When Mario Kart 8 came out in 2014, it had all the makings to be the best Mario Kart in the series. Thinking back, it probably was the best Mario Kart game ever made at that time. There were a few unfortunate setbacks, though. The omission of multiplayer modes that are a staple of the series, strange UI offerings, and WiiU’s smaller player online base were detriments to an otherwise fantastic game.
Fast forward to 2017. Nintendo has grown up. The WiiU has suffered a premature death– becoming a victim of its own niche. Personally, I loved the Wii U very dearly. The rest of the world, though, didn’t see it in the same light. Poor Marketing decisions and lack of support caused the Wii U to slowly burn itself into a train wreck; halting sales and staining Nintendo’s image as a console maker.
From the ashes of the WiiU’s disaster though, we have seen the Switch emerge as a serious player in console gaming. It’s clear today that Switch is everything WiiU was meant to be. The same can also be said for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. After the shortcomings of the WiiU’s original entry, the Switch version has turned out to be not only the best Mario Kart ever made, but possibly, the most appropriate Switch game to date.
For the uninitiated (I don’t know HOW you could be in that demographic), Mario Kart is a racing game, putting a cast of classic Nintendo characters behind the wheel of go-karts and sets them off on colorful races which celebrate the company’s years of lore. Not to be compared to the more hardcore driving games offered elsewhere, MK8 is the love child of the serious racer and a social partier. Think something like Jeff Gordon plowed Rip Taylor at a new years party and made a baby. The result is a game that takes itself serious enough to be competitive, but ultimately leaves you with something more important – A satisfied Smile.
What is it?
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the full fledged re-release of Mario Kart 8. Compared to the original release, it offers a complete run of all of the added DLC, along with a few fresh faces. 48 total tracks, 42 unique characters, and a butt ton of customizable karts, motorcycles, and ATVs will see you zooming through some of the most beautiful environments I’ve seen on a Nintendo game.
Party-based kart racing is something Nintendo not only birthed, but have continued to be the dominate force to drive (heh.) the genre. Up to four friends can race locally, or take it online for one of the smoothest online experiences on a Nintendo system to date. If you’re a fan of Mario Kart, you’ve likely visited this game before. Don’t worry though, it’s worth a revisit. Though it still isn’t perfect, it touches the sky and the rush back down toward the finish line is breath taking.
The most celebrated and welcome change to this version of Mario Kart 8 is the addition of a proper battle mode. The first MK 8’s battle mode chose only to use regular racing tracks — encouraging racers to stay on course while trying to attack each other with items. The result was far less unique than what players what players have come to expect from the mode, and didn’t feel all that different from a normal race. That’s been fixed here, with Battle Mode now offering custom built stages that celebrate what balloon battle was supposed to be: A frantic, all out arena battle of items thrown and balloons lost. Long story short, yes it’s back and it’s just as entertaining as you remember.
This was eventually fixed in the first version, but since it it took a while, I’m going to point it out anyway. In the original, the map of the track was absent from the screen. Instead, it was plastered onto the WiiU gamepad. The result was an inconvenient way to track your competition throughout the race. The WiiU Gamepad was a nifty idea, but Nintendo certainly liked to over do it with their expectations of the players. Unfortunately, having maintain focus on two distant points while speeding at 150cc led to all kinds of crashes and decreased lap times. As for multiplayer, the map being on the gamepad not only made maps useless for all other players, it gave the player holding the gamepad somewhat of an advantage by allowing them exclusive access to the track map. This time around, that has been fixed by putting the map where it should be — On the main screen for all to see.
Nintendo has always put emphasis on accessability. Family friendly options are the norm for most of their offerings. With MK 8 Deluxe, they’ve packed in some accessibility options which will allow younger, less skilled, or even disabled players to keep up with the pack. Unfortunately, they are often frustrating for more seasoned players.
The first is a new edition to the series is dubbed Smart Steering. It’s the Mario Kart equivlent of those bumpers they put along the gutter at the bowling alley so younger kids don’t suck as hard. Smart Steering keeps racers on the road and is a great idea to keep the less inclined from drifting off pavement and slowing down. It’s a great option for players learning the ropes, or going up against veteran racers. I can see this being useful when you take your switch home for the holidays and introduce it to the less inclined members of the family so they can still have fun. After all, nobody likes to be dominated all the time.
The other two options, being tilt controls, and auto-acceleration, are more traditional than the smart steering feature, but they do add a splash of customizability and preference to an otherwise concrete control style.
