you turn invisible, and the Feather, letting you jump over opponents or obstacles.

There are five genuinely different battle rules that range from fair to fantastic. The most recognizable is Balloon Battle, in which you gain points from hitting others’ balloons while keeping your own intact. If you’re nostalgic for old-school survival battle modes as seen in Mario Kart 64, you’ll be disappointed to know that there’s no such “stock” mode here. Instead, it’s a time-based points affair, which is understandable considering online play would drag in a 12-player survival battle. I would have loved to see that classic style return in local multiplayer, but having 12 players frantically attacking each other over a three minute timespan is an acceptable substitute. There’s also a ruleset where only explosive Bob-ombs are allowed. Though this sounds chaotic, it isn’t as fun unless combatants are bundled together.

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Squid Life

My favorite battle ruleset, Shine Thief, is a game of keep away where the goal is to hold a Shine Sprite for 20 seconds while everyone barrages the “thief” for the chance to steal. It’s a hilarious case of one vs. the world, and effectively keeps everyone close together for added chaos. Similarly exciting is Coin Runners, a challenge to amass the most coins and arguably a better executed version of the standard time-based balloon battle. It’s fun to steal coins from other players while showing off the gigantic coin stack on your head.

The final battle style, Renegade Roundup, new to the series, is a decent team game based on cops and robbers. The cops use their installed Piranha Plants to eat the renegades and trap them in cages. Meanwhile, renegades must evade the law and push switches to free their captured teammates. Though the mode can get exciting, renegades can’t do anything while captured and the game too easily becomes one-sided against the cops. Thus, the mode isn’t particularly fun for either side, and a lack of voice chat prevents any kind of team discussion.

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Wii U Wii U!

Online play is smooth, and matchmaking is effective, whether worldwide or regional. As in the original, you can set up or join custom tournaments with any rulesets. I’ve occasionally had errors online, such as not finding other players in a tournament room or randomly disconnecting from a race. This only happens about one out of every 20 races, and online is otherwise solid with very few hiccups. You can even bring a second local player online. There isn’t any voice chat, which is to be expected, but overall makes no real difference outside its potential uses in Renegade Roundup.

Visually, the deluxe version looks amazing, displaying a crisp 1080p resolution at 60fps. I thought the original looked beautiful, but I am floored by how stunning these graphics look in such fast motion. The only time the frame rate even comes close to stuttering is when it drops to 30fps in 3-4 player split-screen. Though it’s noticeable at fast speeds, it still runs pretty well. Even more impressive is how sharp the visuals are on the Switch screen in portable mode. At 720p, the game is mind-blowingly gorgeous while still running smoothly; it’s definitely miles ahead of the Wii U GamePad’s off-TV play. Playing a race or even a grand prix while on-the-go is perfect for this game, especially if you’re looking to play against other Switch owners via local wireless or even LAN play. Finally, the music is phenomenal, with orchestrated and catchy tunes blazing as you speed down the track. As a bonus, remixes of other series’ themes appear in their respective crossover stages as well.

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Taste the Rainbow Road.

Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is certainly an excellent upgrade to the original, not to mention a great game in its own right. That said, mileage will still vary depending on if you owned the original and how much you want the small, albeit effective, additions. If you have the original game plus its DLC, there isn’t much new in this port, especially considering its lack of new tracks. The racing adjustments are insignificant. Thus, it’s not worth it for racing alone unless you want the newest online-capable Mario Kart game in a portable form. The Battle Mode’s five rulesets and its accompanying arenas are excellent, but if you’re itching for the classic MK64-esque survival mode, you won’t find it here. But if you’ve never played the eighth installment or if you crave more of the original, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of the Wii U game and a strong contender for one of the best entries in the entire series.

