The storied Mario Kart franchise has found its perfect home on the Nintendo Switch. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the best and most complete packages since the original Super Mario Kart was gifted to the world 24 years ago. Containing 48 courses and 42 characters, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has all previously released DLC and adds new characters such as King Boo and the Inklings from Splatoon. Nintendo didn’t just stop there, however, as they revamped battle mode to its original glory, added the ability to hold two items at a time, and now allow you to achieve an Ultra Mini Turbo Boost, denoted by pink sparks. There is a lot to break down in this package, but first, let’s look at the basics.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shares much with its Wii U predecessor of similar name and keeps what made that title great when it released in 2014. You are still racing around incredibly inventive and unique courses as some of the most iconic characters in video game history, throwing items and drifting around every corner. Also, while there is still the blessing/curse of a blue shell looming over each race, that can’t diminish the joy of playing with friends and strangers alike.
For those wondering if they should pick up Mario Kart 8 Deluxe if they played a ton of Mario Kart 8, I believe there is enough to warrant the price tag. Besides unlocking most everything from the start, one of the most incredible reasons why is the portability the Nintendo Switch allows. I had to travel while reviewing this title, and playing while waiting for my plane, which was delayed, was such a treat. While the game is gorgeous on the big screen, it loses none of the beauty when brought down to handheld mode. Also, as I mentioned briefly before, there are some new features that really help this title stand apart.
The biggest addition is the revamped battle mode. In Mario Kart 8, Nintendo changed the way battle mode was handled. It was basically racing and throwing items around the existing courses in either direction and it lost the magic of the previous titles that had maps specifically designed to this different style of play. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes five objective-based modes that recapture that fun with old and new maps to go with them, including the classic Balloon Battle. Bob-bomb Blast has you hurling endless Bob-bombs at your opponent for some serious explosive fun. Shine Thief uses the Shine Sprite from Super Mario Sunshine and tasks you with holding it for as long as possible. Coin Runners rewards the player with the most coins collected, and when you are hit you lose some of that precious gold.
Apart from the classic Balloon Battles, my new favorite mode is the Renegade Roundup, which is Mario Kart’s version of Cops and Robbers. One team assumes the role of the “Cops” and always has a Piranha Plant powerup active. Their goal is to catch the “Robbers” and when they are chomped by a Piranha Plant, they are sent to jail. These prisoners can be freed if their team hits a button under the jail cell, but if they get caught while attempting to break out friends it could mean game over if the entire team is caught.
While these battle modes are a ton of fun, the racing is still the champion in my mind. Also, and I think it goes without saying that when you have friends and/or family playing with you, it becomes some of the most fun you can have, gaming or otherwise.
You can play online or locally, and the Switch can handle 4-player split screen without too much of a framerate drop. My experience playing online has been very smooth, and while it may not have the most robust online infrastructure, it allows me to play with my friends and family very easily, and gives the option to host tournaments and take your skills to ranked matches.
All this being said, the magic of Mario Kart really happens in your personal stories with others. Your moments of triumph or crushing defeat. One such moment was when I was playing my brother, Jordan, on Rainbow Road. It was the last lap, I was holding a narrow first place lead, and then our favorite friend, a Blue Shell, decided to show up to the party. I was hit and my brother flew by me. I knew I had some catching up to do and started putting my drifting skills to the test. I hit some good ones, and as the end of the battle came near I went for the new Ultra Mini Turbo Boost, which can be very risky to pull off, and thought all was lost when I was veering too far to one side. However, I was able to stay on target, and executed my boost at the perfect moment and beat him by milliseconds. You can see the proof below, but it was one of the most exciting races and moments I’ve had in a long time. Jordan then proceeded to beat me about five times in a row, but I still had that one victory to hold close!
That story, as with countless others, shows the true power of Mario Kart. While your skill can save and help you win, the chaos can’t be predicted. That race could have gone much different, and he would have been the one with the crown on his head when all was said and done. The unpredictability and near perfect mechanics allow for these moments to happen, and if you just do a little searching online, you can find many more hilarious and incredible examples of these.
Playing single-player fairs mostly as well, but loses some of the tension and magic when playing with others. You can compete in Grand Prix (50cc, 100cc, 150cc, Mirror 150cc, and the crazy fast 200cc), Time Trials, and VS race. The Time Trials are fun as you can race against Ghosts of other players, including those from Nintendo.
The main reason to play these single-player modes, aside from improving your craft, is to unlock more vehicle customizations. By collecting certain amounts of coins, you can unlock these new parts, such as the bizarre addition of a Mercedes Kart to the Legend of Zelda Master Cycle. There are a ton of fun combinations you can create, and while there is a deeper strategy to picking certain parts, the real fun comes when you get creative. There is also the challenge to collect three stars on each cup of the different Grand Prix levels. These are a great test of skill, but at higher levels can get a bit frustrating as you must finish in first place in four matches in a row, all without the ability to reset if you get very unlucky with item attacks.
Lastly, I want to mention that Mario Kart 8 may be the most accessible title to date. There are plenty of ways to play that should help a lot of people jump into Mario Kart. Smart Steering is one of these new features, and it helps ensure you don’t fall off the track, which I can imagine would be very helpful for those just jumping into gaming for the first time. It’s important to note that this is turned on by default, so make sure you turn it off if you are comfortable with your skills, because, with Smart Steering on, you can not execute the new Ultra Mini Turbo Boost. There is also an auto-accelerate option and motion controls, which add to the accessibility factor.
Mario Kart 8 is a hallmark title and should be added to your Switch without a second thought. While it may be very familiar to those who had Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, the sheer amount of content, new features, and portability make this the true definitive version of not only Mario Kart 8 but Mario Kart as a whole. While there is no doubt you will be screaming when that blue shell inevitably ruins a perfect run, the moments that precede and follow each disaster make up for some of the most fun you can have in the incredible world of video games.