Would you rather wait years for the next Mario Kart, or pay more money to play it today? If you’re a Nintendo Switch owner that previously owned a Wii U, this is a question you need to answer for yourself because Mario Kart 8 is back, and though it has some serious enhancements, it is largely the same game.
If you already played MK8 on the Wii U, the new ‘Deluxe’ version feels like a phantom DLC update that never came. It has all the content from the original game and first two DLC releases, and adds a few new characters, items, vehicles, and tracks. That, and it revamps the series long-beloved and beleaguered Battle mode, finally making it playable. There are now eight dedicated battle arenas to play in, so you don’t have to try and fight it out on courses meant for racing. Oh, and if you have trouble driving, Deluxe has some new options like Auto Accelerate and Smart Steering, that take all of the skill out of at least finishing a race.
Racing in Deluxe will give Wii U players déjà vu: It feels exactly like the original Mario Kart 8. New or not, though, it’s nice to have a Mario Kart game on the Switch. Mario Kart 8 is just as nuts and fun to play with friends as ever before, and the two-player capabilities of the Switch make it possible to play with friends on the go, too. A lot of the fun of Mario Kart is in the mayhem, and that hasn’t gotten old.
Mario Kart meets F-Zero
If you haven’t played Mario Kart 8, it’s like a fusion of classic Kart with F-Zero. Race courses now have underwater sections, flying with gliders (more like falling, with style), and areas where your kart turns into a hovercraft and you travel up walls or upside down entirely. It’s nuts, and if Nintendo took it one step further, it may not feel like Mario Kart at all. Luckily, the red shells still fly and banana peels are in plentiful supply. There are a few new items too, like a horn that can stop the dreaded Spiky Shell, and the return of the feather in Battle mode, which lets you jump over your opponents to save yourself. You can also carry two items at once now, which will help you get out of a pinch.
Mario Kart 8 feels like a fusion of classic Kart with F-Zero.
Aside from the daunting new dimensions added to tracks, veteran players will like the insanely fast 200cc racing class that’s now unlocked from the get go, and small gameplay tweaks, like being able to power up a drift to a third ‘purple’ tier, giving you a larger mini-turbo boost when you get out of corners. You can also do tricks and get a boost if you press the jump button when leaping over ramps, and collecting coins slowly speeds you up.
Six new characters also join the race. The Inkling Boy and Inkling Girl from Splatoon are fun additions that reinforce the idea that Mario Kart is turning into a Super Smash Bros. style game that goes beyond just Super Mario characters and worlds. Link and an Animal Crossing Villager also show up. Most of the characters are weird Mario offshoots like Dry Bones, King Boo, Dry Bowser (skeleton Bowser), Tanooki Mario, and an unlockable Gold Mario. Zelda, F-Zero, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon-themed courses are also fun to play.
It looks the same as the Wii U version, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe still looks stunning (now in 1080p at 60fps on a TV and 720p on handheld) a few years later. In no way do the visuals look out of date.
Multiplayer modes and mehs
We cannot explain how crazy it is to have four people squinting at the split screen on a tiny Switch display, but you can do it, and it works. Optimally, everyone would have a Switch Pro Controller, but you can play SNES style by each using a single Joy-Con, which you can slide off the right or left sides of the Switch screen. Believe it or not, the tiny Joy-Cons will let you get the job done, but don’t expect to feel comfortable. Playing with a single Joy-Con is a cramped experience. While it isn’t perfect, though, this is the first system with portable four-player console gaming on the go: It’s a lot of fun if you’re on a trip with a friend.
If your friends have their own Switch and a copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, up to eight players can wirelessly connect up that way as well. Online play is also available, though we have not yet tested it thoroughly due to the small multiplayer scene pre-release. Translation: We can’t find anyone to race with us, yet!
You can race your friends in Grand Prix bundles of races, a single race, or you can square off in Deluxe’s revamped Battle mode. Instead of forcing you to battle on race courses, Nintendo has added eight proper arenas for players to fight in. Some are overly large and complex, like Battle Stadium, but others, like the remade Luigi’s Mansion stage from Mario Kart: Double Dash, and the new Dragon Palace, are tight enough to cause some havoc.
A lot of the fun of Mario Kart is the mayhem.
There are five Battle modes, and all of them are pretty fun, but for some odd reason Nintendo did not add in the classic, Mario Kart 64-style rules where every player has three balloons and fights until they’re popped. There are five different ways to battle in Deluxe, but they are all timed and have multiple rounds with complex scoring systems. They’re never as fun or frantic as those brawls to the death of yesterkart. Bob-omb battle, Shine Thief, and Coin Runners join a modified Balloon battle along with one new mode: Renegade Roundup. Here, a team of players uses Piranha plants to eat the others, while the other team tries to stay unharmed and free their friends from jail (nobody actually dies in Mario Kart, silly). Again, it would be more fun if it wasn’t so complex and timed.
Mario Kart is at its best when everyone is empowered to cause as much pandemonium as possible. Though it’s much improved, the Deluxe Battle mode still doesn’t bring the ruckus that classic Kart games were known for. It’s a shame, too. All it would take is the ability to turn the timer off and just shoot each other freely. Sadly, Nintendo did not include the option.
What it does to Switch battery life
If unplugged, it appears that the Switch battery will last about 2.5-3 hours if you play nonstop Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This is similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.Our Take
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t offer much for players who already had their fill of the original Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, but it’s still a fantastic game have on the Switch. If, like most people, you skipped the Wii U, or just want their Kart fix, Deluxe is the best version of one of our favorite Mario Kart games.
Is there a better alternative?
Nope. If you happen to own a Wii U, you can likely find Mario Kart 8 at a deep discount, but this is the first major 4+ player game you’ll want to own for the Nintendo Switch.
How long will it last?
Deluxe will be a staple of the Switch lineup for many years. Nintendo has not confirmed any new DLC, but history suggests it may continue to add karts, characters, tracks, and modes to the game after launch.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you want to play some Mario Kart on Switch, don’t wait around. This game is extremely similar to its Wii U version, but that was also one of the best Mario Kart games to date. It looks fantastic, plays well, and has (almost) everything you’d want out of a Mario Kart game.