Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the next major release for the Switch, Nintendo’s hybrid home console-handheld device, is a difficult title to critique.
On one hand, the game is just as great as it was when it was first released on the Wii U back in 2014, but from another perspective, not much has really changed with this rerelease of what was already a superb video game. That said, the inherent concept of being able to take one of 2014’s best games on the go and play it anywhere, complete with four-player splitscreen even on just one Switch console, is a tantalizing proposition for any Mario Kart fan.
For those unfamiliar with the game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes the original game as well as all of its DLC, giving players access to 42 characters (including your Mii), 48 tracks and new kart customizations. The most significant change, however, is the inclusion of arenas specifically designed for the game’s iconic Battle Mode, something that was sorely missing from Mario Kart 8.
In terms of Battle Mode, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s most significant addition when compared to its predecessor, a surprising amount of effort has been put into making the feature feel robust. Deluxe features eight arenas, with four being based on previous entries in the series.
Battle options are also pulled from previous titles, with my favourite mode being ‘Renegade Roundup.’ This particular game type gives each player a chomping Piranha Plant, with the goal of snapping up as many members of the opposing team as possible. Other Battle Modes include Balloon Battle, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners and Shine Thief, all modes those who have played past Mario Kart titles will likely be familiar with.
Nintendo has also added three new control assists to make getting into Mario Kart an easier process for new players. ‘Smart Steering’ is an automated system that helps keep player’s karts on tracks, which comes in handy when racing on difficult tracks like Rainbow Road.
While not necessary for those familiar with the series, this is a great tool if you’re playing with inexperienced or younger players who are having difficulty keeping their character on the road. Another assisting feature called auto-accelerate allows players to focus purely on hitting their fellow drivers and shooting crazy items at competitors.
For more experienced players, 200cc vehicles and tournaments are back, resulting in karts that are so fast it’s overwhelming at times. With 200cc karts, you actually need to take your finger off the accelerator to prevent from smashing into walls. A third, more powerful tier of boosting when driving around corners that’s coloured purple, has also been added to the mix.
One change that I’m not completely fond of, however, is the ability to hold two items at once. While this shift makes it easier to manage items and allows players to hang onto a valuable Red Shell until they really need it, there is no way to control switching between them.
Furthermore, this shift fundamentally changes the game’s delicate balance, especially when in online races with up to 12 players. For example, in a scrum at the beginning of a race, instead of getting just a few items, players have the ability to shoot double the number of projectiles. On a number of occasions I’ve been hit with four or more Red Shells less than 15 seconds into a race. Of course, when you have less players in a race, how the feature changes Mario Kart’s fundamental flow is far less noticeable.
On a more positive note, everything is unlocked at the start of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, including the game’s massive roster of characters and tracks. This means that you don’t have to spend hours grinding through the Deluxe’s Grand Prix mode to unlock everything, which for people like myself who have already gone through this grueling process with the first game, is definitely an added bonus.
You will, however, still need to collect coins in order to gain access to new vehicles and parts, so players playing Mario Kart 8 will still have some stuff left to unlock.
Fundamentally, however, the most significant change with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe over its predecessor is the fact that the game is now completely portable. While I spent much of my time swooning over the Nintendo Switch despite its shortcomings, the fact that I can take the console anywhere, whether on a flight or during my morning commute, has resulted in me playing Deluxe far more than I’ve ever played a Mario Kart game before.
How the game can be played is also versatile, allowing players to use one Joy-con each, to attach the gamepads together with the Joy-con grip, or even the console’s Pro Controller. All of these control modes are also compatible with the Switch’s tabletop mode, which means you can effectively jump into a quick game of multiplayer Mario Kart anywhere with Nintendo’s new Deluxe version of the game.
It’s worth noting that when playing with three or more players in local splitscreen, the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s framerate is cut to 30 frames per second. While a significant change, I actually didn’t notice the shift in framerate in most situations.
The main downside of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the fact that Nintendo still hasn’t improved the game’s online features. Racing with friends is still a cumbersome process and overall, playing online with the Switch feels cumbersome when compared to the online multiplayer systems included in modern games on other platforms.
Considering this is the first major online title for the Switch, it’s disappointing Nintendo didn’t put more effort into Deluxe’s online features.