Racing games can be great fun, but you know what can make them even better? Playing them with a replica steering wheel (and no, not the ones you sink your Wii Remote or Joy-Con into.) Just ask anyone who’s been to an arcade and played something like Mario Kart Arcade GP DX, Crazy Taxi or one of the many Cruis’n games. There’s something special about getting behind a wheel, slamming your foot to the floor and racing off into the sunset.
That’s why accessory manufacturer, Hori, is happy to be releasing not one, but two officially-licensed racing wheels for the Nintendo Switch: the Mario Kart Racing Wheel Pro Mini and Pro Deluxe. With these, you’ll be able to bring home a similar experience to playing your favourite racer in the arcade, and your little one can even have a wheel of their own. Awww.
Each of these wheels offers a very similar set of features (we’ll get to their unique features shortly) but their quality and size are really what changes most between the two different models. Right off the bat, you’ll be able to tell that the wheel on the Deluxe model is substantially beefier than that of the Mini (by roughly three inches.) Each wheel comes equipped with a number of buttons on the front to match the buttons found on a standard Switch controller, and feature two shifters on the backside of each wheel (which default functions are set to L and R buttons) that are perfect for boosting, drifting, shifting and lobbing items at your enemies.
You also won’t find analogue sticks on either of these wheels, however, there is a switch on the top of each wheel that allows you to change the input of the D-pad to the left stick or right stick, if you need it. Each of these racing wheels also come attached with a ten-foot USB cord that plugs straight into your Switch dock or USB hub.
Now sure, wheels are great and all, but it wouldn’t be a complete racing package without a set of pedals. Each racing wheel includes its own unique pedalboard that matches the size of their respective wheel and connects straight into the wheel with a cable similar to that found on an old-fashioned landline phone (someone found a way to repurpose some old cables, clearly). The pedals on the Deluxe model have quite a bit more resistance than those on the Mini, which not only makes them feel more realistic but also means the Mini model that much more child-friendly.
Now to talk specifics, we’ll start out with the Mini, which really is the perfect wheel for kids. The tension of the wheel is much more relaxed, the pedals shouldn’t give them much trouble to push, the turning radius is much smaller at 180 degrees and they’ll probably geek out at the fact that, unlike on the Deluxe model, the Mario 'M' in the middle of the wheel is actually a button that functions as the ZL button, which in Mario Kart fires off an item (or honks your in-game horn when you’re not holding one.) It’s a novel feature that kids will probably enjoy way more than we did.
The Mini wheel also has four suction cups on the bottom of its base that allow it to be attached to a hard surface for a more polished experience; however, like all suction cups in existence, they don’t always want to stay stuck when you need them to. The base is small enough though that the wheel can still be played comfortably resting in someone’s lap with little trouble. Also, the overall build quality does concern us a bit (especially as we know how kids can be); if this were to get stepped on or thrown too hard, the wheel could end up forfeiting its race career for good.
The Deluxe wheel really is the star of the show, designed with the more serious racer in mind. The wheel itself is much larger, snappier and features rubber grips, making it a more comfortable experience. Those aren’t the only tricks the Deluxe model has up its sleeve, though. The ZL and ZR buttons are actually set into the left and right wings of the wheel, allowing them to be pressed while steering, and the L and R Shifters are substantially longer, allowing for better ease of access when going around sharp corners.
The Deluxe model also includes five detachable suction cups and a separate adjustable clamp that allows the wheel to be fixed to any hard surface. The clamp is a real game-changer here and prevented us from being constantly worried by the thought of the wheel's suction cups coming up off the table. The pedals on the Deluxe also have an extra flap underneath that flips out, helping keep the pedals stabilized during heated races.
During our first few rounds of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with the Deluxe wheel, we felt pretty embarrassed by our skills as it took quite a bit of practice to get used to the wheel. But after a bit of digging through the manual, we realized that the Deluxe's range of motion was much larger at 270 degrees, versus that of the Mini's at 180 degrees. We felt that the shorter range of the Mini's wheel was better suited for something like Mario Kart, and thankfully there’s a way to make the Deluxe wheel operate similarily. By holding the ZR and Assign buttons together for three seconds, you’re able to activate QuickMode, which shortens the range of motion of the wheel down to that of the Mini's, which greatly improved our game.
Hori’s racing wheels are designed to be compatible with most standard racing games. The one we sunk the most time into, however, was Mario Kart 8, and it all worked perfectly. Some games, like Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled, use a different button layout for accelerating, boosting and tossing items. Thankfully, these wheels feature programmable buttons, so you can switch around each button and pedal press however you like.
Unfortunately, not all racing games will function properly with these wheels. A solid match of Rocket League requires the use of the camera and the ability to adjust the movement of your car mid-air, (you can use the D-pad on the wheel, but it’s less than intuitive) and after some testing, it just doesn’t seem like Rocket League is well suited for the wheel treatment.
We’re almost three years into the life of the Switch and we can see it’s amassing quite the library of kart racers and simulators; take into account the success of the Switch, and it's only natural to see the release a traditional racing wheel on the system. We’re happy to see Hori catering not just to adult racers, but also to a younger generation with their release of the Mario Kart Racing Wheel Pro Deluxe and Pro Mini.
The Pro Deluxe definitely delivers the more definitive experience, with its sturdier build quality and additional features, but that’s not to say the Mini doesn’t have its own place in the race. Depending on your age or playstyle, these are both great ways to experience some of your favourite racers in a new way on Switch.
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