The Nintendo Switch has had a breakneck first two months. The console hybrid is Nintendo’s fastest-selling system ever; launch-aligned, it’s even overtaken the sensation that was the Wii. Driven by a robust selection of quality titles, the Switch has topped charts worldwide and is continually sold out. But Zelda and Snipperclips aren’t the reasons to buy a Switch right now. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is. Here’s why.
It’s a sensory showpiece
Even on the Wii U, vanilla Mario Kart 8 is one of the most gorgeous games of the generation, despite only rendering at 720p. At 1080p docked, Deluxe cements this further. The game does phenomenal things with lighting that I’ve never seen anywhere else, even on the PS4 and PC. Nintendo’s iconic characters have a soft, almost toy-like look (especially when drenched in sun) that looks even better in motion. Thanks to expert art direction, it’s easy to be fooled that Wario’s flatulent flab — as it jiggles up the cobbles of Toad Harbor — is made of real clay.
When you take the Switch out of the dock, Deluxe becomes even more impressive. Apart from the 720p resolution, the portable game is completely identical to the docked version. Races pop on the Switch’s brilliant IPS display. And considering that the last mobile Mario Kart was the once-impressive Mario Kart 7 on the never-impressive 240p screen of the 3DS, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe represents an exponential graphical leap over the series’ last handheld iteration, as shown by Digital Foundry below:
Completing the synesthetic spectacle is HD rumble — coins “jingle” in your real-life hand as you collect them in game. You can also feel the difference between the three levels of drift boost from the barely-there blue to the new, game-changing pink; the tactility allows you to keep your eyes on the road instead of your kart. The judder of train tracks under your wheels, as well as the different textures when you go offroad, give you another form of feedback that lets you know that you need to get good.
It’s the definitive version of an all-time great
Mario Kart 8 was the best in the series, and Deluxe improves it further. It’s running at a true 60fps this time — the Wii U original had a weird issue that resulted in an effective 59fps framerate. Thankfully, that glitch has been resolved, as has the fire-hopping exploit that made leaderboards and online matches a total shamble.
All the DLC content is included here, which results in a total of 42 racers, 48 tracks, and an overwhelming number of kart parts. Deluxe also corrects the only deficit in the otherwise impeccable Wii U version by amending the original’s deplorable Battle Mode (which had racers fighting on tracks made for racing, making for bouts wherein combatants rarely saw each other). Deluxe has eight arenas specifically designed for Battle Mode, as well as five play modes that include the classic Bob-omb Blast and the all-new Renegade Roundup, where one team of “cops” has to catch and jail the other team of “robbers” — but a free robber can rescue their teammates at any time. It’s a frantic party game, and is almost worth the price of entry.
Parties are no fun if people can’t join in, and Deluxe shines with its wealth of accessibility options for inexperienced players, easily toggled from the pause menu. The old standby of tilt controls returns, and an optional set of joy-con wheels completes the conceit. The new auto accelerate is useful and fair; in Mario Kart, you never let up on the gas anyway. But the most welcome addition is smart steering, which implements an invisible hand to keep racers from falling off the track. If you’ve ever played any kart racer with small children or non-gamers, their frustration with bottomless pits will be familiar. This setting alleviates that problem, and allows everyone to play.
(Nearly) everybody has it
The game has proven immensely popular barely a week from release. In America, Deluxe is selling faster than Mario Kart Wii, and that went on to sell a ridiculous 37 million copies worldwide. Apparently, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also has an attach rate of 45 percent, which means that almost one out of every two Switch owners has this game. You won’t have trouble finding someone online to race against, or a real-life Switch buddy to go head-to-head with. But even if your friends don’t have a copy, it’s okay, because…
It’s the poster child for local multiplayer
Remember the promise of the Switch in its debut showing? The Switch is the only modern system that comes with two controllers out of the box. Couple that with the screen, and you can play whenever and with whomever you want. Take one joy-con for yourself, and share one with a friend (or even a total stranger) and you have instant local multiplayer. If you have more controllers, up to four people can play on a single Switch in splitscreen. Bring the joy-con straps, though — bare joy-con are horrendously uncomfortable, what with Mario Kart’s reliance on the shoulder buttons. An IGN producer compared using the naked shoulder buttons as trying to drift with your phone’s volume rocker, and there’s no more apt way to describe the discomfort.
The Switch’s — and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s— ability to be played anytime, anywhere, and by anyone makes the system inherently viral. The Switch is an ad for itself, and the simple act of playing together has convinced at least three people in my own social circle to get one for themselves.
It (re)introduces you to Nintendo
In the grand scheme of things, no one bought a Wii U, and to the non-hardcore, Nintendo disappeared from consoles for almost an entire generation. To the general public, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a high-definition debut of sorts for Nintendo’s stable of characters, including Mario himself, as we wait for their respective games to arrive on the Switch.
The celebration is a riot. Apart from the Nintendo mascot and seemingly his entire extended family, the Villagers and Isabelle from Animal Crossing compete on Möbius tracks inspired by Excitebike, F-Zero, and Wii Sports Resort. Exclusive to Deluxe, Inkling Girl and Boy from Splatoon and the upcoming Splatoon 2 appear, and mark the first time that people of color (who aren’t Miis) are playable in any Mario Kart game. Rounding out the roster, looking the most out of place in this world of red shells, high technology, and anti-gravity, is Link. And if you want more of him, you know which Switch game to play next.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be out soon
Square Enix is being such a tease!
