Visually Impaired Review – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

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Mariokart is…Mariokart. This is a wonderful entry point to gaming if you’ve got a little one or you haven’t tried much gaming before. For older and more seasoned folks, it’s a casual, fun, and social game to play that brings innocent delight to your gaming. Mariokart 8 Deluxe includes several different modes. I will primarily be reviewing the main racing mechanics, however, there are also several battle modes. I think the battle modes are a little less friendly to visually impaired folks because they require more precision, but they are an excellent playground once you’ve mastered the basics. There is a ton of content to explore that appeals to a variety of play styles and interests. So we know it’s a decent game, but can you play it with a visual impairment?

About me and my play style: I have albinism. My visual acuity fluctuates between 20/100 and 20/500 depending on if I’m wearing contacts and how tired I am. I have color vision, but no depth perception. I also deal with eye strain if I have to focus too precisely for too long. I primarily play in handheld mode so I can hold the screen closer. I tend to play on my long commute with no sound because I need to keep my ears free to listen for my stop to be announced.

Visual Characteristics 5/6

(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)

Visually, the game is excellent. There are occasional problems with clutter depending on the track. However, a little experimentation should teach you which tracks are good for you. Contrast is generally excellent, and your ability to select your character and kart will help since you can pick colors that work well for you. The visuals are pretty similar to Super Mario Odyssey, if that is any reference. The outlines are very natural, but again, could be bolder for easier visibility. If you are worried about depth perception after playing previous generations of Mariokart… don’t be. There are no long bouncy mushroom passages like there were in other games. There are a few bouncy spots, but they consist of single bounces that are much easier to control. A lack of depth perception will not be a significant issue in this game. There are some tracks that have thwomps to come crash down on your head, but I’m pretty sure everyone struggles with depth perception on those sections. And it’s easy enough to drive around the thwomps once you learn the tracks.

The smallest thing that you will want to see in Mariokart are your items. The items are stored in a little box on the side of the screen. Pretty quickly, you will learn them by color. However, if you don’t have color vision, you’re going to need to distinguish them by shape or some other method. It isn’t strictly necessary to know what items you have in order to play the game. Your strategy will suffer slightly, but not significantly. Mariokart is a free-for-all as it is. I will note that bombs default to being thrown in front of you, which I think should be switched. I think you’re supposed to aim them at players in front of you, but half the time, if you throw them in front, you’ll end up blowing yourself up. I always release them behind me to avoid this. Red shells can also hurt you if you’re in first place, and I think this is a glitch. Those are the only two items that can hurt you if you just release them willy nilly. Even then… I’m still not going to dock too many points because this review is about whether or not the game is worth playing, not whether you play it the same as fully-sighted people.

Accessibility Features 3/6

I’m giving a middle of the road score here because there aren’t accessibility features to speak of, but there are assist functions that I will discuss in a moment. There are also multiple difficulty levels (50cc, 100cc, 150cc, 200cc) that make things faster or slower. Personally, I think 100cc is a sweet spot for me. If this is your first Mariokart or first Mariokart in a while, definitely start with 50cc. The bots are easier, and everything moves slower. It will give you a good chance to learn the tracks. The other thing I’ll mention here is that you can choose how many in person players to play with. If you have a bunch of friends, people always default to letting four people play at a time. However, for visually impaired players, I recommend two players at once. Sharing a screen with one other person really only sacrifices some scenery that is on either side of the track. Sharing a screen with three other people sacrifices the size and amount of track you can see in front of you. I do not recommend four-player mode for visually impaired folks. I also do not recommend multiplayer tabletop mode of any kind. However, there are a lot of options when choosing how to play this game that make it more accessible. In some ways, I count the online functions as an accessibility feature because I can play with friends and set up a tournament without leaving my house. And there are a lot of reasons leaving the house can be a struggle when you’re visually impaired.

Assist Modes 5.5/6

Assist modes here are excellent. They are on by default, in fact. The auto steering and auto-acceleration don’t affect the gameplay noticeably unless you’ve played a lot of Mariokart. The auto-steering doesn’t override your input unless you’re about to drive off the track. Auto-acceleration doesn’t slow you down, and it’s very helpful if you take your finger off the accelerator for a second while you’re drifting or releasing an item. I recommend leaving the assist features on unless you are a Mariokart expert. Basically, unless you notice while playing that they are on and it annoys you, leave them on. You likely won’t even notice them.

