It’s uncommon to try and shift a game series into multiple genres. Doom has always been a first person shooter. Silent Hill will always be survival horror. Grand Theft Auto games won’t ever stop being satirical open-world sandboxes. It can be a risky move for a studio to completely disregard what has worked in the past and try to branch out into other fields. Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise, born out of 2D platforming almost 35 years ago, has remained the best case. There have been sports, party and role-playing games bearing the Super Mario name, but the finest example of a spin-off almost eclipsing the main series has laid in the Mario Kart videogames.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe marks both the series and Mario’s debut on the Switch. A port of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, the updated version packages all the tracks and characters, including DLC, as well as pulling in some new features requested by fans.
Jumping straight into Grand Prix mode, the standard form of play in Mario Kart, there are a few difficulties you can choose from which affect how fast you and the other racers are. While I found 50cc and 100cc to be moderately relaxed, my skills were put to the test once I attempted the higher modes. Countless times, I would be dominating a race only to be pulled back into fifth place due to some unfortunate enemy shells. It can induce rage, but the challenge offered by higher difficulties is welcome.
During play, the game can deliver a perfectly smooth experience. There were no frame drops or noticeable graphics changes during my dock/undock test, and Nintendo have also given you greater freedom to choose how you control the kart. You can toggle between using the thumbstick or the motion controls to steer, and there’s an auto-accelerate option for those that don’t want to hold down their thumb on the A button for 99% of the race. There’s also a weird ‘smart-steering’ option, which prevents you from falling off cliffs or hitting walls. For me, this was uncomfortable. It made the controls too automated, as if there was less room for error. I believe turning off safe-steering is probably the more enjoyable option, though children or disabled gamers may find a lot of value in this mode. The Switch’s HD Rumble is also used to its advantage. When your kart goes underwater, or soars through the air, you can feel the motion in your hands. For what it’s worth, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has adapted well to the playstyle of the console, with players also able to use one Joy-Con each for play, meaning two sets of controllers can accommodate four players in local multiplayer.
In Mario Kart 8’s original release, many complained at Nintendo’s lazy application of Battle Mode, a mode where players compete for points in an arena. Battle Mode on the Wii U took place on the standard tracks and would lead to matches being drawn-out and boring. For a mode that has been part of the series’ legacy since the beginning, it was more of an afterthought rather than something Nintendo truly wanted fans to appreciate. For Deluxe, Battle Mode returns in its best form. The arenas are back, old and new, along with classic games such as Bob-omb Blast, Balloon Battle, and Coin Runners. There’s a new one, Renegade Roundup, a ‘cops and robbers’ game where one team has to catch the other and send them to jail before the time depletes. It’s manic, fast-paced and boundless.
For players that have migrated from Wii U to Switch, you may be tempted to leave the single-player alone and jump straight into online. Here you are provided with many options. Public races are fun but challenging due to the amount of pros inhabiting the servers. Nonetheless, it felt like a completely new game when you replace the AI with real people. Strategies and kart loadouts need to be tweaked. Gathering friends for private play is also worth it, as you have more choice over the tracks and you can taunt them on social media afterwards. On the downside, it seems Nintendo have not fully optimised its online service yet. There can be slowdowns, lag, dropped connections; it’s an experience hard to justify paying for, though I’m optimistic this will be worked out before the paid service arrives later in the year.
While many of the games released for Switch have been ports of older games, I am confident in assuring that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe feels like a brand new title. There’s enough new content and gameplay tweaks for Wii U owners to get a good bang for their buck. Both long-time fans and newcomers to the series will appreciate how Nintendo has crafted this game with them in mind, and I’m pleased they decided to release this during the launch of one of its best consoles in over a decade.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
For a port of an older Wii U title, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe feels like a brand new game that everyone can enjoy. Whether this is your first Mario Kart or your eighth, there's enough here to satisfy your thirst for racing.