Editor's Rating

The definitive version of Mario Kart and the best in the franchise. You must really hate Mario Kart to pass up on this one.

Level Design

While the WiiU wasn’t the success Nintendo may have hoped it would be, it did spawn what arguably was the best Mario Kart to date. But since the WiiU was skipped by a fair amount of gamers it’s good news that Nintendo is bringing that game to their latest console. Especially since it’s a deluxe version!

For many, a Mario Kart game is the reason to pick up a Nintendo console. Not surprisingly the Mario Kart games were the top-selling games for both the Wii & WiiU. So it’s not too surprising that Mario Kart is coming to the Switch so soon. The caveat, however, is that it isn’t an entirely new Mario Kart game. For the most part, this game is the same one from 2014, albeit with all the DLC included from the get-go. So, for all the gamers that skipped the WiiU this is great news. If you are a WiiU veteran you may want to think again, because you will have to pay for the whole game all over again, even if you downloaded it from the eshop on WiiU. Nintendo is offering no form of discount for those who have the WiiU version, nor have they announced if the Switch content will be coming to the WiiU as DLC.

The core game is pretty much exactly the same. I’ve already gone to great lengths to talk about that game , so I will be focussing on what makes this version “Deluxe”. While Mario Kart 8 was (and is) a superb game and possibly the pinnacle of the franchise it had one big fat issue: its battle mode was horrible. Instead of having the arenas Mario Kart fans have grown to know and love, the original Mario Kart 8 featured slightly modified tracks that simply did not work. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe thankfully addresses this problem and does it in such a way that battle mode is now up to par with the rest of the experience.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s battle mode has 8 arenas to pick from, all in various themes, including a funky new Splatoon themed one and several from earlier Mario Kart games. These arenas are open, multi-leveled and basically everything you want from a proper battle mode arena. To make good use of these arenas are 5 different types of battle you can have. These are Balloon Battle,  Renegade Roundup, Bob-Omb Blast, Coin Runners and Shine Thief. Each of these is quite different and utilizes the arena in different ways. You can pick and choose what battles you want to do or play a random set with score keeping, basically a battle mode cup. I really enjoyed this setup as choosing what to do can be hard with a bunch of people. While battle mode suggests multiplayer it is fully playable on your own, which is good to get some practice in.

Out of the five battle modes, Balloon Battle is the classic one. This was the one that came with the original and it is basically the same premise. You drive around the arena with a bunch of balloons attached to your kart. The aim is to collect items to pop all of the balloons of the opposition. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe adopts the point-based system from Mario Kart Wii & 7 instead of the last-man-standing approach the older games took. This prevents dragged out sessions where two players fail to hit each other, even though that also had its own appeal.

The next Battle mode is a new one called Renegade Roundup. This is basically a game of “cops and robbers” or perhaps good old tag. The players are divided into two teams. One team has piranha plants and have to capture the others. Once captured, a player is sent to a cell in which they remain until a team member is able to set them free. Once everybody is captured or the time runs out the game ends. Points are given for each player captured or freed.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has gone back to some older Mario Kart games and Double Dash has gotten a lot of attention. The first proof of this is the inclusion of the Bob-omb Blast battle mode from said game. Here you only have one item, a Bob-omb, of which you can carry up to ten.  You drive around with balloons and the aim is to hit as many opponents as you can. The simplicity of this mode really appealed to me as the playing field was evened out by only having the one item. It becomes a balancing act between bombing the arena and hitting enough question-mark boxes to keep enough bombs in supply.

The Coin Runners mode from Mario Kart Wii & 7 also makes a return. Here the aim is to collect – and keep – as many coins as you can find. Coins are a little scarce so the best supply of coins are the other players. Hit one and they’ll drop some of their coins ready for the pickup. This mode is trickier than it sounds because collecting the coins is a lot harder than it seems. Luckily the game has a new “explain” section on the main menu where I learned you can easily do a U-turn by pressing the gas & brake at the same time while steering hard left (or right). Still, getting all those coins is harder than it looks but that makes this mode good fun.

The final battle mode is another Double Dash mode: Shine Thief. What you need to do here is capture the Shine Sprite and hang on to it long enough for your personal timer to expire. Being hit will make you drop the Shine Sprite leaving it for someone else to pick up. Driving around with the Shine Sprite makes you a little slower too, so beware! This mode can become very chaotic as everyone is targeting the same player and you’re easily caught in the crossfire. But getting that Shine and driving it ‘home’ really feels good!

