Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

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With each new major Nintendo console, I usually expect to see new titles from specific Nintendo franchises we’ve all come to know and love. A new 3D Mario, Smash Bros., Zelda, and, of course, Mario Kart. These may even be the most powerful franchises in Nintendo’s arsenal, at least when talking about games for their home consoles. Some may even call these four franchises “system sellers”. I’ll just call them the “big four”. You may be wondering how I could forget Pokemon. Well, I said home consoles, not portable. Interestingly enough, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe isn’t really something new nor is it exclusive to your living room TV. Thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s portability, one might say Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the first major Mario Kart title available for a portable console. Developed and published by Nintendo, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an enhanced version of Mario Kart 8, released for the Nintendo Switch in April, 2017. It includes everything from the original game including all of the DLC content and also offers a decent amount of new stuff. Amazingly, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has already surpassed it’s Wii U counterpart in sales and is currently the best selling Mario Kart title to date. If you skipped the Wii U or never played Mario Kart 8, I would definitely suggest that you play the Deluxe version.

When Mario Kart 8 was first revealed, I knew I was going to get it. I didn’t even have to think about it. It’s one of the “big four” so in my case, the decision was already made. Naturally, I was excited and picked up my copy on day one. But unlike previous titles, I didn’t play this one constantly. I got all the gold trophies and that was it. There was just something about it. I always felt something was missing but I could never put my finger on it. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s fantastic. Far better than Mario Kart Wii, at least. I knew it was one of the best games in the series but I just couldn’t stick with it for some reason. Regardless, I bought the season pass so whenever any DLC dropped, I checked it out immediately but even then, I just couldn’t get hooked. Fast-forward to 2017, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out and just like the Wii U original, I was at the store day one to pick up my copy. And this time, things are a bit different. I just can’t stop playing. Deluxe is by far one of the best, if not the best, Mario Kart title to date, and is the definitive version of the game.

As expected, the core game modes are all here. Grand Prix, versus, multiplayer, online, time trials, and a battle mode. Like with any new Mario Kart title, the first thing I do is jump straight into the Grand Prix mode. Grand Prix comes complete with the normal 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc engine classes which are basically different difficulty modes. In all Mario Kart titles, 150cc includes the most aggressive CPU opponents and the races are a bit more intense and faster-paced than the other two engine classes. And let’s not forget the Mirror 150cc which is just like 150cc but all courses are mirrored. However, that’s not all. Thanks to DLC, Mario Kart 8 eventually received a new engine class called 200cc. If you think the 150cc engine class is too easy, then 200cc is for you. This is definitely the most challenging engine class, with races moving along at breakneck speeds. All of the engine classes and courses are unlocked from the get-go so you’re no longer required to complete all the courses in one class to unlock another. I immediately started racing in 150cc because the gold, silver, or bronze trophies you earn for each cup, including the stars earned for each cup, also count for the lower two engine classes. Jumping straight into 150cc does reduce a bit of grinding but the trophies and stars for Mirror 150cc and 200cc are separate.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes twelve cups with four courses each. These include all of the original Mario Kart 8 new, retro, and DLC courses. Obviously, your ultimate goal is to win each race. You earn a certain amount of points depending on what place you end up in when you cross the finish line. Whichever racer has the most points by the end of the cup earns a gold trophy. Second place gets you a silver trophy, and third place gets you a bronze trophy. None of this is really new. If you manage to land in first place in each course, you’ll earn a three-star ranking for that cup. Having all of the engine classes, cups, and courses unlocked from the start is actually pretty great. Players of all skill levels can experience the game in full and, luckily, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to look forward to. The unlockable content is now restricted to one hidden racer, and a ton of kart parts.

