Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Improves on Its Predecessor in Every Way
If you only get the chance to play one Mario Kart game in your lifetime, it should be Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch.
There's a reason it's the best-selling Mario Kart title ever. While it's mostly a part of Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Wii U, it improves on its predecessor in every way—and because a lot of people skipped the Wii U and missed out on it the first time around, this is the ideal way to play the game.
The Wii U's Mario Kart 8 was a great game to begin with. It featured a huge roster of classic Mario characters, massive and creative new tracks with anti-gravity sections—including revamped tracks from old Mario Kart titles—and the same frantically frenetic gameplay that old fans of the series had come to know and love.
The gameplay was intuitive and easy to learn, even for players who weren't Mario Kart series veterans, and it had enough characters, kart options and modes that it always gave you the opportunity to try new things—or stick with your honored favorites.
And then Mario Kart 8 released DLC (downloadable content) that made the game even bigger. For a little extra money you could purchase seven more characters (including Link from The Legend of Zelda series and adorable characters from Animal Crossing), 16 more tracks across four cups and eight all-new vehicles. This was awesome—if you were willing to shell out the extra cash.
But Mario Kart 8 Deluxe comes packed with all of these features from the get-go, free of charge. From the moment you boot up the game, it already has 50% more tracks than the original and nearly three times the number of characters than were available at the start of Mario Kart 8.
In addition to Mario Kart 8's DLC characters, the new game on the Switch includes great new characters, including Bowser Jr., Dry Bones and King Boo from the Mario series, and my personal faves, boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon. As a huge Splatoon fan, it's awesome seeing the characters making their mark on the Nintendo universe (and the Inkling Girl has become my personal favorite racer). There's also a Gold Mario you can unlock if you can place first in every cup at 200 CC, the toughest difficulty in the game. It's safe to say it'll be a moment before I get my hands on Gold Mario.
That brings me to one teeny, tiny gripe I have with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I'm not the biggest fan of having every track, race mode and (almost) every character unlocked from the very beginning of the game. I'm typically the kind of player who's super motivated by always having more to discover and explore, and in past games, the opportunity to unlock more racers and levels did that for me.
Thank goodness for the karts. Besides Gold Mario, the one thing not immediately unlocked from the start of the game are various karts, wheels and gliders, which you receive at random by collecting coins to 50-coin increments. Not only do they each have their own unique look, but they can drastically change your racer's stats. Collecting coins to collect every one is a huge motivator, and it's alway exciting to see which bit will be unlocked next.
One huge improvement over the original Mario Kart 8 is in the Battle Mode. For whatever reason, the old game forewent traditional battle arena levels, placing the battles within the existing racetracks. This made battling, in my opinion, not very fun.
But Deluxe's new Battle Mode arenas are thoughtfully constructed, beautifully animated and a blast to play in. Battling has become just as fun as racing, making this a far superior game to the original.
In one mode, you drive around with three balloons, working to guard your own balloons while popping those of your opponents with the game's special items. Bom-omb Blast is similar, but in this mode you're armed only with bombs. Other modes ask you to collect the most coins or take possession of a special star called a Shine Sprite for 20 full seconds. The last game breaks players into a team of cops and a team of robbers, with the cops trying to nab the robbers with the help of Piranha Plants and the robbers trying to free their friends from cells. And did I mention there's a Splatoon–inspired arena? The music is the best.
I've mostly played the game in two-player mode using an individual Joy-Con as a controller, which has been surprisingly unproblematic. Besides Snipperclips, it's the game I've played the most in this mode. The Joy-Con straps definitely give the control the extra height needed to make each Joy-Con feel usable as a full controller. I'll admit that the first time I played Deluxe with it, I got some cramping in my right hand from pushing the acceleration button too hard, but I've since remedied that and haven't had any issues.
And if you've got really young siblings, this is actually a great game to play with them. I recently played with my 4-year-old nephew and was surprised to see he was keeping up with the rest of the grand prix pack pretty well. What I didn't realize was that the smart steering and auto accelerate features were enabled for his controller, meaning that the game automatically corrected him when he went the wrong way or was steering off the track, and he didn't actually have to push a button to accelerate. There were times when he wasn't pushing anything at all and his character (either "red guy," aka Mario or "doggy," aka Isabelle) kept racing down the track. Regardless, he had a great time and kept insisting on more and more races.
I recommend Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to anyone with a Nintendo Switch. Unless you already own the original version on the Wii U and are completely satisfied with what's available there, this one's worth having in your library.
Looking to build up your Nintendo Switch game collection? Click HERE to read a review of our current Switch obsession, TumbleSeed.