Flatiron Hot! Gamer: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review
Available on: Nintendo Switch
By Max Shapiro
Watch a trailer for the game here.
The best Mario Kart just got even better.
Out of all the Mario Kart games so far, Mario Kart 8 for Wii U had to be my favorite—the controls were pitch-perfect, the designs were excellent (bolstered by the brilliant new zero-gravity mechanic), the visuals were stunning, and the soundtrack was among the best I’ve ever heard in a video game. But as much of a blast as the game was, it had one major Achilles’ heel: its battle mode. Battle mode has always been a fun diversion from the main racing in the series, but in Mario Kart 8 it was a total drag. Instead of using arenas designed specifically for the mode like every previous Mario Kart had done, racetracks from the main game were just plopped in, which pretty much sucked all the fun out of it.
Enter Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an enhanced version of the Wii U title released for the Nintendo Switch back in April. Mario Kart games always sell gangbusters but since 8 was released for a commercially failed console, Nintendo clearly realized three was a ton of untapped sales potential for that game, so why not give it a second life on the Switch so the millions of people who skipped out on the Wii U will have the chance to play it? Deluxe carries over all of the content present in original version (which includes all the DLC) in addition to a handful of new content—including a substantially improved battle mode.
Since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings over all of the original game’s content, everything that was great about the original is still great here. The controls are still flawless, the track designs are still among the best in the series, and the presentation is still top-notch. In fact, the game’s performance has been given a considerable boost. For starters, the framerate has been cleaned up with the original’s odd stutter no longer no longer being present (this video here explains what I’m talking about). Additionally, the resolution has been upgraded from 720p to 1080p, making an already gorgeous game look even more gorgeous.
While the core gameplay is largely the same, Deluxe does add two notable tweaks, and I was surprised at just how differently they made me play the game. The first is that you can now hold two items at once, which proved to be very helpful. However, I do wonder why you don’t have the option to switch the places the two items you’re holding, because if a moment comes where it’s crucial that you use your second item, you have to waste your first one. The other new element is addition of the “ultra mini-turbo.” In Mario Kart titles, drifting for long enough causes sparks to appear under your kart’s wheels, which will give you a boost of speed called a “mini-turbo” when you release from the drift. Holding a drift for a certain amount of time gives you a standard mini-turbo (indicated by orange sparks), while holding it for longer gives you a “super mini-turbo” (indicated by blue sparks), granting you a longer speed boost. But now you can hold a drift for even longer for an ultra mini-turbo (indicated by purple sparks), which gives you an even longer boost of speed. This addition might sound minimal, but it actually had me holding drifts for longer than I ever did the original version. I often had to assess if holding one long enough for an ultra mini-turbo was worth it, depending on how wide the turn was.
All the playable characters from the original game return (which unfortunately means the stupid ones like Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach are carried over) in addition to four new ones: Bowser Jr, Dry Bones, King Boo, and the Inklings from Splatoon (them along with Link from the Zelda series and Villager from the Animal Crossing series being playable are a major tease for a full-fledged Nintendo crossover racing game in the future). Online works exactly the same as before, with the same options available for creating friend rooms and tournaments. However, a very helpful addition is the ability to change your character and kart in between online races with strangers without having to leave the lobby. The only problem I’ve come across with the online is a small handful of disconnects, but I’m not sure if that’s the fault of the game or the Switch’s servers.
But as I alluded to earlier, the biggest improvement Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings is the revamped battle mode. You now play on actual arenas instead of tracks recycled from the main game, and that alone would probably to enough satisfy most players. But Nintendo went above and beyond here by adding four new modes of play in addition to Balloon Battle, which was the only option in the original game. In Balloon Battle, players pop opponents’ balloons by hitting them with items in order to score points. You’ll respawn if you lose all your balloons, but will lose half your points. It’s plenty of fun but I can see some purists being disappointed by the lack of a option to play the mode with the “last man standing” rules, since that’s how it was played is earlier installments. Coin Runners returns from Mario Kart Wii, where you collect coins scattered around the arena and hit opponents with items to make them drop some of their coins—it’s as simple as it sounds but still a blast. Shine Thief appears for the first time since Mario Kart: Double Dash, where every player fights over control of a single Shine Sprite, which is gloriously chaotic and probably my favorite of the five modes. Also returning from Double Dash is Bomb-omb Blast, which functions identically to Balloon Battle except the only item you use is the Bomb-omb, and you can hold up to ten of them at a time. Unfortunately, this mode not nearly as chaotic as it sounds on paper and my least favorite of the bunch. Finally there’s an all-new mode called Renegade Roundup, which is essentially a game of cops and robbers, with players being split into two teams called the “renegades” and the “authorities.” This mode is also pretty enjoyable, even it’s pretty clearly weighted in the favor of the renegades. So conclude, I think it goes without saying that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fully succeeds in making battle mode fun again.
If you never owned a Wii U and therefore never played Mario Kart 8, buying Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a no-brainer. But even for those who did play the original version, I’d say it’s worth double-dipping. Given how many hours I sunk into original, I was worried I’d quickly grow bored with Deluxe since it doesn’t add any new racetracks. But core gameplay is so brilliant and addictive whether alone or with others that I was hooked all over again, and there are just enough new additions to make it feel fresh. It’s needless to say that this title is the new crown jewel of the Mario Kart series, and more than enough to tide me over until the inevitable Mario Kart 9.