The Mario Kart series has a long and illustrious history on Nintendo systems. It’s first release came in 1992 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and became so popular, it’s had a major iteration on every other Nintendo system since then. Due in large part to it’s wonderfully designed pick-up and play style and assortment of colorful characters. Not to mention, the iconic racing tracks, cup races, and the battle mode. It is easily one of Nintendo’s most beloved Mario spin-off titles.
However, some of these features didn’t make it into the original Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. Mainly, the aforementioned Battle mode. Well, at least in the way most gamers remember it anyway. There were also two DLC packs released for the Wii U version, which added a whole set of new tracks and characters to the game as well. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo brought out a deluxe edition, which includes everything released for the Wii U version and some more additions in one package. Making for the ultimate Mario Kart experience that works in your hands, and on television.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review
Title: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Players: (1-4 Local Split Screen, 1-8 Local Wireless, 1-12 LAN, 1-12 Online)
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Setting the Stage
Since this is a deluxe edition, probably the most pressing concern for many is what it actually includes. Especially, for those who currently or previously owned the Wii U version.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has all 42 characters unlocked at the outset. There’s the expected Mario and friends, The specialized Mii character, and staples like Koopa Troopa, Bowser and Donkey Kong. Characters such as: Link from the Legend of Zelda series, Isabelle and Villager from the Animal Crossing series, and a few others also come via the DLC packs. Then, there’s the new additions of Inkling Boy and Girl from the Splatoon series. Not to mention, Bowser Jr., Dry Bones (one of my favorites to use) and King Boo.
Items, Tracks and Special Things
Also returning to the series in MK8 Deluxe are the feather and Boo items. Boo steals an item from a random racer. While the feather is mainly used in battle mode to allow players to jump over objects. This is particularly useful in certain battle modes. Especially, where avoiding incoming bombs or plants in a split second can be the difference between victory or defeat.
Along with that, players can carry two items at once. This is easily identified by one double question block, which is next to the other single question blocks. You could also decide to just carry one single item and then wait until the next row of blocks to have two items. Since these are random based on your position in a race, there’s always a bit of RNG. However, it seems much more balanced than in MK8 on Wii U. If you are in the higher number positions (9-12), there’s a plethora of helpful items like stars and super bombs to help you get caught up. This is especially true online, where it seems like every 30 seconds someone has a star. The blue shell issue also seems downplayed here too. Usually, I only saw about one per race in most cases.
Lastly, 200cc speed races and all tracks are unlocked from the start as well. So, players can practice and play on any track they want. Especially because 200cc races require almost precise precision and knowledge of the terrain to get first place. You do still unlock certain karts, parachutes and other smaller things by collecting coins in races. However, first time players may be disappointed at the lack of satisfaction felt from not getting to unlock tracks or characters. Considering everything MK8 Deluxe offers, it’s something you’ll probably get over quickly though.
Another inclusion is that of Smart Steering. This is basically safety cones for beginners. Smart Steering makes sure players don’t go majorly off-road or zoom off cliffs. Thus allowing for focus on driving and moving past other racers. Players can easily see when smart steering is active, because a yellow light turns on at the top of the kart antenna. However, this doesn’t keep everyone on course. For example, my daughter (age 6), would still slightly wind up on the sidelines. So, this isn’t an auto-steering mechanic either. It’s more like a helping hand.
Experienced players also probably want to turn this off. (It’s turned on from the start of play.) Smart Steering prevents players from taking shortcuts or finding the best route. So, if you like doing that sort of thing, it’s hard to do with Smart Steering illuminated. More importantly, it prevents you from using the Purple Drift Boost, which is very important to getting a leg up on competition on the harder difficulties.
Online Play and Battle Mode
This is all pretty straightforward. Players can join with other friends and play versus or battle mode. You can also take yourself and a local friend on the same system and play with randoms. There’s an option for Worldwide or Regional play. Then, select your character and it searches for players. Then, you choose between three tracks or choose one at random, and wait. Sometimes you’ll have to spectate a match, but for the most part this happens quickly. After that, just keep playing with the same set of people for a length of races or battles.
