Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings everything from the Wii U version to the Nintendo Switch and fills the hole where Battle Mode previously laid. When I reviewed Mario Kart 8 on Wii U in 2014, I felt that it was the best version of Mario Kart to date and that it was one of the best looking games not only on the Wii U but looked spectacular when stacked against its PlayStation and Xbox competition in early 2014. In fact, at the time, the only thing that wasn’t great about the Wii U version was the Battle Mode, which didn’t seem to really get what Battle Mode should be.
After about a year, I checked back in with the game. It had seen the release of two DLC packs, which in total added six new playable characters and sixteen new tracks to race on. By the end of the game’s first anniversary, it had become the pinnacle of Mario Kart games- sans the desired Battle Mode.
With the Switch release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Battle Mode is finally here. In addition to adding Battle Mode, and five game types within it, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe adds five new characters, new amiibo-unlocked racing suits, and two new weapons. It’s everything that I asked for back in the original release but now with the ability to go anywhere with me.
I think the strength of this game is complimented greatly by its home on the Switch. Thanks to the power of the console over its predecessor, the game outputs natively at 1080p and runs at a solid 60fps. Normally, I would never write those two things in an article but having spent so much time with the original game makes this game stand out even more as something to look at. In motion, this really is a spectacle. It shows a level of polish that I wish all games could achieve and it shows characters and levels in such a detailed way that I feel like I’m seeing things for the first time again.
With the Switch’s ability to pick up the console and carry it with you, suddenly the best version of console Mario Kart is also the best version of handheld Mario Kart. It also comes with the ability to be always ready for multiplayer. While some might find the single Joy-Con a little tight to play with, I feel that it’s pretty comfortable. The fact that the Switch is built with two controllers from the start makes this game that much more attractive for multiplayer.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also brings the online gameplay from the first. I’ve had nothing but really stable connections when playing online. As a single player experience, it’s tough to keep running the same Grand Prix matches against the computer players and find continued excitement, especially after completing everything the first time around in 2014. Online play is where I’ve been finding myself retaining the most interest in the game. It’s got a baked in ability to remain fresh because the challengers are always different and the order of courses played changes every time you play.
I do feel that the arbitrary ranking system in online play gives me nothing to want to increase my ranking. There is no sense of progression in my ranking other than seeing the number increase or decrease. Besides the fact that no one wants to lose, I have no real incentive to get first place in the game and climb higher in the online ranking. As a package that delivers everything to you up front, I can imagine that locking a kart or another piece of content behind a rank would reject the idea behind the release of the game but it would add something for the player who played the game previously and who is looking for that next sense of accomplishment.
The lack of reward for progression bleeds a bit outside of online play as well. With everything unlocked from the start, I feel like I have nothing to work toward. There’s no surprise in the game. There are kart pieces to unlock as you collect coins through the game, but they never feel like a big enough change to truly feel excited about unlocking them.
Finally, Battle Mode has arrived and with it comes five different modes. Balloon Battle is the classic mode that involves characters attacking one another until the opponent’s balloons have all popped. Renegade Roundup is a “cops and robbers” type of game that mounts Piranha Plants in front of the chasers’ vehicles and has them try to capture the chased into little cells. Bob-omb Blast returns from Double Dash and has players attack one another using Bob-ombs until a maximum number of points are achieved. Coin Runners from Mario Kart Wii has players collect as many coins as possible by the end of the match, and Shine Thief from Double Dash is a mode where players keep hold of the Shine Sprite for as long as possible as a countdown timer ticks away.
There are also eight stages to play through, each of which feel a lot more like the Battle Mode stages that we know and love from previous titles. Where the original Mario Kart 8 had stages that were just segments of larger courses, Deluxe adds actual claustrophobic courses that are better suited for Battle Mode. Not only do we see the return of some courses from past games, but we get to see some new inventive courses like Sweet Sweet Kingdom.
Ultimately, I feel that this is the best version of Mario Kart to date. It’s a better realized version of the complete package that already was Mario Kart 8 that adds the benefit and versatility of the Switch’s power and portability. It again rivals and at times exceeds what the other consoles are able to produce. Nintendo’s deep understanding of its own hardware brings this game to life in a way that we don’t usually get to enjoy. I wish there were a better sense of progression, both with in-game unlocks and online, but I feel like I might only feel this way after playing the original game for so many hours. In the end, any grievances I have are just nitpicking and this game deserves your time. I think it holds a lot of value for both the single player and the group, with a lot to look at and enjoy.
After many hours in the first week of its release, I’m hardly playing the game anymore. It feels like there’s nothing to play for. I completely understand why everything is unlocked from the start, but that feeling of progressing and unlocking new cups and circuits isn’t there and that’s disappointing for any newcomers like myself. I won’t lie though, having 200 cc from the start is really cool and is my favorite way of playing this game. The extra mechanic of braking while drifting adds just enough to make skill shine more than luck in most races. More times than not, I feel like I won or lost based on how good I am compared to others, which has been hard to find in past entries.
After playing against the computer for hours, I was hoping for a more complete online experience. I feel like the number next to my name means absolutely nothing, especially considering how much luck is involved with the timing of power ups in every race. I wish there was some kind of progression system that made me want to keep racing online. I would have loved a 200 cc online mode that made skill matter a little bit more.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a great package that showcases one of the Wii U’s best games. I’m glad they brought this game over to the Switch for people like me. I’m glad I could own and enjoy this game like everyone else could before this version, but I wish I could experience it the same way others could when the Wii U version came out.