One of the best Christmas presents I ever received as a kid growing up was Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo. At the time I simply wanted it because it mixed Mario with go-karts and it looked like it could be a fun time. I hadn’t played it anywhere else, so it was a bit of blind faith to ask for it as one of my big Christmas presents back in 1992. I still remember having a blast playing the GP mode and racing all of the other Mario characters around the track. “Look at that Mode-7!” I’m sure I exclaimed to my friends. But it wasn’t until we hooked up a second controller and played the Battle Mode all night long and into the wee hours of the morning that I realized just how amazing of an experience this game was.
Ever since then, the various Mario Kart sequels have had varying degrees of success with the Battle Mode. I especially have fond memories of Mario Kart 64, but I lived in the college dorms at the time with no shortage of friends stopping by on a daily basis to play. So, when Mario Kart 8 arrived on the Wii U back in 2014, I was wowed by its graphics, its music, the wonderful antigravity tracks, and the 32 tracks included in the base package. I was, however, vastly let down by the Battle Mode, a watered-down version that didn’t even feature special battle tracks. Fast forward to today and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch rectifies that mistake by keeping all of the amazing stuff from the Wii U version, axing the old Battle Mode, and replacing it with perhaps the best one yet.
A recurring theme with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is that the game gives players plenty of options. In fact, very often you have options on top of options, which is a fantastic way to give everyone something they’re sure to enjoy. With Battle Mode you have five completely different sets of games: Balloon Battle, Renegade Roundup, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners, and Shine Thief, all of which can be played on any of the eight different battle arenas. You can choose to play on teams or solo in any configuration you like. You can customize the items that will appear in the rounds, set the time limit of each battle, and turn on or off the computer controlled vehicles (also set their difficulty and you can choose bikes only or karts only if that’s your jam). You can select each course you play or turn it to random, select the number of rounds to play, and all of this can be done locally with four players on the TV or you can even go online and play for a total of twelve people battling it out. All of this is just in Battle Mode!
Out of the five different games available to play in Battle, Renegade Roundup is the only brand new entry. Here you are split into teams and it plays out like cops and robbers. One team drives around with a Piranha Plant, complete with a light and siren that goes off when you approach a renegade racer, and tries to eat and capture members of the other team. If you’re caught you are placed in a cage above the track and the only way to escape is for one of your teammates to come and rescue you by driving over the button under the cage. The game ends when all of the renegades are captured or the time runs out. Points are awarded for rescuing your team members as well as capturing racers. If the score is tied, the win goes to the renegades. This is a very fun mode to play and can get quite chaotic with twelve people online. In my experience the cops often hang out under the cages so it’s more difficult to spring your teammates free, but luckily there are weapons to be picked up so you can temporarily stun them as you race over the button to release your friends.
The other Battle games are fun as well, with my favorite of the bunch being the traditional Balloon Battle. If you’ve ever played a Mario Kart before you’ll know how this works. Your goal is to pop the balloons of the other players. You get a point for each balloon you pop. If you can take out all five balloons from a competitor they’ll be eliminated from the game for a few moments, but unlike some of the previous games, they’re not out for the count. They’ll come back and can keep playing to seek out revenge. One of the returning special items this time around is the Feather from the very original Super Mario Kart. Players can strategically use this to dodge incoming attacks, jump up on certain barriers, and if executed just right it’s even possible to jump up and steal an opponent’s balloon!
Bob-omb Blast is identical to this mode except you only get to use Bob-ombs, but what’s cool is you can stockpile them and unleash like 9 of them at once on your enemies. Your own blasts don’t hurt you, so hurl them like crazy!
Shine Thief has each player trying to snag the big yellow Star Shine and hold onto it as long as possible to earn points. Every other player will constantly try and steal it, so get those power slides ready, you’ll need them.
Coin Runners is easily my least favorite mode. Here each player tries to collect as many coins as possible while the other players try and steal them from you. It’s just not that satisfying because if you manage to knock some coins off of an opponent, you then have to stop, turn around and gather the coins before someone else does. It causes most players to drive slow, go in reverse, and the whole fiasco is just a stop-go, stop-go mess that isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the other games.
Making a return for the first time since Mario Kart: Double Dash is a double item box. Just like in the GameCube classic, racers can now hold two items at the same time! This is a great addition, as it essentially doubles your firepower. However, unlike the aforementioned game, you cannot swap them on the fly. You must use them in the order they were picked up. Still, this does create an extra layer of strategy when you have two items at your disposal and adds even a little more chaos to an already crazy game. Speaking of returning things, the Boo power-up is back in all of its glory. It gives you temporary invisibility and it steals an item from one of your competitors, which can be especially satisfying when it lands you an extra lightning bolt or blue shell.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is loaded with tracks and characters. It contains all of the content from the Wii U original plus its extra DLC and even a few more things to boot. For the number aficionados out there, the game now has 41 characters to race as (42 if you count your Mii), 12 cups to participate in, for a total of 48 tracks to race on! You can do this in 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, 200cc, and Mirror. All of these options are unlocked from the get-go; you don’t have to unlock any of them. This is both a blessing and a curse because having everything unlocked is great for playing multiplayer matches, but part of the fun of the single-player experience is discovering new characters and tracks. Luckily the car parts still need to be unlocked, which can be done by collecting coins while racing.
