Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass: thoughts and impressions

I’ve got to be honest with you right at the start: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass disappointed me before I’d raced a single lap… or even downloaded it. That’s because I was really hoping to see Mario Kart 9 this year; a brand-new game with new features rather than just an expansion pack for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The original version of Mario Kart 8 released for the Wii U back in 2014 (though I played a preview build at a press event in 2013; lucky me!) so I’ve been waiting to see what Nintendo would do next for a long time. This Booster Course Pass just felt underwhelming when it was announced compared to what I’d been hoping for.

With 2022 being the thirtieth anniversary of the Mario Kart series (Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES all the way back in 1992), and with Nintendo’s love of celebrating big milestones and anniversaries, again the timing for a new game felt right. But I guess Nintendo is sticking to the “one Mario Kart game per console” thing, and the Booster Course Pass is intended to throw players a bone and give the game a bit of a refresh as the Switch enters what must be the latter part of its life. I have no doubt that there’ll be a Mario Kart 9… but now it seems like it’ll be on whatever console Nintendo makes in the years ahead rather than coming to the Switch.

Pink Gold Peach in a promo image for the Booster Course Pass.

But the Booster Course Pass makes Mario Kart 8 Deluxe “feel like a new game,” right? That seems to be the cliché that a lot of folks have trotted out to describe the expansion pack. I’d answer that question with a firm “no.” An expansion pack like this refreshes the game, gives it a new lick of paint and shuffles things around, but the same Mario Kart 8 gameplay and visual style is still front-and-centre, even as new racetracks are added. For players who’d been getting bored of that, or who had drifted away from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in search of new experiences, this will be at best a shot in the arm; a temporary boost to bring them back for a while. But the novelty of the new courses will fade faster than it would had there been a brand-new game this year.

But is it fair to judge the Booster Course Pass by that standard? No expansion pack is really intended to be a wholly new game, and there are undoubtedly some fun tracks that have been added to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe this time around. Not only that, but the format that Nintendo has used here is a fun one; tracks will be added in “waves” of eight at a time until the end of 2023. The total number of tracks added by the time the Booster Course Pass is complete will be forty-eight – doubling the number of racetracks in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

The Booster Course Pass includes tracks from past Mario Kart titles.

I quite like the “wave” approach to the expansion pack. Building up the Booster Course Pass slowly over the span of a couple of years keeps the game feeling fresh for longer compared with dumping all of the racetracks at once in a single event. Your mileage on that may vary, though, and there’s nothing wrong with holding off on picking up the Booster Course Pass until late 2023 when the final wave of racetracks has been added. At a cost of £20 ($25 in the United States) it felt a bit steep at first for only eight additional racetracks; the value of the Booster Course Pass will feel a lot better when all forty-eight are playable!

So who is this expansion pack really for? I don’t think it’s necessarily the natural next step for the Mario Kart series in general, rather the Booster Course Pass is for people who’ve started to get bored of what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has to offer. Once you’ve played Rainbow Road, Toad Harbour, and GBA Cheese Land a hundred times apiece, this expansion pack shakes things up and provides some new layouts, new scenery, and a bit of a new challenge. For someone new to the Nintendo Switch and/or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’d say you don’t have as much to gain by picking up the Booster Course Pass at this stage, but it could be worth it later on. It just depends on how repetitive you begin to find the forty-eight courses that come with the base game!

The Booster Course Pass may feel like better value in a year’s time.

I’ve made a couple of lists here on the website of racetracks that I’d want to see in a future Mario Kart title, and two of my favourites have appeared already in the first couple of waves of the Booster Course Pass. As with racetracks across the rest of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, older tracks have seen more changes to both mix things up and to fit with the game’s anti-gravity, flying, and underwater mechanics that weren’t present in earlier titles.

Both Coconut Mall and Mushroom Gorge, which were tracks that debuted on the Wii, feel more or less unchanged in the Booster Course Pass. Both tracks were fantastic in Mario Kart Wii and make wonderful additions here. Their musical accompaniments are likewise neat, and both feel like a nostalgia blast! I have fond memories of playing these racetracks with friends during the Wii days, and replaying them in HD on the Switch has been a blast.

Coconut Mall is back!

Kalimari Desert and Choco Mountain have returned from the Nintendo 64, and the former in particular is one of my all-time favourite Mario Kart racetracks. Choco Mountain is a fun course, although I would say that its all-brown colour palette makes it feel a little bland, and that’s something that could’ve been worked on or adapted for this new version.

Kalimari Desert, though, is absolutely fantastic in the Booster Course Pass. It’s more linear this time around – each of the three laps follows a definite route, meaning players don’t have as much choice when it comes to taking risky shortcuts through the tunnel or over the train tracks. But the adaptations that have been made are fantastic and really showcase the course at its best. There’s something about the “American Southwest” aesthetic that I’ve always loved about Kalimari Desert, and seeing it brought into the modern day thanks to a visual and gameplay overhaul has been wonderful. Although the track also appeared on the 3DS back in 2011, this new version feels like the definitive take on Kalimari Desert.

Kalimari Desert is one of my favourite Mario Kart tracks… ever.

Mario Kart Tour is a crappy mobile game that is bedevilled by many of the pay-to-play and pay-to-win microtransactions that blight the mobile gaming scene. As a result I’m not familiar with most of its racetracks, so the inclusion of several in the Booster Course Pass has given me my first real opportunity to play them. At time of writing (wave two) there have been four racetracks from Mario Kart Tour added; there may be six more to come for a total of ten.

I’ve been lucky enough earlier in my life to have visited both Paris and New York – the settings for two of the Mario Kart Tour tracks included in the Booster Course Pass – and I have to say that New York Minute in particular really hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. There were some genuinely recognisable locations in Central Park and the downtown area that I vividly remember travelling to with friends years ago, and again I wasn’t expecting this brand-new track to give me the nostalgic feels in the way that it did! The music for New York Minute is one of the best in the game; the perfect jazz accompaniment to a beautiful racetrack.

New York City comes to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe!

The Mario Kart Tour tracks also have fun and varied layouts, with each of the three laps taking different routes. I think this keeps things interesting and makes it a lot harder to just drive on “autopilot” even after playing each of the tracks a dozen times. The three other Mario Kart Tour tracks – Paris Promenade, Tokyo Blur, and Sydney Sprint – all hit a number of tourist attractions and key locations in their real-world settings, and it’s something both fun and a little different to race through a Mario Kart track based on a real-life locale.

Having first played Super Mario Kart in the early 1990s, not too long after it was released here in the UK, I’m a dab hand at practically all of the SNES courses that have been included in Mario Kart 8! The sole SNES inclusion in the Booster Course Pass (again, at time of writing after wave two) is Mario Circuit 3, and it’s perhaps the least-interesting from my perspective. Not much has been done to the course’s layout, and with Donut Plains 3 as part of the base game I guess it just wouldn’t have been my first choice. There are better SNES courses, like one of the Vanilla Lake tracks or possibly a Bowser Castle or Koopa Beach that might’ve offered a bit more diversity. That isn’t to say Mario Circuit 3 is bad, just that as an addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it doesn’t offer as much originality as some of the other SNES courses could’ve.

Though there’s nothing wrong with SNES Mario Circuit 3 per se, there are other SNES tracks that might’ve been more fun.

Rounding out the retro courses we have Toad Circuit from the 3DS, which is fine, Snow Land from the Game Boy Advance, which is a cute winter-themed track with an icy road, Waluigi Pinball from the DS, which is one of the most unique concepts on show in the Booster Course Pack so far, Sky Garden from the Game Boy Advance, which reminded me a lot of Cloudtop Cruise from the base game in terms of the way it’s been adapted, and finally Shroom Ridge from the DS – a racetrack with traffic.

There are two brand-new tracks, too: Sky High Sundae and Ninja Hideaway. I like food-themed tracks, so Sky High Sundae was a visual treat! It’s also one of the rare tracks to fully take advantage of Mario Kart 8′s anti-gravity racing feature, which is neat. Ninja Hideaway is a Japanese-themed track with a couple of flying sections that break up what is otherwise a pretty basic layout – albeit one with a fun aesthetic.