Unfortunately, these additions are a double-edged sword. For some reason, not only did Nintendo opt to enable these options by default, they failed to make the features apparent unless you’re paying attention. The result is starting a race, realizing one or more of the features is enabled, and having to pause the action to make a change. This is especially frustrating for multiplayer as it not only halts the action, but it re-enables these default settings EVERY time a new multiplayer session is started. Once you know your way around the game, this problem dissipates, and it’s only a minor inconvenience– but it’s noticeable, nonetheless.
Switch ‘Em Up.
No, I’m not talking about the Nintendo Switch console itself or what it adds to this game. I’m talking about the added ability to change your karts and racer in a multiplayer lobby without having to leave. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was in Mario Kart 8 for WiiU to have to abandon everyone just to make minor changes. It’s a welcome change, and a huge convenience for on the fly, fine tuning of your play style for the best possible games.
One of my biggst gripes with modern Mario Kart has always been the frustration of winning. The way Mario Kart is designed, the leader of the pack will get ineffective items, which encourages their opponents to strike and take the lead. While the rest of the pack is getting red shells and mushrooms galore, the leader sees a meager offering of coins and bananas. I believe Nintendo chose to remedy the issue this time around by introducing double items. If you’ve ever played Mario Kart Double-Dash you will know what I’m talking about. You can now hold two items at once, though you are unable to rotate them, which would be nice. While this doesn’t solve the problem of the leader’s disadvantage, it does equip them a bit better to defend against the inevitable onslaught of items coming their way.
Online, but AFK…
This has proved to be a controversial opinion at Pixelrater, but Nintendo has not done nearly enough to supplement the online community with a proper toolkit. Simply put, there is no way to communicate with your online pals without resorting to an external means. Skype, Facetime, Discord — whatever your poison, it’s an inconvenience. Even the WiiU version had voice chat between races, though the Switch lacks the commodity of a built in microphone, like the WiiU had. It’s true that this will change eventually with the arrival of Nintendo’s proper online services. Even so, Nintendo’s lack of foresight to provide even a text input for communication is disappointing and feels lazy.
Here’s the thing– This is the first time in a while that my social circle has had a multiplayer game that we all enjoy on a casual level. It’s a non-competitive, friendly vibe. Sitting down and racing while talking about nothing at all has become one of my favorite things recently. It’s a major frustration that we have to jump through so many hoops to do something as simple as voice chat in 2017.
What’s to love?
Simply put, most things about this game are admirable. Nintendo has always been known for the extreme level of polish it puts into games. MK8 Deluxe is no different. It features some of the best graphics I’ve seen on a Nintendo game, even giving more powerful systems a run for their money. A colorful palette and a huge focus on nostalgia makes this game as much of a joy to watch as it is to play– this is especially apparent in the tracks based on games from other franchises. It’s downright impossible to play the Donkey Kong or Animal Crossing tracks and not long for proper titles to show up on Switch that look as fine as these. In fact, it almost makes me yearn for other remakes like this for Switch with a higher level of polish for a new HD market.
Toe Tappin’ Tunes
The soundtrack, while the same as the original version, is fun. They’ve opted for an upbeat jazz-like soundtrack which gives every stage its own unique flair. If the music wasn’t recorded by live instruments, they’ve made it impossible to tell. It’s kind of rare to play a game today and recall the soundtrack down the road. There’s just too much going on normally to draw your attention. Fortunately, MK8’s soundtrack is one of those memorable guys that will have you humming at work, even tuning into youtube to listen out of game.
But Tristan, I already have the WiiU Version!
Cool! So do I! Here’s why I still recommend the Switch version:
The thing I love most about this game, is how beautifully married it is to the Switch as a concept. Say whatever you want about Breath of the Wild — it WILL be my game of the year for 2017, without a doubt. There are times though, where it’s very obvious that Breath of the Wild wasn’t designed with a handheld mindset. It’s impossible to pick up and put down after a short burst. That’s not so with MK8. At the beginning of this, I said it was the most appropriate game to date for Switch, and here is why: Not only is it a wonderfully performing experience in both TV and handheld modes; it is, by design, built to play in a portable fashion. Honestly, I get lost in this game, but unlike Zelda, I’m able to pull myself away if I need. I’m stoked that Switch has been able to knock it out of the park so early in its life, and I think it owes a lot of that perceived success to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.