With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild well over a month out of the way, Nintendo fans are clamoring for new releases on Nintendo Switch. As you may imagine, many eyes are turning to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe — the faux remaster of Wii U’s 2014 smash hit in the beloved kart racing series. In three years time, has Nintendo been able to develop the game to create a compelling package for new and old fans alike?
Before I delve into the meat of that question, I will point out we already have a running review for Mario Kart 8. Written by Allisa James, Mario Kart 8 was awarded a 9.5 out of 10 largely thanks to the technical jumps we were able to see from Mario Kart Wii — a higher stress on framerates, graphics, and fine-tuning gameplay. We specifically noted:
Mario Kart 8 looks to be one of the, if not the best, Mario Kart titles with new mechanics, even better graphics, high frame rate, faster racing speeds, new items, a bigger roster and a host of other new changes that add complexity and depth to an already excellent franchise.
None of that has changed between either review, and for those looking to jump into Mario Kart 8 for the first time with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you are likely better off checking out that one. This review will, instead, cover Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from the perspective of a remake — how has it evolved since the original game that it riffs off of.
The direct answer is, frankly, “not too much.” Starting up Mario Kart 8, fans will be instantly reminded of the Wii U version of the game with nearly-identical interface and soundtrack. If nostalgia for things that released within three years is a thing, I would absolutely have it.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe aims to be the complete package of all content eventually baked into Mario Kart 8 — mostly including the two DLC packs which held a more-than-meager amount of playable racers, karts, and tracks. All in all, players will have four additional cups (Egg, Crossing, Triforce, and Bell Cups).
While the selection of content is undoubtedly larger for the layman Mario Kart 8 owner, people who were huge fans of the series and bought the main game along with the DLC for a whopping $72 will feel fairly ripped off. In terms of racing content, there is very little added aside some new racers — Dry Bones, King Boo, and the Inkling Boy and Girl don’t necessarily warrant the $60 price tag on their own.
Even more controversial, not all extra content is unlocked with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. While it is a very small gripe, Mii costumes are still locked behind a plastic gate — players will need 20 different amiibo figures to fully get all of the Mii racing suits.
While many will sweat the small stuff, the far more troubling issue is one of the new racing “features”: Smart Steering. The feature was — unbeknownst to me — automatically set as the default option when I first launched the game, causing a heavy dose of confusion as my controls would periodically act up.
For those out of the loop, Smart Steering gives your kart a tinge of AI so you will never end up hitting the wall or falling off a cliff (in other words, a saving grace for untalented Rainbow Road racers). While this is all well and good as a kid-friendly option — just like the new “Auto-accelerate” feature — I really question Nintendo’s judgement for making it the default setting. Mario Kart veterans will all likely rush to the in-race menus to turn the feature off — part of the fun with any Mario Kart title (especially in multiplayer) is comically falling to last place as your friends all jeer.
But how smart is the “Smart Steering”? I put both Smart Steering and Auto-accelerate on for a 200cc Mushroom Cup and, without touching the Joy-Cons once was able to place in third. Nintendo has created a game that literally plays and beats itself.
The largest part of new content is the updated Battle Modes — the largest gripe for the original Mario Kart 8. I can happily say that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fully turns that ship around, offering a diverse and wholly enjoyable Battle experience thanks to a handful of modes: Balloon Battle, Renegade Roundup, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners, and (the precariously named) Shine Thief.
Anyone with a working knowledge of the Mario Kart games knows Balloon Battle is the standard joust-like versus mode that has you launching projectiles and items at the other team or players. Renegade Roundup generally feels more chaotic — almost a variant on the playground game Manhunt — with one team trying to capture all the opposing players and the other team trying to break them out of jail. Shine Thief, meanwhile, offers a Capture the Flag-like option where players have to keep hold of a Shine Sprite for 20 seconds without it being knocked out of their grip.
The other options, Coin Runners and Bob-omb Blast, are slightly less creative, being mostly variants on the original Balloon Battle. Bob-omb Blast is, in fact, exactly balloon battle with Bob-ombs only as items. Coin Runners has you facing off against the other teams trying to collect the most coins.
Along with these new modes, Nintendo has fleshed out the multiplayer stages with eight total battle modes that are both aesthetically diverse and require different strategies. After getting the game, I spent a long night playing Mario Kart 8 with my friends from elementary school, and it was like we were instantly transported to playing Battle Mode on Mario Kart 64. Nintendo’s overhaul with the Battle options has whole-heartedly paid off, infusing a rich and dynamic experience to new and old players.
Aside from gameplay and added features, the graphics and soundtrack are just as great as they were on Wii U. While Wii U games aren’t often regaled for their graphics, Mario Kart 8 was largely a technical showpiece. Although the game hasn’t improved graphically in the past three years (note IGN’s video comparison below), it is still remarkable that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is being played on a handheld device. Nintendo has made leaps and bounds since their last cartridge Mario Kart game, Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS.
Internet options are other multiplayer options are fleshed out — utilizing Joy-Con support for two player games was an absurdly easy set up. While I was traveling home from New Jersey to Nashville this weekend, a Nintendo fan spotted me playing the game and within moments we were facing each other head-on at Moo Moo Meadows. I haven’t been able to say that about any other Mario Kart games thus far.
Beyond that, Friends, Worldwide, Regional and Tournament modes are available for those looking to play against others online. When the servers get populated with more people, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will have the most robust online community among any Nintendo Switch games.
Last but not least, the benefits of portability cannot be understated. As I mentioned above, I spent roughly 15 hours this week in some sort of mass-transport or plane — Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was my saving grace. Being able to work on my turns in 200cc or test out Link’s different motorcycle options six miles above ground is likely the best commercial feature that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings to the table.
At the end of the day, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a Mario Kart game and (predictably) fantastic. With a fully upgraded Battle Mode and all the portability that comes with Nintendo Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is undoubtedly the definitive version of the game — maybe even the series. However, with limited offerings for Mario Kart veterans who shelled out nearly $100 on the last experience, the title will be significantly less rewarding.