Whenever a Mario Kart game graces a Nintendo console, you know it’s going to be something special, bringing the latest rendition of the best and most enduring kart racing series. The difference with the Nintendo Switch, however, is that we’ve been here before. Or have we? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the first time that we see Nintendo remastering a game in the series, but they’ve also seen fit to revisit, tweak and add to what was already an incredible game.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers up a staggering amount of content, rolling in the two DLC bundles to include a whopping 48 tracks – 24 remakes and 24 originals – all of which have been designed to make use of the underwater and hang gliding of previous entries and the effortlessly integrated anti-gravity racing that was new for this game. There’s practically every character from the Mushroom Kingdom (except Birdo), and even a number of additions from outside the pantheon of Mario characters, such as Link and Animal Crossing villagers – sadly, the Mercedes GLA cars have been made a permanent part of the roster. Deluxe adds a few extras to that, with the return of King Boo and Bowser Jr., as well as the addition of Splatoon’s Inkling Boy and Girl.
It would have been easy for Nintendo to simply do a straight port to the Switch, get it to run at a flawless 1080p and 60 frames per second when docked and equally sublime 720p60 in handheld, and release it as is. There’s a good argument to be made that Mario Kart 8 is already the best karting game out there, but Nintendo saw room for improvement and a little bit of tinkering with the formula.
Some are more obvious than others, like being able to hold two items at once and the return of double item boxes from Mario Kart: Double Dash. It adds a little more thought and strategy to how you use items and encourages their use, though you have to use items in the order you pick them up and cannot switch back and forth.
More subtle is the new pink boost that you get for drifting an achingly long distance around corners. It’s worth it though, boosting you for around 2.5 seconds, compared to the 1.5 seconds of getting yellow sparks to light under your tyres. Similarly, only a small subset of players will delve into the Time Trials and discover that there’s a new 200cc mode and new developer ghosts and times to try and beat.
At the other end of the scale, Deluxe aims to be all the more accessible. Turning the game on for the first time, the game defaults to having auto steer and auto accelerate turned on, removing some of the difficulties that newcomers might have faced in learning some of the more treacherous tracks. You still need to steer and play to be competitive, but get too close to the edge and little antenna light at the back of the kart lights up as the game nudges you back on course.
That’s an important point, because the Switch can be taken anywhere and played by anybody, with people grabbing the Joy-Con on either side for some impromptu split screen. Additionally, there’s now support for local multiplayer over Wi-Fi for up to eight players or ethernet for up to twelve. In both modes, people can play with a Switch of their own or with two player split screen – four player split screen is the preserve of multiplayer on a single system.
Online play worked flawlessly prior to release, which shouldn’t be a surprise as it’s functionally identical to the Wii U version. Whatever lag is present is dealt in a forgiving way and the only thing that ever stood out is that item boxes sometimes don’t disappear when they’re picked up, meaning that players behind can pick up that same box. It does nothing to really affect the way a race pans out, which can be just as frantic and madcap as ever.
Battle Mode also makes a welcome return – let’s pretend that the Wii U’s poor excuse for Battle Mode never happened, shall we? Eight new and remade tracks, one of which is themed around Splatoon, but it now goes beyond a simple Balloon Battle. Bob-omb Blast is a quick variant where it’s all bombs, all the time, Coin Runners is a complete change of pace as you try to grab and keep hold of as many coins as possible, Shine Thief has players scrapping to hold the Shine until their personal countdown times out, while Renegade Roundup has one side chasing after the other with Piranha Plants trying to chomp the renegades and lock them up in jail.
It’s great to have Battle Mode make a return, and it makes for a fantastic change of pace to the kart racing, but what’s even more pleasing is the variety in these five game modes. They each ask different things of you, so you might suck at Bob-omb Blast’s combative play, but be exactly the kind of slippery racer that excels at breaking teammates out of prison in Renegade roundup.
The only criticism I have of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is actually that none of these tweaks, changes and improvements are being rolled back to the Wii U original. It makes perfect sense, of course, giving Wii U owners that little bit more impetus to buy the game a second time for Switch, as well as ensuring there’s no loop hole to get out of paying for online multiplayer, but it’s a shame that people are being left behind. Of course, that does nothing to detract from Deluxe as its own entity.
Mario Kart 8 was already a simply sublime kart racer on Wii U, but Nintendo have managed to make it just that little bit better. From the new and improved Battle Mode to tweaks that add more depth for veterans and more accessibility for novices, a great deal of thought and effort went into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, beyond simply porting it to Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe continues to be the best in the business, and now you can play it on the train.