All racers from the original game and even DLC return and Deluxe introduces some new racers – King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr., Inkling Girl, Inkling Boy, and Gold Mario who needs to be unlocked. Mario Kart 8 and Deluxe have the biggest roster of racers in the series, but don’t jump for joy just yet. For one thing several racers are basically palette swaps of others. For example, when selecting Yoshi, Shy Guy, and even the Inklings, you have different color choices. Yet, Mario, Metal Mario, and even Tanooki Mario are each separate characters. More disappointing is that Gold Mario can only be unlocked by earning gold trophies in all cups in 200cc and he’s just a swap of Metal Mario. Considering how hard that can be, the reward hardly seems worth the effort. The same goes for Peach and Pink Gold Peach. Each character is in a separate weight class but many of them are identical like all the baby racers. What this means is no racer is really unique. That’s where kart parts come in. There’s plenty of karts, bikes, and ATV’s to choose from along with a wide array of different wheels and gliders. After selecting your racer you can select the kart parts to create a kart to your liking. Different parts will effect different stats including speed, acceleration, weight, handling, and traction. For me, personally, I found these stats to be more important when racing in 200cc than any other engine class. Collecting a specific amount of coins will automatically unlock a kart part. If you want to unlock all kart parts, you’ll basically have to grind for coins. Luckily, coins can be collected across all game modes. But coins aren’t just a form of currency. You can collect as many coins as you want during a race but only store up to a max of ten. Each coin collected grants you a small boost and the more coins you have stored, the faster you move. Getting hit with an item and you’ll lose three coins.

Anyone who played Mario Kart Wii should know the item balancing in that game was just awful. And you know what I’m talking about. Blue shell, red shell, green shell, lightning, maybe another green shell, and then Bowser rams into you, knocking you off the track. Bam! You’re in last place. This happens all over the course of maybe ten to fifteen seconds. Luckily, in Mario Kart 8 and Deluxe, it’s not quite as bad. It’s back to normal, if you will. Normally how it works is the racers at the end of the pack get the deadly items and the racers in the lead get the more defensive items. If you think about each game in the series, if you’re in first place with a significant lead, you’ll eventually get slaughtered with a seemingly ridiculous chain of attacks, and that’s still the case here. Sadly, like most Mario Kart titles, that and the rubberbanding AI racers, is how the game balances the difficulty so if you’re in first place, you’ll rarely end up a mile or two ahead of everyone else because of these elements. The problem is that it’s just so obvious when it happens. I’m at the point now where if I’m in first place, I always expect at least one blue spiney shell to home in on me. And there’s a good chance I’ll lose the lead, even if it is brief. However, now you can defend yourself against the blue shells with the new Super Horn item. Blow this thing at the right time and that blue shell will no longer be a threat.

Items are collected by driving into the question mark boxes. You still fire items forwards and backwards and you can still hold items behind your kart to defend yourself from incoming attacks. One of the more unique elements of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was the ability to store an extra item. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings that back. You can now hold an extra item and driving into two connected question mark boxes will grant you two items at once. This adds a bit more strategy to the gameplay and can also make things a bit more hectic. With double the firepower, races can quickly turn into mass chaos, with only the most skilled racers leaving the unlucky ones in the dust.

If you want to win those gold trophies, especially in the higher engine classes, you need to drift. Drifting around corners is the only way to maintain speed while also giving you an extra boost. The longer you drift, the better the boost. The kart parts determine how well your vehicle will perform but like I said earlier, those stats mean the most in 200cc. After playing for a bit I was easily able to race and drift through each course in 150cc without a problem and rarely ever had to use my brakes. In 200cc, the handling stat has never been so important and even if your vehicle feels like it can drift around sharp turns, you’ll be moving so fast, using your brakes becomes a necessity. It really threw me off at first because it’s not like everything is just sped up. No, you actually move faster and you’ll need to rethink how you drive. Luckily, you can brake and drift at the same time. Needless to say, choosing the right kart parts for 200cc can be the difference between earning a gold trophy or ending up in last place. New to Mario Kart 8 is a Smart Steering mechanic. With Smart Steering on, you’ll never fall off tracks or crash into walls. This is perfect for newcomers and it can even be toggled on and off in 200cc. You can also toggle on and off tilt controls and auto-accelerate.

The earlier courses consist of basic loops and turns but the courses get more complex in the later cups. Sharp turns, transforming sections, multiple boost ramps, shortcuts, and hazards are all common elements. It’s all good fun and when you fall off the track, you no longer have to wait forever for Lakitu to get you back into the race. He picks you up almost immediately. All tracks have sections that turn your vehicle into a hovercraft where you can boost off boost pads and even other racers. Some tracks let you race underwater and others don’t actually loop but consist of three sections that make up the laps. Your vehicle’s glider will allow you to glide long distances but hopefully you won’t get struck down by lightning or by the dreaded blue shell while in mid-air. Always annoying. At the end of each race you have the option to watch a replay or what the game calls the Highlight Reel. This is actually really cool. You get a cinematic view of the race and you can choose to focus on different drivers and even the biggest hits. You can save up to six replays but unlike the original Mario Kart 8, you can’t share these replays on social media. I never did that anyway but hopefully they can patch that in at a later date.

