I’m going to be completely honest with you. I was very skeptical about the idea of a new version of Mario Kart 8 for Switch and not a completely different game altogether. The stuff I was seeing didn’t seem like it would really justify warranting another purchase for people who already owned the game. Yes, for people who didn’t buy the game on Wii U a purchase of the Switch edition of the game would be a no-brainer, but is there enough to really justify coming back and double dipping on the game if you already own it?
The answer to that question is absolutely, and let me explain to you some of the reasons why. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a game of the year edition of the game, more or less. It comes bundled in with all of the content of the previous game (minus some of the Battle Mode stuff, but more on that later). It includes both of the DLC packages and brings the total number of tracks in the game to 48 and racers to 42 (58 if you count all the color variations of Yoshi and Shy Guy as separate racers, but that’s just being silly). Included in that racer count are four new characters; Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, and the two Inkling kids from Splatoon. They’ve crammed a ton of content in the game.
The most important change to the game, at least for me, was the inclusion of the driving assists. There are two different things that Nintendo has added to allow players to make the game more accessible. These changes allow younger players to compete against their parents or older siblings and even allows people with disabilities to play the game when maybe they hadn’t before. Smart Steering keeps the car on the track and it is impossible to get the kart to go somewhere that it shouldn’t go. This has the one downside of not allowing you to use shortcuts, but if you can barely control the car to begin with you probably won’t be thinking about shortcuts. The other is Auto Acceleration, which does exactly what it sounds like. It simply makes the car go forward without you having to push a button. This has meant that my four year old daugher, who hasn’t really been interested in playing many games, can play this with me. Every night she’s asked to play ‘the new Mario Kart game’ with me and it’s been great fun. I will not ever make fun of these features that allow more people to be able to play a game. They’re completely optional and you don’t have to use them if you don’t want. They are turned on by default so the first time you enter a race you’ll have to turn them off.
Another new addition, and one I’m very glad to see make a return are double item boxes. These double item boxes really change the way you think of getting around the track. They’re generally out of the way or in the slower parts of the course meaning that if you really want to grab them you have to decide whether or not you want them that badly and risk speed/time or if you just want to race around the track as fast as possible. One drawback to these is that you can’t switch the items on the fly like you could in Mario Kart: Double Dash. So you have to decide if the item you really want to use, that might be in your second item slot) is worth essentially wasting the first item for or if you can hold on to that green shell to protect yourself, even though you have a red shell waiting in the wings. While I’m talking about things from Double Dash; dear Nintendo, could you please make an HD version of Double Dash or bring back the option to allow two characters on one kart again.
When you’re racing around a corner and you’re building up those boosts hold on to the drift as long as you possibly can. You’ll be rewarded with Mario Kart 8’s new purple sparks. This third level of mini-boost really lets you keep the speed up just a little bit longer and gives players who can use corners to their advantage a big leg up in taking the lead. These new sparks take a long time to build up so they’re only really worth going for on very long, sweeping turns, but if you can get them you’ll be greatly rewarded. There’s a bit of risk/reward in trying to get them. Hold a turn for too long to try and build up that boost and you risk running right into a wall when you come out of the turn. I like the addition of purple sparks and it makes me wonder just how crazy Nintendo can get with these in future games.
Battle Mode makes a return and it’s far better than its counterpart on the Wii U. Gone are the way to sprawling tracks that you played on in that game. Back are the tighter, much more battle friendly tracks that keep the action close and frantic. There are five different battle modes to choose from and they all have you doing very different things. Shine Runner, which is one of my favorites, has the players basically playing a moving version of King of the Hill. Players try to grab a single Shine Sprite and hold on to it until the end of the game. Balloon Battle is the most well known battle mode and it has you trying to pop other racers balloons and score points. You start with five balloons each and even when you’ve run out of balloons you still have the chance to play, meaning you’re never really out of the action at any time. Renegade Roundup, another of my favorites, has you playing cops and robbers with teams. One team has piranha plants attached to the front of their cars and you’re trying to catch the other team and send them to jail. If you can catch all the renegades your team wins. If one renegade can survive until the end of the round that team wins. Bob-omb Blast has all the players lobbing bombs at each other. Coin Runners is a scramble to collect the most coins in the time limit. Each of these battle modes can be played on one of eight different battle specific courses that all have their own challenges to overcome as well. I have never really been a fan of battle mode in the past, but I found I actually enjoyed playing many of these modes and will be coming back to them again and again.
A lot of my enjoyment of the game, and one of the big reasons to pick it up, is simply the system itself. It can’t be overstated how nice it is to be able to play this game anywhere and anytime you want. Mario Kart on handheld systems have been good in the past, but Mario Kart 8 is easily the best portable Mario Kart game released to date. If your daughter wants to play with you, but someone is watching a movie on the TV just grab the Switch, set up in the dining room and have fun. Your co-workers want to get in a couple races on their lunch break, then throw down over sandwiches.
The online play is as good as it’s ever been. I did have some issues when trying to connect with players in my region. If I selected to play worldwide I had no issues at all connecting to races. Now, when you’re spectating it shows you what lap the players are on so you have an idea of how close it is until the next race. Getting in and out of races was simple. The connection was always solid and I never had any issues with dropping or connection loss. You now even have the ability to change your character and kart between races from the hub without having to get out of a room and reconnecting into the game. It’s a small change, but a very welcome one. Oh, and LAN play is back. You can connect up to 12 different Switch systems together for LAN play for up to 12 players. Add to that the ability to connect multiple systems together with two players on each system and you’ve got a lot of different options for how to play multi-player Mario Kart together.
Mario Kart is the gold standard in arcade racing for a reason. It’s fun. It’s frantic. It’s maddening at times, but ultimately, you’re having a good time, especially if you’re gathered with a group of friends who are all there just to enjoy some time together. Mario Kart 8 was already good on the Wii U, but it’s been improved for the release on Switch. If you bought it on Wii U and you have a Switch you might really want to look at doubling down and grabbing a copy of this version. If you have a Switch and didn’t play Mario Kart 8 on Wii U then just go ahead and pick up a copy of the game now.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo.
Played through every cup on 100cc and 150cc, many online races and battle mode.
Total Play Time: 15 hours with dozens more to come.