Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview — Switching Into High Gear

Mario and friends are back for another round of racing in our preview of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which brings the Wii U title over to Nintendo Switch.

on March 17, 2017 10:48 AM

The Nintendo Switch is finally into the hands of the public after years of anticipation and, while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has drawn critical praise and will surely keep players busy during the system’s launch month, the scope of the Switch launch seems like it will be a bit barer in the months ahead. That is, until the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which brings over the most recent kart-racing title from the beloved series onto the Switch later next month — not only as the system’s next big game, but perhaps one of the best demonstrations of what the hardware can do next.

During PAX East 2017, DualShockers had the opportunity to check out Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch in action for some quick races to get acquainted with the game, followed by a deep dive into the new Battle Mode offerings that the Switch version enhances and adds on from the Wii U release. Having not owned a Wii U, I (regrettably) never had the chance to play to play any of Mario Kart 8 when it first released in 2014. However, the upcoming Nintendo Switch version of the title not only offers first-timers the chance to try out its excellent brand of kart racing, but also allows veterans to return and see many of the new additions (and improvements) that Nintendo has made with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview -- Switching Into High Gear

As a port of the Wii U title from 2014, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings over the original game while expanding it with all of the previously-released DLC and other post-release added to the game down the line. Better than that, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also adds in extra goods for the Nintendo Switch version, such as new characters like Splatoon’s Ink Girl and Ink Boy, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr., and King Boo, bringing the roster to a hefty number of over 40 racers to choose from (some of which need to be unlocked, but the majority being available right from the start).

Even better than that is the revamped Battle Mode, which brings eight courses specifically tailored for players across five different game modes that are sure to keep you coming back for “just one more round” with friends.

With titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, we’ve already gotten a good idea of how the Nintendo Switch can pull players into large, expansive worlds combined with the system’s power and portability. However, even from the brief time we spent with the game, it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might be the best example yet of what the system’s configurations and hardware capabilities can do, not just on a graphical level, but for its strongest feature: accommodation and accessibility.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview -- Switching Into High Gear

Playing alongside several other Nintendo team members in the demo at PAX East, the most apparent feature of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was that even though this version of Mario Kart that we’re getting is from a previous generation, the game truly feels at home on the Nintendo Switch.

Between the system’s handheld and console configurations, there are a number of ways to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe depending on how many players and where you are playing. Four players on the couch can play in splitscreen on the big TV, while up to two players can play splitscreen on one Switch tablet while using the two Joy-Cons.

For playing on the go, eight Switch players can race wirelessly via local multiplayer; getting even more elaborate, up to 12 players can compete on individual screens through LAN play by connecting the Switch consoles to a hub. LAN play is hidden behind a fairly obscure method by holding the L and R buttons and clicking the Switch’s left stick, though (hopefully) the final game will make switching (no pun intended) to that mode a little less opaque.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview -- Switching Into High Gear

Is there ever a likelihood of getting together 12 Switch consoles for a LAN, outside of a college or gaming tournament-type situation? Probably not, no. But the fact that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe makes itself so accommodating is admirable, and given the already accessible nature of the Mario Kart series, it makes this new release one of the best examples of the Switch’s capabilities as a console, and one of the system’s best titles for the spring.

That quality comes across best in the game’s newly-revamped Battle Mode, which pits up to eight players in small, contained arenas with a variety of different game modes to compete in. Compared to the original release of Mario Kart 8 which implemented Battle Mode across regular race tracks, it’s already apparent that the smaller-scaled venues for Battle Mode are far better-suited to the modes on offer; it also helps that each one is also insanely fun, as well.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview -- Switching Into High Gear

During our preview session, we got a hand in trying out a selection of the available Battle Modes, which at launch will include Balloon Battle, Renegade Roundup, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners, and Shine Thief. Most of these modes have appeared in previous Mario Kart titles, aside from the brand new Renegade Roundup. Regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with them, the modes each demonstrate incredibly well the accessibility and strategy that Mario Kart, and being able to access these modes on the go makes it an enticing game to carry with me wherever my Nintendo Switch goes with me.

Balloon Battle is the standard Mario Kart battle mode where players get three balloons that count as their “lives,” and once all three balloons are popped, they’re out of the round; Bomb-omb Blast adds an additional twist to this mode by making all items explosive Bomb-ombs for extra (chaotic fun), while Coin Runners has players racing and chasing after coins to collect the most by the end of the round. Finally, Shine Runners has players competing to grab a floating Shine Sprite (from Super Mario Sunshine) and hold on to it for the longest amount of time before the round’s end.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview -- Switching Into High Gear

The newly-added Renegade Roundup, however, quickly became my highlight of the Battle Mode offerings personally for its mix of competitive and cooperative play. While designed explicitly to be played with teams (where the other modes can be switch between team or free-for-all configurations), Renegade Roundup is solely for teams, but adds a level of fun and strategy that’s all its own. Essentially the Mario Kart version of “Cops and Robbers,” two teams of racers get divided up into the “Renegades” that must outsmart and prevent being captured by the “Authorities,” who are outfitted with a fierce Piranha Plant that gobbles up opposing players and lands them inside floating jail cells, where they must then be let out by their remaining team members. The round ends, of course, with either the Renegades managing to evade the Authorities when the clock runs out, or the Authorities manage to slam the Renegades all into a jail cell.

Aside from the revamped Battle Mode offerings, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also provides some smart gameplay improvements and even a few new offerings that should prove to make the game a bit more accessible to newcomers. Items can now be double-stacked and allow a backup item for players, while braking is now able to be used for power-sliding that should lead to some interesting developments in competitive play. A brand new option though, called Smart Steering, provides a safety measure for players that doesn’t allow them to fall off a course or be led to a pitfall of death, which should be a great way to even the playing field for new-time players, or those sick of falling off the edge in Rainbow Road time after time.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Hands-On Preview -- Switching Into High Gear

For veteran players, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might be a tough sell on the Nintendo Switch due to the fact that, largely, the game’s content is mostly made up of the offerings that were first available on the Wii U. Despite this being a port than an entirely new game, what I’ve played of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still provides what might easily be one of the Switch’s best multiplayer offerings in the system’s early months, and a title that’s incredibly well-suited to the “play anywhere” nature of the Switch. Even more importantly – all that smack-talk with your friends about who the best player is in Mario Kart can now happen anywhere, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might just be one of the best games you can take on the road with you this spring.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will release for Nintendo Switch on April 28th, 2017.

 /  Features Editor
Ryan is the Features Editor at DualShockers, with over five years' experience in the world of video games culture and writing. He holds a BA in English & Cinema from Binghamton University, and lives in New York City.