Mario Kart 8, when it released back on the Wii U, already felt like the quintessential Mario Kart experience sans a terrible battle mode. With the release of all the DLC, the game had a completeness and polish that did well, but was tied down to a floundering console. The Nintendo Switch version, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, takes an already good game, and manages to one-up itself.
For the purposes of disclosure, yes, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was provided to me through Nintendo of America. That still does not change the fact that this game is actually quite stellar even after having been released on the Wii U. The Wii U version could have sold more had the console observed more prominence, so for a decently large crowd of gamers, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the first taste of the game. The DLC is all included, and the battle mode was significantly revamped from the ground up, to become the experience that we came to know and love.
Visually speaking, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is stunning both in handheld and docked modes. Running at 720p in the handheld, the game has no slowdowns that could significantly impact gameplay. It’s absolutely incredible that games of this caliber can now be played anywhere. The Switch display makes the game look crisp, coupled with the already bright visuals and environments of the game. When the game goes into docked mode, the visuals are rendered at a full 1080p. The docked mode performance, however, suffers with some frame freezing, especially when playing the multiplayer mode locally. The lag becomes more pronounced with additional players, with up to four people per console.
The mechanics of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe have had some small additive changes, which are actually quite significant in bringing in the new and casual players. In the controls department, Nintendo added the ability to steer via motion controls, which going by my Mario Kart Wii steering wheel performance, is not going to do me wonders on Rainbow Road. The other two changes are new to Deluxe: smart steering and auto acceleration. Smart steering allows players to remain on the course, thanks to a handy little antenna. The addition of this feature makes it much easier for new players to focus on the gameplay rather than falling off the course. The only problem with it is that it’s enabled by default, so it might take a second to figure out why you can’t run into an object deliberately. The other useful little feature is automatic acceleration. The car automatically drives you forward, which again allows the player to focus on the gameplay. Automatic acceleration and smart steering could actually be coupled together, and I found this useful in the event that I wished to record a bit of footage.
In the gameplay department, the addition of a second item has created an additional layer of strategy. The second item, I felt, allowed those in first place to keep an additional item on hand as a defense measure, which unfortunately would only give either the stray banana or the dreaded coin. In the higher ranks, I found that it was actually less fun placing high up until the late game because the items became much less diverse, and who doesn’t want to shoot off a blue shell at somebody every so often? At the end of the day though, it’s the same game as the Wii U version, but the fun factor multiplied, for some reason.
Let’s take a bit of time to talk about the Battle Mode. On the Wii U version, Battle Mode was rehashed on the racing courses, making it next to impossible to find anybody. The smaller, bite-sized courses make their return, and it couldn’t come soon enough. The eight stages across the different battle modes make this game one to own, with enough fun for everybody. My personal favorite is Renegade Roundup, where you and several other team mates avoid the opposing team of Piranha Plants.
My main concern with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the online. While I don’t mind getting beaten by a bunch of hardcore racers, I do, however, mind the lack of essential features like voice chat and the ability to join a friend’s game. The online for this game, and for the Switch in general, feels incredibly barebones and I do hope that with the release of the paid Switch online services that this improves. Aside from finding matches quickly, the game has disconnected on occasion.
At the end of the day, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best Mario Kart game out there. With plenty of content that can be played right out the box, and the traditional layer of Nintendo polish, an already great game just got topped with a better experience. Combined with the versatility of the Switch, this is a whole new game that can now be taken on the go, and that is huge. A game of this caliber, portable, is a game changer, and Nintendo has knocked the experience out of the park thus far.