Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

The Wii U classic returns with some shiny new additions

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review
Source: Nintendo Press Kit.

This game was reviewed using a physical retail copy provided by Nintendo for Nintendo Switch.

I will never forget the moment when I first saw Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Renting games was common back then, and when I had the opportunity to browse the shelves at our local video store, it was a pretty safe bet that I could rent anything sporting Mario’s face on the box and be guaranteed a good time.

Super Mario Kart was something else though. I hadn’t followed it closely in video game magazines prior to release, so I went into my first hands-on experience completely blind. Everything about it was delightful; from the wonderful mode 7 graphics (which looked remarkably advanced at the time) to the brilliantly addictive gameplay that melded racing with hilarious item-based battling (throwing shells and dropping banana peels to send opponents reeling never gets old).

Source: Nintendo.

Since then, I’ve been hooked on the Mario Kart series. The launch of any new Mario Kart game is a big deal, and even though I haven’t loved every game in the series quite the same (I definitely have my stand-out favourites), Nintendo always ensures that I have a great experience with these games.

Well, folks, it’s that time again: on April 28th, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Nintendo Switch launched worldwide, less than two months after the debut of the wildly-successful hybrid console.

For the uninitiated, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a beefed-up and tricked-out version of Mario Kart 8, which was originally released on the Wii U in May 2014. For this very reason, what you take away from this review may largely depend on your prior experience with the game.

So, without further ado, let’s jump in.

Strong foundations

I’m going to focus on what’s different in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe rather than re-reviewing the original content from 2014. That said, it’s worth looking back for a moment and considering the foundations of this latest entry in the series.

Source: IGN.

If you’ve never played Mario Kart 8, then I highly recommend checking out almost any of the great video reviews that are already online. I found myself agreeing with much of IGN’s assessment (although I personally wasn’t frustrated by a lack of online chat functionality with the original game).

If you’ve never played Mario Kart 8, then I highly recommend checking out almost any of the great video reviews that are already online. I found myself agreeing with much of IGN’s assessment (although I personally wasn’t frustrated by a lack of online chat functionality with the original game).

I thought Mario Kart 8 was one of the best games on the Wii U overall — it was also the best 3D Mario Kart title so far. I enjoyed it far more than Mario Kart Wii, in large part because a sense of speed had returned to the series. In some respects, too, Mario Kart 8 didn’t feel gimmicky at all; it was a carefully-designed, pared-back experience that focused on brilliant racing mechanics, strong track designs, and robust online multiplayer.

As well as being an all-round great game in its own right, Mario Kart 8 was generous in terms of DLC.

DLC pack image from the official Mario Kart 8 web site.
DLC pack image from the official Mario Kart 8 web site.

As you can see above, the two DLC packs for Mario Kart 8 didn’t just include a couple of simple skins — they were packed full of characters, tracks, and vehicles to play with.

There was also a third DLC, which unlocked a Mercedes Benz GLA.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes all of the above DLC content right out of the box (except for the Mercedes Benz GLA), as well as offering all cups/tracks unlocked at the very beginning — in the original game, you had to unlock cups/tracks as you progressed. The same is true for characters, which are all unlocked except one (Gold Mario).

You do still unlock various parts for your vehicles though, so that sense of progression isn’t entirely absent here.

What’s new in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe?

As well as including all of Mario Kart 8’s DLC content, several new characters have been added to the roster: King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr., and the Inklings from Splatoon.

There are also three new vehicles: the Koopa Clown from Mario Kart 7, and the Inkstrider and Splat Buggy from Splatoon.

You can play as the Girl or Boy Inklings, and each comes in three different colours. Source: Nintendo Press Kit.

A couple of classic items have returned as well, including the Boo which allows you to steal other players’ items, and the feather, allowing you to jump over obstacles (or avoid projectiles). In addition, you can hold two items simultaneously (a returning feature from Mario Kart: Double Dash on GameCube).

So far, so good. But what else does Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offer? Thankfully, there are a couple of big ticket items here that really change up the experience.

Battling it out

My single biggest frustration with Mario Kart 8 was its Battle Mode; the rest of the game was just so damn good, where battle mode felt like a missed opportunity. Rather than offering dedicated battle arena courses as with previous games, Nintendo chose to create remixed versions of race tracks — unfortunately, it just didn’t feel right. The design didn’t cater well to the idea of chaotic, close-quarters battling.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe completely fixes this problem, and then doubles-down on creating an awesome battle experience.