Score: 9/10

What are your thoughts on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? What do you think of the new and improved Battle Mode? What would you like to see in Mario Kart 9? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

I Am Setsuna (Switch) Review

I Am Setsuna (Switch) Review

Winter is Coming

If you’re a fan of old-school Super Nintendo RPGs, then I Am Setsuna may have caught your eye at least once. RPG juggernaut Square Enix formed the studio Tokyo RPG Factory, specifically to develop throwbacks to that era, and I Am Setsuna is its debut project. While there are clear comparisons to the time-travel classic Chrono Trigger, this game manages to stand out from its inspirations, but not necessarily in the best way.

Here is my video review for your viewing pleasure!

The story follows the mercenary Endir, who is tasked to kill Setsuna, a young woman destined to save the monster-infested world by acting as its sacrifice. As events unfold, you find yourself in the band of heroes who will assist Setsuna on her journey to the Last Lands. The story might sound familiar if you’ve played Final Fantasy X, but this tale is a more somber take, removing the lightheartedness and whimsy of Square Enix’s classic titles and replacing them with dreary dialogue and gloomy characters. Though there is a place for melancholic storytelling, the game overemphasizes it, making the experience somewhat depressing. Though the core characters are pretty likable, we rarely get to see their personalities aside from their militaristic attitudes towards completing the mission.

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She said the thing!

At least the gameplay, which borrows heavily from Square’s classics, is more enjoyable. Once you’ve received your assignment, you set out and journey through the snowbound land. Matching the melancholy tone, the environments are completely covered in snow, and the lack of distinctive locales make the world feel smaller than it is. The world map is devoid of enemies, but enter an area and you’ll find foes out in the open, ready to fight.

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The World Map is pretty big, but there isn’t much to see.

As soon as you come into an enemy’s range, you begin the battle then and there. I Am Setsuna uses the popular active time battle (ATB) system, first introduced in Square’s Final Fantasy series. Each party member has his own gauge that fills during battle. Once filled, you can perform an action, whether attacking, using special tech abilities, or casting support magic. Additionally, party members can combine their techs to execute combo attacks that look cool and deal significant damage.

Not only is time important, but also space. If you can launch a sneak attack behind your foes, you start with a full ATB gauge, ready to go. During battle, character positions matter. If your enemies are bunched up together, you may be able to swing your sword widely enough to hit multiple foes at the same time. Likewise, stand close to your own party members to heal them with one spell. Though you can’t manually move your characters, paying attention to what attacks shuffle your enemy and party positions adds an extra layer of strategy that most RPGs don’t take into consideration.

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Dual and Triple Tech Combos work wonders.

Though veteran Super Nintendo RPG fans are likely familiar with the tried-and-true battle system thus far, I Am Setsuna sets itself apart with new mechanics that are honestly hit or miss. For instance, you can build “Momentum” by remaining idle instead of instantly attacking when your ATB gauge is full. When you attack, a glowing light will momentarily appear, and pressing the Y button during that time will grant special bonuses like additional damage or added status effects. Unlike Super Mario RPG and other games that utilize timed button presses, you can easily spam the button here; as long as you hit that critical window, you’ll activate the effect, removing the depth that could have been there.

Additionally, activating Momentum will sometimes randomly trigger “Singularity,” a temporary interval when a single bonus is always in effect. For instance, during a 30-second period, your attacks may cause all kinds of elemental damage, or your characters might be impervious to death. Though these boosts sound phenomenal, the limited time period is very short and the chances of activating Singularity are entirely luck-dependent, so it’s not something you can plan a strategy around.

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Special effects happen when you can use “Momentum.”

Winning battles and tougher boss encounters nets you experience for leveling up, though that’s not the only method for strengthening your characters. You can also sell materials to forge Spritnite, mystical stones that you can use to customize your characters with magic, special abilities, and passive power-ups. Though each character has a limited inventory to hold Spritnite, you can also equip Talismans to give them more slots.

