Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review: Return of the King
Deluxe puts one of the best games from the ill-fated Wii U generation in the hands of a whole new audience.
Despite its all-too-sudden end, the Wii U’s price tag was almost entirely justified by the release of two titles: Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. If not for the pedigree of each game in their respective genres then at least for the sheer amount of hours you can invest in both titles.
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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch
I never had the pleasure of reviewing Mario Kart 8 when it first released, so it’s nice to finally share some thoughts on what was and is one of the best games of the current generation.
If there’s any initial concern for reinvesting another $60 to $90 for Mario Kart 8 on the Switch platform, it’s mostly thanks to the small amount of additional content you receive. Deluxe packs in all previous DLC from the last generation and adds five new racers (Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl, King Boo, Dry Bones and Bowser Jr.) and a brand-new Battle Mode with 8 arenas to play with.
I for one and am always down for new racers. Unlocking new characters has been the impetus for progressing through a game since the early days of gaming. While it’s a shame that they’re either all unlocked at launch or blocked by a paywall it’s hard to complain about a further expanded roster.
The new characters on show in Deluxe are also a blast to play with. Most notably, the Squid siblings. Their squelchy sound effects and colourful jump animations make for a fun race and they were the first characters that let you properly flip off your opponents with a bras d'honneur (though this was removed in a recent update once Nintendo caught wind it was offensive gesture).
Deluxe’s other new feature and most noticeable change is its improved Battle Mode. This mode on Mario Kart 8 for Wii U was almost universally ignored. This was thanks mostly to the weird choice of re-using the standard racing tracks for the Battle Mode stages, which don’t compliment the chaos of flying Red Shells and Bob-ombs in the slightest. Battle Mode on the Deluxe introduces 8 tailor-made arenas (including Splatoon’s Urchin Underpass) and four new Battle Mode types (two returning from previous Kart games).
In addition to the classic Balloon Battle, there are four new types of Battle Mode matchups. Renegade Roundup is a classic game of cops and robbers where the fuzz use Piranha Plants to chase down the crims. Bob-omb Blast lets you stockpile as many Bob-ombs as you can carry, making for an explosive match-up. Shine Thief makes its first appearance since Double Dash and tasks the player with finding and holding onto a Shine Sprite for an allotted amount of time.
And Coin Runners makes a return, asking players to stockpile more coins than their opponents without getting flogged with a Red Shell.
While Renegade Roundup and Shine Thief are strong contenders, Coin Runners may be the best of the bunch. To collect coins you have one of two options: circle around the hotspots where coins spawn and/or shake your opponents down. However, as you collect coins, they stack above your racer’s head. This literally puts a mark on your head and encourages other racers to gang up and steal your bounty.
It ramps up the tension as you constantly swap between desperately dogging the champion, to hot footing it when you’re on top. It’s truly more exhilarating than I ever imagined Battle Mode could be after being let down by the Wii U’s abysmal balloon battles.
Aside from the extra trimmings, there’s also Mario Kart 8’s main attraction, the racing.
As mentioned earlier, Deluxe comes with all the DLC from last generation and everything new included. It’s the best possible version of Mario Kart 8 (or any Kart game for that matter) available until Nintendo releases a new round of DLC for Deluxe (if they do at all). So the karting aspect is as polished as it has ever been with the slight bonus of being able to hold two items at once.
This may not seem like a drastic shake-up to Mario Kart’s core gameplay but who it does benefit is the racer coming first.
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The biggest plight of leading the pack is getting coin after coin from item boxes, which add a tiny speed boost and increase your maximum speed but aren’t a huge help otherwise. Doubling down on items means the leading racer has a better chance of scoring a Green Shell or at the very least a banana to protect themselves from incoming attacks. Mario Kart has mostly done a good job of balancing item drops dependent on your distance from the win.
This makes sure someone already in front can’t drop a gold mushroom and fill even more distance between the winner and the deadweights (you know who you are). An extra item in the arsenal usually means the one in front gets a coin as well as a last ditch defence strategy.
As for the broader gameplay, everything else remains a carbon copy of Mario Kart 8 for Wii U so it’s unsurprisingly as tight as ever. Where returning players may have trouble adapting is with the Switch’s cramped split Joy-Con configuration.
The beauty of Mario Kart 8 on the Switch is the ability to sort out an argument anywhere, anytime. The most convenient way to go about this is by popping off a single Joy-Con for each player. Turned on the side, the Joy-Cons admittedly get a little cramped. While the joined configuration or Pro controller are hands-down the more superior way to play, the convenience of being able to race your mates without forking out for an extra controller wins out.
Playing with a single Joy-Con also becomes second nature after a few races anyway. Playing on the Switch screen also becomes increasingly difficult the more players you add, dividing the windows on the screen. Again, it’s not enough of an issue to mar the game’s versatility which is truly Deluxe’s greatest strength.
The only downfall the switch to Switch brings is the new console’s unreliable online service. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the first game to truly put the Switch’s online service on trial and early impressions aren’t fantastic.
While I waited nowhere as long in the lobby as I did when Mario Kart 8 first launched on Wii U, I have experienced persistent connection problems when playing online. Not just global, but with private friends and rivals matches too. The most common issue has been a disconnection mid-way through a race, the most frustrating of its kind.
It’s tempting to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt, expect they’ll improve the service over time. It’s just a bit of a kick in the teeth when you consider how poorly handled the Wii U’s online services were and how Nintendo kept details of the Switch’s online service on the hush even after the console’s launch.
I have to admit, I wasn’t too thrilled when I found out I would be forking out for essentially the same game I had paid full price for just two years ago but that was unfounded. What I really hadn’t considered at the time was just how much the Switch’s hybrid handheld nature would impact how I played the game that I already loved so much.
The 25-minute commute has become valuable practice time. Lunches are now spent fitting in a quick match in the office. Friday afternoons are now more or less dedicated to flogging my workmates in a tournament (said floggings may or may not be reciprocal).
I underestimated the Switch and I underestimated my love for Mario Kart. We’ve had no problem forking out full price for “ultimate” all-inclusive editions of fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Marvel vs. Capcom in the past, and Mario Kart 8: Deluxe actually offers more content than the original ever did, even when factoring in DLC.
It really does deserve the Deluxe title.
We reviewed Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.