Get Blue Shelled again.
Cards on the table, reviewing a Mario Kart title is somewhat difficult, since pretty much anyone touching a Nintendo console has bought that machine’s corresponding title. On average, Mario Kart outsells literally everything else on the platform, and for good reason. Powered by easy accessibility, familiar characters, and a whole lot of color, Kart deserves the place it holds among game fans of all stripes.
In fact, for a franchise that has been functionally the same since Mario Kart 64, it’s somewhat amazing that it’s taken Nintendo this long to clue in on the idea that they could just release the same title with some enhancements and reap the same amount of reward as a new title. And yes, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is mostly a re-release of the Wii U Mario Kart 8 that isn’t nearly as old as it sounds. On paper, that could sound like Nintendo is going the route the competition did to float the Switch. However, I’d contend that’s not the case for two simple reasons: not enough people bought a Wii U, and Mario Kart 8 is the functionally best the series has ever been-and Deluxe only makes that better.
I see you, fans of 64 and Double Dash, but you simply cannot argue with the presentation on hand with MK8. The game was gorgeous on the Wii U, and Deluxe goes even further by taking things to a more proper HD resolution, with 60 frames per second performance. This carries over to the Switch’s portable mode as well, looking crisp on the small screen and retaining the frame performance. For Switch owners, this must come as a level of relief as Deluxe is a far better example of range than the ported Breath of the Wild is for the still young Switch. Additionally, the game manages to be a lot kinder on the Switch’s battery in my own experience hauling the game around everywhere I could.
For those of you who didn’t play the Wii U version, what MK8D has on offer is some of the best designed courses the series has ever produced. From the early cups that are designed to familiarize players with the new hovercraft mechanic to those originally added as DLC that require a strong grip on the metaphorical wheel, the game feels designed to actually make one a good Mario Kart player on top of giving parties a little bit of competition. At the same time, every single track has the kind of peppy, encouraging music you expect from the Mario franchise, and it’s all catchy. Combined with some of great little details in each course, like mining Shy Guys or Toads at an EDC concert, every course is worth the constant replay they’ll get. Older tracks return from across Mario Kart’s storied history, and each is given the same level of polish and care as the new ones.
The changes that Deluxe bring to the table are what make the package stronger, though. One gaping flaw in the Wii U version was the severely lightweight Battle mode. The mode was in the Wii U version of the game, but players were expected to battle on the exact same courses as races took place. While the heart behind this could be understood, after all the courses are very well done, they simply were too long and not designed for this mode. Deluxe resolves this by completely overhauling Battle mode with both old and new arena courses. Properly designed for the various battle games, this goes a long way to patch up what was MK8’s most glaring flaw, even if it means that no more race tracks were added. Battle’s glorious return also brings a new surprise in the form of a Splatoon themed arena, along with Inkling boys and girls to play as. As a bonus, both Inklings can be different skin colors. We also see King Boo and Dry Bones return, helping to make the roster feel less dominated by child characters (All 7 Koopalings, baby versions of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Rosalina), though Bowser Jr. is always a welcome guest.
Battle isn’t the only comeback, as the oft-requested double item feature from the Gamecube’s Double Dash. It’s clear why the feature is so beloved-more items lead to more chaos, and it also is the biggest difference between the Switch and Wii U versions of the game. Thanks to the double items, the distribution of items shifts significantly. Some boxes are even double item boxes, so some racers will have an extra item in the crowd even right out of the gate. The Wii U version also had some questionable item pushes, and that sometimes impacts the racing experience. Double items messes with this further, as more boxes being opened, ratios are changed. In fact, myself and many others online have indicated that the Lightning Bolt seems to be showing up significantly more. Get used to being tiny. Additionally, where Double Dash had two characters holding items and they can switch around, in MK8D, you have to use the first item before hitting the second.
So, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is pretty much a smash hit, right? Mostly, but there are some issues to take note of, and a good portion of it is the fault of the Switch itself. While the JoyCon controllers are great for pick up and play multiplayer, that is only going to get you a second player. To get two more players each on a single JoyCon is going to set you back more than MK8D itself even costs. Not to mention that I don’t personally find even two as a whole controller comfortable for long time play of this title, and if you might feel the same, then you’ll also want to invest in the Pro Controller. That controller is absolutely stellar, but it starts to make it really expensive to actually get the most out of MK8D. For myself, I’ve opted to just keep all my Wiimotes and such on hand for the Wii U version when I have a bunch of folks together for karting.
The Switch is also still in the “getting there” phase in terms of multiplayer. I experienced connection issues in just about every situation I tested the game in-from just a local game to another Switch to sitting on the couch with my wi-fi router only two feet away in handheld mode. I also tried the hidden LAN play feature, but that was a fairly messy experience that eventually required us to connect our Switches to a wireless network to even get them all into the hub. While drops didn’t happen to a point of being insufferable, it’s important as eventually playing this online isn’t going to be a free ride.
When you actually get into a game, things run pretty well, though no matter how you matchmake, you’ll only choose from three courses-a fourth option for random is also available. Usually this isn’t too annoying, but if you aren’t a fan of a particular course it can start to weigh down, especially if you get kicked and end up in another group that picks courses you’ve already played. Players have a score that indicates skill, and it really isn’t too hard to raise with some perseverance. This isn’t a case of either being first or last, thankfully. Players also now have the option to change characters and kart settings without having to drop, which is a welcome change. Finally, user-generated and official tournaments are also available, which can be a lot of fun, as they are drop-in and drop-out within set windows of time, giving players control over their participation.
But honestly, even if I didn’t have nearly as much praise as I do, would it matter? Reality is, if you’re even tangentially near a Nintendo Switch, you’ve either played or will end up playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The good news is, no matter how unnecessary this may feel, you won’t be disappointed with that reality. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is deserving of the title of Nintendo Switch must-own.
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Released: April 28th, 2017
Copy Purchased By Reviewer