It’s fast. It’s furious. It’s Mario Kart making it’s debut on Nintendo’s latest console, and it’s better than ever. Nintendo’s latest big release for the Switch is a port of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U with all the trimmings. Included in the Switch’s Deluxe version of the game is all of the DLC from the original, 5 additional characters, and a reworked battle mode. This makes Mario Kart Deluxe the biggest game so far in the franchise’s history with a whopping 48 race tracks and 42 playable characters.
For those who may have missed out on the last couple games, Mario Kart 8 continues to build on the franchise by introducing another game-changing mechanic. In addition to bikes, tricks, customizable parts, hang-gliding, and underwater driving from the past couple entries, Mario Kart 8 adds anti-gravity to the fray. This new feature is the highlight of this installment, inspiring innovative level design and adding a fun twist to the classic Mario Kart formula.
Right from the start almost everything is available to you, Mirror Mode, 200cc, every character, and every track. The only things you will need to unlock this time around are vehicle parts, which are mostly earned by collecting coins throughout your races.
The game features the usual familiar modes such as Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Battle. Mario Kart 8 introduces the 200cc class, a new high speed mode that will challenge even the best players. The new Deluxe version also features a reworked battle mode. In the WiiU version, battle mode took place on shortened race tracks which wasn’t very enjoyable. The Switch version brings battle mode back to arena-type maps, with a several variants. The classic Balloon Battle is here, but this time instead of last-man-standing, the winner is whoever gets the most points popping other’s balloons, knocked out players respawn with a few more balloons and half their points cut. Bob-omb Blast is similar, except of course the only items are bob-ombs, which you can stack up to 9. Coin Runners has you trying to keep the most coins in your possession at the end of the match. Renegade Roundup is a cops vs robbers type team match, the robbers need to avoid capture until the time runs out, but can free other captured players. Last up is Shine Thief, my personal favourite, where players compete to grab hold of the shine sprite for 20 seconds against the eleven other players.
Vehicle customization plays a huge role in this game. Characters have different weights which will affect your vehicle’s stats, however it’s the actual kart which will have the biggest impact on your play style, as each one controls a bit differently. It will probably take a bit of trial and error to find one that suits you best. No matter what you choose however, you will need to learn to drift (power slide) with the vehicle of your choice, it is essential to success for higher difficulties.
Perhaps one of the defining features of Mario Kart Deluxe on the Switch is its portability. The dual console/handheld nature of the Switch means that unlike the Wii U version, you can now play pretty much anywhere whether it’s at work, on the bus, or at a convention. While you could perhaps still play online if you can find a decent WiFi connection, you will probably be playing with other people using Wireless Play. Wireless Play allows a host to set up a local game with custom rules for up to 8 players. Unlike the last couple portable titles, Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7, Deluxe does not offer single-card play, meaning everyone must own a copy of the game if they want to join in.
Online matches consist of either VS Races or Battle mode. Players can choose if they want to compete world-wide, locally, or with just registered friends. Players joining an online match wait in a somewhat boring matchmaking lobby with just a handful of limited phrases to use to communicate with your fellow competitors as you wait for the room to fill up to 12 players. Nintendo has certainly improved their network stability over past few years, but it’s still a far cry from perfect. Few things are more frustrating than suddenly disconnecting near the end of a race while in 1st, or watching your perfectly aimed shells pass through another player in Battle mode. Thankfully these issues have been uncommon thus far, and online matches have remained enjoyable for the most part.
Graphically, the game is beautiful. It’s bright, vibrant and runs at a smooth 60 fps both docked and in handheld. While docked the game runs at 1080p resolution, whereas the handheld screen runs at 720p, the same as the Wii U version. The load times have also been improved over the WiiU version. The soundtrack is also wonderful, perfectly tailored for each course, it adds a nuanced enjoyment to the game.
Overall Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a solid experience, and without a doubt the best Mario Kart game to date. Building on the franchise’s more than 20 years of history, Nintendo set out to craft a masterpiece and in my opinion they succeeded. With tons of replayability, top-notch controls, and superb level design, this is definitely Nintendo at their best. I would highly recommend this version even if you already own the Wii U game, not only for the DLC already included (if you didn’t buy it already), but the improved online matches and the Switch’s portability.