In addition, Talismans offer special permanent bonuses to your Spritnite called “Flux,” but this only occurs when you can activate the button press timed Momentum. Again, though it’s great to wield permanently buffed attacks, the random element means that you’ll have to grind for any desired powers. Additionally, it’s a confusing process that requires several looks at the tutorial page.

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The bosses are large and impressive.

The journey takes about 20 hours, and a few sidequests and world exploration can raise that number. Though it sounds short by RPG standards, it’s pretty on par with SNES playtimes. As a Switch game, it works well as a handheld experience, though you’ll have to utilize Sleep mode since you can only save at designated areas. Regardless, doing a little exploration or a few battles is great for a break or commute. The game is fairly linear so it’s easy to make progress. As far as replay value goes, there are no deviating paths or a New Game+. Though honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to play it a second time due to the overall depressing tone.

The wintry world is bleak, and the environment is a little boring to look at. You are limited to exploring snowy areas, caves, and towers; so areas start to look the same, making the game feel more tedious than it actually is. The presentation is reminiscent of a slightly better looking SNES or early PlayStation-era RPG. At least the artwork and character designs are gorgeous, even if the visuals are bland. In contrast, the music is one of the best parts of this package, with beautiful, soft piano melodies perfectly capturing the mood for both adventure and somberness. The developers were very careful to effectively sync aesthetics with tone.

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And you are?

Conclusion

I Am Setsuna does a fairly good job fulfilling the role of a throwback Square RPG. The overly melancholic tone of the game and completely snow-covered world work to tell a somber tale, but it lacks the quirky fun of the classic RPGs that this game tries to spiritually succeed. Though the base active time battle system it borrows from established games is solid, the random elements added to the table aren’t as fun or well-executed. Despite these hiccups, I enjoyed my playthrough. If you’re looking for a great Square RPG, I’d sooner direct you to the SNES classics than Setsuna. But if you desire something new and have a lot of nostalgia for those old RPGs – particularly Chrono Trigger – and you don’t mind some hiccups in the presentation and mechanics, then I Am Setsuna is worth a try.

Score: 7/10

What are your thoughts on I Am Setsuna? What are your favorite classic RPGs from the Super Nintendo/PlayStation era and why? What kind of gameplay would you like to see the developers at Tokyo RPG Factory tackle next? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thank you for reading!

Snipperclips (Switch) Review

Snipperclips (Switch) Review

Cut it Out, Together!

Snipperclips puts a smile on my face. Very few games, even triple-A titles, do that as consistently as this co-op puzzler, developed by SFB Games and published by Nintendo. Ingenious puzzle design gives way to creative problem-solving in an original concept unlike anything I have seen before. Every wacky idea that works brings joyful surprise. Its expressive characters and colorful visuals ooze with charm, organically leading to uncontrolled laughter. It’s rare for a game to make me feel so giddy.

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My wife and I have these same expressions when playing.

As the name Snipperclips suggests, the game revolves around cutting, yet there are no scissors. Instead, you get Snip and Clip, two U-shaped paper-thin creatures with legs who can cut each other by overlapping their bodies. The shape you snip out depends on how much you overlap. You can trim your partner or go all-out and cut him out of existence with a complete overlay. But the more you cut, the less he’ll be able to cut you back with his diminished surface area. Luckily, you can easily reform your original shape if experiencing major cutbacks.

You’ll need to produce effective shapes to solve the game’s single-screen brain-teasers. Beyond cutting, you can run, jump, duck, and even rotate your body. A combination of these actions will help you when you’re tasked to fill in a shape, cut out an image, rotate a lever, or push a button. But when the game asks you to complete oddball tasks, like carrying a long pencil to its sharpener or escorting a hamster ball to the other side, sense goes out the window. You’ll find yourself bouncing a pencil on each other’s heads or creating scoops to trap the hamster ball in. Or was it bouncing the hamster on your head and creating a slit for the pencil? The puzzle design lends itself to innovative solutions as opposed to a single answer. Snipperclips rewards imagination. At worst, you’ll giggle as your characters hilariously fall on their faces. At best, you’ll let out a cheer, having solved the puzzle in your own unique way.

