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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review

Martin Bigg On August 14, 2017

Often imitated but never bettered, Mario has been the undisputed king of the kart racing genre for 25 years since the series debuted on the Super Nintendo. Mario Kart 8, released on the Wii U back in 2014, was a high point that’s regarded by many fans as the best game in the series since the 1992 original, thanks to its updated HD graphics, improved kart customisation, and innovative anti-gravity tracks.

Unfortunately, the Wii U’s lackluster sales meant that many players missed out on one of the greatest kart racing games ever made. With the recently released Switch console breaking sales records, Nintendo has capitalised on the system’s staggering success and brought Mario Kart 8 to a wider audience with an obligatory enhanced port in the form of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. 

Being the first game in the series not to be developed specifically for a new Nintendo system, it’s hard not to be cynical seeing Nintendo re-release a three-year-old game on its shiny new system. Thankfully, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe isn’t the lazy port it so easily could have been, but should you double dip if you’ve already poured significant hours into the Wii U original?

Perhaps mindful that returning players may not want to play through the career again, every track and character in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is unlocked from the start. This reduces the sense of progression for newcomers, but there are still extra karts and customisation parts that can be unlocked by collecting coins to keep you playing.

Mario Kart 8 screenshot

Copious content 

The copious amount of content crammed into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is mind-boggling. Both DLC packs originally released for Mario Kart 8 are included bringing the total number of tracks to 48, bolstering an already substantial package. Additionally, a handful of fan favourite characters that appeared in previous Mario Kart games have returned such as King Boo and Bowser JR, while characters from neighbouring Nintendo franchises such as the Inklings from Splatoon make their first appearance.

What you don’t get in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, sadly, are new race tracks, which seems like a missed opportunity – particularly as Shin’en Multimedia added more tracks to FAST RMX, the enhanced Switch port of the Wii U’s underrated FAST Racing Neo. Tracks are also still only accessible in cups spread across four race events, meaning you can’t jump into your favourite track for a quick race. Still, you can’t really grumble because the fact remains that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe contains more circuits than most modern racing games.

Every track is bright, colourful, and meticulously designed, filled with twists, turns and shortcuts. Old favourites like the perilous Rainbow Road return with multiple variants based on old games in the series that look stunning reimagined in HD, but it’s the DLC tracks based on other Nintendo franchises from the past and present that stand out most, such as the wholesome village from Animal Crossing, the jump-filled stunt arena from Excitebike, and Hyrule from the Legend of Zelda series.

The attention to detail applied to these tracks to replicate the ambience of iconic Nintendo franchises is commendable: fans will recognise remixes of original soundtracks, while the Hyrule circuit replaces coins with rupees from the Zelda series. There are also two challenging circuits based on the tubular tracks in F-Zero GX, which won’t help console fans pining for the futuristic racing series to make a belated return.

Mario Kart 8 screenshot 2

Three years on, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still as fun and rewarding to play as the Wii U original. The wonderfully responsive handling means you don’t have to be a racing game fanatic to get to grips with the game, yet it still rewards skilled players. Knowing when to rev at the starting line gives you a speed boost off the starting line, while executing drifts is not only satisfying, it rewards you with a speed boost which now has an extra third stage if you can hold a drift long enough.

Experienced players looking for a challenge can also try the notoriously difficult 200cc class introduced as DLC in Mario Kart 8 from the start in Deluxe, a speed class so frighteningly fast it changes how you approach tracks you’ve already mastered.

Less experienced players can also activate Auto Accelerate and Steering Assist. The former is self-explanatory, while the latter takes care of steering and stops you from falling off the edge of the track like playing a bowling match with the barriers up. Mario Kart has always been designed to be as accessible as possible, and while these additional aids open the game up to younger players, they shouldn’t have been switched on by default as it hinders the handling for experienced players. Frustratingly, it also isn’t immediately clear how to disable them.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe screenshot 3

There have also been some subtle tweaks that enhance the experience, perfecting what was already a winning formula. In a throwback to Double Dash, the 2003 Gamecube entry in the series that’s often regarded as a fan favourite, you can now carry up to two power-ups during a race which makes the races even more chaotic while adding a new tactical element. You can’t toggle between weapons like you could in Double Dash, but the ability to stash defensive weapons means you’re more likely to recover from a devious Blue Shell attack close to the finish line which eases the frustration. Loading times have also been noticeably improved.

