Kart racing bliss.
Nearly three years ago today, with Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, Nintendo released what was arguably the best game in the Mario Kart series to date. The game tactfully merged what was widely considered to be the best elements from throughout the franchise into a single epic package, complete with 32 extremely detailed and well-balanced racetracks (all of them entirely unique, decorated with their own gimmicks, and augmented by a superior soundtrack—each race featuring a wholly different tune) alongside dozens of unlockable characters and car parts.
But aside from its uncommon level of polish and terrific presentation, the game astoundingly managed to walk a fine line between skill and chaotic fun usually only reserved for the best of the Super Smash Bros. series—and this, perhaps more than anything else, is what truly made it a top-tier videogame.
Nintendo really could have simply phoned it in with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, turning it into a GOTY edition and simply lumping in all of the DLC, slapping a full price tag on it, and calling it a day. And yes, Deluxe does include all of the DLC content, including all of the characters (plus six newcomers, bringing the grand total to 42), all of the tracks (that makes 48), and all of the additional customizable car parts. That’s a lot of content, and although we hardly could complain about what was included in the original package back in 2014, 48 tracks is difficult to criticize—especially when they are of the quality of those in MK8: Deluxe.
Almost all of this content is unlocked straight from the start, also, along with Mirror Mode and the intimidating 200cc. So what is there to do, you might ask?
Well, for starters, the game is fun as ever. But there are other changes as well to the design which really make this the ultimate kart racing experience.
It’s now possible to carry two items at once (think Double Dash!!), and to that end, the game has reintroduced the double item box. Although obviously this makes the racing action a bit more chaotic than it already was, it also introduces more opportunity for strategy for leaders as they have not one, but two items they can hang onto to defend themselves (it isn’t necessary to drag the items anymore to collect two simultaneously). Also adding to the (already relatively deep) repertoire of skill-based maneuvers is the addition of another level of mini-turbo during power-sliding which Nintendo refers to as the Ultra Mini-Turbo.
The next big change is a salute to all the parents out there who have ever handed their kid a controller and lied to them about how they’re playing along. Come on, we’ve all done it—and let’s face it, as family-friendly as Mario Kart is, it’s just not all that fun for the younger crowd when they’re playing with the adults. Well, MK8: Deluxe introduces Smart Steering and Auto-Accelerate: two features which go a long way toward closing this gap. Easily activated via the pause menu, the former keeps the kids on the track and prevents them from going in reverse (epic!), and the latter automatically keeps the foot on the accelerator.
This leaves the kids to focus on item collection and usage (if they please) and supplemental steering, and, quite frankly, it’s terrific. No more pausing to help junior turn their kart around, and no more crying and giving up over falling off the edge repeatedly. Now it’s just all about fun for the kids, while the adults can still focus on the real competition. And just in case you’re planning on enabling the feature covertly and hoping no one notices, the game only grants the opportunity of Ultra Mini-Turbos to those players who have Smart Steering disabled.
(By the way, activating motion controls is just as simple: pause the game, switch them on, unpause. Having all three options enabled is like the preschool trifecta.)
Apart from this, there have been other optimizations to the user interface and general streamlining across the board. Additions such as the ability to switch characters and vehicle selections while playing online without backing all the way out are greatly appreciated. Some of the character and vehicle part statistics have been rebalanced for a more consistent experience, and we found no complaints here. The only thing we regret is that matchmaking wasn’t improved—but we suppose that’s not much of a surprise to anyone. Oh, and the game now runs at a full 1080p resolution (as opposed to the 720p of the original Wii U title), and at 60 frames per second in 1- and 2-player split-screen (30 fps with 3/4 players). And, of course, it’s now portable (at 720p).
That’s a pretty healthy overhaul of an already fantastic videogame, but there’s one other major item that’s been added this time around: a true Battle Mode. No longer is this the half-baked, fun-for-an-hour version found in the original Mario Kart 8. Gone are the repurposed racetrack battle arenas (which were honestly awful, as we said in our original review), and replacing them are eight legit battle arenas, each with its own gimmicks, styling, musical presentation—the whole package.
Plus, the entire system has been reworked for the better. For starters, players now receive five balloons at the beginning of each battle, and if they happen to lose them all, they respawn with half the total score and 3 additional balloons. This means you’re never down and out—and it’s a great system. There’s also a brief snippet of invincibility after being hit, which is a nice touch (and it keeps things from getting overly frustrating).
All of the usual items apply, but you can also adjust the incidence of chaotic items to your liking, which is very much appreciated. As for the actual gameplay, the eight included arenas are far superior to those of the original MK8, with five completely new concepts (Battle Stadium, Sweet Sweet Kingdom, Dragon Palace, Lunar Colony, and Urchin Underpass) and three reworked classics (Wuhu Town from MK7, Luigi’s Mansion from Double Dash, and Battle Course 1 from the original SNES game).
On top of that, there are five battle modes to choose from:
- Balloon Battle: This is the traditional mode that everyone’s already familiar with. Pop your opponents’ balloons or run into them to steal them. The winner is the player with the most points at the end of the time period.
- Bob–omb Blast: You might recall this mode from Double Dash!!, where you attack your opponents using Bob-ombs only after collecting them; you can hold up to 10 at once. This time, progress is tracked using the familiar balloons (which is nice).
- Shine Thief: Speaking of Double Dash!! Modes, Shine Thief is essentially a game of keep-away, where the holder is slightly slower than the rest of the players, who are constantly trying to attack them to make them drop the Shine. The player who holds the Shine for the longest time wins.
- Coin Runners: This mode hails from Mario Kart 7; in it, players traverse the map collecting as many coins as possible.
- Renegade Roundup: This is an entirely new cops and robbers style mode where players are divided into two teams, the “Authorities” attempting to capture the “Renegades” using mounted Piranha Plants on the front of their karts. Captured players wind up in floating jail cells from which they can be rescued by teammates who drive over a marked tile nearby. If even a single Renegade is still free at the end of the time period, the Renegades win. It’s a fun mode that takes a little practice but strongly encourages some strategic cooperation. Too bad there’s no voice chat (*imagines his last experience with online voice chat* …maybe).
All in all, most of the battle modes are worth playing. Coin Runners is probably the least entertaining, primarily because it feels less strategic overall and therefore somewhat mundane. Regardless, bottom line, this is the battle mode that MK8 should have had to begin with.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is absolutely the best game currently available for the Nintendo Switch apart from Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For players who have never had the pleasure of experiencing the original Wii U title, this is a must-own and could be qualified as yet another killer app (even though it technically is a port). On the other hand, even if you own the original, this is the definitive Mario Kart 8 experience; in fact, it is the best Mario Kart game to date period.