The new and improved, or should I say restored, Battle Mode is a great addition to an already excellent racer. It is the biggest reason for WiiU players to pick up the game again. But outside of Battle Mode, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe seems to have a lot of different smaller tweaks across the board. Although I can’t get hard proof, the game’s visuals seem to have been slightly tweaked. This is most noticeable in the game’s online area where all the player’s Miis are waiting for the next race to begin. In Deluxe their bodies are a lot more detailed with hands a spiffy scarf, like the models used during the races. During races, I got the idea the textures were just a little bit higher resolution than the ones in the WiiU incarnation. The tweaks can be seen elsewhere too, the menus are slightly different with things like the explain section being added. It’s all quite minor but when you start comparing there are quite a few of them.

Another big tweak in Deluxe is the addition of assisted steering. Assisted steering means the game will help you keep your kart on the road. This is a very good addition for younger players and really helps to relieve some of the frustration they can have. There is also a new automatic acceleration option with removes the need to keep pressing the acceleration button. While this should save some thumbs in the long run, it didn’t feel right to me, which is fine. You can enable (or disable) these features from the pause menu while racing or by pressing the + or – button during the kart selection screen. Assisted steering is great for younger players but veterans will surely want to turn it off as it will severely interfere with you trying to use shortcuts.

Content-wise, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers almost everything the original had plus all of it’s DLC (including the Mercedes branded stuff…). But there are some new additions. First, Splatoon is now represented in the game. This is further fuel to the discussion if “Mario” Kart should be the name of the game moving forward. Since right now you can play as Link on a vehicle from F-Zero in a level from Animal Crossing, no Mario in sight. Perhaps “Nintendo Kart” or “Super Smash Kart” would be better names for the series moving forward.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gives you most of its content from the get-go. You get access to all the tracks, arenas and characters from the start. No unlocking required. You do, however, need to unlock the additional vehicle parts and you do this by collecting coins. The nice thing about this approach is that you can collect coins in practically any part of the game. Time trialing will unlock the only unlockable character but that is the only non-coin related one. Overall I did miss the need to win certain cups to unlock new items.

Other new additions are the return of truly old-skool items like the feather and the ghost. The feather will make you jump (useful to avoid being hit by a shell) while the ghost will make you invisible (also helpful in the shell-avoidance department) and steal some else’s items (which can be terribly annoying if you are the one whose item gets stolen). These items haven’t been in a Mario Kart game since the original so it’s a nice touch to see them make a return. There is also more Double Dash influence in the form of a double item box. This means you can carry two items at once so you can use a mushroom while enjoying the effects of a star. While this is nice I did miss the Double Dash option to switch between these items at will!

The last and perhaps the most relevant addition from Double Dash is the support for local network multiplayer. Up to eight Switch systems can connect locally for some serious multiplayer action. This will surely be a big hit at our GDE’s.

The online mode hasn’t changed much from the original Mario Kart 8. This is actually where Deluxe drops a feature from the original. The online waiting area no longer supports voice chat, probably since there is no longer any hardware for it. While this isn’t something you’ll likely miss it does point out how bare bones the online experience is. Deluxe does improve on the previous version in a few significant points though. First of all, you can change your kart layout without leaving the group you’re in. This is a very welcome addition, especially when you want to try out different configurations. Another nice addition is how the Switch’ user system is incorporated. If you have multiple users on your Switch and each user has played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe they will have selected a Mii for that game. Those Miis can then be used online while playing under a different account and your online ranking is stored with it. So if I want to join my son online I can play under his account while still having my own online ranking. Even the coin collecting that happens is stored under my own user.

I did find it surprising that Nintendo’s promised online service didn’t make an appearance just yet. I guess we’ll have to wait until Splatoon 2 to see it arrive. When that does happen, however, I am fairly confident Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will get an update that will bring the service to the game.

Basically, this is the definitive version of Mario Kart, perhaps the last one to bear the Mario name but that is beside the point. With the added Battle Mode this is now the best Mario Kart game of the series. The addition of various small features previous versions of the series further cement Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s claim on the Mario Kart crown. The way it plays and looks is simply unmatched and it has everything you’d want from a Mario Kart game. You can play with whatever controller you like and Nintendo have even released steering wheels for those – like me – who prefer motion controls. While small, these wheels work great.

All things taken into account, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is firing on all cylinders and leaves very little to want. It plays and looks like a dream and now has all the options you could wish for. WiiU owners might be hesitant to shell out more money for a game they probably already own most of, but Deluxe has some big additions and the always present Switch-lure of being able to play this game (in multiplayer) on the go should be enough to convince them. If you skipped the WiiU this is a no-brainer. This is must-buy territory right here.