I’d be lying if i said that I don’t approach a Mario Kart review with a certain amount of trepidation. You know what you’re getting into with a Mario Kart title — vehicular barbarism and savagery on parade, draped in the charming trappings of a cartoon. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe does not go out of its way to assuage that trepidation one bit.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DOES reap the benefit of being a re-release of a three year old title, however. Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U was the pitch review that got me my job writing for The Iris, back when we were still calling the video game section VideAU Games. A lot of what I thought about the game then remains true now — Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not now, nor has it ever been, about the race. It’s a party game, or rolling grudge match, depending on your tolerance for being trolled by your friends. How technically proficient a racer you are doesn’t matter because all it takes is a well-timed red shell to send you back to sixth place or worse. The correlation between your inputs and the outcome of any given race are very nearly nothing at all. Taking first place for any length of time in a Mario Kart game is a bad idea. It leads directly to your annihilation at the hands of a squeaking mushroom boy in a billy cart.
So, for those of you that have played Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U already, what’s new in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that you’d consider picking it up again? In addition to all of the DLC released for the Wii U version, there are six new characters (Bowser Jr., Gold Mario, Dry Bones, King Boo and the Inkling Boy and Inkling Girl from Splatoon), two new tracks (Urchin Underpass and Battle Stadium), new and returning modes like the new super-fast 200CC grand prix and the fan-favourite Battle Mode from the N64 era, replete with sub-games of its own like Coin Runners from Mario Kart Wii and Bob-omb Blast from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
(On a personal note, it breaks my heart that Bob-omb Blast was the thing from Double Dash that made it into this game and not the actual co-op two-to-a-kart mechanic. You gave me the perfect Mario Kart game in 2003, Nintendo, and it’s never been the same since.)
New items include Boo, who’ll let you steal other players’ items, however the game now lets you hold two items which makes things marginally fairer in that regard. Your drift sparks are now three-tiered instead of two for an extra burst of speed. There are also three new vehicles, two of which are Splatoon-themed.
One new feature that I only discovered after playing the game for a while was a new Auto Steering feature. This functions the same way bumpers on the side of a bowling alley do — it’s impossible to leave the course. While fine for little kids and great for anyone with a condition that prevents full dexterity in their hands, I personally found the auto drive would get in my way more often than it didn’t. Shortcuts are out of the question because smart steering will stop you dead in your tracks if you attempt to take them. It also seemed as though it had a hard time telling when I was deliberately nearing the edge of the course and when I was actually out of control, pulling me out of deliberately wild drifts and slowing me to a crawl. Dealing with the hyper-aggressive AI is frustrating enough, adding an invisible parent that periodically grabs your kart and tells you to settle down is truly maddening.
Speaking of the AI, returning from the Wii U version is the absolutely brutal opponent AI above 100CC, all of whom wield their newfound ability to pick up two items like a cudgel. The moment you take first place is the same moment a cruel and seemingly endless barrage of red shells appears behind you. They wait until you exhibit a moment of weakness and pounce on you. Accidentally firing off an item that could be used to protect yourself from their barrage means opening yourself up to a perfect storm of attacks.
Visually, the game seems to run quite a bit more smoothly than its predecessor, particularly during split-screen multiplayer. Maybe its my eyes playing tricks but everything looks a touch crisper than it did on the Wii U and the frame is certainly more solid. The ability to jump the Switch screen of its dock and take the game with you is also rewarding in and of itself and a novelty that has yet to wear off on me.
If you’re a new Switch owner who has never played Mario Kart 8 before, then this is unquestionably worth your time. Get a few friends around and have a good time. For those players returning from the Wii U version, it may seem as though there’s more on offer here than there was before, and in some cases that’s true, but by-and-large you’ll likely find it all more of the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’d caution against thinking this is a ground-up reworking of the original because it isn’t.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the most comprehensive game the series has ever produced. If you love the series, you’ll absolutely love this. If Mario Kart isn’t your cup of tea (and I couldn’t blame you if it wasn’t) then this won’t do anything to change your mind.
Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Looks great; Great track design; New modes are cool
Lowlights: Returning players may not feel like enough has changed to warrant a second purchase
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.