Back in the ancient days of the SNES, the Nintendo wizards had a weird idea. What if all of the Mario mascots starred in a go-kart racing game with projectiles? It was a ridiculous concept and like so many ridiculous concepts that the Nintendo geniuses have spat out of their brains over the years, it was also absolutely brilliant. Now Mario Kart is a Nintendo stable. We all know that every console will get a Mario Kart to call it’s own and we all know that it’ll be friggin’ fantastic. So, now a mere matter of weeks after launch, the Nintendo Switch already has a Mario Kart to call it’s own. On the downside, it’s a repackage of Mario Kart 8 with all the DLC and a few extra bells n’ whistles. Thankfully, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe serves up an excellent entry in the series that so many players missed because it was released on the failed Wii U. Plus, the Deluxe edition fixed Mario Kart 8’s few problems, added a few new toys, and is a goddamn blast. Would it be more exciting if we had a Mario Kart 9 in our hands this week? Well, sure. But at the same time this thing is so much damn fun that it’s hard to complain.
So, first up let’s talk about what’s the same. Mario Kart 8 is fantastic. The visuals are gorgeous with an impressively increased scale and an endless stream of vibrant visuals that look fantastic in HD. The DLC items brought F-Zero tracks to the party that prove just how badly the big N needs to revive that franchise. The addition of Link—and his stretched knees crammed into a tiny kart—was a gloriously geeky touch. Mario Kart 8’s new items fit into the fold without breaking the formula. The gameplay is as sweetly smooth n’ satisfying as ever. The game was easy to pick up and learn yet deep enough to reward endless satisfying replays and little quirks to master. It was a fine addition to the franchise and one that hasn’t dated or lost anything on the Switch. If anything, this is definitely the version to own.
First off, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks and plays like a dream on the Switch. I noticed no frame rate drops like some recent releases. That wasn’t a problem in split screen or even during online play—though to be fair I was only able to set up two races with three other players during the brief window that Nintendo allowed for online play, so things could be different once races kick off with up to 12 online opponents after launch. I also found the controls crossed over remarkably well when playing on a single tiny joycon. Nothing was lost. This will be a perfect title to play with a friend portably. It works perfectly. As for the changes, there aren’t many. Mostly additions rather than subtractions had the issues. The big removal was that “fire jump” trick that everyone hated. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. So…yay, I guess.
The biggest addition is the revamped “Battle Mode.” Gone are those cavernous repurposed tracks that never quite worked in battle. Now there are eight elegantly designed battle arenas—five new, three taken from previous releases—with just enough space for eleven players to smash each other to bits. The usual balloon battle makes its return and likely remains the best but battle modes, but the other options have their charms. Bob-bomb Blast only offers contenders bombs to fight with, but given that you can hold quite a few at once and explosions are pretty it’s a good time. Coin Runners depends on coin counting and retaining for supremacy, Shine Thief turns into all-against-one madness with a crown that the winner must wear the most. Renegade Roundup gives half the players piranha plants to trap the other half in jail until they are released by a team member like King’s Court—it’s an odd concept, but satisfying once you get the hang of thing. All the Battle Modes work well and after the disappointing design that Battle Mode had on the Wii U edition of Mario Kart 8, it’s a relief to have the popular Nintendo karting beat em’ up back in full force.
Other major additions include the ability to hold two items at once, which is just as fun as it sounds—even though you can only use them in one specific order, which is annoying—the return of the ghost item, and the feather jump item from SNES. Those are all welcome, if hardly game changers—although banking two items comes close when trying to make a worst-to-first Karting comeback. There are also a few new characters added to the party like some Inkling boys and girls from Splatoon, King Boo, and Bowser Jr. Like the nearly endless stream of unlockable cars that just keep coming—including that delightful bowser ball from Super Mario World—the added characters are mostly just cosmetic additions, but damn if they aren’t welcome. In total there are 42 different racers now, including the nearly endlessly customizable Mii and 48 tracks. That’s pretty insane. It’s hard to complain.
Undoubtedly many folks will dismiss Mario Kart 8 Deluxe purely because it’s a repackage of an old Mario Kart title rather than a shiny new version. Fair enough, I can understand that. However, if you can look past the repackaging, there’s no denying that this is the biggest and deepest Mario Kart title ever released. Assuming that the online racing works as smoothly as it did for me in a very short playtime, Nintendo have worked out all the flaws in the previous release of Mario Kart 8 and added enough new bells and whistles to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to make even those who bought all the DLC last time want to come back. More importantly, this game plays beautifully on the joycons as a portable Switch title and is a perfect way to show off Nintendo’s brand new system to jealous friends who don’t feel like sitting through Zelda fights on a tablet screen. You can’t call a repackage a killer app, but for anyone who skipped the Wii U this title comes close. This is a fine timesuck for any self-respecting Nintendo nerd and should be cherished for many moons to come. Now if you’ll excuse me, those red shells aren’t going to fire themselves.