Mario makes his debut on the Nintendo Switch in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the definitive version of the Wii U original that sped its way into our homes in 2014.
While I had a couple of issues with the original game – the lack of an ideal Battle Mode and online features – Nintendo has sought to bring back the original’s solid racing gameplay and then some.
Mario Kart 8 was and is, arguably, the best Mario Kart game that Nintendo has made. It’s definitely my personal favorite in the entire series thus far. One would think that it would be hard for Nintendo to improve on greatness, yet they still managed to do it.
Right out of the box Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes all previously released DLC from the original game. That’s the Egg, Triforce, Crossing, and Bell Cups- including Link and Isabelle of The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing fame, respectively. What’s more is that Nintendo has also tossed in new racers to the mix with the likes of the Splatoon Inklings, Bowser Jr., and King Boo. The blazingly fast 200cc speed class is also available from the start.
The retail price tag of $59.99 begins to look more reasonable with the aforementioned extras accounted for, but we still haven’t discussed the return of Battle Mode. By return, I mean the true return of a traditional Battle Mode. The original Mario Kart 8 lost points with me due to its straying away from what fans of the series knew and loved since Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Battle Mode traditionally involves a boxed-in battle course in which the goal is to pop your opponents’ balloons before all yours are popped. You knew that you could expect old fashioned karting mayhem when everyone is essentially playing a cage match. However, Battle Mode in Mario Kart 8 abandoned the use of boxed-in battle courses, substituting them instead with the existing full scale racetracks of the game. While the balloons were there, the heat-of-the-moment immersion was lost with the absence of the small scale battle courses. It was a surprising omission for the series.
Nintendo has rectified that mistake in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe by not only bringing back the ideal Battle Mode, but a plethora of new ways to play competitively. Balloon Battle is exactly as we remember it. Duking it out to pop balloons. This mode gains much needed longevity by giving each player five balloons rather than the expected three. Bob-bomb Blast features the titular explosives as the mode’s primary weapon. Shine Thief is the game’s own take on keep away. Coin Runners has you gathering coins around the course, protecting your own treasure horde while attempting to steal that of others.
Renegade Roundup, however, is easily the funnest of the new game types. It’s Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s version of cops vs. robbers. One team tries their best to stay out of the clutches, or maw, of the players armed with Piranha Plants. Teammates who are captured by a chasing Piranha Plant kart are warped to a suspended jail cell, but fleeing teammates can take the risk of releasing the imprisoned by hitting the button beneath the cell, all while being pursued by an opponent. It’s high risk and high reward. Add to that all the well known items of the series and you have the best multiplayer mode in a Mario Kart game yet.
Unfortunately, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s online offerings are as limited as it was on Wii U, if not just a little less so. MKTV, the feature that allowed you to edit and share some of your best races and moments to YouTube, returns minus the ability to post your creations to the web. You can still share your edited videos while in the MKTV menu, and friends will be able to see each other’s posts, but the ability to pair your YouTube channel to MKTV is nowhere to be found. It’s a shame because the Wii U original allowed for fast uploads to YouTube, letting you reach a vast audience while the Switch edition is limited to just your immediate friend list. Perhaps this is due to Nintendo having yet to fully integrate their ideal online platform for the Switch. There still exists no voice chat option when racing online with your friends. Nintendo promises an online chat feature when their dedicated platform launches. In fact, Nintendo will have a limited free trial of their online service beginning this summer, with a full paid subscription taking over by fall. No confirmed dates just yet, but the service aims to provide online lobby and voice chat. It’s still upsetting that there’s still no way to directly invite friends to a private lobby in what is the Switch’s first major multiplayer centric game. Instead, it’s your fellow racer that has to search for any open lobbies a friend might be hosting. For now, players will still have to coordinate with each other by phone or other chat service. Fortunately, you can change characters and karts in between matches instead of backing out to the main menu as in the original game, saving you precious time.
That being said, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still adds a little more to be excited about. Smart Steering is a new feature that will keep players from falling off a course, or going off-road, on every racetrack. Suddenly Rainbow Road doesn’t seem like an impossible race. This is also a great feature to act as “training wheels” for the 200cc speed class in which it’s absolutely necessary to use the brakes. However, for the hardcore racer, Smart Steering can be disabled when choosing your character and kart. A third tier drift-boost mechanic has been added, denoted by pink sparks to your exhaust port, adding nearly three seconds of boost time when properly executed.
While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe appears every bit as beautiful as its Wii U counterpart, there are minor texture buffs to the package. For example, confetti now sticks to the ground instead of disappearing. There’s even added sharpness to the game’s draw distance. Track design remains a wonderment to the eyes. Mario Kart 8 introduced anti-gravity racing to the series. The way tracks spiral upward like a roller coaster track before taking the deep plunge continues to elate the senses. Tracks from sister franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, and especially F-Zero make you yearn for more offerings from Nintendo’s vast catalog. Throwbacks to Mario Kart’s history in reimagined racetracks and music (oh gosh, the music) is more than enough to trigger a euphoric tidal wave of nostalgia. All this at a crisp 60 frames per second – 30 when three or four players use one Switch console.
The revamped Battle Mode of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is reason alone to pick up this reissue of the original game. Whether it’s worth the price of a new console is entirely your choice. When you consider the fact that you can take a polished home console Mario Kart game on-the-go at any time, the answer is clear. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s glaring issue sadly remains its limited online experience, but I’m hoping that future updates to the Switch’s dedicated online brand will remedy this. However, to think that one could race in a local match with many other Switch owners, at the same time, is a marvel in of itself. A marvel I hope to experience as Nintendo Switch becomes more and more mainstream with each passing day.
+ Return of the iconic Battle Mode
+ All racers and previously released DLC available from the start
+ Gorgeous racetrack design with amazing soundtrack to match
– Limited to absent online features such as no voice chat or player invites
Final Score: 9.0/10