Back in 2014 when Mario Kart 8 released on Nintendo’s ill-fated Wii U console, I considered it to be the best game in the entire franchise. Each iteration of Mario Kart before it found myself picking apart and finding elements that made me scratch my head, such as the Wii version’s balancing issues and poor track design to Double Dash’s odd character swapping feature that made the game feel strange. Nintendo took Mario Kart and focused on making the core game feel the best it could without using too many odd gimmicks while also utilizing the franchise’s best ideas and polishing them to the maximum. Mario Kart 8 had the best new track design, the best roster of characters and the strongest gameplay since Mario Kart 64 while also incorporating the best paid example of downloadable content from the last generation by offering strong content at affordable prices. Now that the Nintendo Switch is here and gamers are thirsty for more content, Nintendo took the best kart racer and made it even better by adding additional polish and making it the next must own title for the platform.
At first glance it may seem like Mario Kart 8: Deluxe hasn’t changed much, but under the hood we have some bells and whistles here that make the product more desirable than it’s Wii U counterpart. For those of you reading this who have never played Mario Kart 8 before, purchasing this version is an absolute no-brainer, but what about the folks who have already spent a lot of time with Mario Kart 8 in the past? Is the game worth purchasing again at $60 even though the majority of the package is the same? Well let me explain a few things and hopefully the answer to that question will be answered for you.
The gameplay in Mario Kart 8 is the strongest it has ever been in the entire franchise. Nintendo took criticisms from past games to heart and focused on what people loved the most about Mario Kart and really worked hard to make the game feel better while also still keeping it accessible new and casual players. The brand new tracks crafted for Mario Kart 8 are fun to play and look amazing. Item balancing feels really good and the controls and drifting mechanics are easy to master. Kart handling is tied to the weight class of the kart and whether or not you switch to a motorcycle or ATV. Retaining the underwater, zero gravity and gliding elements from Mario Kart 7 was a smart move since they were the best additions to that version. The in-racing coin collecting aspect used for unlockables adds a layer to the gameplay that gives players something else to do while also focusing on the race at hand. Mario Kart TV was a fun instant replay system that allowed players to create their own highlight reels that were fun to tinker around with. Mario Kart 8’s online suite of features are robust but not perfect. It still includes some solid online modes for competing with friends and random players as well as tournament support and more. None of that has changed here at all and it’s still as awesome as it was back in 2014.
Even though I absolutely loved Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, the game still had its fair share of blunders. The fact that the game’s online suite completely lacked any real battle mode was a huge disappointment to me since it’s easily my favorite multiplayer element from the series. Playing online with friends was difficult due to the lack of a real lobby system that would allow you to mix friends with random players online. Retaining the first place spot in a race was sometimes frustrating due to every player behind you having a big advantage in randomly receiving items that created a HUGE target on your back. Every time I would pick up an item box while being in first place I would almost always receive a coin instead of anything useful that would help defend myself from the constant barrage of red and blue turtle shells and squid goo. Also, the game had an odd frame pacing issue that would duplicate frames after a certain number of frames on-screen, resulting in a slight stutter at times.
In comes Mario Kart 8: Deluxe. In this version of the game, Nintendo aims to enhance the overall package while also adding new content and working with the strengths of the Switch platform. So what has Nintendo done to achieve this? Well for starters, Nintendo fixed the goofy frame pacing issue found in the Wii U version, resulting in a rock solid 60 frames per second in single player with the framerate dropping to 30 when three or four player local play is involved. As a result the game just feels smoother even though the framerate issue from the previous version was minor. New characters have been added to the game too including the boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon, fan favorites King Boo and Dry Bones, as well as the return of Bowser Jr. Every piece of downloadable content has been added to the package too, making Deluxe feel like a “Game of the Year” edition. Best of all, Nintendo finally added a solid online battle mode with various game types such as Coin Runners that tasks players in collecting coins and stealing them from others, the standard three balloon battle arena, Shine Thief from Double Dash and more. This inclusion alone makes the original Mario Kart 8 obsolete in my mind and fixed the biggest complaint I had with it. Nintendo even threw in the Feather item from the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES that gives a super spin jump to those who pick it up in Battle Mode. The Boo item makes a comeback too which steals items from another player.
Since Nintendo loves to cater to families and younger players, they added a few options for newcomers to the series and those with disabilities. An auto-accelerate option has been added that disables the need to hold down the A button to accelerate. This feature is fantastic for small children and disabled gamers who have trouble holding down buttons for long periods of time. In addition to auto-accelerate, Nintendo also added in a Smart Steering feature that helps prevent players from bumping into the side of the track too much or outright falling off, which is again great for smaller children. I never felt like these features gave anyone an advantage when playing online either since skill will still give players a big advantage over those using these features while allowing those who struggle with the controls to still be able to compete and enjoy themselves. Overall I’m happy Nintendo included these aids since it allows everyone playing to have fun and feel competitive.