With the Game Developers Conference happening in just a few days, Square Enix recently announced a teaser for the Shadow of the Tomb Raider. This will be the third action-adventure game in the rebooted Tomb Raider franchise.
As to the specifics of the game, it has just been crickets and tumbleweeds. Square Enix is keeping their lips sealed — leaving us with just a cinematic trailer with a few quick shots of the upcoming game.
On the bright side, they’re promising a “full reveal” on April 27. They may hold off on some details on the game for E3 though, seeing as E3 is right around the corner.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider is following Rise of the Tomb Raider which was released three years ago. It’s nice to see the franchise return to Lara Croft. As for what to expect, people are looking forward to new features besides the usual supernatural mystery, thugs to take down, items to collect, guns and bows, and tombs to, well, raid.
Unfortunately, fans will have to wait for more announcements next month. Shadow of the Tomb Raider will be available on September 14 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
Google is opening Maps for game developers!
Get ready for more AR games
There’s a wave of location-based augmented reality games that highly depend on Google Maps. However, the inability to create accurate mapping has been keeping developers from optimizing game design. Luckily, Google just announced that it’s opening up its mapping platform to game developers. This means anyone one can create AR games now with more ease.
Google says that its new Maps platform has been optimized for game developers. These developers can start by signing up to be given access to real-time Google Maps data.
To support developers after signing up, Google is also working on launching a new software development kit on Unity. Unity is one of the most popular game engines in the world so incorporating mapping data into this engine will help aspiring developers everywhere.
Even further, Google is introducing a new API to help create gameplay experiences around real-world locations. Google will be working closely with developers on this aspect, especially regarding appropriating elements, like span points and quest locations, within games.
One of the goals of the project was to help developers build detailed worlds using Maps data as a base to paint over.
“In this way you can create unique game environments that still feel connected to the real world,” says Patrick Donelan, lead engineer on the project.
This is a much-awaited move from Google. Following the raging success of Pokemon Go’s launch, they started receiving a surge of requests from developers looking to utilize Google Maps data for mobile games.
Over the years, Google has had a multitude of discussions with game developers and players as to how to help create a platform that optimizes AR game development. Google’s new Maps gaming initiative is the result of those discussions. This, Google says, focuses on location-based AR mobile games.
Google says it will be talking more about the initiative at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 19-23.
6 Best Gaming Smartphones (Q1 2018)
Each phone has its own power!
It’s easy to dismiss gaming smartphones as any flagship phone that’s currently available. There’s truth to that, but there also some factors we want to consider when looking for a smartphone that’ll be primarily used for mobile gaming like display size, battery life, and any accessories that’ll help improve the gaming experience.
Without further ado, here are our top six picks for the best gaming smartphones:
Apple iPhone 8 Plus
Whether you like iOS or not, you can’t deny that iPhones (especially the latest releases) are one of, if not the best mobile gaming platform. Apple’s devices run smoothly and are favored by developers so it’s a no-brainer that games released for iOS are guaranteed to be in tip-top shape. We chose the iPhone 8 Plus here because of its larger display at 5.5 inches and bigger battery compared to the iPhone 8, and it doesn’t have a notch that gets in the way like with the iPhone X.
Motorola Moto Z2 Play
Motorola’s game-changing Moto Mod accessories make their Moto Z series special. If you pair the Moto Z2 Play with the Gamepad Moto Mod, it’ll be an instant portable console. The Gamepad adds dual control sticks, a D-pad, and four tactile action buttons which mean you don’t have to rely on touch controls anymore. Also, the Moto Mod magnetically attaches to the phone with no wireless pairing required and has its own built-in battery. The gaming accessory works with the much powerful Moto Z2 Force, as well.
If you’re looking for an Android powerhouse but don’t want to shell out much cash, the OnePlus 5T is the way to go. With its top-of-the-line specifications and beautiful AMOLED display, the OnePlus 5T is an ideal gaming smartphone without breaking the bank. It even has an insane amount of storage and memory options available if you need more space to keep your big games in your pockets and running in the background while you do other stuff on the phone. The display’s 18:9 aspect ratio also makes gaming more immersive than the conventional 16:9 ratio.
When we were shortlisting our gaming smartphones, the Razer Phone was already on the top of the list. The phone is focused on being a true gaming smartphone since it’s made by Razer. It’s got the latest specifications to play popular and demanding games, a 5.7-inch IGZO panel with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, front-facing stereo speakers, and a long-lasting battery. It also has other features to make it a daily driver, but you can immediately tell that the Razer Phone is built for gaming.
Samsung Galaxy Note 8
One of the best and biggest Android smartphones is the Galaxy Note 8. It positions itself as a productivity phone with its S Pen and accompanying features, but thanks to the powerful processor, it can run demanding games, too. Its curved 6.3-inch Super AMOLED display is not only huge but also among the highest-rated displays in the market which will spoil you with pleasing visuals. While its battery is not as high capacity as others, it’s still sizeable at 3300mAh and the efficient processor can provide long hours of gaming.
Xiaomi Mi Max 2
Gaming smartphones don’t have to be expensive, especially for those who are fond of graphics-intensive games which are mainly shooting or racing titles. Some are just in for casual or multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games. For that, we recommend the Xiaomi Mi Max 2 — a large smartphone with midrange specs but sits in the budget price point. Its large 6.44-inch display is ideal for any game and the Snapdragon 625 can handle tasks pretty well. The phone is priced under US$ 270 (or even cheaper depending on where you buy it), making it the cheapest gaming smartphone on this list.
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