Mario Kart has always been the amazing proof that you never know exactly what people will enjoy. The concept, on paper, is ludicrous: take characters from a popular side scrolling platformer and make them drive in go karts. Oh, and they also throw things at each other, so it’s not only driving prowess, but also targeting accuracy. Insane. But through over twenty years, Mario Kart has been a nonstop franchise, and the latest installment, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, is no exception.
First, we need to revisit what makes this deluxe and why it’s on the Switch instead of, say, Mario Kart 9. Nintendo put out an unbelievably great game on the WiiU, gave it love and care, and polished it really well with some DLC that added new courses, cars and drivers. Sadly, the WiiU never got the widespread love it deserved, and millions of people never got a chance to play the newest installment (outside of maybe at an event or your local GameStop). So it makes a lot of sense for Nintendo to take a great game that already exists and put it onto the Switch with some extra bells and whistles.
This isn’t some quick and dirty port, either. The in-house team at Nintendo took a lot of time to make sure their first official Switch port was a good one (I don’t count Breath of the Wild since it was a simultaneous release). The game runs smooth as butter up and down the field, both on the big screen and portable. In fact, I highly recommend the average user take at least one opportunity to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in handheld mode to marvel at exactly how nice it looks. While we’ve seen several games experience severe drops in framerate or quality when traveling, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe does a marvelous job of maintaining a fluid look even with a two player mode enacted, either battling or racing. The 1080p on the television really pops, and 720p in handheld is comparable to how the original WiiU version appeared; again, seeing is believing, so take Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the go with you!
This has optimization written all over it, and there’s been a ton of overhaul under the hood as well. Character weight classes have been re-balanced, the effects of the different new car models has been considered, and there is more versatility in considering how to set up your car, tires and glider.
There is still plenty to unlock, though Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gives you almost all the drivers out the gate (there is one extra character from beating all the circuits at 200cc, good luck). Tires, vehicles and gliders come with the addition of coins, so incentive exists to play and beat everything all over again. The new and old drivers alike are welcome additions: I have a huge fixation with Splatoon, and the Inklings mesh well into the series, arguably better than Link or the Animal Crossing gang. The return of King Boo, Dry Bones and Bowser Jr. adds some much-needed “bad guy” driver balance, something that often gets swept under the rug when the roster gets too big. Not to mention the Amiibo costumes from the previous Mario Kart 8 are available with the addition of Splatoon costumes, which…well, that’s probably important to someone.
The addition of double item box style (a la Double Dash) is hard to really judge one way or another. When you’re in first, it’s kind of moot since you’ll just end up with two items that you don’t really need (though the chance to get Super Horn increases, so that’s nice). When you’re further behind, doubling up on things becomes borderline mayhem, as I got a bullet and a star in the same go. The result was rocketing from 8th to 2nd with minimal effort. But it really makes sense when you get to the new battle modes. Oh, battle mode. If ever there was a massive short coming with MK8, it was the total lack of being able to beat the hell out of your friends in a variety of ways. Balloon Battle is pumped up to five balloons, three old modes return (Shine Thief, Coin Runners and Bob-Omb Blast), and Renegade Roundup, though not my favorite, is still a worthy addition to the set. The revamped battle mode also serves to remind both players and creators that they have a HUGE back catalog of material to choose from when they talk about porting things to the Switch. There are other drivers, modes and ideas that could come in the future, and it might require a bit of elbow grease but people would buy it.
The two returning items are a big letdown, in my opinion. I can see the appeal of the feather, because it can be invaluable in the arena, and could bring some great shortcuts onto the already existing tracks. However, in 9/10 times, I’m just going to jump in place to use it asap and grab something else. And the Boo never comes to me when I want it to. Never. I use my ghost and steal a green shell, woo. Meanwhile, I’m holding onto the blue shell so no one can fire it when I get into first, and it’s the first thing that gets stolen when I claw my way to the top. Thanks Nintendo! Your AI is a sociopath. I would have loved to see Nintendo grab a couple of items from the Mario Kart GP arcade game and bring them in. Driver virus could have been amazing. There’s probably some IP logistics that I don’t understand that totally prevents this, but whatever, I’m dreaming here.
This game is difficult to review because, not only does it already exist on another platform, you’d be able to find reviews that are only a couple of years old and are basically spot on for everything I want to say about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The question remains: should you get it? If you’re a Switch owner and you missed the WiiU generation, the answer is a resounding YES. It’s the fastest selling Mario Kart so far, and that’s not just because of good marketing. This is proof positive of what Nintendo can do with time, effort and proper expectations. Hell, this should make anyone who’s remotely interested in Mario Odyssey salivate with anticipation. If you genuinely don’t like racing games, I highly recommend giving it a try, as Mario Kart continues to stay in a lane all it’s own and defy what a “racing game” is meant to be.
If you, like me, owned both a WiiU and Mario Kart 8 AND bought all the DLC, I would recommend waiting for just a bit. The battle modes are super fun and it does run a lot better (loading time is basically nonexistent). But I firmly believe that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will end up as a greatest hits title, and will be available for much less several months down the line. Also, Nintendo learned a lot from the WiiU, in terms of DLC. I doubt this will be the final incarnation of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and we may see even more added onto this jam-packed game before long. This is a perfect Mario Kart, though, so don’t wait too long!