Aside from Disneyland, Nintendo might just be the kings of reselling you childhood memories. For years the company has traded on nostalgia generated from its past endeavors, but the recent release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has me feeling a bit more suspect than their usual efforts. The original Mario Kart 8 was a massive success in 2014, receiving universal critical acclaim and rapidly racking up incredible sales figures. It was a game that, in many ways, defined the Summer of 2014 for me. With the “Deluxe” version just, Nintendo is banking on the same game to keep the fledgling Switch’s momentum rolling. And yet, while the original Mario Kart 8 is one of my most beloved games, I cannot shake feelings of annoyance and betrayal at the game’s re-release and Nintendo’s seemingly increasing determination to sell me on nostalgia.
When Nintendo added the Virtual Console service to the Wii in 2007 they effectively built a nostalgia vault into their system. While Sony and Microsoft each developed a marketplace for indie games in Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Store, Nintendo went in the opposite direction. Rather than creating a space for small-scale development teams, the VC is a service that makes retro video games from the NES all the way through the N64 available for purchase.
The problems with the Virtual Console lie in how it’s used as a service. For one, the Virtual Console does not retain your purchases from one console to the other. So while you may have downloaded the original Legend of Zelda for the Wii in order to play it on the 3DS or Wii U you will need to make the purchase a second or third time. This just doesn’t make sense with the current state of technology and is emblematic of Nintendo’s often rough transition into the digital age.
It has also been posited that Nintendo could use the service to promote free classic games in the same way that Microsoft and Sony provide their online subscribers with free games on a monthly basis. This could fill the rather large gaps between the Switch’s tentpole releases, giving old and new fans the chance to discover genre-defining classics. A subscription model similar to Netflix would be a further exciting advancement on this concept. Yet Nintendo is reluctant to commit to this, oddly hesitant to simply let players explore their vast back-catalog of retro games.
Nintendo’s use of the Virtual Console demonstrates that while they love to make nostalgia available to us again and again they very rarely offer it without some sort of catch. The best examples of Nintendo reselling classic memories are the 3DS redesigns of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. These games brought updated graphics and refined gameplay elements to two classic games. Though the experience didn’t change, even though they were suddenly portable, the updates to a fifteen year old game felt significant.
In contrast, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers very few updates on a game that is just three years old. The only truly new content is Battle Mode which, though it is an admittedly exciting and joyous experience, should have been present in the original game. Nintendo can’t just paint over their previous mistake by branding Battle Mode as a “new” godsend from the kind company. It is just hard to make a recent game feel revitalized in the way the 3DS Zelda remasters did. It feels like Nintendo is trying to sell Mario Kart 8 Deluxe like they would a retro game. But it isn’t retro. It just happened.
What ultimately makes it hard for me to see myself buying this game is how pure my experience of the 2014 version was. As I mentioned previously it was omnipresent in virtually every activity during that Summer and even had the staying power to outlast Smash Bros. as the primary multiplayer game among my friends. It was a unifying force for disparate friend groups, bringing people together around a common joy (or pain depending on who was in first place when the blue shell came out).
The thing that irks me most about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the idea that I need to buy that joy again. I am a very nostalgic person (aren’t we all?) but there is something that feels very important about the original Mario Kart 8. In a way it already feels like a “classic” game. I’m not motivated to force that initial joy again even though Nintendo seems to insist on it. Of course this is not a problem for people who have never touched the original version. If you have never owned or played Mario Kart 8 then the purchasing decision is a no-brainer: BUY THIS GAME.
As someone who spent so much time with Mario Kart 8, however, I can’t help feeling weird about the prospect of buying it yet again. It feels like the same kind of nostalgia-fueled experience that Nintendo’s Virtual Console is built around, only Mario Kart 8 is so fresh in my mind that I am almost insulted by the suggestion of essentially repurchasing it. I recognize that this is irrational. I know that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, because of its portability and the return of Battle Mode, will provide new ways to experience the game even if it is not very differentiated from the original. In the back of my mind there is also the creeping suspicion that it won’t matter how I feel, I’ll end up buying the game anyway (although I will be hoping for a sale). Still, I can’t help feeling that I am being re-sold the joy of an all-too recent memory and that feels…wrong.