Having 12 players in a race makes things fun, but also frantic. Races run at either 100cc or 150cc depending on the skill of all the participants. There’s also a constant switching of positions. So, players really have to bring all of their skill in each race to get the win. I’ve probably played over 100 races and 50 battles. Not once did I run into lag or any sort of connection problem. Everything ran smoothly.
However, trying to get online friends into a session is a bit convoluted. You can go to the friends section and create a friend’s only lobby. Although, you can’t invite them. They have to go to their friend’s section and see who’s playing. Then, they can select Join and it takes them to the lobby.
Although, this is only playing with friends. If you want to play with friends and others, it requires a bit of luck. If your friend is in a random online session, you can hit Join. However, there has to be an open spot in the session where your friend is. If not, you’ll be left spectating or be put into another session. Thus forcing you to have to back out and try again.
While Nintendo is bringing out a paid online service, it’s still a bit upsetting that something simple as an invite still doesn’t exist in a game like this. Sure, there are ways around this, but Sony and Microsoft make things so easy by adding an invite button. Giving players the chance to see improvements in the online system before launching a paid service, may not be such a bad idea.
While Online Racing is mostly the same, Battle mode is the biggest overhaul for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Battle Mode Specifics
The most welcome addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the revamped Battle Mode. This resembles the battle modes from the earlier games. While also bringing in some new modes as well. Battle mode is available in local play and online too. In local play, you have the ability to choose from different options. These include: Length of a battle or series of battles, whether or not to have team play, and also more specific things. Of course, in online play among a lobby of friends, you can do the same thing. However, in playing against regional or worldwide opposition, the game switches between the five different modes at random. This helps keep things fresh and players paying attention. So, let’s get into those actual modes.
Balloon Battle: The most traditional and straightforward. Something just feels right about using an item available to wreak havoc on your foes. Although, unlike in previous games, there are no total eliminations. Instead, players gain points for every opposing balloon they pop. While also avoiding objects so they don’t pop your balloons. If a player loses all of their balloons before time expires, they receive a five point penalty. Thus greatly affecting the final score at the end.
Bob-omb Blast: Trade regular items, for bombs and it follows the same concept. Go around accumulating bombs by hitting the question blocks and then throw them at opponents for a certain amount of time. Each time your bomb hits someone, even if indirectly, you get a point. The point penalty for losing all of your balloons also applies here. So, players be weary of just hovering around the large open areas. The bombs are plentiful and fly by in large amounts. Especially, if you have a full compliment of 12 players on screen. One could quickly go from having five balloons down to one, mainly because they didn’t drive around.
Coin Runners: This is fairly simple. Coins are scattered everywhere around a level. Go collect as many of them as you can before time runs out. A crown on the mini map easily depicts who’s in the lead. While you can also hit other opponents with items to make their coins scatter, like Sonic when he gets hit. Then, players can grab those and continue accumulating coins. The final amount of coins one has when time expires is what counts.
Shine Thief: Once the battle begins, a Shine appears. Players rush to grab it. Resulting in a chaotic game of kill the carrier. The goal is to try to hold the Shine for a total of 20 seconds. You don’t have to do this all at once. Instead, the game keeps track of how many seconds you’ve held the Shine in total. So, each time the Shine is lost and then obtained again, it starts from there. Making this battle even more chaotic. Especially, since it’s impossible for you to remember the amount of time for each person. While one person may grab it and you have 18 seconds to dislodge the Shine, (via items or ramming into them,) another person may only grant you five seconds to do the same thing. The constant switching and changing keeps everyone on their toes and makes for a super fun experience.
Renegade Round-up: Basically, cops and robbers with karts. This is the only one that is mandatory team based. One group runs from the law and avoids being put in the cage. While the other is the law and tires to capture the renegades. The law abiding citizens gain points by how many renegades get captured. The renegades gain points by how many of their comrades they free from cages. Other than obviously leading to your team’s demise, you aren’t penalized for being captured. There are also two cages in each level. Players can capture opponents into either one. The free evading players only have to run over a tab on the side of a cage to free their comrades. This process keeps going until either everyone is captured on one side, or time runs out.