This does lead us into a problem the series has had for awhile: its somewhat lackluster single-player mode. Although there is plenty of content here, the game doesn’t do a great job of tying it together nor does it incorporate any fun new ideas. You’re still going to play one Cup at a time, each comprised of four races in the GP mode. It would have been far more exciting if the game experimented with adding an Adventure Mode like Diddy Kong Racing or some other challenges like the original DS version had. For many, what’s here will be enough: there are 48 tracks to perfect in four different speed categories. The problem is there isn’t really a big enough incentive to mastering all of them.
As is typical of a Mario Kart game, Deluxe has impeccable gameplay and the controls are spot-on. As is the nature of the Switch, the game gives you almost unlimited controller options, so you’re bound to find one that fits your style. You can play with just one Joy-Con, and when doing so you can choose to use the analog stick to steer or turn on motion controls. They even sell an optional steering wheel to fit your Joy-Con into, similar to what was found on the Wii. One of my favorite ways to play the game is with two Joy-Cons separated, one in each hand. They feel great in this game and the HD Rumble is really fantastic with this configuration. I didn’t realize just how terrible the rumble was in the Wii U GamePad (and absent in the Wii U Pro Controller) until I played this version. I think it makes for a much better experience to have it here. My absolute preferred method is to play with the Pro Controller as it feels perfectly made for this game. Of course if that’s not an option you have, the Grip works just fine as well!
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an amazingly pretty game. My first experience with it was on the Switch screen in handheld mode, and wow does it shine here. The colors almost pop off the screen and everything is so detailed and shiny. Holding it closer to the face I noticed a lot of little effects and animations I never really saw before. If you’re upgrading from Mario Kart 7 on 3DS to this one, you’re in for one heck of graphical treat. Of course the game looks fantastic on the TV as well, displaying in 1080p now with 60 frames per second. The game is buttery smooth with no hitches in the frame rate whatsoever, even when chaos erupts with karts spinning out and explosions galore. As is typical of many of Nintendo’s games, the little details are staggering here. Each track features its own starting line banner that matches the location you’re currently racing. The spectators on the sidelines are often different depending on the locale as well. Each racer is fully animated and they will look at you as you race by and have different facial expressions. Each track and the world surrounding it have been so painstakingly realized that it all looks perfectly natural. It’s always a treat to go back and watch replays, especially when something spectacular happens. I absolutely adore the slow motion button and it’s during these moments that you realize just how much work went into the graphical design of this game.
As fantastic as the graphics are in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the music and sound effects are on par if not better. There has never been a game in the franchise to put as much work into its soundtrack as this one. Each of the 48 different tracks has a completely different theme and all of them sound amazing. Some of them are remixes of previous games, since some of the tracks have been reborn here as well. Many of the musical numbers feature a big band sound to them, complete with jazzy instruments and an exhilarating beat that really gets the blood pumping for some serious racing (hey Mario Kart can be deadly serious!). Each character has a few lines to say and it all comes together perfectly here.
The biggest draw of any Mario Kart game is the multiplayer experience. While the game supports local play with up to eight Switches, it also allows for the traditional couch competitive four player matches on the TV. But, let’s be honest, many of us don’t have friends or family over all the time to play, so luckily there’s a robust online mode here as well. You can play Versus or Battle with up to twelve people in a single match. If you do have someone at home that wants to play, you can even take him or her along for the ride with the two of you entering an online match together on one Switch. You can even create or join a tournament, and there are tons of options and rule sets that you can customize to create just the experience you’re looking for, including: the frequency, the days and times, and even who has access to the tourney. It can be insanely fun to set up a weekly event with your friends and see who comes out on top.
If you’ve never played Mario Kart 8 before, then Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a complete no-brainer; pick it up instantly! It’s one of the best multiplayer games ever created and it’s some of the most fun you’ll ever have playing a console game. If you already own the game on the Wii U, then you have to decide if the new features are worth your money. For me, simply having Mario Kart 8 in portable form was enough to double-dip. The fact that the Battle Mode has been completely revamped and is now the most feature-rich of any in the franchise should also be a deciding factor. Other smaller improvements, such as: double items, auto-steering for the non-experienced Mario Kart players out there, purple sparks for an even bigger boost if you expertly drift around corners, the return of the Feather and Boo items, and all of the DLC from the Wii U version plus new characters like Inkling Boy & Girl from Splatoon could push many Wii U owners over the edge for a second purchase. All of these features add up to the best version of Mario Kart ever created and one that shouldn’t be missed.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review
Final Thoughts: OUTSTANDING
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best game in the franchise’s history. This game is absolutely packed with content and the insane amount of multiplayer modes will keep gamers coming back for years to come. Worth every penny!