The Wii U may have been a bonafide disappointment, but some of Nintendo’s recent great games were created for it. Mario Kart 8 is such an example, and proved to be such a classic title that I’d always come back to it. This culminated in sinking over 200 hours into it. When a port of it was announced for the Switch, it was impossible to pass on it. However, could this port easily exceed the original, or just be a lazy straight port to bolster the early lineup of the Switch?
One area it certainly succeeds at is the presentation. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe does not radically alter the status quo, but it never needed to; the game looked incredible in its original state. The winding tracks have never looked better with the classic cartoon Mario aesthetic being brought into the modern age. Certain stages are downright visual showcases: Mount Wario’s ever-changing scenery is still a sight to behold, with the light filtering through the trees being unparalleled by any other Nintendo game up to the point of the original’s 2014 release. Jaggy edges were a minor gripe due to the initial iteration’s 720p resolution, but these have been mostly smoothed out in the jump to a much clearer 1080p when docked. Even the handheld 720p is an improvement over what came before.
Not only is the presentation lavishly crafted, but the gameplay is too. Mario Kart remains easy to learn and difficult to master, with powersliding making a triumphant return, alongside the mechanically different outside and inside drifting bikes. More items, such as the Boo and Feather(Battle only), have been added in to diversify matches even further. These do a great job of keeping situations fresh and unique. Of course, the unique anti-gravity feature, where you speed up when colliding with other players, makes a comeback. Gaining speed has never been so dangerous.
However, as for the diehard racers, they may be unpleased to hear that fire-hopping, a technique that heavily favoured karts, has been stripped out. The ultra mini turbo lays these problems to rest. This third tier of powersliding levels the playing field once more while adding another interesting wrinkle to the gameplay through deciding whether or not to risk holding a drift for a more sustained speed boost.
Of course, it would be amiss to omit any mention of the incredible soundtrack. The tracks – pun intended – thematically fit perfectly. Transferring from subdued melodies to bombastic compositions showcases the range they possess, and it’s astonishing to hear them at work. Even the new track created for the wireless mode’s lobby will wriggle its way into your head and stay indefinitely.
Superseding all other gameplay changes is the reintroduction of two item slots, which also means the addition of the double item box. This fundamentally changes the gameplay from defensive to aggressive, as lower places have more items to break ahead and the leader of the pack is not relegated to getting only coins, leaving them defenseless. By and large, this revitalizes the game all over again.
The strategies have been expanded due to this change; for example, first place can attempt to swap their two items for two that are much more useful. However, when it gets to first place, it can become tiring to forfeit a win due to a blue shell and a multitude of red shells heading your way inches from the finish line when you seemed to have raced impeccably.
What hasn’t changed are the tracks, and they hold up as some of the greatest in series history. With 25 new tracks and 23 retro ones, they all make use of anti-gravity; even the retro courses have been changed to a degree, which is a first in Mario Kart history. These changes somehow enhance the original designs: GBA Mario Circuit is now much more interesting from an aesthetic and gameplay view due to simply raising a tilted turn.
The final new addition, and the one that people were most excited about, is the Battle Mode. At first, it was Balloon Battle and Coin Runners on pre-existing courses, but retro-fitted to be battle stages. It was terrible. The other players might as well have been non-existant. In Deluxe, a substantial amount of new content has been added. Balloon Battle and Coin Runners remain, but eight all new stages have replaced the tracks of old. They are not too exciting; really, they’re a bit of a letdown in terms of not using the MK8D mechanics at all, save for Battle Stadium. Modes are what have had the most effort poured into them, with Bob-Omb Blast, Shine Thief, and Renegade Roundup being introduced to the mold. Bob-Omb Blast is disappointing in that it’s just Balloon Battle with bombs, really. Shine Thief and Renegade Roundup are much more exhilarating.
In Shine Thief, the goal is to snag and hold onto a shine for 20 seconds while avoiding the mayhem directed towards you, while Renegade Roundup is about avoiding the law, with two teams of goals to capture or free renegades from cages. These two modes really ramp up the tension from the other three near snooze-inducing modes, which is when Mario Kart is at its best.
It has been difficult to nitpick errors with the rest of the game, as my main complaints with it have been rectified. However, out of nowhere, a whole new one has popped up – atrocious online. I could perhaps chalk this up to being the worst online experience I’ve had on a Nintendo console to date, with the issues going leaps and bounds beyond the flaws the Wii U version had baked into it.
Quite frequently, there have been major disconnects, errors when I attempt to join in with games, and insufferable lag when it comes to item boxes. One match had five players firmly affixed to the starting line; many booted me for no reason when the game was in progress; but most of all, the lag is what majorly impacts the experience. Never have I seen in the original a green shell behind another player hit another, who is very far behind. It’s appalling for it to be scheduled to be paid when the free online took a much better, more consistent stab at it.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an incredible package full of new additions that will reel you back in all over again. It is very easily the best iteration in the franchise, but major online issues hold it back from being an absolutely essential title for online multiplayer play. If the paid online really does improve the experience twofold, it will surpass Fast RMX as the essential title for worldwide multiplayer racing.