Sky High Sundae.

So that’s the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I’ve tried to judge the additional racetracks on their own merits as much as possible, and there are definitely some fun inclusions that make Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth returning to for lapsed players and those who’d been getting bored of the same lineup over and over again.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that it would’ve been better for Nintendo to include these tracks as part of a new game: Mario Kart 9. There could’ve been transformational gameplay changes, perhaps some new drivers from both Nintendo titles and from games and series that have found success on the Switch in recent years, and while the visuals wouldn’t be significantly improved due to the limitations of the Switch’s hardware, changing things up from a gameplay perspective would’ve been worth doing. The Booster Course Pass adds a lot of content and a lot of value to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but a new game this ain’t.

For what it is, though, and for the price, the Booster Course Pass has plenty to offer. There are some fun tracks that I hadn’t played before as well as several blasts from the past that really hit the right nostalgic notes. I daresay the Booster Course Pass will keep Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at the top of the Switch charts now that we’re well into the second half of the console’s life – though whether it’s worth picking up now and trying out each wave of tracks as they arrive or whether it would be better to wait and pick it up in the latter part of next year is going to be up to you.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now for Nintendo Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass is available as an expansion pack for an additional fee. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Booster Course Pass, and all other titles and properties discussed above are the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten racetrack theme ideas for Mario Kart 9

With Nintendo planning a digital presentation for next month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo – more commonly known as E3 – rumours abound as to what they could talk about. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2? A new 3D Mario game? A new Donkey Kong title? Those are all contenders, and I would posit that Nintendo would be unlikely to put out a major E3 broadcast unless they had something big to say! But there’s still the prospect of a new Mario Kart game – something I’ve discussed on a couple of occasions already.

Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES in 1992, which means that next year will be the Mario Kart series’ 30th anniversary. In recent years we’ve seen a number of anniversary-themed events from Nintendo, and I can’t help but feel that they’ll do something to acknowledge Mario Kart. E3 would be the ideal time to announce Mario Kart 9, then, in time for the title to be released in the first half of next year!

Super Mario Kart turns 30 next year!

Maybe I’m wrong about that, though – and as I always like to say, I have no “insider information!” But regardless, it’s always fun to talk about the Mario Kart series and the prospects for a new title. Having already talked about a number of older racetracks I’d like to see come back, a roster of Nintendo characters who could be drivers, and even a handful of non-Nintendo characters who could join the fun, this time I want to talk about the possibilities for new racetracks – specifically, what theming Nintendo could use.

Past Mario Kart games had a number of Nintendo-themed tracks – such as Royal Raceway, based around Princess Peach’s castle, DK Mountain, which obviously pays homage to the jungle home of Donkey Kong, and of course the Bowser Castle tracks. But many Mario Kart titles also had more generic or non-Nintendo tracks too – things like Vanilla Lake, Choco Island, Sweet Sweet Canyon, and even Rainbow Road are all based less on specific Nintendo properties than just generic theming. My list will include a mix of both kinds of racetrack!

So let’s take a look, shall we?

Number 1: The museum from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The upgraded museum as it appears in New Horizons.

A racetrack based around Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems like a given considering how popular the game has been since it launched! But rather than a generic island – or perhaps as well as one – I think a racetrack themed around New Horizons’ museum could be neat. I do still check in with my New Horizons island from time to time, partly because I still haven’t collected every last bug, fish, fossil and work of art! The museum is one of the game’s most interesting locations, and would make a fun setting for a racetrack.

Starting in the lobby, players would race through four areas: the bug room, fossil exhibit, art gallery, and aquarium. The aquarium offers the potential for underwater racing – if that feature is coming back in Mario Kart 9 – so there’d be at least two terrains as well as a variety of scenery! The higher levels of the museum would also offer space for jumps and tricks. But above all, it would be a different take on the expected “Animal Crossing island” track that I think would take a lot of folks by surprise.

Number 2: The Last Resort hotel from Luigi’s Mansion 3

The Last Resort hotel is the setting for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

I know, I know. My playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3, which I commenced in the run-up to last Halloween, still needs to be finished. And I will get around to it eventually! But for now, let’s consider how The Last Resort hotel could make for an amazing racetrack! The Mario Kart series has never shied away from spooky, ghostly racetracks, and given the popularity of Luigi’s Mansion 3 on Switch, incorporating it into Mario Kart 9 makes a lot of sense.

Players could start in the basement garage and race to the top in a one-way route broken into three segments. That would put a twist on several of the similar one-way downhill tracks in Mario Kart 8! Ghostly apparitions could make for interesting moving obstacles, and above all, the track would have the potential to be a lot of fun. There could certainly be jumps or aerial sections, though I’m not sure about racing underwater.

Number 3: A track based on the world of Minecraft

Promo screenshot for Minecraft.

This kind of ties into my idea of having Minecraft Steve as a playable racer! Minecraft has been popular on the Nintendo Switch – just as it has been on practically every other console – and considering that Nintendo and Microsoft have happily worked together to bring Minecraft Steve into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, why not go one step further and have a Minecraft-themed racetrack?

The open worlds of Minecraft have a multitude of biomes and terrains, and there’s scope for anti-gravity racing up cliffs or down deep caverns, underwater sections through seas and rivers, aerial sections jumping off mountains or into the sky – and that’s before we even get to the Nether or the End! There could even be a Minecraft cup with four racetracks based around this game – though maybe that’s a bit much!

Number 4: Bubblaine from Super Mario Odyssey

Remember when the internet went wild for Mario’s nipples? We live in strange times…

There’s bound to be at least one racetrack based on a location from Super Mario Odyssey in the next Mario Kart title, so I’d like to propose Bubblaine! The Mario Kart series has previously featured a number of beach-themed tracks, but this would be the first to be based on an actual level from a mainline game. There’s even the possibility for a track based on Bubblaine – or the other water level from Odyssey, Lake Lamode – to be fully underwater, with no above-water sections at all. That could make for an interesting twist!

I like beach-themed racetracks in Mario Kart. They’re relaxing and often have great music, and though Bubblaine wouldn’t necessarily be unique in the Mario Kart series, it could pick up the baton for beach racetracks.

Number 5: New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey

New Donk City is home to Mayor Pauline!

New Donk City played a big role in the marketing campaign for Odyssey, and it seems at least possible that Nintendo would want to capitalise on the name and imagery for Mario Kart 9 as well. There have been urban racetracks in the Mario Kart series before but none quite like New Donk City.

Just like how street circuits like Monaco or Singapore are popular in Formula 1, the closed-in nature of New Donk City’s network of roads could make for a fun racetrack. With tall buildings to potentially jump from, and Mayor Pauline’s iconic song forming the basis for the soundtrack, this one has a lot of potential to be a fun – if slightly tricky – racetrack!

Number 6: The Galar Region from Pokémon Sword & Shield

A promo screenshot of a city in the Galar Region.

I’ve never played a Pokémon game. Make of that what you will! But Pokémon Sword & Shield have been successful on the Nintendo Switch – despite the so-called “Dexit” controversy the games generated! Although Pokémon has always been a franchise strongly associated with Nintendo, no Pokémon characters or locales have appeared in the Mario Kart series – at least, not yet.

I don’t know too much about the Galar Region other than it’s based on my native United Kingdom, but that in itself could make for a fun concept for British Nintendo fans! There have been some Pokémon characters included in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so it’s not impossible to think that a crossover between two of Nintendo’s biggest exclusive properties is on the cards.

Number 7: The city of Kyoto, Japan

A dark street in the city of Kyoto.

Now we’re leaving the realm of video games behind to look at some racetrack themes from the real world. Kyoto – which was the capital city of Japan for more than 1,000 years before it moved to Tokyo – is where Nintendo is headquartered. Many of the company’s developers live and work in the city, and know it intimately. It could be a lot of fun for them – and for us as players – to bring the city to life as the basis of a racetrack.

