Ah Mario Kart, a series that often inspires in me an unbridled nerd-rage, yet remains one of my oldest and most cherished gaming loves. I’ve been playing Mario Kart since its debut on the SNES, and I’ve always looked forward to every release with the Monopoly Effect in full swing. Mario Kart 8 (MK8), however, was something of a disappointment for me on the Wii U. It certainly got better with the release of the DLC, but there was still something “off” about it all. It wasn’t that it was a bad game, I just felt like it wasn’t all that it could be; to that end, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe goes a long way toward fixing that. It’s certainly not where I would have liked for the game to have ended up, but, for what’s essentially a port, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe does still impress.
And still maintains the ongoing theme of the game: Beating children mercilessly with shells.
So, what’s new with Deluxe compared to its Wii U predecessor? Quite a lot, actually. For starters, all of the DLC content from MK8 comes stock standard in the game. Continuing the trend of recapturing popular mechanics from previous entries, the double-item boxes and ability to carry two items at once returns from Double Dash!! (Though, sadly, you can’t switch at-will between those items.) Tweaks to the vehicle and driver stats have been implemented, drift-boosting has had a third level added (pink sparks is where it’s at now), and the speed-boost hopping exploit has been removed. “Auto-accelerate,” and “auto-steer” have also been added, and they’re exactly what they sound like, as a way of assisting new or younger players.
Loading times had been reduced, 200cc has been added to the time trials mode, and you can change your character and vehicle loadout in online lobbies without needing to leave. A couple of new items, a few new vehicle bodies, and some new playable characters are also among the additions to Deluxe. Last, but definitely not least, is the reintroduction of the classic Battle Mode, with five variations, four of which are pulled from previous entries in the series (mostly Double Dash!!). The “Battle Mode” from MK8, if you want to call it that, is noticeably absent and that’s likely due to its unpopularity. Battle Mode on the race courses would have been great as an added variant mode, and I would have liked to see it return as such, but if it was a choice between that and what we’ve gotten, then I’m happy with what we have.
Almost as happy as Baby Luigi is with totaling his older, adult brother.
Looking at it, that is a massive list of changes that Nintendo could have easily left out of things and still had the game sell well. A lot of these changes are clearly focused towards improving the best parts of the game, and trimming out anything that held it back from being truly great. Some aspects can’t really be worked around, however, like the anti-gravity segments of some tracks. It’s a cool idea in concept, but the most it provided was alternate routes for drivers, which kind of already existed. They were definitely visually appealing, but could only really be appreciated in single player due to how much was cut out by the split-screen. I was also never a fan of the vertical split screen, as opposed to horizontal, and would have liked for there to be an option to at least change it, and this is still true of Deluxe.
In all though, including the visual updates (from 720p to 1080p), you could easily make an argument for Deluxe being something of a remaster rather than a port or re-release. I’m not sure I’d go that far as there are a few issues I still have, which I’ll go into in a moment, but it’s clear that player feedback was considered carefully while this was being reworked for the Switch. In particular, I’m thrilled that so many elements of Double Dash!! have been brought back, as that game is easily my favourite of the series and probably what I’d call Mario Kart’s “peak” game. I’ve little doubt that there’ll be an entirely new Mario Kart game released for the Switch somewhere down the line, and I hope that Nintendo carries this attitude towards improvement forward when they do.
And bring back Banshee Boardwalk!
Now for the bad, as there’s always some bad, though perhaps that’s not the best term for it; “minor disappointments” is probably more appropriate. For all the additions and included content they game throws in, pretty much everything except vehicle customisations is unlocked from the very start. I get that this might appeal to veterans of the previous game who didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of unlocking everything again, but I wouldn’t have minded. It’s a big part of Mario Kart games, I feel, and one I missed in Deluxe. I also feel that the game could have done without the auto-steer and auto-accelerate functions. It’s more of a personal gripe than anything else, but I think you can go too far with the hand holding, and these mechanics cross that line.
While I’m glad for Battle Mode to make its grand return, I’m miffed about the track choices. Out of the eight there, only three have been enjoyable (at least in my own experience) and given there are 48 race tracks, I feel like there could have been a few more battle arenas. The Battle Stadium stage, in particular, strays so close to the old Battle Mode in MK8 that they may as well have left that mode in as another variant. There are also some customisation options for Battle Mode, but I don’t feel like these go far enough in what they provide. The “Item type” option should have been an Item Switch, a la Super Smash Bros. Instead of having 4 rounds as the minimum for any variant, it should have been “any amount.” These points might sound like I’m nitpicking, and I am, but this sort of thing falls into the same trap that MK8 did: It’s not bad, it’s just not all it could be.
“I’m a kid now! I’m a squid now! I’m a Blue Shell slinging PIECE OF SH–!”
At the end of the day, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a fantastic port of the original MK8 on the Wii U. Far from just being a simple re-release, Nintendo threw in all the DLC from the first incarnation, then proceeded to add in extra content and a whole pile of improvements on mechanics. That alone makes it worth the full retail price of the game, and shows that Nintendo does care about the thoughts and feedback of its players. My only criticisms are points of personal preference, they’re not deal breakers in any way, and are really just a reflection of my desire for further refinement of what’s already there. If anything, they just make me realise how much I’d love a “Mario Kart Ultimate,” pooling the very best from across the series’ history. Whether you missed MK8 on the Wii U, or have long since been done playing with it, Deluxe has something to offer for all players and is absolutely worth picking up.