Nintendo’s Wii U may not have set the market on fire, but it had one true merit: it had an excellent catalogue of games. Nintendo’s platforms have long thrived on the strength of their first-party releases, and one of the best-selling, most well-received franchises amongst those is Mario Kart. In 2014, Nintendo launched what was arguably the best Kart experience up to that point: Mario Kart 8, a superbly enjoyable racer that struck an expert balance between presentation, mechanics and pure fun-factor. It’s 2017 now, though, and with the launch of the Switch, Nintendo seems bent on roping on the many consumers that missed out on the Wii U and its stronger offerings. Enter Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
At a base level, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is merely a fully-featured port of the 2014 game, featuring all of the original release’s content, its DLC, plus a handful of new additions. Presentation-wise, Mario Kart 8 is just as gorgeous as it was when it released on the Wii U, featuring delightfully cartoonish character models, lively racing tracks and a wonderful orchestrated soundtrack. Like the Wii U version, Deluxe runs at a solid 60 frames per second (while playing with 1-2 players), resulting in buttery-smooth karting-action. The main rub is that Deluxe now outputs at 1080p on the Switch while docked, though it does revert to 720p resolution while running in handheld mode. Nevertheless, there aren’t many who would argue that Mario Kart 8 wasn’t already a beautiful game, and now it just looks better than ever.
In terms of content, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is practically overflowing. There are twelve cups, making for a total of forty-eight tracks, each of which are of excellent design, featuring a plethora of unique hazards and shortcuts. Additionally, there are now a total of forty-one characters to choose from (plus Mii characters,) including newcomers Dry Bones, King Boo, Boy Inkling and Girl Inkling (from Splatoon,) as well as an unlockable Gold Mario. Each race can be taken at four different speeds, ranging from 50cc all the way up to 200cc, and each racer can be customized with a ludicrous number of unlockable options in terms of kart customization.
Mechanically, Deluxe has a smattering of game-changing additions. “Fire-hopping,” an exploit that took advantage of the original release’s physics, is now gone. There is also a new tier to the boosts that players receive while drifting. Now, holding a drift long enough will cause purple sparks to erupt from the player’s tires, giving them an even longer boost over the orange sparks, providing players with a new option to consider in some of the game’s longer corners. The biggest change, though, is an additional item slot. Unlike the original Mario Kart 8, each racer can now hold up to a total of two items. Not only does this give lagging racers more opportunities to score an item that will help them catch-up, but it gives leading racers a higher chance of obtaining an item that will help to protect them from the opponents behind them. To go alongside the dual item slots, each track has been outfitted with a handful of Double-Item Boxes, which will naturally reward players that pass through them with two items as opposed to just one. This provides Deluxe a layer of strategy over the original release. So you’re in first place? Would it be better to take the optimal path and maintain your lead? Or should you consider slipping off your path a bit for a chance at scoring something that can protect you? It’s an excellent addition that not only makes races feel more active, but more balanced as well.
Also new to Deluxe is the revamped Battle Mode. Seeking to remedy the Battle Mode from the 2014 release, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features 8 new, true-arena style maps, designed specifically for Battle Mode. Each is unique and well-designed, featuring large circular areas that players are funneled into to participate in launching Koopa Shells and Bob-ombs at each other. On these maps, players can partake in five different modes: the classic Balloon Battle; Renegade Roundup, Mario Kart’s take on cops’n’robbers; Bob-omb Blast, a Bob-omb-only battle; Coin Runners, where player scores are tallied according to the number of coins held; and Shine Thief, a hectic king-of-the-hill style mode. Each mode is executed very well, and – taken as a whole – Deluxe’s Battle Mode manages to provoke the hectic, joyous memories of Battle Modes from previous entries in the franchise.
Multiplayer Mario Kart is, of course, more fun than ever in Deluxe. Up to four players can play off of a single Switch, and the variety of control options (ranging from the Pro Controller, to the Grip, to single Joy-Cons) combined with Switch’s portability makes initiating split-screen racing easier than ever. In terms of online-multiplayer, matches are easy to join and run smoothly once they’re going. Dropping in and out of a game with friends is as simple as selecting that friend from the game’s main menu, which is comforting considering the Switch’s current lack of a true online infrastructure.
If there is any criticism to be levied at Deluxe, it is that most of the game’s content is unlocked right out of the box. While this is likely a plus for players returning from the Wii U version, it will inevitably hamper the replayability of the game for its many, many new adopters. That aside, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is undoubtedly one of the Switch’s few must buy titles. Not only does it exemplify the Switch’s capacity for multiplayer, its beautiful visuals, exhilarating races and excellent new Battle Mode make for the best Mario Kart yet. If you missed out on the chance to experience the game on the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a no-brainer.