A Japanese-themed racetrack is a win-win for any Mario Kart title in many ways. The game’s Japanese audience would be pleased to see a representation of their home, and there are many in the west who love all things Japanese and would be equally thrilled. Kyoto makes a lot of sense because of its connection to Nintendo, and we could see recreations of famous landmarks like the Imperial Palace, To-Ji Temple, Kyoto Tower, and Teramachi Street.

Number 8: A food-themed racetrack

Looks yummy!

Choco Island and Choco Mountain, which appeared in Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 respectively, kicked off a trend of Nintendo including at least one racetrack with a food theme in most mainline Mario Kart games. In addition to chocolate we’ve had the likes of Cheese Land and Sweet Sweet Canyon. It would be great to keep this trend going with another foody track, perhaps one based around Japanese cuisine?

A restaurant could make for a fun setting, and would allow shrunk-down racers to drive through the kitchen, into the dining room, across tabletops, past plates of food, and so on. Mario Kart has always been a series which is happy to set logic aside when it comes to theming, so why not?

Number 9: Ice or a glacier

Ice and snow have appeared a lot in Mario Kart.

There have been plenty of snow- and ice-themed tracks in past Mario Kart games, and I’m sure the next entry in the series will bring at least one to the table. There’s scope for a track set on a glacier to have an environmental theme, especially if the glacier were melting! Perhaps each lap could see more and more of the glacier melt away, until the final lap has players racing through a track that’s more water than ice.

Regardless, snow and ice are tricky surfaces to race on, and can be made to feel extra slippery under the wheels of players’ karts. This alone makes them fun and challenging in equal measure, and I hope there’ll be at least one track with this kind of icy, wintry theme in Mario Kart 9.

Number 10: An alpine or mountain stage

A picture-perfect Alpine village and lake.

The famous cycling races Tour de France and Giro d’Italia both run stages through the Alps, and it’s something along those lines that I’m thinking of here. Mountainous racetracks in Mario Kart tend to either be snowy or have some other theming, but I quite like the idea of racing along past a mountain village, pine trees, and the like, in a track with an alpine setting.

The Alps border several countries, including France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, so elements from those cultures could be incorporated into the theming of the track. This could also be a one-way track divided into segments instead of a loop to run laps around.

So that’s it. Ten theme ideas for Mario Kart 9 racetracks!

Still the best version of Rainbow Road… change my mind!

Because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just a port of a Wii U game, there hasn’t been an original Mario Kart title released for the Nintendo Switch yet. I know that’s kind of splitting hairs, but it provides a small amount of hope that we’ll see another title in the fun kart racing series before this generation is over. The Switch should still have several years’ of life left, so if we don’t get Mario Kart 9 this generation it could be a while before we see it.

I’m hopeful, then, of a new Mario Kart game sometime soon. Whether it will be announced at E3, or whether it will be connected to the 30th anniversary of the series are just guesses on my part – but I think both are educated guesses. It makes sense to me, at any rate!

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now on Nintendo Switch. All other titles and properties mentioned above are copyright of Nintendo or their respective studio, developer, publisher, and/or owner. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of the Mario Wiki. Some stock images courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten non-Nintendo characters who (probably won’t) appear in Mario Kart 9!

A few days ago I had a lot of fun putting together a short list of (mostly) Nintendo characters who I think should appear in Mario Kart 9 – whenever that game may come! As a follow-up, I thought it could be interesting to consider a few characters from outside of Nintendo’s walled garden who could also join the fun. If you’d like to check out the original list, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Mario Kart 8 and later Mario Kart 8 Deluxe pushed the boat out as far as the roster of drivers is concerned, including characters from outside of the Super Mario series for the first time, including Link from The Legend of Zelda series, Isabelle from Animal Crossing, and two characters from the Splatoon games. However, it would be a first for the series to include non-Nintendo characters!

Isabelle, from the Animal Crossing series, is a driver in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Although the Mario Kart games haven’t done so yet, Nintendo has proved itself willing to open up to other companies’ franchises and characters in recent years. We’ve seen Minecraft Steve, for example, as well as characters from the Castlevania, Persona, and Dragon Quest series appear in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch, so I think that demonstrates a willingness on Nintendo’s part to think outside the box when it comes to characters in popular titles.

Whether it will happen, though, is completely unknown! And to reiterate what I always say: this is pure guesswork and a wishlist from a fan, nothing more. I’m not claiming to know for a fact that any characters listed below will appear in Mario Kart 9 – or even if such a game is currently in development. With the 30th anniversary of the Mario Kart series coming up in 2022 I think it’s possible that we might see a new game, but even that’s just a guess on my part!

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1: Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega)

Sonic as he appears in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020.

Of all the characters on this list, Sonic is arguably the most likely to crop up in Mario Kart 9. Not only is he a character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but there have been a number of Nintendo games over the last decade or more in which he’s been prominently featured. Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games in 2007 marked his debut alongside Mario, and since then the duo have appeared together in five more Olympic-themed titles.

It would’ve seemed unthinkable in the ’90s for Mario and Sonic to appear together; they were the mascots of competing companies! It was only when Sega retired from manufacturing their own consoles shortly after the millennium that Sonic appearing on Nintendo hardware was even a possibility, but he’s since become a mainstay. He’d make for a fantastic character, and having already featured in his own kart racer, he definitely knows a thing or two about driving!

Number 2: Pac-Man (Bandai Namco)

A 3D rendering of Pac-Man from 1999’s Pac-Man World.

Another character who appeared in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pac-Man is a gaming icon from the medium’s early days. Originally an arcade game created in 1980, Pac-Man spawned a whole host of titles in a series that continues to this day. Though the games have no real story or plot, Pac-Man was arguably one of the first video game characters, and was, for a time, symbolic of the games industry as a whole. His simple design became iconic, and even today Pac-Man is instantly recognisable.

As with Sonic above, even a few years ago the idea of a collaboration between Nintendo and Pac-Man (short of licensing one of the games to their consoles) wouldn’t have seemed possible. But as companies continue to pool their resources and work together, it could make a lot of sense for both Nintendo and Bandai Namco (or should that be Bando Namcai?) to bring Pac-Man to Mario Kart 9.

Number 3: Fall Guy (Epic Games/Mediatonic)

Three Fall Guys seen in a recent Nintendo Direct.

If I’d been in charge of the development of cute obstacle course/battle royale title Fall Guys, I would have prioritised a Nintendo Switch release. Regardless, the title is finally going to be released on Nintendo’s console, months after it’s PC and PlayStation 4 debut. The Fall Guys themselves are adorable little jelly bean characters with a huge variety of costumes, and their cartoon aesthetic would fit perfectly with Nintendo’s long-running kart racing series.

The recent Epic Games buyout may complicate matters, but with Fall Guys coming to Switch I really feel it has a shot at being successful on that platform – especially if Mediatonic can get cross-platform play up and running. If the game is a hit, bringing a Fall Guy to Mario Kart 9 would be fantastic, and something Nintendo could absolutely consider doing. It would arguably benefit Fall Guys more, with the character’s inclusion serving almost as advertising, but that should just be an incentive for Epic Games to allow this crossover to go ahead!

Number 4: Master Chief (Microsoft)

The Master Chief in Halo: The Master Chief Collection concept art.

The inclusion of Minecraft Steve in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate shows that Microsoft is quite happy to work with Nintendo, and a number of their recent moves – like their partnership with EA – have opened up the possibility of further collaborations and crossovers with big games companies. With that in mind, could the Halo series’ iconic protagonist end up as a racer?

Halo games, as first-person shooters, are quite violent, so perhaps Nintendo would opt not to include such characters for the sake of keeping the game family-friendly. But Master Chief’s design isn’t aggressive or scary, and I think he could be made to fit. It would be a fun collaboration between two of modern gaming’s big powerhouses.

Number 5: Doom Guy (Bethesda/Microsoft)

Doom Eternal promotional artwork featuring the character known as Doom Guy.

