James Stephanie Sterling
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review – Shell On Earth
Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo Format: Nintendo Switch Released: April 28, 2017 Copy purchased
I regret not spending enough time with Mario Kart 8 when it was a Wii U title, but if getting to experience much of its content for the first time through Mario Kart 8 is to be my penance, I’ve earned myself the best punishment in the world.
Experiencing each track in Mario Kart 8 is a fresh delight, with even Nintendo’s reliance on nostalgia given a shot in the arm due to just how vibrant even the oldest of returning tracks is. This is to say nothing of Mario Kart 8‘s bespoke roadwork, presenting a set of all-new racetracks that make terrific use of varied gimmicks and evolving landscapes.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is, as one might expect, a rebranded version of the beloved Wii U release, polished and enhanced for the Nintendo Switch. Such improvements obviously include a visual overhaul with Deluxe taking advantage of the Switch’s ability to understand what high definition means in order to produce a far prettier alternative of an already artistically delightful production.
Under the hood, Nintendo has made a number of crucial tweaks. Various options and exploits have been balanced out and players now get to hold two items at once by default, keeping a second in reserve once they’ve deployed their first shell or dropped their bananas. As a result, double item boxes have made a reappearance too.
By drifting long enough, players can now initiate an Ultra Mini-Turbo, getting an even bigger boost from their turns, while a 200cc engine class has been included for players who love it when the A.I. pummels them with red shell after red shell and generally lets them know how terrible they are at racing games.
Most interesting are Smart Steering and Auto-Accelerate, two features included to give less skilled or experienced players a competitive edge. With these features engaged, players are given a little extra guidance to keep their vehicles on the road and don’t have to worry about fiddling with acceleration themselves.
The trade-off is that Smart Steering will force its players on certain tracks which often means they can’t access shortcuts. They’re also ineligible for Ultra Turbo-Boosts, which means that while they can get through even the Rainbowest of Roads with minimal slippage, they’re missing out on tricks available to experts.
It’s a nice way of maintaining balance while keeping newcomers happy. Perhaps the more “hardcore” fans will take umbrage with yet more “dumbing down” but those elitists can, quite frankly, lick a Switch card and shove it up their urethras.
Nintendo’s only mistake with these options is activating them by default. I was initially confused as to why the game occasionally wrested control away from me before I tinkered in the options and discovered Smart Steering accidentally. It’s a great feature, but one that needs more than a quiet implementation.
Battle Mode has been given a significant makeover with five balloons serving as health indicators instead of three as well as the chance to respawn upon defeat – albeit with a halved score. There are five battle modes, each revolving around the general idea of competitive head-to-head fights as opposed to being first across the finish line.
Not the main draw, but an always-welcome place to take a breather from the racetrack, and one that has been given several new battlefields upon which to fight.
Because Nintendo isn’t Activision, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features all the downloadable content present for Mario Kart 8, allowing players to choose such racers as Link and Isabelle. Six all-new characters have joined the fray, including some old favorites. King Boo and Splatoon‘s Inklings put in an appearance besides Gold Mario and Bowser Jr.
Most importantly, however… Dry Bones is back! Dry Bones is finally back!
My favorite Mario Kart racer – sorely missing from several key installments – has finally been resurrected to make MK8 Deluxe not just the definitive version of Mario Kart 8, but the best Mario Kart game, period.
I’m not kidding about that, either. After quite notoriously voicing disappointment with an unexciting Mario Kart 7, the sheer amount of energy sparking from this eighth installment is palpable. I love how chaotic each race above 100cc feels, how easy it is to drop into multiplayer matches, and how many characters and tiny little gameplay features creep their way into the experience.
Plenty of unlocks are to be found by collecting coins during play, with a bunch of vehicle parts that let players customize their rides for both aesthetic and statistical alterations. A handful of brand new parts appear, chiefly the Splat Buggy and Inkstriker to give MK8 even more Splatoon love.
After struggling to enjoy many games with the Switch’s Joycons, I’m delighted to report that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe feels great to play not just with a Pro Controller, but as a portable game too. I’ve found myself playing and performing satisfactorily both on the TV and in a handheld capacity, and I’d only give the TV choice an edge for how lovely it is seeing that game on a massive screen.
Unlike everything else I’ve played on the system so far, I’m finding even extended play sessions comfortable – and there have been a lot of extended play sessions.
Mario Kart 8, even pre-DLC, offered an exhaustive list of stuff to throw at players. Tons of characters and vehicles, over 30 (48 as of Deluxe) tracks, and an immense volume of gameplay customization options gave it more content than anyone in their right mind would know what to do with it, and while Deluxe doesn’t go all-out in offering additional loot, it’s certainly bumped up what was an already robust package.
One thing I wish was given more attention was the individual personalities of each racer. While some are a constant delight (the Shy Guy’s gibberish is adorable), characters like Wario and Waluigi are not as joyously cacophonous as they ought to be. Several characters who should be louder and more manic are significantly less so.
Perhaps some appreciate it for being less annoying, but I’m just not used to hearing some of my favorite Mario antagonists behaving with a modicum of restraint. Somebody please take Wario’s weed away.
Small griping aside, Deluxe is a beautiful and lively game full of stunning setpieces and shifting tracks. It’s a game that showcases Nintendo at its best – blending nostalgic callbacks with fresh content to craft an experience both familiar and exciting.
Both as a handheld and a home TV game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an addictive and important addition to the Nintendo Switch, one I’ve been struggling to stop playing once I fire it up.
I say this without hyperbole and not as a stealth insult to anything else – I quite genuinely believe this to be the finest addition to the Switch’s library so far. I can’t argue with how much I’ve been playing it and how much I want to keep playing it, even as I type this. It’s exactly this kind of compulsive experience the Switch needed, and if that had to be the result of a remaster, so be it.
It’s a damn fine remaster of a truly magnificent game.
It has Dry Bones in it, or haven’t you heard?