Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: The best ever version hits Nintendo Switch
If you seek evidence that Nintendo learned some major lessons from the Wii U’s humiliating failure, you need look no further than Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Its arrival so soon after that of the Switch console demonstrates that Nintendo has well and truly woken up to the necessity of providing its consoles with compelling games, as quickly as possible. Especially so when you consider that Mario Kart 8 was the only full iteration of any of its classic franchises to grace the Wii U.
And on Nintendo Switch, Mario Kart is as good as it’s ever been. Even more propitiously, Deluxe is much more than a mere tarted-up port of the Wii U original. Indeed, it’s the next must-own title for Nintendo’s latest console.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: More than a mere port
First up, Deluxe includes all Mario Kart 8’s downloadable content, which brings 16 new tracks, including Zelda and F-Zero themed ones, a bunch of new playable characters (there are 42 in all), karts and kart-parts, plus the 200cc mode which was added to Mario Kart 8 as an update. On top of all that, Battle mode has been completely – and very effectively – revamped. But what really surprises is that a number of small but significant tweaks and additions have been made which affect the core gameplay.
Perhaps the least significant of those are new driver aids which add auto-acceleration and steering assist (the latter removing the danger of plummeting off cliffs), designed to make Mario Kart 8 Deluxe accessible to those who are so young that they haven’t yet developed effective motor skills.
But there are plenty of additions which will excite die-hard Mario Karters, including double item-boxes – stacked one on top of the other – which give you two power-ups for the price of one. You can’t select which one to use first, but they still come in dead handy – and are generally placed in harder-to-reach positions.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also adds a third stage of drift-boost: drift around one of the longer corners, and the boost will go from blue to orange and eventually to purple, catapulting you forward when you exit the corner.
The Boo item – which lets you steal someone else’s power-up – is back, too, despite being absent from the original Mario Kart 8.
Such tweaks don’t fundamentally alter Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s gameplay, but they add to the potential for satisfaction or frustration, depending on whether you manage to beat someone to a double-item box or just get pipped.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: Battle mode reborn
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe contains all the original’s modes, namely Grand Prix – in which you race against 11 others, either human or AI-powered – Time Trials, VS Race (as ever, four-player split-screen is possible, and on the Switch a single Joy-Con is all you need to race, which you can fit into a tiny steering wheel accessory) and Battle.
Previously, Battle mode was the game’s only weak spot – abandoning Mario Kart’s pure racing, honed over a quarter of a century, in favour of party-style games that felt a tiny bit self-defeating. But Battle mode’s games have been heavily tweaked and added to in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, rendering them much more compelling than previously.
It now comprises five different games, of which the newest, Renegade Roundup, also happens to be the best. It splits participants into two teams, which are essentially cops and robbers. The “cop” team players get Piranha Plants and every opponent they chomp is transported to a jail. But they can be sprung if an elusive team-mate manages to hit the button below the jail.
Balloon Battle has been tweaked so that instead of being a case of last player with a balloon left wins, you’re apportioned points according to how many balloons you have at the end of each round.
Bob-omb Blast is similar to Balloon Battle, except the only available items with which to burst your opponents’ balloons are Bob-ombs; cutely, every player’s Bob-omb explosions are colour-coded.
Coin Runners involves collecting as many coins as possible – and firing items at rivals to steal their ones – while Shine Thief is all about finding a Shine and holding onto it as long as possible before someone else steals it.
Overall, the Battle mode games constitute great post-pub party-game fare, which is utterly in keeping with the Switch’s return to Wii-style party-games. And Nintendo has managed to make them all fun to play this time around, whereas in the past you might have found one which you liked and hated the rest.
Plus, for the Battle mode hardcore, there’s even a new technique you can learn – a sort of 180-degree handbrake turn – and you can set the items to ones which require skill to wield, such as green shells and boomerangs.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: Irresistible online
The online side of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the one element that Nintendo hasn’t tweaked, with good reason: it just works, seamlessly, addictively and with the minimum of fuss.
Pre-launch, it was frustratingly underpopulated, as you would expect, but with the Wii U original, Nintendo showed that it could cope with the demands of taking Mario Kart online. Hopefully the success of the Switch won’t lead to undue strain on its server infrastructure.
If we’re to nit-pick, we’d suggest that Nintendo could have made the ranking system – in which you lose or accumulate points according to where you finish – into something a bit more glamorous, and it would have been nice if the company had added some new conversational phrases to use in the lobby. But the sheer exhilaration of taking on human opponents remotely in a Mario Kart game is what matters.
And the Switch lends itself magnificently to local multiplayer – you can take your Switch round to a mate’s house and instantly compete wirelessly; with three Switches hooked up and enough controllers for four-player split-screen on each (best achieved with each Switch hooked up to a TV), you can even keep 12 people entertained simultaneously, which is mind-boggling.
If, like most, you never committed yourself to buying a Wii U, then you’re in for a treat with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch. It’s now 25 years since the first Mario Kart, and in that period, Nintendo has honed the franchise’s gameplay to utter perfection. No other game offers such a delicious mix of whimsy, skill and sheer brutality – the pain of being hit by a blue or red shell yards before the finish line while leading, and then being hit by a fusillade of items as the rest of the field catches and passes will live with you forever.
What is really gratifying about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is that it contains more than we expected. The 16 extra tracks are all good, and some are stone-cold classics. They even include a take on the NES version of Rainbow Road, bringing the number of Rainbow Road versions in the game to three. Graphically, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is superb – the original looked fabulous, but on the Switch, it’s even crisper, with much better textures – which won’t leave you thinking that the Switch is underpowered (not that that matters a jot).
Quite simply, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best ever version of one of the best ever games. If you own a Nintendo Switch, you would be mad not to buy a copy.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is released worldwide on 28 April 2017, exclusively for Nintendo Switch