Though visually similar in some respects to the Master Chief, Doom Guy has a surprising history with Nintendo. Not only was Doom 64 a Nintendo 64 exclusive in 1997, but last year saw a bizarre yet strangely wholesome internet-inspired team-up with Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In short, Doom Eternal shared a release date with New Horizons, and because of the polar opposite nature of the games, fans began ironically pairing up Doom Guy with Animal Crossing characters – notably Isabelle.

Nintendo could take advantage of the memes and jokes by bringing Doom Guy into Mario Kart 9. On the surface, maybe he isn’t a great fit for the series. But there’s nothing offensive about his character design, and if last year’s fan art showed us one thing, it’s that Doom Guy can be made to look adorable and cartoonified!

Number 6: Two Point Hospital Doctor or Nurse (Sega)

Two doctors and a nurse.

Two Point Hospital is a spiritual successor to 1997’s Theme Hospital, a classic of the “tycoon” genre. It was ported to the Nintendo Switch last year after releasing for PC in 2018, and has gone on to be a surprising success on the platform. As with many tycoon games there isn’t really one principal character to pick out, but a generic doctor and/or nurse could be a fun addition to Mario Kart 9.

One of the great things about Two Point Hospital is its cartoon aesthetic; a deliberate choice that mimics the title’s origins in tycoon games of the 1990s. That look just happens to be perfect for the Mario Kart series, which means a Two Point Hospital character would be a natural fit.

Number 7: A Palico (Capcom)

A Palico as seen in the trailer for Monster Hunter Rise.

I’ll let you in on a secret: the Monster Hunter series has never seemed like my thing. The latest title in the series, Monster Hunter Rise, is available for Nintendo Switch, but despite loving the visual style, the core gameplay of hunting and killing so-called “monsters” – which seem to be docile animals living their own lives not troubling anybody – holds absolutely no appeal to me!

Regardless, the latest title is a big hit on Switch, and Palicoes are cute little felines or cat-like characters that accompany the player character during the game. It seems like this kind of cute critter would be a perfect fit for Mario Kart 9 – even if I don’t personally care for the game they originate from!

Number 8: Zagreus (Supergiant Games)

Promotional art for Hades featuring Zagreus.

Hades has to be one of the best indie games I’ve played in recent years, and was recently featured in a Nintendo Direct presentation as the game is getting a full physical release (i.e. on a game cartridge) for Switch. It’s an absolute blast, and if you haven’t tried it I can’t recommend it enough – if you’re okay with a game in which you die over and over again!

Zagreus, son of Hades, is the game’s protagonist, adapted from the character present in Ancient Greek mythology. His anime-inspired style is… well let’s just say I’m not an anime fan. But as a character he’s interesting and fun to root for in Hades, and with some minor adaptations I’m sure he could fit in with the rest of the racers!

Number 9: Ori and Sein (Microsoft/Moon Studios)

Ori and Sein in Ori and the Blind Forest.

I’d almost forgotten that both Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps had been ported to the Nintendo Switch, but both games were a good fit for Nintendo’s platform and seem to have sold reasonably well. This entry is technically two characters, but they could be rolled into a single racer as Sein’s design might not lend itself to being an independent driver!

The Ori games are surprisingly sweet but also challenging in places, and Ori would certainly fit right in with the Mario Kart series from an aesthetic point of view. It would be great to see the Ori series, which already has a Switch presence, join up with Nintendo for an additional collaboration!

Number 10: Geralt of Rivia (CD Projekt Red)

Geralt as he appears on the box art of The Witcher 3.

Though I still haven’t played The Witcher 3 – or the prior two entries in the series, come to that – it’s held up as one of the best games of the last ten years, and protagonist Geralt of Rivia has since cropped up in a couple of unexpected places! Perhaps his next adventure could be joining Mario and friends for a go-kart race?

The Witcher 3 was one of the most ambitious titles to bring to the Nintendo Switch, considering the size and complexity of the game, but by all accounts it’s a solid port. A lot of folks have been enjoying taking Geralt with them to play on the go, and his recent appearance in Soul Calibur VI shows that CD Projekt Red are clearly amenable to collaborating with other companies. He would be a strange choice, perhaps, but a lot of fun nevertheless!

Bonus: Battle-Cars (Epic Games)

Promotional art for Rocket League showing two Battle-Cars.

One of the most surprising things in Mario Kart 8 was the inclusion of Mercedes-Benz car parts, as part of a deal Nintendo struck with the famous car manufacturer! We could absolutely consider other manufacturers or vehicles that would be cute to see in the next Mario Kart game, but for now I thought it could be fun if Nintendo could team up with one of the other top car games out there – Rocket League!

I’m atrocious at Rocket League and have been since the first time I played, but the game is a lot of fun. A buyout by Epic Games saw the title move to a free-to-play model, which has been good in some ways. There are a number of different vehicle styles, and any could be adapted to make a fun kart in Mario Kart 9. Perhaps three or four different styles would be enough so as not to overwhelm the title!

So that’s it. Ten characters – and one bonus set of vehicles – that Mario Kart 9 should – but most likely won’t – include!

Is a new Mario Kart title in the works?

If I’m right that Nintendo plans to do something next year to mark the series’ 30th anniversary, a new game would be top of the list. And in the spirit of celebration, bringing a whole roster of characters from across gaming to join one big Mario Kart party would be a great thing for Nintendo to do. Some characters that Nintendo has worked with in the past, like Sonic the Hedgehog, seem far more likely than others, but it would benefit practically every company involved in the games industry to allow Nintendo to license one or two of their characters. After all, it’s a fantastic advertisement for the game they’re originally from!

I’ve been a huge Mario Kart fan since I first sat down to play Super Mario Kart in 1993 or 1994, back when I owned a SNES. That title only had eight racers to choose from, and the series has come a long way since then – while managing to retain the fun. As games got better and I played the likes of Shenmue and Knights of the Old Republic I began to favour titles with a strong focus on story; there are few titles I considered fun for their gameplay alone. The Mario Kart series has always been one of them! Whatever happens next year, and whenever Mario Kart 9 may come, I hope Nintendo try to bring in some new and different faces.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now for Nintendo Switch, and is the copyright of Nintendo. All characters mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo art courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fifteen games worthy of a second look in Spring 2021

Spoiler Warning: Though there are no major spoilers, minor spoilers may still be present for a few of the titles on this list.

Anthem is gone, Cyberpunk 2077 is still a stinking mess, and there are delays aplenty across the games industry as the pandemic rolls on. What’s a gamer to do? Well, I might have the answer for you! Tomorrow will be the first day of March, and to me March has always meant the beginning of Spring. There are small snowdrops beginning to bloom in my garden, and the nights are getting shorter. A few times this past week I’ve even managed without the heating on in my house – much to the dismay of the cats!

There are still plenty of great games that – all being well – will be released this year. If you missed it, I put together a list just after New Year of ten of the most interesting titles! But considering the delays and that this time of year is typically fairly quiet in terms of releases, I thought it would be a great moment to consider a few games that deserve a second look. I’ve limited the list to titles that are readily available to buy on current-gen platforms and PC, so no out-of-print games this time.

Without any further ado, let’s jump into the list, which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Nintendo’s most recent karting game is a ton of fun. It’s the kind of arcade racer that has a very low bar for entry – anyone can pick up and play this fun title. But mastering Mario Kart 8 – especially if you choose to head online – is no small task, and there’s a surprising amount of skill involved to be truly competitive with the best players! I’ve adored the Mario Kart series since its inception on the SNES, and this version is the definitive Mario Kart experience… at least until they make Mario Kart 9!

