‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ Game Review: Raising The Kart-Racing Gold Standard
Mario Kart is a brand that’s synonymous with Nintendo’s hardware. Known for its entertaining multiplayer, the series consists of whimsical racing titles starring Mario and his extended social circle. Discounting the Bandai Namco-helmed arcade entries, there are eight consecutive Mario Karts, all correlating to one of Nintendo’s consoles or handhelds. Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, however, had a particularly glaring problem, but it was otherwise very polished.
However, we’re in uncharted territory for the Mario Kart series; an enhanced port, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, was released on April 28 for the Nintendo Switch. Virtual Console re-releases notwithstanding, this is the first instance of Nintendo repurposing the prior installment for a new platform. Will a proper ninth Mario Kart join the Switch’s roster later?
Regardless, those with a Switch can partake in Mario’s trademarked go-karting action. So, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has an established quantity to use as its base, but is it worth buying, let alone double-dipping?
MARIO KART 8 DELUXE GAME REVIEW
Collectively being the eighth iteration in their series, Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe enjoy the benefit of fine-tuning. And, in terms of their handling, this experience shows. The racers control very well, regardless of your preferred character and vehicle combo. Mechanics from prior titles return, including requisites like drifting and braking. However, those who grew adept at the exploitive “fire hopping” from Mario Kart 8 may be disappointed to learn that it was omitted. However, newcomers to the series now have two appendages to help ween them into the action, smart-steering and auto-acceleration.
All racers are split into different weight classes. Specifically, there are three – light, medium and heavy – each with different subdivisions. Deluxe added five additional characters to the cast; King Boo, Dry Bones and Bowser Jr. are old-timers to the tracks, and Inkling Girl and Inkling Boy from Splatoon join the festivities for the first time. The roster totals 42 different mascots, all spanning familiar faces from the Nintendo universe. Furthermore, there are alternate colorations for a few members of the cast, including a new unlockable Gold Mario skin for Metal Mario. However, aside from that hidden costume, every character is available from the get-go.
Coins still adorn the racetracks, and up to ten can be held at a time. The more coins you have, the more capable your racer will become. Getting hit or falling off the racetrack will reduce your count, however. As you’ll learn in Time Trials – wherein you strive to attain the shortest time in completing three laps – coins are invaluable in maintaining your speed.
As with the original release of Mario Kart 8, moderately elaborate options to customize your ride are available to fine-tune it based on your preferences. The parts you choose will tweak your character’s stats – speed, acceleration, weight, handling and traction – so some experimentation is needed to discover which combination works best for you. In fact, Deluxe added a few extra parts, including a familiar Kart from Mario Kart 7 as well as two new vehicles modeled after Splatoon. Most of the vehicle parts are earned by accumulating coins.
The assortment of items, the great equalizer in the series, are directly culled from Mario Kart 8, performing the same functions as they did previously. Another returnee, Boo, reprises its role, allowing you to turn translucent for precious seconds and steal an item from another racer. Moreover, the feather returns from Super Mario Kart as a Battle-exclusive item, granting its user an impressive jump with balloon-pilfering potential.
One of Deluxe’s biggest adjustments is the ability to hold two items similar to the GameCube’s Double Dash!!, though now you can only collect two weapons if you hit a Double Item Box. As the item(s) you receive are determined by your place, this benefits all contestants. Those leading the pack now have a better chance of procuring a defensive tool, rather than likely getting the ineffective Coins item, while those who are trailing behind will likely score two helpful utensils.
Of course, the most important facet to a Mario Kart is its assortment of racetracks. This is, fortunately, probably the component where Mario Kart 8 shined the brightest. There is a grand total of 12 cups, each bearing four different racetracks. As usual, these are spilt into courses designed for Mario Kart 8, and redesigned versions of classic tracks that are retrofitted with 8’s antigravity, underwater or gliding mechanics.
Some of these courses are straightforward, a la Mario Kart Stadium, while others have light stage hazards, such as the cows littering Moo Moo Meadows. Some stages may remain grounded in their locations, while harder offerings are suspended in the air, meaning falling off will burden you with a setback. All stages have a clear path with some borders or outlines to help players from travelling overboard, but more challenging racetracks may limit the frequency for which the game will shield you. Moreover, a few courses forgo the usual three-lap structure the series is known for and instead exist as one immensely long racecourse. Some tracks are weaker than others, such as the overly chaotic Baby Park, but none of them are outright bad.
The racecourses contain an impressive level of fidelity, too, displaying vibrant, appealing visuals. Aesthetically, the colors pop, the models are detailed, and there’s a lot of nifty flair, such as bystanders, decorating the tracks. You may be moving too quickly to properly appreciate these intricacies, however! Impressively, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe maintains this commitment while running at a smooth 59FPS, though that will drop if multiple people are playing simultaneously on your Switch.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s Battle Mode is inarguably the biggest enhancement from the vanilla Wii U release. The latter refitted some of its racetracks for use with a Balloon Battle ruleset, which fit poorly because they were designed for racing, not battling. Deluxe alleviates us from these woes, with eight arenas made explicitly for Battle. Since they were designed to have 12 players occupy them, they’re all spacious, although I do sometimes long for the more concise, intimate arenas from prior titles.
Balloon Battle reclaims its status as the default, with Bob-omb Blast, Shine Thief and Coin Runners returning from prior installments. Renegade Roundup joins the lineup, splitting all participants into two teams based on the “cops vs. robbers” motif. Cops must capture the others through their vigorous Piranha Plants. Robbers must flee, though the Piranha Plants can be momentarily incapacitated if their driver is struck with an item. However, the robbers can free their imprisoned comrades by hitting the button located by the cell. Victory is awarded to the cops if they capture all robbers, whereas robbers win if at least one player eluded the law.
The online connectivity, conversely, continues the previous iteration’s execution with a few small enhancements. Notably, you can now change your character and vehicle combo while waiting in the lobby, rather than needing to back out and rejoin. However, while this could just be an issue on my end, I have noticed that disconnections have been somewhat prevalent.
Deluxe reuses Mario Kart 8’s score for the bulk of the experience, which isn’t unsurprising nor is it a problem. The straightforwardly named Mario Kart Band did an excellent job, with every track and arena hosting its own unique tune befitting of its mood. Sadly, however, the original compositions written for Deluxe’s battle stages aren’t quite up to that standard. Fittingly, the Urchin Underpass stadium hosts the main theme from Splatoon, “Splatattack.”
Mario Kart is an established series, and you likely already have formulated your opinions regarding how you feel about it. Regardless, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is, without question, the most content-packed, refined installment in the venerable franchise. If you’re not a fan, Deluxe probably won’t make you one. If you already own Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, Deluxe probably doesn’t introduce enough to warrant an upgrade unless you really value Battle Mode. However, this is nonetheless the best Mario Kart has ever been.
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