As you may or may not know, Mario Kart 8’s battle mode was extremely disappointing but the complaints did not go unheard. Nintendo completely revamped the battle mode and it’s actually one of the highlights of the Deluxe version. There’s eight battle courses and you can battle in multiplayer, online, and even in single player against the CPU which is actually really cool. The classic balloon battle returns where you drive around the course and attack opponents’ with items to pop their balloons for points. Bob-omb Blast just like balloon battle except all items are Bob-ombs. Yeah, it’s ridiculously hectic and fun. Coin Runners is all about what driver can collect the most coins. In order to win in Shine Thief, you need to hold onto the Shine until the timer reaches zero. Renegade Roundup is by far the most unique battle mode. It’s like a cops and robbers type of mode. The blue team needs to avoid the red team. Each driver on the red team is equipped with a Piranha Plant and if the plant manages to eat a blue driver, that driver is teleported to a cage. Other blue drivers need to drive over the key under the cage to free their imprisoned allies. The red team needs to capture everyone on the blue team to win and for the blue team to win, at least one driver must remain free when the timer reaches zero. It’s actually pretty fun. The Feather is a returning item that we hasn’t been seen since the original Super Mario Kart. It’s exclusive to the battle mode and will make your vehicle jump high into the air. It’s cool to see it return but I found it pretty useless.

The Versus and Time Trial modes are pretty standard for Mario Kart and just racing games in general. In Versus you can choose the engine class, teams, item types, CPU vehicle types and difficulty, and of course you can select the courses and race counts. This is one of the positives of having everything unlocked from the get-go. All of the content is right there for the taking and this is the perfect mode to just have fun in, practice, and just enjoy what the Mario Kart gameplay has to offer. In Time Trial you race against the clock and try to earn the best time. You can select between 150cc and 200cc, you can view and race against other player’s ghosts, and you can even upload your own ghosts. This is my least favorite mode in almost every racing game ever but for those that enjoy it, there you go.

Believe it or not, I actually played a bit of multiplayer. I’ve heard several reports of connection problems but honestly I was able to get in and out of games seamlessly. I was only disconnected once and it was before a race started. Everything was smooth, I didn’t notice any glitches, and actually had a pretty good time. You have separate rankings for races and battles and your ranks will go up or down depending on how well you do. There’s even an online tournament mode where you can create rooms, teams, and set up different modifiers. It’s pretty cool stuff. I’m not normally a multiplayer guy but I can honestly say my multiplayer experience in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was very pleasant. My only issue with the multiplayer is the split-screen for two player. You’re forced to play in the vertical side-by-side view and you can’t change it.

When it comes to the presentation, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe delivers. It displays at full 1080p when connected to a TV and runs at a solid sixty frames on both the Switch tablet and TV. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is also gorgeous, colorful, and vibrant. I would often find myself just gazing into the backgrounds of the beautifully detailed courses. Toads, Piantas, and Shy Guys will cheer you on as you smoothly boost past racers at high speeds. Courses are filled with amazing visual touches and little details that fit the themes of the tracks. For example in the Animal Crossing track, the season will be randomized, fruit will fall from the trees, and Resetti will comically pop his out of the ground. Rupees will replace coins, Keese replace swoopers, and Deku Babas replace Piranha Plants in the Hyrule Circuit track. You’ll even drive through the interior of Hyrule Castle. And I can’t even begin to express how amazing the soundtrack is. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has some of the best music Nintendo has ever produced. The music is beautifully orchestrated, familiar songs are remixed, you’ve even got some whaling guitars thrown in here and there. The soundtrack is just downright incredible.

Ultimately, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the best racing games I’ve played in a while and I would even say it’s currently the best Mario Kart title, period. It retains the same fun and classic Mario Kart gameplay but that also means it retains the same ups and downs of said gameplay. The rubberbanding CPU and artificial difficulty are always clearly visible and even with the wide array of drivers, several of them are just clones of others. The kart parts add a bit of strategy and the 200cc engine class will challenge even the most experienced players. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is perfect for newcomers and thanks to the new Smart Steering feature, this is the most accessible Mario Kart yet. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just proof that Nintendo still has the magic touch.

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