For starters, there are 8 unique arenas this time around, some of which are completely new and some of which are returning favourites from previous games:

  • Battle Stadium (new)
  • Sweet Sweet Kingdom (new)
  • Dragon Palace (new)
  • Lunar Colony (new)
  • Wuhu Town (3DS)
  • Luigi’s Mansion (GCN)
  • Battle Course 1 (SNES)
  • Urchin Underpass (new)
Battle Course 1 from Super Mario Kart. Source: Nintendo Press Kit.

As well as offering up some awesome arenas (my heart skipped a beat when I played Battle Course 1 — I’d spent countless hours playing that on Super Mario Kart as a kid), Nintendo has further deepened the experience by providing several new Battle Mode types:

  • Balloon Battle
  • Renegade Roundup
  • Bob-omb Blast
  • Coin Runners
  • Shine Thief

Within each of these modes, you can set up specific rules including everything from teams to item types (normal items, frantic items, and skilled items), all the way through to CPU difficulty, number of rounds, and even the length of individual rounds.

Battle Stadium. Source: Nintendo Press Kit.

The combination of returning modes (several are lifted directly from Mario Kart: Double Dash on GameCube) along with new modes and the associated customisation options immediately make Battle Mode a major stand-out feature of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

What’s really great here is that once you’re finished all of the Grand Prix and Time Trial stuff (or if you just need a break from racing), Battle Mode gives you plenty of other things to do, greatly enhancing the longevity of the game.

Oh, and one small (but important) thing I forgot to mention here is that you can choose to play Battle Mode with either just human players or with a combination of human and CPU players. Each battle allows for up to 12 characters in total, resulting in some really frantic action — especially when playing Renegade Roundup or Bob-omb Blast (things get particularly crazy in the latter mode, with bombs going off all over the place throughout the match).

Race and battle anywhere

There’s one other really big thing that’s different about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and it’s not necessarily an obvious point of difference at first: this game is on the Nintendo Switch.

“Duh!” I hear you exclaim. But hang on a moment; as great as Mario Kart 8 was, it was inherently tied to your living room. Yes, you could play it on your Wii U GamePad, but you couldn’t move too far away from the console without losing the signal.

The Nintendo Switch has completely removed Mario Kart’s shackles for the better. For example, this game still looks absolutely stunning on a big TV despite being based on a Wii U title from 2014. But it looks incredible as a handheld game (Mario Kart 7 eat your heart out). As well, there’s something magical about playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online and on the go, while still getting a “full console experience”.

You might argue that the inherent portability of the Switch is a global trait that doesn’t relate specifically to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but what’s interesting to me is how a game’s mere presence on the Switch can fundamentally change the ways it plays.

Split-screen in tabletop mode works, but it’s not ideal. Source: Nintendo Press Kit.

Another great example of this is playing the game in tabletop mode with two players. When playing in this mode, you can use different controller options (e.g. Pro Controller, single Joy-Con, or Joy-Cons and Grip) — I tried it out using just a single Joy-Con.

On the one hand, there’s no way I’d choose this mode over playing on a big TV, but that’s obviously not the point. What’s cool about this option is that you can quickly set up your Switch on any surface and dive right into a two player game (and even play online as well), using the two Joy-Cons that come with the console; no extra equipment required. That’s pretty compelling, especially if you plan to take your Switch for long trips.

Final thoughts

It’s difficult to sum up a game like this, especially because it’s an updated version of a game that came out several years ago.

My personal take is that Mario Kart 8 was the best Mario Kart game in years — possibly the best in the series overall, despite its lacklustre Battle Mode. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is therefore a further extension and refinement of the best Mario Kart game in years with the added bonus of being both a great experience on the TV and and full console experience on-the-go.

So, I have no hesitation in recommending Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, especially if you’re a Switch owner looking for a post-Zelda fix and especially if you are a Switch owner who missed out on the original Wii U version.

That said, if you already own Mario Kart 8 on Wii U and you’re well and truly finished with it, then the revamped Battle Mode and portability of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might not be enough to sway you.


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