It doesn't really feel like all that long ago that we were first getting to grips with Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. They say time flies when you're having fun, and with the game having first hit shelves in flipping 2014, that certainly seems to be true here. Easily one of, if not the best Mario Kart of all time, it was a game that went on to become a firm local multiplayer hit, with friends and family alike often cramming onto a sofa, Wii Remote in hand, for some bumper bashing, red shell wanging four player split-screen racing fun. With Mario Kart having been a pillar of almost every Nintendo console since the SNES, and Mario Kart 8 being one of only a small handful of must buys on the beleaguered console, Nintendo are now hoping it can reach a whole new audience on the Switch, in this slightly upgraded re-release.
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Perhaps the craziest thing about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just how quickly technology seems to have advanced over the last few years. Going from a game that pushed a home console to its very limits in 2014, to that same game being able to run on a handheld tablet within the space of a few years seems like one heck of a leap, yet it's testament to just how advanced the Switch hardware really is - at least, in terms of pixel pushing power. Bundling the full Mario Kart 8 game along with all the previous released downloadable add-ons (including Zelda, Animal Crossing and F-Zero themed courses), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a bumper package of tracks, characters and modes that's every bit as great as we remember. Slick, arcade themed and with a great local multiplayer offering (up to four players can play in split-screen, even on the go) it won't take more than a few blasts round the game's courses to remind you why Mario Kart 8 was so incredibly popular in the first place.
To justify the Deluxe moniker, Nintendo have added a handful of new features and goodies to the trusty Mario Kart 8 mix. There's five new characters to add to the game's original Mushroom Kingdom themed roster, although now the roster's reached 40+ characters, we're really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel (King Boo, Dry Bowser, Bowser Jr, the unlockable Gold Mario and, er, Inkling Boy/Girl); two new power-up weapons - a Boo (which steals the best weapon any other player has), and a Feather, which lets you jump over incoming shells and gives you a small boost; a revamped battle mode; three new vehicle parts; the ability to hold two weapons at once; and a handful of small, under the bonnet tweaks that most players probably won't notice.
Still, for the Mario Kart 8 rookie, there's a lot to like here. In terms of the single player offering, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe follows Mario Kart tradition, with a dozen cups to compete in, each consisting of four different courses. With half the tracks being new (by which we mean, new for Mario Kart 8, and re-used for Deluxe), and half being remastered versions from older games, there's a great blend of the familiar and the exciting, with some genuinely ingenious track design on offer. As Mario Kart 8's main gimmick is that of anti-gravity racing, you'll be swooping on tracks that spiral, bend, and otherwise twist in really unusual ways as you jostle for position, and those all important power-up cubes - although luckily, the anti-grav features don't make it too much harder to steer your kart.
In fact, one of the main new features for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are a few extra settings that make it that much easier for beginners to get into. While the game's all new auto-accelerate setting will handle your car's throttle for you, giving you more time to worry about weapons (and where your kart's going), it's arguably the steering assist that'll make the biggest difference. Ingeniously, this cool new feature will stop you falling off cliffs altogether, providing some handy invisible walls to catch you should you go to veer off course. With some courses being a lot easier to fall off than others (we're looking at you, Wario's Gold Mine, Yoshi Circuit, Rainbow Road, etc...), this is a feature that'll make a huge difference to those players who're only just starting out - and a potential handicap that'll also go some way to levelling the playing field if you're playing with a much more experienced friend.
While it may seem like an arcade racer on the surface though, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a game with a surprising amount of depth. Each racer comes under one of three weight categories - light, medium and heavy - which in turn affects their top speed, acceleration and handling. On top of this, as you play the game, and earn more coins, you'll unlock new parts you can use to customise/rebuild your kart, which not only lets you completely change its design, but also allows you to tweak its performance. While there's no real "better" or "worse" options, we've personally taken a liking to our trademarked Roy Races - everyone playing as the mega heavy Roy, in the Badwagon, with Monster wheels, making for a kart that's nigh on impossible to steer, yet very fast once it gets going...
Of course, it's in the multiplayer that a Mario Kart game really comes into its own, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is no different. Despite the fact it's technically running on a handheld, Deluxe bundles the exact same multiplayer offering from the original - four player split-screen and all - with a few added bells and whistles. Along with the ability to face off against your friends in the pre-set cups or fully customisable VS races, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also features a redesigned Battle Mode - something which has long been a favourite of the Mario Kart hardcore, yet which was notably lacking in the Wii U original.
Ditching the repurposed stages from Mario Kart 8, Deluxe instead offers a selection of eight specific battle courses to duke it out on - five of which are brand new (including one themed around Splatoon), and three which have been pinched from older games. While the trademark Balloon Battle is present and correct (you start out with five balloons, hit others with weapons to burst theirs and score points, and end up halving your score should you run out), it's actually the other modes that we had the most fun with. From the capture the flag style Shine Thief, which asks you to simply hold on to the Shine star for as long as you possibly can, to the cops and robbers inspired Renegade Roundup, which equips one team with piranha plants, while the other simply has to leg it and avoid them, there's plenty of fun to be had here - but probably not enough to justify buying the game all over again.
And really, that's the biggest problem with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Undoubtedly, this is a great game - but it's a game we've already played before, and have been playing on a regular basis ever since it came out. With the same great framework, the same minor irritations (there's still no colour swap variants for 99% of characters) and only a few minor upgrades, there's nothing here to really justify buying the game all over again if you already own it on the Wii U. If anything, if you're still putting in the time with the Wii U version, you're probably already having the superior experience anyway, as you can play using Wii Remotes, rather than the still far-too-small Joy-Cons. Unless you have a network of Switch owning friends, who also all have a copy of the game, there's no real, big advantage to this being on a handheld console either - the screen's too small to make anything more than two player split-screen practical, and there's not enough of a single player mode here to keep you busy on your lonesome. In a nutshell then, if you've bought a Switch for Zelda (you fool), and you haven't played Mario Kart 8 before, then this is well worth picking up - but if you've already got the Wii U version, there's nothing here that'll really justify buying it all over again.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Switch