Number 2: Fall Guys (PC and PlayStation 4, 2020, coming to Xbox and Nintendo Switch this summer)

Among Us gained a lot of attention not long after Fall Guys was released last summer and stole at least some of the cute game’s attention! The fact that Fall Guys isn’t on mobile probably counts against it as far as finding a broader audience goes, but despite what some have claimed, the game is by no means dead. Season 4 – which promises to bring a new set of futuristic rounds – is being released soon, and for less than £15 (at least on PC) I honestly can’t fault Fall Guys. It’s an adorable, wholly unique experience in which your cute little jelly bean character runs a series of obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout. Each round lasts only a couple of minutes, and it really is way more fun than words can do justice to! I’ve recently got back into playing after taking a break, and there’s plenty of fun still to be had.

Number 3: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC and Xbox, 2002)

You can find Morrowind on PC, and despite being an older title it’s compatible with Windows 10. There has been an active modding scene for almost twenty years at this point, so even if you’ve already played the base game it may still be worth going back for more. In my subjective opinion, Morrowind is the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series. It certainly offers players more to do than its predecessors or sequels – more NPCs to interact with, more factions to join, more types of weapons to wield and spells to cast, and so on. Especially if you hit Morrowind with some of the visual/graphics mods that are available, it can feel almost like a new game!

Number 4: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, 2002)

Another older title that you can find on PC, as well as on iOS and Android, Vice City was one of three Grand Theft Auto titles released between 2001 and 2005. Remember when Rockstar was able to put out more than one game per decade?! If you’ve had your fill of Grand Theft Auto V by now – and it’s been out for eight years, so I wouldn’t blame you if you were ready to play something else – maybe going back to one of the older games will be a nostalgic blast. Many fans of the series consider Vice City to be the best entry, and while I don’t think I’d go quite that far, I had a ton of fun with it back on the original Xbox.

Number 5: Banished (PC, 2014)

There are some great city-builders out there, but one of my favourites from the last few years is Banished. The game was built entirely by one person, which never fails to amaze me! It would still be a fantastic title if it had been made by a full studio, but the fact that the game and all its complex systems were programmed by a single developer is an astonishing achievement. Banished isn’t easy, even on lower difficulty settings, and it will take a little time to get into the swing of how to plan your town and manage your resources. But if you’re up for a challenge it’s a wonderful way to lose track of time!

Number 6: Skully (PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, and Xbox One, 2020)

Skully is a game that I’ve been meaning to write a proper review of since I picked it up last year, but it keeps slipping down my writing pile. From the moment I saw the trailer and heard the game’s premise – a 3D platformer in which you play as a disembodied skull – I was in love, and the game did not disappoint! The environments are beautiful and the game is plenty of fun. It manages to feel at points like an old-school 3D platformer of the Nintendo 64 era, and at others like a wholly modern experience. It’s also an indie title, and it’s great to be able to support indie developers wherever we can!

Number 7: Jade Empire (PC and Xbox, 2005)

If the demise of Anthem has got you missing the “golden age” of BioWare’s role-playing games, make sure you didn’t skip Jade Empire. The Xbox exclusive was overlooked by players in the mid-2000s, and while other BioWare games from that decade, like Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age Origins are all held in high esteem, the Chinese-inspired Jade Empire is all but forgotten. When Steam has it on sale you can pick up Jade Empire for less than the price of a coffee, and for that you’ll get what is honestly one of the best and most interesting role-playing games of all time.

Number 8: Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (PC, 1997)

Starfleet Academy is unique among Star Trek games because it features the cast of The Original Series in video clips recorded especially for the game. These aren’t scenes from films or episodes of the show; you literally will not see them anywhere else. Starfleet Academy is a starship simulator, and while its visuals obviously don’t look as good in 2021 when compared to other titles, the overall experience is fantastic. You won’t find another game quite like it – especially because ViacomCBS has all but given up on making Star Trek games since the release of Star Trek Online!

Number 9: Forza Horizon 4 (PC and Xbox One, 2018)

I signed up for Game Pass in order to be able to play racing game Forza Horizon 4 – and it was totally worth it! The Forza Horizon series attempts to find a middle ground between true racing sims and arcade-style titles, and generally manages to do so quite well. Forza Horizon 4 has a map which represents parts of Great Britain, and that’s something unusual! I didn’t see my house, but it’s always nice when a game uses a familiar setting. There are plenty of fun cars to race in, and different kinds of races too, including going off-road.

Number 10: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (Multiplatform, 2013)

Is it just me, or has every subsequent game in the Assassin’s Creed series struggled to hit the highs of Black Flag? Origins and Odyssey were decent, but even in 2021, I think that Black Flag is the definitive title in the franchise! There’s something about its pirate setting and the wonderful crop of NPCs that make Black Flag a truly enjoyable experience from start to finish. For a game that’s approaching its eighth birthday it still looks fantastic, too!

Number 11: The Last Of Us (PlayStation 3, 2013)

Despite its severely disappointing sequel, The Last Of Us is fantastic. If you’re looking for a game with amazing characters and a deep, engaging story, it simply can’t be bettered. I put The Last Of Us on my list of games of the decade as the 2010s drew to a close, and for good reason. Joel and Ellie’s trek across a hauntingly beautiful post-apocalyptic United States was absolutely one of the gaming highlights of the last few years. The characters are so well-crafted that they feel real, and every twist and turn in the intense storyline carries emotional weight. The game is being adapted for television, and I’m interested – cautiously so in the wake of The Last Of Us Part II – to see what will happen when it makes the leap to the small screen.

Number 12: Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (PC, 2018)

Though I know Age of Empires II is the title most folks prefer, I’ve always appreciated what the original Age of Empires did for the real-time strategy genre. If you’ve been enjoying the recent remake of the second game, it could be a great time to give the original a try as well. Age of Empires didn’t invent real-time strategy, but it was one of the first such titles I played after its 1998 release – and I sunk hours and hours into it in the late ’90s! There’s something about building up an army of Bronze Age warriors to smash an opponent’s town that’s just… satisfying!

Number 13: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2019)

I played through Jedi: Fallen Order last summer and documented my time with the game here on the website. Suffice to say I had a blast; the linear, story-focused title is exactly what the Star Wars franchise needed after the Battlefront II debacle! Having just seen the dire Rise of Skywalker I was also longing for a Star Wars story that I could actually enjoy for a change, and Jedi: Fallen Order did not let me down! I had a great time swinging my lightsaber across a galaxy far, far away… and I think you will too.

Number 14: No Man’s Sky (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2016)

No Man’s Sky was incredibly controversial at launch. The pre-release hype bubble got wildly out of control, egged on by a marketing push that oversold the game. Remind you of any recent titles? But despite the backlash in 2016, Hello Games has since put in a lot of hard graft, and five years on No Man’s Sky genuinely lives up to its potential. Had it been released in this state I think it would have been hailed as one of the best games of the decade – if not of all time. I understand not wanting to reward a game that was dishonestly sold, and that the “release now, fix later” business model is not one we should support. But there’s no denying that No Man’s Sky is a great game in 2021, and if you haven’t picked it up since its 2016 launch, it could be worth a second look.

Number 15: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, 2020)

A full remake of the definitive skateboarding game is hard to pass up! In the Dreamcast era, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched an entire genre of skating games, and its amazing soundtrack is a nostalgic hit of late ’90s/early ’00s punk rock. The remade version, which you can pick up on Switch and the two new consoles later this year, is great fun, and has managed to do something rare for a remake: genuinely recapture the look and feel of the original title. Obviously the visuals are brought up-to-date, but the feel of the game and the way tricks are performed are fantastic. I was able to slip right back into playing as if I’d never put the Dreamcast controller down!

So that’s it. Fifteen games that I think are worth your time this Spring.

There are plenty of fun titles on the horizon, but some of the ones I was most looking forward to – like Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Hogwarts Legacy – have recently been delayed, prompting me to look at my library and put together this list.

I hope this has inspired you to find something to play over the next few weeks! If not, stay tuned because there will be plenty more gaming-related articles here on the website. Happy gaming!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Games of the Generation

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

The launch of the Xbox Series X earlier today marked the beginning of a new console generation – and thus the end of one too. That generation began in November 2012 with the release of the Wii U, and saw both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive a year later. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the last eight years to have played a number of different games across all four major consoles, and while I need to say for the record that there are still plenty of big titles I haven’t got my hands on, there’s certainly enough to put together a list like this.

