Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has become the Nintendo Switch’s second big hit since its release last Friday. It’s already reached over 1 million sales, and the buzz surrounding the game has been nothing but positive. That’s for good reason as well. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may seem like a modest upgrade from the Wii U version, it’s new features and increased accessibility make it a must own for any Switch owner, even if they already own the Wii U version.
Game Name: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Platform(s): Nintendo Switch Publisher(s): Nintendo
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Mario Kart 8’s Great Courses and Controls Return
Before the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart 8 was my favorite Mario Kart game. It earned that distinction through its excellent course design and tight controls. Both of those components return in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and every race is a delight because of it.
The jaw-dropping scenery of Mount Wario, the cool forest tones of Wild Woods, and bustling streets of Toad’s Turnpike look even better on Switch. The game runs at 1080 p, 60 fps, making the already great Mario Kart 8 visuals look even more polished. The tracks you’ll find in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are some of the finest in the series. Nearly every track is a winner, with each cup having at least one stand-out. In my opinion, the Star Cup is the best cup in Mario Kart history by a long shot. Sunshine Airport has you soaring through parked planes, flying up a runway, and zig-zagging through luggage. Dolphin Shoals boasts beautiful underwater caverns, high-speed waterfalls, and an appearance from the eel in Mario 64. The Electrodome showcases the zany side of Mario Kart, as you race through a club filled with pulsing disco balls and dancing Koopas. Finally, Mount Wario tests all of your skills as you jump from a plane onto the peak of a snowy mountain, through an icy cavern and down ski slopes.
Every course feels unique and brings its own identity and challenges, keeping the gameplay fresh. The paraglider returns and makes for some fun flying, and the game’s signature zero-gravity areas force you to change your strategy to succeed. There’s nothing not to love about Mario Kart 8’s track design, and it’s all back in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Smart Tweaks Make Driving More Accessible
While there’s no major addition to the package in terms of single-player content, several minor changes have been made to make the Mario Kart experience more pleasant to new players. Kids who struggle to stay on the track or remember to keep their hands on the gas won’t get frustrated thanks to the new Smart-Steering option. An antenna appears on the back of the player’s kart and keeps them on the track, while auto-accelerate keeps them moving forward.
This definitely takes away a lot of the skill associated with Mario Kart, but it’s completely optional and serves its purpose well. For example, I set up the Switch so my non-gamer Dad and I could race and eased him into the game by turning smart steering on. This made it easier for him to practice his drifting without the fear of getting twisted up and lost on the track.
Hardcore players have a few additional things to consider as well. You can now reach a third level boost by drifting for a long time, and double item boxes now exist. Being able to hold two items really does change the game, although I noticed a slightly annoying increase in blue shells (another “great” innovation of the overrated Mario Kart 64) headed my way. While you’ll also find yourself getting more boom-boxes to defend yourself, the slight increase in blue shells has started making me think the series would be better off without them.
Battle Mode has Never Been Better
As I stated on this week’s Nintendo Entertainment Podcast, Mario Kart 8 would have been perfect if it had a good battle mode. To amend that flaw and create the perfect game, the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe team completely revamped the mode. It now stands as the best battle mode you’ve ever played, with great arenas, and fun game modes.
Balloon Battle, Bob-omb Blast, Shine Runners and Coin Runners all return in this stellar mode. Every arena is large enough to comfortably fit 12 combatants, but the action remains frantic. I really like Wuhu Town, a 3DS course that has plenty of space to duel while also having tons of walls to hide behind. The Splatoon course, Urchin Underpass, also stands out in my mind.
An all-new mode, Renegade Roundup, has already become a staple of my Mario Kart experience. I don’t want to play another game without it, as the take on Cops and Robbers makes for some of the most dramatic battles out there. Six players are the cops, attempting to eat their opponents with the piranha plants on the front of their cars, against six renegades trying to escape. The renegades can free their comrades by hitting the lock under the jail, resulting in some intense exchanges and stunningly complex strategy.
It’s impressive how varied each battle game feels. Aside from the relatively similar Bob-omb Blast and Balloon Battle, the constantly changing objective keeps the action fresh. I could play Shine Runners forever and never get tired of it, but it’s nice that each of the games feels so fresh. Everyone is bound to have their own personal favorite, and that makes competing against your friends in all of them that much more enjoyable.
Online Offerings Should Be Better
Unfortunately, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is currently falling a bit short in its online offerings. In my experience, unless I’m sitting directly next to my router, the game is extremely laggy. I’ve had races where half of my opponents seemed to be sitting at the starting gate without moving, frustrating moments where I think I hit someone with a green shell (complete with their car spinning) only to find them not lose any speed and continue on ahead of me. This lag did exist on the Wii U version as well, but it’s significantly worse on Switch.
It also frustrates me that I can’t create a lobby with my friends and then bring them online so we can race against strangers as a group. The reason for this eludes me, and the fact that Nintendo is content to remain 15 years behind when it comes to online gaming is remarkable and infuriating. Hopefully, they’ll outline their online service soon and this issue will be amended.
One more point on the lag, however. For what it’s worth, I’ve noticed it’s not nearly as bad when playing with friends. When racing against my fellow NEP hosts, and we live far away from one another, I’ve had no problems. I’m sure there’s a technical reason for this that I don’t understand, but the point remains.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a local multiplayer gem. With the Switch’s portability, you can play it wherever you want, whenever you want. The Joy-Cons works phenomenally as stand-alone controllers (this is their best use yet) and you’ll rarely want to leave the house without letting your Switch tag along. It does have serious flaws when it comes to online play, but hopefully, those will be amended.
Outside of that issue, I only have one other minor gripe that deserves mentioning. While I love playing games like Breath of the Wild and Snake Pass in handheld mode, I strongly prefer to have my Switch in docked or tabletop mode with Deluxe. The game requires you to quickly move your fingers and slightly alter your grip to comfortably press all the buttons, and that has led me to experience some hand cramping. It’s easy to power through it, and the game is so fun that you’ll want to, but I have felt notable discomfort after a half-hour or so of playing.
Still, the all-new battle mode successfully sells the game. Even if you owned the Wii U version of Mario Kart 8, you should absolutely pick up the Switch copy. It’ll provide you with years of fun throughout the Switch’s lifespan.
*Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was provided to us by Nintendo for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
Top Tier Racing Anywhere You'd Like
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe makes the small changes needed to differentiate itself from its inferior Wii U version. It’s a worthy purchase regardless of the time you’ve spent playing the same tracks on the Wii U, as the battle mode will keep you entertained for years to come. For any fan of local Mario Kart multiplayer, this is a no brainer. Still, I can’t fully recommend buying it for online play until Nintendo resolves poor connectivity issues.