At the end of every battle, you are awarded an amount of points based on your ranking. This is then transferred to your global online score. Nintendo also made the smart decision of keeping battle scores and versus race scores separate. So, you could potentially have a super high battle score, and one not as good in versus races.
My only gripe and it’s a small one, is that the arena’s are not really battle arenas. They are more like scaled down versions of tracks that already exist. So, they aren’t the enclosed mayhem driven settings from the older games. They play and feel more like regular tracks that go in a loop. Nintendo solved this a little, by adding older tracks, but it’s still not the same. Battle Mode overall is very fun and the added modes help bring variety as well.
Nintendo Switch Aspects
Perhaps the most important aspect of this release, is how it fares on the Nintendo Switch itself.
The game runs at a beautiful 1080p and 60 frames when docked. However, only during singleplayer or two player split screen. Anything beyond that, it runs at 1080p and 30 frames. In portable mode, it runs at 720p and 30 frames. The game looks and runs great no matter what mode you play it in. It’s honestly amazing how much depth there is to these levels and how much care went into the little things. The recreations of older Mario Kart levels fit right in, with the levels made for Mario Kart 8. Encompassing everything from the SNES up until Mario Kart Wii and in-between as well. There are 12 cups in all, with four of them (16 tracks) being made up of tracks from Mario Kart 8.
The others are a combination of cups with old tracks and new ones from the DLC, like Hyrule Castle. Going from a level where you are at an airport, to one where you are mostly underwater is a utterly fascinating. Then, spending time at the Donkey Kong level and hearing the music, or seeing the old SNES Rainbow Road again brings back some nice memories too.
Controls and Switch Modes
My favorite way of playing most Switch games is using it as a total handheld in portable mode. It’s just nice to lay in the bed, go to the bathroom, or even stand in the kitchen and play a few tracks. Not to mention, taking Mario Kart to a friend’s house sans Dock and getting to show off the game. Everything feels good, although due to the size of the joycon buttons, constantly having to hold down A for long periods, can cause them to cramp a bit. It’s not overly painful, just does wear on you some.
Unlike Zelda, where sometimes playing docked created some issues, playing docked with a Pro Controller is the best way to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The Pro controller is just a great controller to use. The big buttons have a comfortable feel to them, giving you much more space as well. Specifically with the top shoulder buttons used for drifting and throwing items.
Mario Kart 8 was made for play on one joycon. Yes, the right joycon (Red joycon if you have the colored ones) is going to take time for adjustment. However, after a few races, it feels normal. I purposely used this controller so that my daughter had an easier time playing. So, needless to say, I used it a lot.
Although only two people on one Switch can play online, locally, there are more options. Four people can play together on one television. There’s also local wireless play for up to two Switches. Mario Kart is more fun with friends, so if you are looking for a party game on Switch, this it.
Either way you play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it simply works and takes only a few races to get acclimated to the action on screen. My daughter got better as she kept playing and went from consistently finishing 12th at first. Then, she progressed and now finishes around 6th or 7th. This is also one of her first true video games. For a more experienced child, they may grasp things a lot faster and obviously do much better than her.
All the great things about Mario Kart 8 in one package
Looks and plays even better on Nintendo Switch
Online Play is simple to get into and never encountered problems
Battle Mode makes a welcome return to the series
Game plays well in any Switch mode
Some may find it annoying all the big stuff is unlocked at the outset
No Invite system for online play
Trying to play online with friends and randoms at the same time is harder than it should be
Overall Thoughts: 9.5 Out of 10 Mario Kart 8 was already a great game on the Wii U. Now on the Nintendo Switch it’s even better. Bringing everything from the previous games into one package and putting it on a new system was a great call. This is the one Mario spin-off series that always delivers consistent thrills, fun gameplay, and also keeps things simple. If you want to be great at Mario Kart, there’s certainly challenge and depth. If you want to just have some friends over and have a good time, it’s also here. Putting aside some small online frustrations, this is a flawless game, which you can now take with you anywhere. Unless you already own this for Wii U, and don’t plan on letting go of that system, this is an absolute must buy for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch.
For the sake of transparency, the publisher (Nintendo) provided a physical copy of the game for review purposes.