As we say goodbye to the current generation of consoles and jump headfirst into next-gen, let’s take a few minutes to look back at some of the best gaming experiences of the generation… in my subjective opinion!

But before we dive into the list, here’s a short recap of each of the major consoles. The Wii U came first, but was blighted by horrible marketing (even months after release, many gamers were confused as to what the Wii U even was, with many believing its clunky plastic controller to be nothing more than an accessory for the Wii). Nintendo began making losses during this period, and even laid off a number of staff. The console saw some very fun games, but I was one of less than fifteen million people who bought the machine – which in 2012 was clearly not good enough to cover Nintendo’s costs – making the console an expensive failure. For the sake of comparison, the original Wii sold over 100 million consoles, and the Switch is currently sitting at over 60 million a mere three years after release.

The Wii U kicked off this generation in November 2012, but was unsuccessful overall.

Next came the PlayStation 4. Only a few months earlier I’d bought a PlayStation 3, the first Sony machine I’d ever owned. I’d done so solely to play The Last Of Us, and I wasn’t disappointed! After the Xbox One suffered a rocky run-up to launch (we’ll come to that in a moment) PlayStation seized the chance to convert gamers to their platform after running behind for the entirety of the previous generation. And many folks who had previously been invested in Xbox made the switch – PlayStation 4 has almost certainly sold twice as many units as Xbox One, and that couldn’t have happened without Xbox 360 players jumping ship. PlayStation 4 has also had by far the better crop of exclusive games, and that’s another huge factor in its success this generation.

The PlayStation 4 arrived in November 2013 and has been the generation’s best-seller by far.

Xbox One arrived only a week after the launch of the PlayStation 4, but it was not a smooth road for Microsoft’s console. From the moment the console was announced it attracted the ire of gamers. First was its complicated always-online nature, which Microsoft had to backtrack on. Next was the issue of trading in games or sharing them with friends, with Xbox initially seeming to “lock” each disc to a specific user account. This was also something Microsoft U-turned on. Those fiascos were bad enough, but next came Kinect. Bundled with the system – and with no way to opt out – Kinect bumped up the price of the Xbox One at launch, making it $100 more than PlayStation 4. Looking back over several console generations, the cheaper machine usually sells better, and so it proved again. Xbox One also struggled with a lack of decent exclusive games to compete with those available on the PlayStation 4. Despite all of that, however, Xbox Game Pass (a paid subscription service which gives players access to over a hundred titles) definitely found a foothold as the generation drew to a close.

The Xbox One launched a week after the PlayStation 4 – for $100 more.

Finally, 2017 saw the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Where the Wii U had been Nintendo’s attempt to recapture the “hardcore gamer” market, the Switch saw Nintendo realise that its success with consoles like the Wii and the handheld DS and 3DS lineup was due to their appeal to casual players. A console deliberately less powerful than its two competitors, the Switch retained the motion controls that had proven popular on the Wii alongside a new gimmick: the console is a hybrid that can either be played as a handheld device or connected to a screen. After the disappointment of the Wii U, the Switch proved a success from day one, and eclipsed the Wii U’s total lifetime sales in a matter of months.

The Nintendo Switch is the newest major console, having been released in 2017.

So those were this generation’s consoles. Now let’s look at some games!

This list is in three parts. The first part consists of titles that I consider to be incredibly important to the overall gaming landscape of the generation, even if they weren’t “my thing” and/or I don’t have much personal experience with them. The second part of the list contains a handful of titles that failed hard, and whose failures had an impact on gaming in some way. And finally the third part of the list is what you’re all here for – my personal top ten games of the generation.

Without any further ado, let’s get started!

Honourable Mentions

As stated above, this section of the list consists of a few titles that, for whatever reason, weren’t necessarily something I enjoyed or bought into, yet were landmarks in gaming this generation. No “games of the generation” list would be complete without their inclusion.

Number 1: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017)

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – or “Pub-G” as some insist on calling it – was the first truly successful battle royale game. There’s debate over the origins of battle royale, and at one point PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds attempted to patent the format, but there can be no denying that this is the game that brought it to mainstream attention. By doing so it revolutionised online multiplayer gaming, and for a while was the most-played game in the world.

Considering how big battle royale titles still are, no end-of-the-generation list would be complete without PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Though the game is still being played, it has arguably been eclipsed by some other titles in the genre it spawned – most notably Fortnite. In that sense it’s one of the most influential games of the generation… even if it isn’t one that’s enjoyed as much ongoing success.

Number 2: Fortnite (2018)

If PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds kicked off the battle royale craze, Fortnite took it to the next level. This title became a powerhouse in the gaming world; a phenomenon the industry hadn’t seen since Minecraft. And it’s a free-to-play game. Many of Fortnite’s biggest fans have never paid a penny despite spending hours and hours playing it, yet it’s managed to become one of the biggest and most financially successful titles in gaming. Ever.

Fortnite isn’t innovative with its gameplay, nor is it innovative in being free; mobile games in particular have used a free-to-play model for years. But Fortnite has taken the world by storm by refining those things and putting them with a fun, cartoony aesthetic that has widespread appeal, especially to younger players. For many kids, Fortnite has been their ticket into a brand-new hobby, and the importance of expanding gaming beyond where it was even a few years ago is immeasurable.

As with any successful title, other games have tried to imitate Fortnite’s success, and in some ways we can assign some degree of blame to Fortnite for making lootboxes and microtransactions more acceptable. However, it isn’t only this game’s fault that companies continue to pursue in-game monetisation!

Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)

With so much focus on multiplayer this generation, The Witcher 3 really stands out as a comparative rarity. It demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that there is a market for well-made, expansive single-player games at a time when many companies seemed to be abandoning them. It’s widely considered one of the best games of all-time, not just of the generation, and the success of The Witcher 3 did much to demonstrate to the industry that single-player games could still be critically and financially successful.

As I mentioned when I took a look at a few great games that I haven’t played, The Witcher 3 is on my list and I hope to eventually get to it. Single-player fantasy role-playing games are exactly my kind of thing, but I haven’t got around to this one yet! As a standout title that really boosted the medium, though, I can appreciate The Witcher 3′s success from afar.

Number 4: Grand Theft Auto V – online mode (2013)

Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this generation, having initially been released on the previous generation’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For the last seven years it has seldom dropped out of the top ten bestselling games, which is an incredible achievement. The success is largely due to its online mode, which has made developers Rockstar an insane amount of money.

Competitive online gaming really isn’t my thing, but no list appreciating the generation’s finest should ignore Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode. Taking the beautifully-crafted world of Los Santos and opening it up to players for jobs and heists together has been a masterstroke on Rockstar’s part.

I was, however, a little disappointed to see that Rockstar simply plan on porting the game to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. I get that it’s been a phenomenally successful title this generation – but I had hoped for a new entry in the series (or a new title altogether) as the gaming world moves on. They see things differently, however, and given Grand Theft Auto V’s success and bustling online scene, maybe they’re right.

Number 5: Undertale (2015) and the whole indie scene

I chose Undertale as an example because it has been widely praised, but this entry also stands to represent titles like Dead Cells, Cuphead, Untitled Goose Game, Donut County, Shovel Knight, and many more indie titles that have wowed audiences this generation. Making a game as an independent developer is a difficult and often expensive undertaking, yet many of these titles – including Undertale – have been fantastic and received critical acclaim.

There’s a perception that all indie games are pixel-art 2D platformers, and while there certainly are titles which fit that description there’s also much more going on in the indie scene. Some of these games go on to inspire whole sub-genres, and as we go into the new generation its a great thing that there are so many independent, smaller developers out there. It keeps the games scene interesting!

Disappointments and Disasters

This section looks at a handful of controversial, disappointing, or outright bad games which nevertheless impacted the games industry this generation. Not every innovation or change to the way games are made comes from success, and some titles may be better-remembered for serving as bad examples than good games.