Gameplay tweaks and balancing has been added to Mario Kart 8: Deluxe as well. For instance, the dual item ability and double item box found in Mario Kart: Double Dash makes a return which allows players to hold two items at once by keeping a second item in a queue. The ability to have two items makes the game feel a little more frantic and fun while also fixing my complaint with the Wii U version that made me feel way to vulnerable while in first place. That second item slot raises the odds of getting an item that helps the person in first place defend themselves instead of constantly getting a useless coin while also avoiding giving them too much of an advantage. Nintendo also removed that bouncing glitch that allowed players to constantly jump using the R trigger and pick up a boost of speed, giving them an unfair advantage to those who were aware of it. Red shells and blue shells lock onto a player a bit slower this time around so players can either react with an item that can counter the attack or outright outrun it with a speed boost in higher CC classes.
Graphically, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe is still gorgeous even in 2017. Thanks to the boost in resolution to 1080p in docked mode (still 720p in portable), the game looks even better than it did before by having a sharper presentation. The courses are all highly detailed, even the remade stages from older games, and courses created for Mario Kart 8 are all solid and feel like they fit in well with legacy courses. I love the animations and reactions from characters to the actions on-screen, such as a celebratory fist bump for making an opponent slip on your banana peel or the transformation from kid to squid during a trick off of a ramp from the Inkling kids. The first time gliding through the tree houses as the Shy Guys bounce around and wave at you from the tree tops in DK Jungle, or riding on the spine of a giant eel in Dolphin Shoals are sights to behold. The soundtrack is poppy and fun while catering tunes to the ambiance and aesthetic of each course well. Sound effects are typical Mario Kart fare but the chatter and reactions from racers as they successfully hit an opponent with an item, take a blast from a turtle shell or pull off an awesome stunt are all charming.
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe is extremely versatile on the Nintendo Switch. Dock that bad boy at home and you have a fast 60fps experience in full 1080p while more than two players on one console drop the framerate down to 30fps. Handheld and tabletop modes run the game at 720p and 60fps but allow you to take the entire experience on-the-go. I love the multiplayer capabilities of the Switch mixed with the beloved local multiplayer features found in Mario Kart 8: Deluxe. Popping off the two Joy-Cons and handing one to a friend for instant multiplayer gameplay is such an awesome capability for Mario Kart. As you would expect, wireless LAN play is also included for up to 12 Switch consoles but also require each Switch to have its own copy of the game. I took my Switch out this weekend to a family outing and propped the Switch up in tabletop mode and passed around the Joy-Cons while everyone had a blast racing each other. Surprisingly, the small Joy-Con wheels that are sold separately are pretty nice, not only for motion controlled steering but also as a nice grip for the Joy-Con since the added trigger buttons on the back are much easier to use compared to the tiny buttons on the sides of the actual Joy-Con.
As amazing as this package sounds, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe still has a few missed opportunities that I hope Nintendo work out in the future. I’m actually baffled that the game still has no real lobby system, making the game difficult to play with a combination of friends and random players online. I’m thinking maybe Nintendo will add this in once their online service launches in the Fall, but omitting this feature all together is a bad decision. The fact that Nintendo didn’t give us any new courses here is disappointing too; I would have liked at least one or two new courses thrown in to entice those who already played Mario Kart 8 in the past. Nintendo also cut out the YouTube sharing feature found in Mario Kart TV on the Wii U version, which is a bummer but not surprising due to Nintendo’s stance on sharing video on YouTube. Still, those awesome moments that you can create from Mario Kart TV are tied to your Switch console and cannot be shared. I’m also not too fond of the fact that all tracks, cups and racers are unlocked form the start. It’s nice to have them all there, but I feel like having everything available from the start deters me from playing single player more often that I would have before. I can still play single player to unlock new karts, tires and gliders but I can also accomplish that online too.
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe took the best Mario Kart title and made it even better with added features that the original game severely lacked, new characters, tweaked gameplay and better performance. Now we circle back to our original question. Is Mario Kart 8: Deluxe worth spending another $60 on if you already own the Wii U version? I would say yes. The inclusion of online battle mode alone makes me never want to return to the Wii U version. Being able to play the game on-the-go using the Switch’s awesome multiplayer features and handheld mode allows me to play the game anywhere I want without downgrading the experience (aside from resolution). Combining all of the DLC into one package makes the Switch version the definitive edition of Mario Kart 8 as well. If none of these things appeal to you than by all means skip Mario Kart 8: Deluxe and stick with the Wii U version, but Deluxe is still the ultimate Mario Kart title and the second must own game for the Nintendo Switch. See you all online!