Review: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

Switch’s second masterpiece has arrived.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 05/08/2017 10:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Picturesque graphics; exceptional soundtrack; controls are just as tight as before; fire hopping is gone; dual items are back; new characters; the return of Battle Mode; buttery online play
Poison Mushroom for...
Smart Steering defaulted to being on; also, not readily clear how to turn it off; change to dual item wielding might irk some

When Mario Kart 8 dropped in 2014 on Wii U, I was utterly blown away by it. The game represents, in my opinion, the pinnacle of the franchise. It’s gorgeous to look at. The soundtrack is a veritable smorgasbord of new and old tunes. The online is impeccable. So having said all that, some of you might be wondering whether or not Mario Kart 8 Deluxe could possibly do anything to stand out compared to its predecessor. Amazingly, stunningly, Nintendo has managed to take what was already the best game in the Mario Kart series and somehow made it better. For this review, I’m going to focus on what makes Deluxe special; for a rundown of the core Mario Kart 8 experience (which is virtually identical here), please hit up the Wii U review at this link.

I’ll wait here while you do that.

All right, all caught up? Nice!

To start, the presentation of Mario Kart 8 has been ramped up on Switch. It runs at 60 FPS and renders at 1080p on a TV screen. In handheld mode, the game sizzles on Switch’s 720p display (though like Breath of the Wild it will vampire the heck out of the battery while on the go). Mario Kart 8 was already stunning, but this time around it’s even better, much like Fast RMX versus its Wii U counterpart. There are other touches, too, like updated Mii animations and snazzy racing jumpsuits in the online lobby screen. Menus have also been tweaked and streamlined, offering a smoother interface than what was on Wii U, which is surprising considering how user-friendly that one was. I can concede that the difference between graphics on Switch and Wii U isn’t a complete evolutionary leap, but it’s certainly noticeable enough that it can’t be ignored. I was especially pleased that load times have been reduced for Deluxe, as well.

For Mario Kart’s inaugural Switch outing, Nintendo has included both DLC packs that were created for the Wii U version of the game. That’s four more cups at four tracks apiece, meaning players have sixteen race courses to enjoy. Having all the DLC right off the bat was a nice way of placating fans who are making the transition to Switch, and though Mario Kart 8 was a perfectly complete game, the addition of these extra tracks makes Deluxe all the more robust. Even if Nintendo (hopefully!) ends up coming out with more DLC for Deluxe, fans should feel very satisfied with what they’ll be getting out of the box. Speaking of out of the box, the game’s progression has been altered, as well; from the beginning it will be possible to race in any cup at any CC. This is excellent for a couple of reasons. For one, it means that fans looking to partake in multiplayer races with their pals can set the game however they like it immediately. It’s also beneficial for those looking to unlock Deluxe’s secrets and goodies, allowing them to work at their own pace.

There are other changes that fans fresh and not-so-fresh will likely be grateful for. Dual items are back, though slightly different from previous Mario Karts. Normally, players can obtain a second item if they trail their current one behind their kart as they hit an item box. For Deluxe, it isn’t necessary to do anything more than hit another item block in order to get a second item. I felt like this change eliminated some of the previous challenge of gathering items, but that’s a small gripe on my part. Overall, I like that Nintendo went back to dual item wielding, as it makes for a more frenetic and crazy racing experience. However, for those who enjoyed that Mario Kart 8 on Wii U only allowed for one item to be held might be frustrated. Two new items have also been thrown into the mix, both returning favorites: the feather (exclusive to Battle Mode) to jump over obstacles and opponents, and Boo, who will go randomly steal an item from a fellow racer.

Perhaps the most important change that Deluxe brought with it is the return of a proper Battle Mode to the series. There are five modes to tackle:

  1. Balloon Mode: The classic. Pop your opponents’ balloons!
  2. Renegade Roundup: Basically cops and robbers. Smack the “bad guy” racers with your ever-present Piranha Plant and put them in a cage. Grab all the baddies and it’s game over. Bad and good guys switch roles between rounds.
  3. Shine Thief: Grab the Shine and hold it until time runs out.
  4. Bob-omb Blast: Score points by popping enemy balloons with Bob-ombs.
  5. Coin Runners: Gather more coins than anyone else.

As kids, my cousins and I spent hours upon hours playing Shine Thief in Double Dash!!, but sadly it’s not as enjoyable in Deluxe as it was on GameCube. All five modes ended up proving to be worth playing, but I had the most fun with Bob-omb Blast and Renegade Roundup, though I do believe this will boil down to player preference more than anything. No matter the mode, this will get a group of friends and family buzzing with glee. The battle arenas are also very well done, with returning favorites like Luigi’s Mansion and Battle Course 1 being standouts. My favorite was Lunar Colony. Multiplayer mayhem in low gravity in space?! Amazing!

A couple of other tweaks can be found on the racetrack itself. “Fire hopping” is gone, thank goodness; it was an exploit that some players used to extend their boosts and incredibly annoying to see in action. I’m not interested in maniacal button mashing and neurotic control stick flicking when I play Mario Kart, I just want to put my skills to the test. Graciously, Nintendo kicked that nonsense to the curb where it belongs. It’s now possible, however, to reach a third level of powerslide boost; once a kart’s sparks have gone from blue to orange, they will eventually go to purple, which grants an even longer boost once unleashed. I thought it was a fair compensation for speed nuts who liked to Fire Hop and another nuance for everyone else to enjoy, too.

Along with those changes, Nintendo has also included a “Smart Steering” feature. On principle I don’t mind it —- in brief, the computer will swoop in and stop you from accidentally flying off of the ledge during a race. It can be used at any time in any mode, but for balance sake it won’t allow players to reach the third tier of boost when powersliding. It’s great for newbies and younger players, in particular, but for those of us who don’t want anything to do with it and prefer pure manual control… you’ll have to shut it off, because it’s set to “on” by default. It’s not readily apparent how to switch it off, either —- from the kart selection screen, hit +/- and you can see the option to make Smart Steering go away. Luckily, turning it off once will keep it that way from that point forward, but the fact that the switch is so hidden was annoying to me.

As I pointed out above, this is the same exceptional racing game that bowed in 2014, but as my review hopefully attests, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of it. Everything that made Mario Kart 8 special has returned and been amplified, and the additions (including new characters, plus one secret one that I won’t spoil) make for an even richer and varied experience. Along with Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-have for Switch owners. It’s a party on a cartridge, but even played solo it’s a blast. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be played in perpetuity for many years to come, and will do a wonderful job of tiding fans over until the releases of Arms and Splatoon 2 (something I had doubts about — yeah, those doubts are officially gone). You officially have two games that make a Switch worth buying, so get to it if you haven’t!

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