Mario Kart 8 stood out as the best-looking Mario Kart game yet when it came out on the Nintendo Wii U three years ago. Instead of making a new Mario Kart for the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo brought Mario Kart 8 to its new game system. In the process, Nintendo threw in both previously released DLC packs and made some few welcome changes to its multiplayer options, justifying the game’s $59.99 retail price. It’s the most robust Mario Kart game so far, and with the optional portability of the Switch it easily earns our Editors’ Choice.
The Mario Kart Basics
At heart, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the same game as Mario Kart 8. You choose from a few dozen Mario characters and a variety of go-karts and bikes (with different options for tires and gliders/parachutes), and race on colorful, varied tracks taken from different Nintendo games. The mechanics of driving, drifting, and using items to confound your opponents is unchanged from Mario Kart 8, which itself represented only an incremental evolution from 1996’s Mario Kart 64. It’s fun, goofy racing without a hint of realism.
As always, simply driving around is only part of the game. Helpful items and weapons can wildly swing the course of a race, with everything from banana peels to bombs available semi-randomly from boxes scattered on each track. The dreaded blue shell is still the bane of racers in first place, but the shockwave-blasting red horn provides at least some form of countermeasure. And you can simply blast through crowds with the Bullet Bill or Power Star bonuses, and obscure other racers’ views with Blooper’s screen-smearing ink attack.
The traditional Mario Kart item-based assist system is ever-present, with racers in last place regularly getting the most powerful items and pack leaders generally only picking up banana peels and green shells. It’s both infuriating and entertaining, and ensures that you can never feel too comfortable even if you’re far ahead of everyone else in the race.
You stay on the ground most of the time, riding the vehicles of your choice on the tires of your choice. Sometimes you drive straight up a wall, though. Most tracks have sections where your kart or bike’s tires flip sideways and become hovering engines, letting you drive on completely vertical or wildly corkscrewing tracks. The basic gameplay remains the same for these sections, with some shifts in perspective and slight tweaks in how the vehicles handle. You can also take to the skies for long jumps, deploying a glider or parachute that lets you steer in the air to collect items or take alternate routes.
Mario Kart 8 launched with eight cups consisting of four tracks each for a total of 32 tracks. Since the game came out, Nintendo released two DLC packs of two additional cups each, along with new racers like Link from The Legend of Zelda and Villager from Animal Crossing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes all the DLC content for a whopping 48 tracks. That’s more tracks than any other Mario Kart game. Half of the tracks are enhanced versions of tracks from older Mario Kart games, but they still hold up very well.
You can race on your own or with other players in a variety of ways. For local multiplayer, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe supports split-screen racing for up to four players on one Switch. You can also have races for up to eight players with local Wi-Fi, if all players have their own Switches. Online multiplayer is another option, with the feature remaining free through the Fall, when Nintendo will launch its premium, subscription-based online service. If these aren’t enough options, you can also play online or over local wireless with two players on one Switch using a split screen view.
Because it’s on the Nintendo Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe lets you play on the go, as well as on your TV. It’s a freedom we last saw in Mario Kart 7 on the Nintendo 3DS, coupled with high definition graphics only seen up to now on the Wii U through a TV. When docked, the Switch outputs Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to a TV at 1080p, and when out of the dock and used as a handheld or tabletop system it displays the game at 720p on the Switch’s screen. The portable option is very welcome, and I enjoyed playing several cups during my commute. Split-screen multiplayer is best when docked, though, since cutting the Switch’s screen in half for each player results in a very cramped view.
Graphical performance is consistently solid, with most action appearing very smooth both in 720p handheld mode and in 1080p when docked. The only exception is four-player split-screen, which causes the action to stutter slightly. It doesn’t become horribly choppy, but the framerate dip compared is noticeable.
Better Battle Mode
My biggest complaint with Mario Kart 8 was its Battle mode, a non-race multiplayer mode. Each player raced with three balloons attached to his or her kart, and the goal was to protect them while trying to pop other players’ balloons with the game’s different items. Battle Mode was disappointing, because it used the same tracks as the races, which simply weren’t designed for the mode and resulted in very slow, awkward battles.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe completely fixes this problem with an overhauled Battle mode. Battles now take place on their own arena-like maps, which flow much better for the different style of gameplay. The new Battle Mode maps are much more open than the race tracks, with wide spaces for chasing after and hiding from other players. They’re extremely varied, with three maps adapted from previous versions (Luigi’s Mansion from Mario Kart Double Dash, Wuhu Town from Mario Kart 7, and Battle Course I from the original Super Mario Kart) and five new ones.
Besides Balloon Battle, which now gives players five balloons each instead of three, there are four additional Battle Modes. Renegade Roundup is a cops-and-robbers game where one team has to arrest members of the other with piranha plants attached to their vehicles, while the renegade team tries to break them out of an in-map jail. Coin Runners challenges players to collect the most coins before time runs out (and getting hit by items makes you drop some of your coins). Shine Chase has players racing around to grab and steal a Shine (from Super Mario Sunshine) and hold onto it for 20 seconds. Bob-omb Blast is the least inventive of the new modes, putting a minor spin on Balloon Battle by limiting the weapons to exploding Bob-ombs.
The new Battle Mode is a blast, offering much more variety and far better maps than the original Battle Mode in Mario Kart 8. Both split-screen and wireless battles are tons of fun, but split-screen really has an edge thanks to the ability to semi-cheat by looking at other players’ screens, and trash talk your friends when they’re in the same room.
Worth Switching For
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of Mario Kart 8, the most comprehensive Mario Kart game yet, and a must-buy game for the Nintendo Switch. It’s a port of a three-year-old Wii U game, but it’s an immaculate, great-looking port that fixes the original version’s flaws, adds all the DLC content, and lets you play it on the go. If you have a Switch, you need to get Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and if you love Mario Kart, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is compelling enough to justify picking up a Switch just to play it. It’s the second must-buy game for the Switch after The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it earns our Editors’ Choice award.