Do you like Mario Kart? What about Mario Kart 8? If you answered yes to either question, you should undoubtedly run out and buy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch. If not, don’t bother. I understand that such a questions are a simplistic and obvious way to begin a review of a re-released game, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Simply put, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best version of the best game in the Mario Kart series.
On the Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe blows past the Wii U version. For starters, the game runs at a deliciously crisp 1080p while docked, and 720p while in handheld mode (to match the resolution of the Switch tablet’s screen). By comparison, the Wii U version ran at 720p on the television, and at a measly 854x480 resolution on the sub-par Wii U tablet screen. Making matters worse, the Wii U version lacked any meaningful anti-aliasing, resulting in enough stair-stepping to make even the fittest personal trainer blush.
On the Switch, the game is ridiculously gorgeous. In handheld mode, colors seem to leap off the screen, distant backgrounds are just as clear as they are imaginative, and textures remain detailed and impressive. Seeing Hyrule Castle and the world of Animal Crossing in glorious, fully-realized HD is breathtaking. In docked mode, the game performs even better, maintaining a solid 1080p resolution and an unflinching 60 frames per second. It’s not an overstatement to say that the increased performance of the Switch has breathed new life into the game.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe not only includes all of the previously released downloadable content, but has a few new tricks up its sleeve. There are new characters, a new level of drift boost, automatic acceleration and auto-steering for the younger, less experienced karters out there, and perhaps most significantly, a revamped Battle Mode.
In Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, Battle Mode seemed like a slapdash afterthought, mostly because Nintendo decided to forego the traditional arenas and instead use the overly large courses from the standard racing modes. This decision resulted in battles that were way too unfocused, leaving players scattered over a large area. Thankfully, Nintendo has corrected this in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with the inclusion of a handful of all-new, dedicated battle stages.
Each stage features the same intoxicating personality of the standard courses, but provide excellent cover, obstacles, and risk/reward item placement. These stages were built from the ground-up for Deluxe, and it shows.
Alongside the arenas is a smattering of battle modes, which do a adequate job of upending the standard battle formula.
Traditional Balloon Battle is back, though it is treated more like Deathmatch than Last Man Standing. If you run out of balloons, your match doesn’t end-- you simply receive more balloons and suffer a lower score. This fundamental change makes the mode far less fun and hectic than previous iterations, and I found myself longing for the simpler days.
Coin Runners, which debuted in Mario Kart on the Wii, tasks players with collecting as many coins as possible within a given time. If you’re hit with an item, a portion of your coins drop and can be picked up by opponents. The mode is fun and light, and ranks among my favorite new additions to Deluxe, even though it lacks the depth for repeated playthroughs.
Equally fun is the new “cops and robbers” mode, Renegade Roundup, which sees six players capturing “renegades” using front-mounted Piranha Plants. Renegades can spring captured teammates from the pokey, and the round ends if time runs out or if everyone is captured. Like the other modes, it’s fun in short bursts, and should become the go-to mode for party play.
Shine Thief, which made its debut in Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube, is back in Deluxe and it’s just as great as ever. Essentially, it’s a giant game of tag, with players trying to capture a glowing shine. Like Renegade Roundup, Shine Thief is sure to become a favorite among Mario Kart newcomers.
At the bottom of the list is Bomb-omb Blast mode (also making it’s debut in Double Dash), which simply replaces every item with bombs and turns maps into non-strategic, exploding battlefields of death. It’s fun once or twice, but quickly transforms into a masochistic mess.
As a package, Battle Mode is a very mixed bag. While I liked most of the game modes, they all failed to hold my attention for long. The lack of depth rears its ugly head more often than not, and it becomes more of a fun distraction than a serious mode. A large part of the problem is that players can’t choose which game type they want to play in online matchmaking, instead having to settle for a rotating playlist that includes all modes and all arenas. Don’t like a particular mode? Tough luck, you’re going to play it anyway, and damnit, you’re going to like it!
Battle Mode shortcomings aside, my biggest gripe with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the temperamental, unstable online offerings. I lost track of the times I was abruptly disconnected mid-race, given only a vague error message stating that a “communication error has occurred.” I’ve been disconnected while trying to enter a lobby, while the players in the lobby are selecting courses, right after a race ends, and everywhere else in the matchmaking process. It’s somehow even more maddening than getting his by a blue shell just feet shy of the finish line.
The problem is exacerbated by the length of time it can take to actually begin a race. Selecting a character, choosing a kart configuration, searching for a match, joining a lobby, and spectating the rest of the in-progress race can take upwards of 5-6 minutes. Suffering a disconnection means being forced to start the process all over again. At one point, it took me nearly 20 minutes to join a stable race, having been disconnected four times in a row.
The pick-up-and-play style of Mario Kart is directly at odds with the long matchmaking process. I hope that Nintendo can not only smooth out the disconnection problems, but tweak the race-joining process to shorten the time between starting a search and going wheels-on-the-ground.
It’s a testament to the strength of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that serious connectivity problems and an well-meaning, but ultimately disappointing Battle Mode don’t drag the game down too far. At its core, Mario Kart has always been about racing, and it’s never been better than in Deluxe. Flying through boosts in Mute City, leaping over the Master Sword in Hyrule Castle, and nearly colliding with a jumbo jet reminds me why I love Mario Kart in the first place.