Mario Kart 8’s Accessible Controls Should Be Applauded

Developers have a difficult balancing act when it comes to making sure that their games are accessible to all. There’s a myriad of ways in which they can accomplish this, but the inclusion of a feature to make the game more approachable is so often derided by the communities who covet every facet of information before a games’ release.

Adding an ‘Easy’ mode is usually as far as it goes for most games. Nintendo, however, has started to come up with some interesting and forward thinking ideas which are allowing their games to be played by a much larger (and younger) audience.

The recent re-release of Mario Kart 8 on the Switch saw a number of changes between this ‘deluxe’ version and its original release on the Wii U. Deluxe contains all of the Wii U versions’ DLC content, as well as new characters like the Inklings from Splatoon and King Boo from various Mario titles. The two changes that caused the most discussion from various video game communities though was the inclusion of ‘Smart Steering’ and ‘Auto-Accelerate’.

Smart Steering is a feature that will forcibly manoeuvre your car on the track and out of harm’s way. If you’re set to steer onto the dirt off the race track the game will move you back in, putting an invisible wall between you and the spectator part of the track. While this will make the tracks easier to navigate, what it won’t do is direct you to short-cuts. In fact, if you try to go down some short-cuts it will force you back onto the main path in a cruel, position-costing fashion.

Auto-Accelerate will, unsurprisingly, allow your kart to move forward without the need to push a button. This allows newer players to focus on steering and item usage and is clearly marketed towards younger players and those with disabilities who perhaps find it difficult to keep a button pressed down for long periods.

While the announcement of both before the game’s launch saw commentators describe it as a ‘dumbing down’ of the game, others – including myself – see it as a way of allowing more and more people to enjoy the game. For those of us who play games on a regular basis, we’ve all been there when we’ve tried to get a relative or a younger sibling to play a game and they just can’t get to grips with the controls. Thanks to features such as Smart-Steering and Auto-Accelerate, there’s a chance that your Gran might actually finish a race for a change, rather than drive head first into a fence.

Nintendo have introduced accessible gameplay modes before, most recently with last year’s invincibility mode in Star Fox Zero. With this feature turned on, players can play without fear of being killed by one of the game’s enemies. Star Fox Zero wasn’t particularly hard to start with, but for youngsters keen to pilot a space travelling jet fighter (which must sound awesome if you’re under the age of 8) you can freely do so without fear of being good enough to pilot the awkward control scheme that the game came with.

By allowing people to play without the fear of failure at every turn, those who aren’t so good at games can still have fun. This keeps the barrier of entry low for new players and, once they’ve become accustomed to the controls or gameplay mechanics, can freely decide to up the difficulty to normal or even further.

“By allowing people to play without the fear of failure at every turn, those who aren’t so good at games can still have fun”

Breath of the Wild’s optional HUD removal takes things in a different direction. By removing most of the on-screen HUD, you can no longer see which weapons you’ve equipped or a map of the local area. It doesn’t make Breath of the Wild infinitely harder, but it does increase the difficulty somewhat.

Nintendo’s tweaks to its library of games will surely continue and it’ll be interesting to see how they make games like Arms and Splatoon 2 accessible and fun to those who otherwise might not give them a second look.

If you’re more than capable of playing Mario Kart without the assists then you’re free to do so. Don’t begrudge a less than capable person from getting a little help so they can have as much fun as you while playing though. By getting more people to play at a level they’re comfortable with, Nintendo is giving people of all ages as much chance as possible at having fun, which should result in more people playing games. Which is great for everyone.

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