Smash Bros.

If you played Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, you’ll remember how disappointingly lackluster the Battle Mode was. Instead of using bespoke battle arenas, the game’s existing race tracks were lazily rehashed, despite clearly not being designed for battle scenarios requiring wide open space and evasive driving. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe finally rectifies this by not only adding eight purpose-built arenas, including a lovingly made remake of the classic Battle Arena 1 from the original SNES Mario Kart and a colorful new arena based on the Splatoon universe, but several addictive modes. If you’re looking for a reason to double dip, this is it.

Series staple Balloon Battle, in which you hurl weapons at opponents to pop every balloon attached to their kart, is back, while Bob-omb Blast returns to Mario Kart for the first time since Double Dash, a battle mode where you only have access to bomb power-ups - it’s as gloriously chaotic as it sounds, but lacks the depth of the other modes. Shine Thief is your standard capture the flag mode where you must collect a golden Shrine Sprite and hold onto it until the timer runs out while opponents try to take you out.

Renegade Roundup, on the other hand, is the best of the bunch, an all-new team-based mode that’s essentially Mario Kart’s unique take on cops and robbers. One team chases the other using kart-eating Piranha Plants to
capture enemies and throw them in jail. It’s then up to the captured player’s teammates to free them, and the match ends when every player on the opposing team has been captured. When all your teammates have been captured and you’re the last man standing, matches can get nail-bitingly intense.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe screenshot Bowser Zelda Link

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s vibrant visuals pop with extra clarity thanks to a bump in resolution from 720p on the Wii U to a native 1080p on Nintendo Switch. Frame rate fanatics will also be happy to know that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs at a solid 60fps, since a glitch in Mario Kart 8 that meant the game technically ran at 59fps has now been fixed.

It’s in handheld mode where Mario Kart 8 Deluxe truly dazzles, however. Running in 720p on the Switch’s sharp screen, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe delivers on Nintendo’s promise of uncompromised console quality gaming on the go. It’s not quite as technically impressive as holding FAST RMX in your hands, but it still looks smooth and visually stunning. It’s a testament to how far handheld technology has evolved when you compare it to Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, which looks decidedly primitive by comparison.

The smart design of the Switch’s detaching controllers, known as Joy-Cons, also means you can enjoy some local multiplayer mayhem in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in handheld or docked mode straight out of the box. Admittedly, clutching the diminutive Joy-Con isn’t the most comfortable way to play, particularly if you have large hands, but the convenience of being able to play local multiplayer games without having to splash out on an additional controller gives the Switch a significant advantage over other systems. It runs flawlessly, and while the frame rate drops to 30fps if three or more players join the party, it doesn't detract from the experience when there’s so much eye-pleasing fidelity on display.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe screenshot 5 Luigi death stare

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just as fun to play with other players online, but the limitations of the Switch’s outdated online functionality hinders the experience. You can now at least swap karts and characters between racers unlike in Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, but the lack of voice chat is a glaring oversight that Nintendo needs to implement since it’s a feature that’s been standard on rival systems for years. You still can’t invite players to join your online match either, bewilderingly. It’s also worth noting that while you can currently play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online for free, Nintendo will be introducing an annual subscription fee next year.

If you own a Nintendo Switch and didn’t experience the magnificent Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essential. The numerous gameplay improvements, revamped Battle Mode, and the ability to play in handheld mode without compromise prevent it from being the cynical cash-grab everyone expected it to be. That said, the steep £49.99 asking price makes it difficult to justify double dipping if you already own the Wii U original. Still, there's no denying that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of one of the best kart racing games ever made that should be in every Nintendo Switch owner’s collection. It’s hard to imagine Mario Kart getting any better than this – Nintendo has a tough act to follow for the inevitable dedicated Switch sequel.

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