Number 1: Star Citizen (Unreleased)

How can a game that hasn’t even been released be one of the biggest disasters of the generation? Simple: it’s become the textbook example of how crowdfunding can go wrong in the gaming realm. Star Citizen’s troubled development began way back in 2012, before any of the current-gen systems launched. And it raked in millions of dollars in crowdfunding from eager gamers – only to miss release window after release window, while continuing to beg and scrounge money out of its remaining loyal fans.

At this point, in late 2020, the team behind Star Citizen have raised – and mostly spent – over $300 million. That’s an utterly insane amount of money for any video game, and if reports and rumours are to be believed, it’s still nowhere near complete. What happened with Star Citizen is basically this: a developer had a decent idea for a game, put together a small team, and began work. But as the crowdfunding campaign took off the developers began to promise more and more features, leading to more development time. More development time in turn meant they needed more money, which meant more crowdfunding, which meant more features were promised, and the whole thing has spiralled out of control to the point where the game is an overhyped undeliverable mess.

Star Citizen isn’t a “scam,” because I firmly believe there were good intentions behind it. But the developers needed someone competent to manage the project before it got unwieldy, and someone in charge to prevent it from ever getting so out of control. The idea of selling in-game content for an unreleased game is already pretty shady, but when some of that content can cost thousands of dollars I think someone has to step in and say that it isn’t acceptable. It’s still possible the game will see a release – one day – but even if it does it’s hard to imagine it will be anything less than underwhelming in the extreme for fans who’ve waited years and hyped it to oblivion.

Number 2: Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)

Battlefront II saw the bubbling lootbox controversy boil over. Though it’s been over three years since its 2017 launch, the ramifications of that are still being felt as jurisdictions across the world move to regulate or ban in-game gambling. Electronic Arts has, for years, pushed the envelope for what gamers will tolerate in terms of in-game monetisation. And with Battlefront II they finally pushed too hard and too far.

The game itself is perfectly playable today, but only because EA ripped out as much of the gambling as they could before it hit shelves. Battlefront II also had poor timing, causing controversy in the Star Wars fandom at a time when The Last Jedi was already proving hugely divisive. The combination of the poorly-received game and film meant that Star Wars was in a dark place going into 2018.

Number 3: Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) and Anthem (2019)

Oh, Bioware. How heroes fall! For a number of reasons that boil down to project mismanagement, both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem were rush jobs, put together in months instead of years. And it showed. Andromeda was memed to death, and even though the worst of its bugs and visual glitches were fixed within days of launch by patches, the damage was done and the game’s reputation never recovered.

Anthem overpromised based on a trailer at E3 that was entirely fake. Players who did buy into the game found a half-finished and underwhelming live service experience, and promises of updates and more content weren’t enough to convince more than a few to stick around. As of late 2020, Anthem’s “roadmap” for further updates has been cancelled, and the game is essentially dead.

For a studio like Bioware, these failures feel so much worse because we know that they’re capable of producing some incredible games. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and the first two parts of the Mass Effect trilogy are among my favourite role-playing games of all time, so to see the buggy overblown side-mission that was Andromeda and the live service failure that was Anthem is nothing less than a colossal disappointment. There may be light at the end of the tunnel for this once-great developer, however, with a Mass Effect trilogy remaster having been announced a couple of days ago.

Number 4: Fallout 76 (2018)

As above, a developer once revered for its amazing experiences churned out a buggy, underwhelming online multiplayer title. Fallout 76 came after years of declining quality of Bethesda’s own titles, which included port after port of Skyrim and little else. I could never get past the fact that this was a Fallout game with absolutely no non-player characters. The heart of any game like this is its story, and a story needs characters. Fallout 76 thus contained little more than a moderately pretty environment – one built on an ageing engine meaning even the game’s visuals were hardly spectacular.

After walking around, checking out the scenery, and battling a few monsters, there was literally nothing to do. The gunplay was also mediocre to poor, something the Fallout series’ VATS system had masked in previous titles built on the same engine. But with multiplayer there was no way to implement VATS properly, meaning the game’s shooting had to stand on its own… and it fell down.

The first of these points – the missing NPCs – was eventually addressed in an update. But Fallout 76 has been own goal after own goal from Bethesda, including crappy product tie-ins that got recalled, a $100 premium membership, and more besides. The game was a bug-riddled disappointment.

Number 5: Shenmue III (2019)

Shenmue III is one of the biggest disappointments to me personally. Other titles in this section have their problems, but when it comes to my most-anticipated games ever, Shenmue III had been at the top of the list since 2001. After a dedicated group of hardcore fans raised an incredible $7 million through a crowdfunding campaign, the only thing I expected from Shenmue III was that it would finally finish Ryo Hazuki’s story.

In 2001, Shenmue II ended on a cliffhanger, with Ryo’s quest for revenge incomplete – and having just taken an interesting turn. But the failure of the Dreamcast – and the game’s lacklustre sales – meant no sequel was forthcoming. Yu Suzuki, the game’s creator, had always said that the Shenmue saga was an ambitious project, and that’s to be commended, but while I can’t claim to speak for every Shenmue fan, really my only expectation going into Shenmue III was that it would bring the story to a conclusion. If there was too much story to tell in a project this size, then someone had to come in and make cuts to all of the unnecessary fluff to make it fit. For some inexplicable reason, that didn’t happen. Fans raised millions of dollars to end on another cliffhanger. Does Yu Suzuki seriously think he’ll raise millions more to make Shenmue IV and Shenmue V to keep telling this story?

And that’s why it’s such a disappointment. It had one objective as far as I was concerned: finish the story. Fans donated their own money to make that dream a reality, but the developers blew it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a dead, failed series to come back to life and finish its ambitious story. I can’t get over the truly awful decision-making that meant it didn’t happen.

Games of the Generation

Now we come to my personal top ten. I played and loved all of these games this generation, and while there are many more that could have made the list, when I whittled it down these are the titles which made the final cut. These titles are not in any particular order, so this isn’t a ranked list. All ten titles are very different, and thus they’re all my Games of the Generation!

Number 1: Mario Kart 8 (2014)

Originally released for the Wii U in 2014, Mario Kart 8 has since reappeared – in “deluxe” form – on the Nintendo Switch. It isn’t particularly ground-breaking, simply refining and polishing the Mario Kart experience for the high-definition screens that became commonplace over the last decade. But that’s absolutely fine, because Mario Kart doesn’t need a radical overhaul; what keeps players coming back for race after race is that it’s pick-up-and-play fun.

The Switch version bundles the original game with its two DLC packs and adds a few new characters to the roster too. And that’s the way most players have experienced Mario Kart 8, since so few people owned a Wii U! It’s a shame that Nintendo chose to paywall its originally-free online multiplayer, and that decision deserves criticism as it’s awful to implement paid online features to a game that once enjoyed those same features for free.

Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is a lot of fun. Some will argue that the fun is best shared with friends, and though you could certainly make that claim I still find myself picking up the game for a quick race or two against the AI.

Number 2: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)

I played through Jedi: Fallen Order earlier this year, and I had a wonderful time. In fact, I’d go so far as to call the game the best Star Wars experience I’ve had in a long time, far surpassing some recent film and television attempts from that franchise! Cal’s journey from the shipbreaking yards of Bracca to, well, spoilers, was truly exciting.

This kind of linear, story-focused game has fallen out of favour with many of the bigger games publishers this generation. The rush to make every game an online experience (with recurring monetisation) has unfortunately seen less of a focus on titles like Jedi: Fallen Order; the Star Wars brand saw only the two Battlefront games in the years before its release. However, the success of this title both critically and commercially has already led to a sequel being developed – and hopefully demonstrated once again that there’s life in these kind of games!

Though I did encounter a few bugs and other issues during my playthrough nothing spoilt the experience. There were some great voice acting performances, interesting and varied planets to visit, a couple of neat cameos by characters from the films, and truly beautiful visuals that really brought the setting to life and truly immersed me in a galaxy far, far away.

