“The Smash Bros. of the Racetrack” Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review
Even as I continue to accumulate a collection for my beloved, though now-dead Wii U, I am well aware of its many detractors that have derided it since its release. But for all my perhaps misplaced defenses of the system, one item that I can reluctantly agree with Wii U haters on is that for all the games I loved playing on it, for all the games that I played simply because they were on the Wii U, there are hardly any games for the system that can really be considered “must play” titles. Super Mario 3D World and the New Super Mario Bros. games for the system will forever be two sides of the same coin, while the Zelda remasters that buttressed the library through so many release lulls were still just that — remasters and nothing more — and even Super Smash Bros. has its 3DS brother as a solid alternative.
But if one game during the entire lifespan of the Wii U truly felt like a landmark, like something that absolutely demanded to be played, that every owner of the console simply owed it to themselves to play, it was Mario Kart 8. Mario Kart 8 got everything right on its way to becoming the absolute pinnacle of the series, both from a gameplay perspective, where it perfected the old twin adages of “easy to learn, hard to master” and “partly luck, partly skill” that had led its predecessors to such acclaim.
New features such as anti-gravity sections on tracks (including using them to revamp the included legacy tracks from past games), new items including the piranha plant and the super horn (a long-awaited method that allowed players to thwart the dreaded blue shell), and even a successful foray into the dangerous world of downloadable content for Nintendo, which to date, remains the one of the only occasions where I have spent actual dollars on DLC and couldn’t have been happier with it. With Nintendo managing to handle this DLC — two packs of eight tracks, three characters, and four vehicles at $8 each or $12 for the pair, plus a free Mercedes-Benz advertisement pack with three free vehicles — and even online play successfully, the only real complaint that can be lodged against Mario Kart 8 in its original incarnation is that its approach to the series’ staple battle mode was a letdown, lacking dedicated courses or variety in its game modes. And this is where Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch comes in.
As the successor to an ultimately failed console, and one that carries so much potential to correct the mistakes of its predecessor, the Switch is primed to benefit greatly from a gentle yet persistent deluge of “complete edition” ports and remasters from the quality titles that people missed out on with the Wii U, and it only makes sense that the crown jewel of the system and the game most capable of taking advantage of the Switch’s features is the first to receive that treatment.
While a “complete edition” of MK8 would be able to get away with doing exactly what “complete editions” do, that is, including the base game in all its glory along with any and all pertinent bonus content that was sold for the original, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe delivers exactly that, with an obscene amount of characters, tracks, and vehicles that includes, but applies the word Deluxe with more than just random enthusiasm. The game becomes complete through the inclusion of the original DLC plus extra characters like King Boo and Splatoon’s Inklings, but earns its “deluxe” moniker via the completely revamped battle mode that mirrors the classic iterations of the mode from entries past and then some.
A plethora of new and classic arenas such as Sweet Sweet Kingdom and the original’s Battle Arena 1 continue to add to the base game’s deep roster of arenas and environments with hardly a weak link among them, while old battle modes like Balloon Battle are given new rulesets to improve on old shortcomings alongside all new game modes that come together to make what was an afterthought in the original game’s incarnation seem like an entirely new game with its rebirth on the Switch. For starters, the classic Balloon Battle is no longer a game of survival, instead requiring players to balance offense and defense by accumulating points for hitting other players while subtracting from their point total as payment for more balloons if the player runs out. Bob-omb Blast operates under the same rules as Balloon Battle, but even more manic with Bob-ombs as the only items (and you can carry up to 10 at a time and deploy them rapid-fire). The Coin Runners mode introduced in Mario Kart Wii returns to appeal to evasive-minded players who simply need to pick up the most coins and avoid losing them when hit by items. Finally, the two newest and most different game modes offer up a vastly different approach to the tried and true modes. Shine Thief is a King-of-the-Hill style game that ends when one player has managed to hold onto the Shine Sprite for a total of 20 seconds, while Renegade Roundup is a team-based mode with an interesting non-symmetrical approach. A cops and robbers style game where the offensive side has piranha plants that it uses to send the on-the-run players to one of two jail cells. Members of the defensive team must ensure their team’s survival by avoiding capture and releasing their teammates from captivity. The game ends after the defensive team is all at once eliminated or after a set time period of avoiding capture.
The variety of the game modes included as well as the addictiveness and balance of each ruleset -- few matches ever feel truly lopsided unless someone gets a lucky break with the Shine Sprite or somebody doesn’t understand their duties in Renegade Roundup -- make for an alternative to the established racing modes that absolutely justify Mario Kart 8 Deluxe receiving the kind of fanfare that most ports would be scoffed at for.
Perhaps the only misstep with this new battle mode approach that I could imagine was that for everything that makes it feel like its own game, it could have been given a sense of structure similar to that of the normal racing modes, however, given that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, like the original, is one of Nintendo’s few true online-heavy titles, and battle mode is simply that much more intense against real opponents, either on the couch or online, where your opponents behave with all the tendencies and ticks that bots can’t quite replicate, try as they might, and this lack of showmanship towards battle mode can be forgiven.
Two months into the lifespan of the Switch seems more than appropriate for the arrival of the next must-have game for the system, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just as much of a staple going forward with its new home as it was with its original setting. All things considered, the full retail price of this new edition is one of the most justified you will find on a release of its kind given the amount of extra content and continued appeal of the original which is still less than three years old at this point. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is absolutely worth the full price at retail, as even if you have played it before and spent the money on it that I have, you will still find it as hard to put down as it was the first time and still feel like you have plenty to do playing online in races or battles against friends or strangers, or simply in single player mode going again for those perfect three star gold cups again to prove that you’re as sharp as ever.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will remain the largely uncontested king of the Switch’s online multiplayer until the releases of Arms and Splatoon 2 this summer, and will likely remain at the top of the mountain for the Switch’s highly advertised local multiplayer scene for even longer than that, as its previous incarnations have for over two decades now, and rightly so. Get a copy now if you have a Switch, a copy with your Switch if you don’t have one yet, and don’t look back at the Wii U version. I’ll see you online, green shell locked and loaded.