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Puzzles require co-operative creativity.

In later levels, not only do the challenges become more creative, but you’ll also have to perform multiple actions in succession. For example, you may need to snip your friend into some tool that can rotate a flower-shaped lever. This lowers a platform underwater, which you must ride to scoop up fish. Your friend then needs to open a cage for you to trap the fish in. Such inventive puzzle design forces you to ponder what shapes would be best to do multiple tasks. Then once you think you’ve got it, you’ll still need to achieve it; this can lead to antics where you or your partner insists on a solution, trying desperately to make it work.

I’ve been mentioning partners because Snipperclips functions best as a two-player game. The game does support one-player, allowing you to switch control between Snip and Clip. Although it captures the essence of creative problem-solving, it becomes tedious to repeatedly switch characters when puzzles were clearly designed for simultaneous co-op play. You’d also miss out on the dialogue, banter, and laughter that playing with a friend can provide.

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I assure you this makes sense.

Besides the main World mode, you can play with up to four players in a Party mode, composed of puzzles designed for four on-screen characters to complete. You can play with a minimum of two people, but both of you will need to switch between characters as in single-player. Party mode provides even more creative puzzles like rotating and dropping puzzle pieces to form a cat and working together to keep a paint blob contained within a rectangle. I have to give credit to SFB games. They could have simply created four-player derivatives of the core game’s puzzles, but they put in the effort to create over a dozen new specialized trials.

The remaining Blitz mode is a less inspired three-game collection of multiplayer games. Hoops and Hockey are simple variations of their respective sports, except with the added hilarity of cutting each other mid-game. Dojo is a simple cathartic experience where you and a friend snip each other to the death. Though these mini-games provide little depth, they’re fun diversions when your mind gets tired of solving tricky puzzles.

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If you thought 2-player was chaotic, try 4-player.

Otherwise, the game is pretty short with 45 main levels and about a dozen additional four-player levels. By the end, when the puzzles were most complicated and inventive, I wanted more. It’s difficult to replay the levels if you know the solution, but it’s a great game to show others, especially non-gamers. The game is easy enough to figure out even if the puzzles are not. And it’s hysterical to fail and see your characters look as ridiculous as possible.

If the gameplay somehow doesn’t make you laugh, the slapstick characters will. Snip and Clip are very goofy, expressive creatures. They chuckle when they’re being cut, gaze in shock when they’re sheared too much, stick their tongues out after performing a cut-and-run, and appear disgusted when you screw up a puzzle. Their cartoonish faces deliver the message that Snipperclips is all about enjoying yourself in their wacky world. And what a world it is. The landscapes are inspired by office supplies, graph paper, video games, and scientific tools. There is so much charm to be found in its blob creatures, 8-bit princesses, and bouncing frogs. The catchy soundtrack is filled with synthesized boings and horn sound effects that emphasize its silly nature. The music never got old, even while spending nearly half an hour trying to complete a puzzle.

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In the words of Uncle Joey, cut it out!

Conclusion

Snipperclips is an absolute delight that should not go overlooked. This charming title had the ability to pull me away from Breath of the Wild, while still providing truly innovative puzzle design. This game unsurprisingly works better as a multiplayer experience, inviting others to join in with its cartoonish designs and side-splitting gameplay. Snipperclips isn’t a long game, but it’ll still provide hours of head-scratching, gut-busting, body-snipping fun.

Score: 9/10

Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was posted on DarkStation.

You can catch my wife and I play through Snipperclips on our YouTube channel! New episodes posted on Mondays! Full playlist is here:

What are your thoughts on Snipperclips: Cut it Out, Together? If you have a Nintendo Switch, how are you enjoying the launch lineup? What do you think about the Nintendo indies, or “Nindies” so far? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!