Nonvisual Cues 4/6

The nonvisual cues are good, but could be improved. Rumble is used when you are hit with an item and to indicate the race has started. The countdown to the race starting also has little beeps. There is a certain sound when the first player starts their final lap. I’d like to see an option for rumble to indicate upcoming turns or as a warning when getting close to the edge of the track. As it is, there are occasionally little arrows that indicate upcoming turns, and these can be easy to miss. I’d also like to see better haptic feedback to indicate whether or not you are drifting successfully. Particularly after being hit by an item such as a lightning bolt, you can be unable to drift. And better feedback to tell you that you can drift again would be helpful. However, this is a small detail that does not affect enjoyment of the game. The items disrupt everyone, and it doesn’t feel unfair.

Decent Fonts 4.5/6

Fonts are nice and big, bold, and chunky. They’re in a bit of a folksy font, but it’s not bad. Since it’s only on the menus, you can use the built-in zoom feature to read things. There’s not much to say. The contrast of the text against the background could be better, but it’s not distracting. I’m taking an extra half point off because the fonts on the kart spec page are tiny. However, this is not needed to enjoy the game. It’s just a way to be better at the game. As always, the fonts could be bigger.

Necessity of Text 5/6

There’s no text during gameplay. It’s a go-kart game. I’ll take a point off because there are a lot of menus to navigate through, but this is as close to no text as you can probably get in a go-kart game with as many options as you have.

Handheld Play 5.5/6

Handheld play is excellent. I haven’t used motion controls in handheld mode much because I’m not a fan of motion controls. But there are no real sacrifices with handheld play. With my vision, I generally find that handheld play is better because I can hold the screen closer. However, with Mariokart, because you’re really only looking at one point on the screen, I find playing on the TV is just as enjoyable if not more. Mariokart doesn’t require you to see much fine detail, so I don’t feel like I need to be as close.

Level of Precision Required 5/6

Mariokart is a thoroughly enjoyable experience regardless of how much precision you can manage. The game is designed to even the playing field by giving players in the back more valuable items and punishing the players in front. You can definitely apply a lot of precision turning and drifting to this game, but you can also just go along and let auto steering take over. Your time will suffer a bit, but you still have a good chance of winning, and you will definitely still be able to enjoy it.

Controls 5/6 for analog controls, 3/6 for motion controls

Analog controls in this game are intuitive and simple. This is not a controller review, but as a side note, if you like Mariokart a lot, and you play in docked or tabletop modes, you’re probably going to want a full-size controller. Playing Mariokart with a sideways joy-con gives me hand pain after less than two races. Using a pro controller, my only gripe is trying to drift and hold and item behind me at the same time. There’s probably a better way to do it that I just haven’t figured out yet, but the way I know how to do it, you have to use both triggers, which feels awkward to me, even with a pro controller. And trying to do that with a joy-con is just laughable.

The motion controls are… an unnecessary hindrance. If you enjoy motion controls, I would pick a kart that has good acceleration. My racing style tends to lean towards speed and weight, and the motion controls make a lot of fine adjustments that prevent me from achieving full speed. That said, the motion controls are responsive and could be fun. There are a variety of wheel accessories that could make it even more fun, especially for kids or those who want an immersive experience. Personally, I think the auto steering becomes more intrusive with motion controls, but I’m not good enough at motion controls to be comfortable turning it off.

Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment

My guess is you’d probably have a pretty standard, enjoyable time if you’ve got up to 20/800 or 20/1000. You might have to have your TV practically in your lap, but that’s probably nothing new to you. I never have notable issues when playing two-player. I do sit as close to the TV as I possibly can, though. And my experience suffers dramatically in four-player mode. I will also say that the motion of this game is less nauseating than some games. Mariokart Wii, for example. The HD graphics and high frame rate really help. So even if you typically have issues when playing on a TV, Mariokart is likely worth a go.

Overall, I overwhelmingly recommend Mariokart 8 Deluxe. This is the best-selling game on the Switch for a reason. You can play this with pretty much anyone, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever played a video game before. There are a ton of speeds, modes, and tracks to ensure there’s something you will enjoy. There’s online, if you’re into that, and it’s really not terribly hard to make it accessible for moderate visual impairments.

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Christy Smith

Christy Smith is a visually impaired gamer whose main goal in life is to snag a seat on the metro instead of having to stand so that she can play Switch on her commute. She/her/hers or They/them/theirs