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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) artwork

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) review


"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best version of one of the best Mario Kart games ever created."


Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features some impressive stats, so let's acknowledge those right now. There are 48 tracks, 42 racers (counting a custom Mii character you can modify any number of ways), and 8 battle arenas that facilitate 5 surprisingly different modes. You have the option to find competition locally or online, and a "smart steering" feature ensures newcomers can drive competitively without devoting months of practice to the effort. Finally, racers can now carry 2 items at once, which in theory rewards strategic play.

Stats don't mean much if the execution is poor, of course, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe comes together almost perfectly. The game is a fantastic kart racer that presents a terrific value, and I want to be up front about that. I also want to nitpick some, because a number of minor issues prevent the overall package from leaving me utterly delighted.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) image


A moment ago, I mentioned 48 total tracks. They're spread across 12 circuits, and each consists of 4 races. When Mario Kart 8 arrived on Wii U, it included only 8 of those circuits and consumers eventually could spend another $20 to add half again as many to the total. Nintendo was smart to include that expanded content as part of the deal this second time around. Even if you picked up the original release, you very possibly didn't spring for the DLC, meaty though it was. Now you can play through unique environments from other Nintendo franchises such as Animal Crossing, Excitebike, F-Zero and even The Legend of Zelda. Some of those locations are pretty darn cool, too.

I don't have any complaints about the track selection, even though around half of them are remakes of notable tracks from previous titles in the franchise. That still leaves plenty of brand new places to race, after all, and they're all beautiful. Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U was one of the prettiest games around, even compared to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One fare. That's still the case, thanks to the attractive artwork. The difference is the game now plays at a blistering 60fps. Or so I've read. Frankly, I can't often tell the difference between 30fps and 60fps unless I'm looking at two television sets running footage right next to one another. I do know that everything is silky smooth here, though, which I appreciate.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) image


I've never been a complete fan of the character roster Mario Kart 8 offered on Wii U, even after the expansions hit. 42 characters seems like it ought to give you plenty of options, but a lot of them aren't distinct enough to matter. Out of the group, 7 are the Koopaling siblings (first introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World). There also are variations of the same basic character, such as Princess Peach, Cat Peach, Pink Gold Peach and Baby Peach. Several versions of Mario and Luigi appear, as well. The repetition technically expands the total number of female racers represented, which is admirable, but it doesn't do much for roster depth. I would have preferred to see more original characters, such as Spike (who made a recent appearance in Mario Party 10) or Super Mario World's Kamek, or even Nabbit from New Super Luigi U.

Characters all have slightly different stats, but players will probably gravitate toward 2 or 3 that are fast and easy to control, or a couple that possess higher top speed or present good all-around capabilities. When it comes to the drivers, the variety on hand is really just variety for the sake of variety, which is as redundant as my use of "variety" in this sentence.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) image


On a more positive note, there are the 8 aforementioned battle arenas. When Mario Kart 8 shipped, its lack of competitive arenas was the game's most glaring omission. Battle arenas go all the way back to the original Super Mario Kart, and their absence hurt. Fortunately, Nintendo has made up for that oversight. The stages are distinct enough that it's easy to find a few favorites, and there are twisting corridors and ramps and fun loops that keep the action frantic when everyone is engaged. Also, my favorite arena from the original Super Mario Kart has been brought back, which hits my nostalgia button.

The default battle mode has players pop balloons for points. Every driver begins with 5 of them trailing from their bumper. A point penalty kicks in if all of them burst. It's important to drive offensively, but without putting yourself at risk and potentially losing ground. In another mode, you must gather coins and try to wind up holding more than your opponents when the timer expires. Then in another one, players compete to grab and hold a single shine. If you protect it for a combined total of 20 seconds, you win the round. That's easier said than done, however, because things get downright chaotic. In Renegade Roundup, racers are divided into teams. One plays the bad guys, racing around and causing mayhem, while the other team is law enforcement and tries to capture the miscreants. In a final mode, bomb power-ups are plentiful and you have to toss explosives to take out your rivals.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) image


The 8 included arenas do a decent job of working well in each of the available modes, but some fare better than others. I wouldn't want to trim any of them, but I also wouldn't mind if even more were included. Maybe that's something Nintendo can address down the road, with a new round of DLC. Even if that never happens, though, what you get here is still ample.

As I noted, there's a new "smart steering" option. It confines drivers to a set path, so newcomers aren't constantly flying off course edges. Some shortcuts are thus off-limits (you're simply steered away if you try to save time by driving up a cleverly placed ramp or whatever), but the help should suit more casual players just fine. It's like bowling with bumpers in place to prevent irritating gutter balls. And if you don't want the assistance, you can disable it when you pick your kart. That's what I did.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch) image


The ability to hold two items at once is a change I was particularly anxious to experience, but the results are mixed. In a lot of races, I would maintain a healthy lead and generally only find coins and banana peels in any item boxes I collected. Those power-ups didn't do me much good, since rivals could still come up from behind and toss two red shells. I might neutralize the first one sent my way with a trailing shell or peel, but then the second one would catch me before I could cross the finish line. Meanwhile, players lagging behind have twice as many chances to throw blue shells or zap you with lightning. It's not terribly uncommon to lead virtually the entire race and then drop to 3rd or 4th place just ahead of the finish line as you suffer a string of three or four completely unavoidable attacks. The game's love affair with rubber band AI is easily its most persistent flaw. That one little design choice punishes the most skilled players by turning luck into the determining factor in some races, rather than skill.

Though I found things I didn't absolutely love about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I do believe it's the best Mario Kart game since Double Dash!! on the GameCube. If you give it a shot and like what you find early on (and there's a good chance you will), you should discover numerous reasons to return night after night, for dozens or maybe even hundreds of hours of total enjoyment. And since you can head online to race against friends or strangers, compete locally with up to 7 friends (if you have the hardware) or even tackle everything all by yourself, there's no reason the thrills can't last forever. I just wish the game had been absolutely perfect. Is that really so much to ask?

5/5

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 22, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for nearly 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he also writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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