Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gets it right by ditching the unlockables

Nintendo

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of Nintendo Switch’s first great party games, and there’s a big reason why. Unlike the Wii U version — or most multiplayer-centric games — Mario Kart 8 Deluxe comes with pretty much all the content already unlocked.

That includes 42 different racers, five of them exclusive to the Switch game; 48 different racing tracks; and the return of a complete Battle mode, which was nixed from the Wii U game. Aside from a single color variant, every character is available from the start, as are the game’s best courses and every new thing that double-dippers would want to try out.

This is a very good thing, to my mind. Although Mario Kart is fun to play alone, the optimal experience is playing with a group of friends, pelting your most confident one with three red shells in a row at just the right moment, ruining their first-place lead. When I play a new Mario Kart for the first time, it’s usually not by myself. It’s with other people, and we just want to choose our favorite characters and favorite tracks as soon as possible.

Spending hours doing myriad tasks to unlock basic characters can be fun, sure. In lieu of achievements or trophies, Nintendo games’ unlockables feel like quantifiable proof of impressive accomplishments. And Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still has plenty of that for people who like to show off how good they are at collecting coins, the game’s primary unlock method; vehicle parts remain locked.

When all you want to do is play a new game with friends, explaining what you haven’t unlocked is a pain

But Mario Kart 8 on Wii U had a pretty silly way of unlocking characters, one that was more time-consuming than anything else. Winning Gold in the game’s Grand Prix cups unlocked one of 14 characters at random, meaning you had to play through these sequence of courses at least 14 times to get every racer. Big Rosalina fan? You might have had to wait a long while before you could actually play as her.

You’d also have to place third or better in each cup in order to unlock the subsequent one, which would add different, harder tracks to the game. Not so for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, in which every course is available from the start. That means more options for all players to choose from, and more time spent actually enjoying the game, not forcing yourself to dig out all of its hidden content.

The Wii U version of Mario Kart 8’s unlock methods weren’t as egregious as those of other multiplayer Nintendo games. I never managed to get every character in Super Smash Bros. Melee, for example, because … well, I’m not amazing at it, for one. But more importantly, I didn’t really have an interest in completing every single mode with every single character just to get Mr. Game and Watch, a fighter I discovered I didn’t like playing as very much when I chose him at a friend’s house.

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The alternative was to play 1,000 versus matches, a metric I came much closer to, but that’s just as big of a time commitment as unlocking Game and Watch the normal way. When friends would come by to play Melee, I’d ask the ones who’d taken the time to get the full roster to just bring their own Memory Cards, should they really, really want to play as one of the handful of characters I never bothered to unlock.

That wasn’t the end of the world, but it was disappointing. The best party game is the one that doesn’t come with caveats. Hidden unlockables are that big “buyer beware” if you don’t have the time or skills to get them all. Ditching them may polarize fans who appreciate the challenge, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe becomes a stronger experience by removing the wall that separates the players from the full game.

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