Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a fantastic collection of Mario Kart 8 and all of its accompanying DLC, wrapped up in a neat package that also includes gorgeous updated visuals, a locked 60fps frame-rate and an improved battle mode. However, despite the upgrades given to the original Wii U game for its Switch release, its online multiplayer component is frustratingly outdated and has been left more or less untouched since its first incarnation.
Nintendo is releasing a paid online service for the Switch later this year. Considering that Nintendo has yet to develop an online component for any of its consoles that’s worthy of a monthly fee, this announcement raised a few eyebrows. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the company followed up this revelation by stating that online voice chat would be handled by way of an iOS and Android app, while it would also follow in the footsteps of PS Plus by offering a free NES or SNES game each month… that subscribers could only rent for the duration of that month.
With the Switch’s online component already sounding thoroughly awkward compared to Sony and Microsoft’s offerings for the PS4 and Xbox One, the key selling point for Nintendo will be the multiplayer games it has to offer. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe represents the Switch’s first major online multiplayer game, and it is blighted by all of the problems that have plagued previous online multiplayer Nintendo games. For starters, the ranking system is as dull as possible, with players starting off with 1,000 points and then being able to improve this score by way of placing well in races. This system is solely used to determine the opponents you’ll be matched against, though offers no rewards for progression and no meaningful reason to improve your score as a result.
The lack of voice chat is unsurprising considering that Nintendo has yet to launch its dedicated app, though playing the game and communicating with friends via Skype/Discord highlights how cumbersome this method is. When playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with a friend, I have had to plug a pair of headphones into my iPhone and then voice call them over Skype, while ensuring that the device is close enough to my face that they can hear me over the game volume. After finding this process too unwieldy, I eventually settled on using the Switch in portable mode in my home office, and using my PC to chat to them with my headphones and mic. Needless to say, it isn’t ideal.
Then there are the problems with the functionality of the game’s online multiplayer itself. When playing solo, I’ve experienced multiple connection issues that have either caused me to be disconnected from another player’s console (whatever that means), or errors that have forced me back to the main menu for no discernible reason. When playing solo these issues aren’t that prevalent (though they’re still frequent enough to prove irritating), but when attempting to play with a friend they become infuriating.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t have a lobby system for online matchmaking, so when you want to play with a friend, they have to attempt to join your game in progress. More often than not this system doesn’t work, with players routinely placed in full lobbies, meaning that their friend has to wait for someone to drop out before they can join. If you’re not communicating via Skype in order to tell your friend that there’s a space free in your lobby, then you’ll be waiting an inordinate amount of time to play with them. The connection issues also become much more prominent, as I routinely found myself being dropped from a lobby after joining a friend’s game.
Considering that this is Nintendo’s first major attempt at an online multiplayer game for the Switch, it is as bare bones as possible. So much of its problems could have been rectified with the introduction of matchmaking lobbies and dedicated ranked / unranked modes, but instead Nintendo has once again thrown online play in as an afterthought. On consoles where online multiplayer was offered for free this was disappointing yet somewhat understandable, but if Nintendo is serious about introducing a paid online service then they’re going to have to do a whole lot better in the future to convince Switch owners to sign up.