Number 3: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of South Park. Its social commentary can be biting and funny, but sometimes it goes over-the-top to say the least! However, while I haven’t been a regular viewer of the series since I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, the game South Park: The Stick of Truth managed to catch my attention early in the generation. I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did!

The game’s visual style is practically identical to the television series, and that alone makes it interesting. Animated shows have been adapted as games many times, but rarely is the appearance so remarkably similar. I think that’s what first captured my attention, but what I found when I played the game for myself was a surprisingly fun role-playing experience.

Not every joke landed, and a few moments in The Stick of Truth were just plain silly. But as an authentic South Park experience that really feels like playing through an extended episode of the television series it’s something unique – or it was until a sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, was released in 2017.

Number 4: Ori and the Blind Forest (2015)

Ori and the Blind Forest never pretends to be a AAA blockbuster. It’s relatively short, with an average playthough lasting around eight hours, but those hours are spent in a beautiful, artistic world. The levels are diverse, and are interesting and challenging in equal measure as protagonists Ori and Sein bid to save their forest home.

Words like “masterpiece” and “beautiful” are thrown around all too easily these days, but I genuinely feel that both apply to Ori and the Blind Forest. For a game about spirits and sprites it’s surprisingly emotional too.

In a generation where Microsoft and Xbox lagged well behind Sony in terms of the quality of their exclusive games, Ori and the Blind Forest was a rare win. It’s since been followed up by Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a sequel which builds on everything the first game got right. Both titles are available on Xbox Game Pass, and are well worth a play for anyone who likes 2D platformers.

Number 5: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)

As with Jedi: Fallen Order above, Uncharted 4 is a linear, story-focused game. This generation has been dominated by sequels, and Uncharted 4 brings to a close the tale of Nathan Drake which began on the PlayStation 3 in 2007. What I love about the series is that it feels like a combination of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, setting up a mythical-historical mystery for Drake and his comrades to uncover.

The first three games in the series were fantastic, but Uncharted 4 was a step up. Truly stunning visuals that pushed the PlayStation 4 to its limit really helped with immersion, and the swashbuckling story was perfectly-paced and well executed. Naughty Dog is a fine studio, and they refined this style of gameplay to perfection by the time of Uncharted 4‘s release.

The PlayStation 4 has had some amazing exclusive games this generation. Whether Uncharted 4 is the best of them will always be a matter of debate, but for me it has to be at or near the top of any such list.

Number 6: Minecraft (2011)

This one is a total cheat since Minecraft was released a full two years before any of the current-gen consoles. But it isn’t unfair to say that the game has enjoyed continued success this generation, which culminated in parent company Mojang being acquired by Microsoft in a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money for a game I initially dismissed as a scruffy-looking pixel graphics mud hut-builder!

Minecraft became the best-selling game of all-time, and a phenomenon that took the world by storm. It introduced the gaming hobby to millions of new players, including many children, and its ubiquity on practically every platform helped that immeasurably. Even nine years after its initial release the game is still being played and replayed over and over. The Minecraft brand has also been expanded upon, with titles like Minecraft: Story Mode and Minecraft Dungeons set in the same fictional world.

Where I had the most fun with Minecraft is in multiplayer with friends, starting from scratch and building whatever we wanted. I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours were lost digging tunnels, mining resources, and planning how to build a castle with a lava moat or a city in the sky.

Number 7: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

The world of Middle-Earth has been ripe for video game adaptations ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas in the early 2000s, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor follows some truly outstanding games from years past. It took a step back from the books’ familiar characters, introducing players to Talion, an Aragorn-esque Ranger, as he takes the fight to Sauron.

What made Shadow of Mordor stand out mechanically as a video game was its revolutionary “nemesis” system. The game’s AI would track which Uruk commanders that Talion battled – and there were many! Those Uruk could not only become more powerful by killing the player, but defeating them was a key part of the gameplay experience. Orcs and Uruk could be promoted within Sauron’s army, and the aim of the game was to encounter and defeat them. Even now this gameplay mechanic is innovative, and it makes Shadow of Mordor a game with plenty of replay value.

Unfortunately the series was tainted somewhat by the in-game monetisation forced into its sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. While most of that has since been removed, the reputation of both games suffered. It’s a shame, because Shadow of Mordor is one of the best and most immersive experiences set in Tolkien’s world, and is still worth playing today.

Number 8: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Super Mario Odyssey took everything that had been great about 3D Mario games and condensed it into one phenomenal title. It dropped gimmicks from Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy and returned the series to a style much closer to the beloved Super Mario 64, which remains to this day one of my favourite games of all-time.

The level design was brilliant and incredibly varied, with water levels, desert levels, and even a voyage to the moon all on Mario’s agenda as he races to – once again – save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Hardly an innovative premise, you may say, but the fun of Super Mario Odyssey is in the gameplay rather than the story. There are very, very few titles about which I’d say something like that – so that should show you just how outstanding this game really is.

Despite being brand-new, Super Mario Odyssey gave me a hit of nostalgia and took me back to the mid-1990s when I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. It really does feel like an updated version of that classic game.

Number 9: Fall Guys (2020)

Fall Guys came out of nowhere this summer and surprised me! From the moment I heard the concept – jelly bean-like characters running obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout – I knew I had to give it a try. And despite my general dislike of online multiplayer titles, what I found was a truly fun experience.

Fall Guys makes it easy to jump into game after game, and because each round is so short, even losing doesn’t feel that bad. The different ways in which people play makes every round unique, and while it certainly has its frustrating moments the core gameplay is plenty of fun. A cheating problem plagued the PC version for a while, but an update brought in anti-cheat software and that issue has now all but died out, restoring the fun!

If you’d asked me at the start of the year – or even in June – what my top ten games of the generation were likely to be, Fall Guys wouldn’t have even been on my radar. And when I was putting this list together I was wondering if including it would seem like recency bias; ignoring older games in favour of one I picked up just a few weeks ago. But looking at it on merit, I had a lot of fun with Fall Guys, and I’m happy to include this fun, casual title as one of my top games of this generation.

Number 10: Subnautica (2018)

In the wake of Minecraft’s success many games attempted to recreate its survival and building/crafting features. Many of these so-called “Minecraft clones” were crap, but one survival game that took the genre to wholly new places was Subnautica. The game has an interesting story as players find themselves crash-landing on a watery planet and must explore, collect resources, and build their way to freedom.

Subnautica is one of the few games even in modern times to really get its underwater world feeling right. Many games are notorious for bad underwater sections or levels, and when the whole game is based around swimming and moving underwater, this was something Subnautica couldn’t afford to screw up! The skill and attention to detail that went into this aspect of the game really is incredible.

The underwater setting also made the game feel like something genuinely different in a survival genre that was full of samey titles. Subnautica managed to be something unique as well as plenty of fun, and that combination is greatly appreciated.

So that’s it. A few of the best games of the generation – in my opinion, at least. There are many, many titles that could have made this list, including games I’ve played but forgotten all about, and games that I didn’t get around to yet.

This generation has offered up some truly amazing experiences, and even as we begin the transition to new consoles, there will be more to come. Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite are both due in the next few months, and there will be a number of other titles released before production fully shifts to the new machines over the next couple of years.

On a personal note, this has been a generation where, for a number of reasons, I found myself playing fewer games than I had in the past. A combination of health, ageing, work, and other factors are to blame – if indeed blame needs to be assigned. Despite that, I had fun with all four of this generation’s major home consoles, something I can say for the first time as a generation comes to a close!

I have no immediate plans to purchase an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, so there won’t be new console reviews coming on the website any time soon. But I can save you the trouble: both machines will be iterative improvements on their predecessors, offering things like faster load times, better controller battery life, and so on. It will be several years before we see any significant improvement in game design or graphics, simply because most upcoming titles are cross-generation and will continue to be limited by the requirements of this generation’s hardware.

Hopefully this has been a fun and interesting look back at some of the highs (and lows) of this generation on the day we mark the official beginning of the next one.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, developers, and/or publishers. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.