Mario Kart is one of gaming's most recognized and beloved franchises – which is kind of funny when you think back to the Sega Genesis "Blast Processing" commercials that roasted the original Super Mario Kart for the SNES. But I digress.
When you have a series that's as well-loved as Mario Kart, you want to let everyone have a turn. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch tries to be inclusive to beginners by introducing two new optional features: Smart steering, which nudges you back on track if you're too close to a wall or pit, and auto-accelerate, which lets you keep your "foot" on the gas without having to hold down a button.
These features aren't just useful for beginners, though. For younger players, and especially players with disabilities, they can make the difference between joining in the fun or being slotted into the role of permanent spectator.
A Reddit post made yesterday by "TheSecond7" illustrates what a difference Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's simple additions made to his family. Auto-accelerate and smart steering lets TheSecond7 race with his quadriplegic sister and 4-year-old son.
"My sister through some crazy mouth manipulation was able to race in Mario Kart 64 but now she can seriously compete," he writes. He also points out how auto-acceleration makes it easier for him to drift-brake in 200 cc mode, which indicates Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's new features are useful for veterans as well as beginners and people who require physical assistance.
Another redditor, Resvertide, said they're glad the new features exist, but is worried that they're being paired up for online matches with people who use auto-accelerate for an unfair advantage. He got a response from the interestingly-named ShittyOldBastardBoy, who pointed out "When playing online with people who actually know what they're doing, the auto-steering hinders more than anything, since it prevents you from easily boosting off-road to shortcuts. The usefulness of the auto steering is a bell curve as you get better at the game."
They added, "Besides, everybody online still has the auto-steering as an option, so the playing field is still level."
Last year, I touched a few raw nerves when I suggested people should live and let live as far as "easy modes" in video games are concerned. While most commenters agreed, there was still some pushback about how games should primarily cater to people who want to test their intelligence, dexterity, etc.
This isn't a particularly good climate to make a "pre-existing conditions" joke in, but not all disabilities are present at birth. Even a small accident can irrevocably alter a tendon or a bone in such a way that makes it impossible to properly grip a controller – a problem that would doubtlessly devastate someone who's been playing video games all their life. Nobody wants to be in pain while they're enjoying a game they love, and something as simple as Mario Kart 8's auto-accelerate feature can make a huge difference to people with acute and chronic conditions.