Game Review: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

While I have an ok selection of games for my WiiU I just didn’t care much for the platform overall. Whenever a major release was available for the system like Windwaker HD or Bayonetta 2, I would dust off the glossy black console and have a few hours of enjoyment, the problem is, that just rarely ever happened. Mario Kart was one of those few titles that actually got me to hook the WiiU back up to the TV and make sure the batteries in my Pro Controller were still good and ready to go. I, like many people who owned the game, purchased the pretty cheap DLC bundles that added new tracks and of course, Link, from the Legend of Zelda. I was always puzzled by the fact that they never added Zelda herself, but I digress.

When the Nintendo Switch was announced an all too brief time ago, a revamped version of Mario Kart 8 was revealed to us via the fairly enjoyable advertisement trailer that showed us the console, it features, and what we as gamers could expect to play on the console/handheld hybrid. While many of us would love a Mario Kart 9 made for a fresh new console, what we got instead was not only the best version of Mario Kart 8 but the best Mario Kart game ever produced, it’s just that damn good.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe could have been your typical “Definitive Edition” in just giving us a better-looking version of a prior game, but Nintendo went the extra mile and added quite a bit of new content, gameplay fixes and the much-requested Battle mode, while also including 48 tracks and 42 characters as well, oh, and they are all available right from the get-go.

Every bit of the DLC content that WiiU users were enjoying back then is packed in here along with new characters; Dry Bones, Bowser Jr, King Boo, the Inklings from Splatoon and Gold Mario, whom of which is one character you do need to unlock.

Apart from the new additions to the roster, you can unlock new vehicles, tires, and the glider attachments that allow your Karts to fly across the gaps in nearly all the superbly designed tracks. Each of the new characters has Kart items that are themed around them, so the Inklings, for example, have pink and green paint splattered Karts and gliders to mix and match.

One of the new additions to the game is one that is been the topic of much discussion; Smart Steering. While the feature is something I totally agree with, it’s set to default without so much of a mention. Smart Steering allows newcomers to get the feel of the game without having to worry about some of the more challenging parts of racing fast paced Karts. Hard turns will be auto-made and your Kart will bounce back to the road much faster should it look like you are going to run into a wall. At first, I wasn’t sure what the game was doing and until I went online and saw a “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s biggest misstep” article, I didn’t even know the feature existed. I think Smart Steering is a great feature for newer players that may struggle with racing games or even those who are disabled in some way that prevents them from enjoying games like many of us take for granted. There are several other features here like auto acceleration and turning your controllers like steering wheels for a slightly more ‘realistic’ way to drive, and while fun, it’s just not as intuitive.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has also added in stacked power-ups, having a main item ready and queued up for instant use while also having one in reserve. You’ll encounter stacked power-up blocks on the course that instantly fill your inventory with two power-ups at the ready. Nintendo has added two new items for use as well; a feather that makes your Kart bounce over projectiles and a Boo item that will steal a power-up from another racer. Another feature that is sure to get speed demons excited is the 200cc Karts that are incredibly fast and depending on your skill, rather hard to control. Completion of the whole 200cc circuit will reward you with a very ‘Golden’ surprise. The drift has also been upgraded and further drifting will grant an even bigger boost than normal.

While the Deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 doesn’t offer us any new courses to race in, the 48 offered here are packed full of shortcuts, alternative paths, and so much else to explore. There are some nice touches that while not new, still impress, like the change of coins to Rupee’s in the Legend of the Zelda course, for example. Regardless of drifting across a set of piano keys, swiftly dodging the fists of a giant lava Bowser, or driving on the side of a wall while giant stone blocks smash down upon unsuspecting racers, there are some courses that I’ve raced a dozen times and still find new ways to get ahead or out maneuver my competition.

Visually, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is gorgeous, regardless of the docked 1080p 60 frames per second or the 720p 60 frame version of its handheld play. When Breath of the Wild released for the Switch on its launch day, it was evident that the title wasn’t optimized fully for the new platform as the title suffered from frame rate issues while docked, mostly due to its running at a higher resolution. While most of those issues were patched and looked to be mostly fixed, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs absolutely flawless and looks and plays like a dream. One aspect of Mario Kart that makes it a cut above realistic racers like Forza or Gran Turismo, is the fact that Mario Kart will age far better than games that are bent on offering extreme realism in a market that is consistently improving its graphical fidelity.

When Mario Kart 8 launched on the WiiU back in 2014, it did so without the popular Battle mode that fans were expecting. Instead of arena’s built for the mode exclusively, gamers were meant to play the mode on the existing race tracks, courses that were designed for racing, not battling. This move made the Mario Kart community rather upset and gamers took to forums to vent their frustration and even a petition was set up. Now it is unclear if Nintendo ever noticed this, or whatever happened, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe contains the Battle mode that fans were wanting, and even more, actually.

Battle mode returns with five new modes to play with friends, or random strangers online, with each mode offering a slight variation on the classic Battle mode formula. Balloon Battle is your standard Mario Kart fare with trying to pop the Balloon’s that are attached to other players. Bob-omb Blast is the same mode except all items are replaced with the Bob-omb explosives. Coin Runners is all about collecting coins and should you take damage, well, you’ll lose coins. Renegade Round-up is a cop’s and robber’s mode where you’ll need to snatch up other players with a piranha plant Kart or escape until time runs out. Shine Thief is a game of keep-away with a Shiney Star that you’ll need to hold onto as long as you can.

About the only mode that I didn’t think was as fleshed out as it could have been was Coin Runners. It just lacks the polish of what the other modes bring to the game. Renegade Round-up, is a frantic and fun time no matter which side of the match you are on. I really enjoyed Bob-omb Blast as you can take out a few players with a well timed shot and it can change the flow of the match drastically. I played a few rounds of Shine Thief, and while I am not terribly great at it, I plan on trying it feverishly until I manage to hold it for a solid chunk of the match.

About the only problem I really have with the game is Nintendo once again not having an idea on how to handle online multiplayer for its major franchises. There is no voice chat to chat with other players, and about the only way to communicate with anyone in-game is through the scripted “Don’t go easy on me” or “Hi!” chat bubbles above your character. The fact we have to use programs like Skype or what-have-you is awful. Another oddity is the inability to invite friends to matches, a move that makes no sense at all. If this is the sign of what to expect from Nintendo and their online service for the Switch, it makes me question about paying for it later in the year when it is no longer free.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, despite its online issues, is one of the best games for the Nintendo Switch and is an absolute must-have for this console, even if you own the WiiU version right now. The added characters, all DLC unlocked, and the new (and insane) 200cc racing mode is a blast. The Battle mode alone makes this a justified purchase as it adds something that was painfully missing from the WiiU release. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is damn near perfect and frankly, stop reading this and go buy it now.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was played and reviewed on a retail copy for the Nintendo Switch. All screenshots were taken on the Nintendo Switch console and uploaded to Twitter.

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