Between the Luigi Death Stare and the on-point DLC, Mario Kart 8 hit the sweet spot for players almost every time. But it was one shell-shocker mode that caused a ruckus in the arena, battle mode was the face of disappointment, the elephant in the room. In Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo has finally made a battle mode to rival those golden days from the N64 and GameCube. And it’s really that good.
It’s been three years since we graced the tracks in Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U. Since then, we’ve seen new DLC and characters released for the game to keep it fresh. With the Nintendo Switch’s release, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe promises more fun-fuelled action with the return of two item slots for double banana-stacking trouble, an all-new battle mode and six new characters – including Inkling Girl and Boy, King Boo, Bowser Junior, Gold Mario and Dry Bones – for a 42-strong karting roster. With all DLC – which includes the Mercedes-Benz crossover vehicles and upgrades – and Grand Prix modes unlocked from the get-go, there’s plenty of content for those who missed out on the Wii U version, along with new 200cc time trials for the seasoned veteran.
Playing at a solid 60 frames per second at 1080p in Switch docked mode in both single player and split screen mode, Deluxe is beautiful to play. Between drifting from corner to corner with the new ultra-boost and clocking double item boxes on the course, Deluxe just feels faster. Choose to play with the Pro Controller, the Joy-Con Grip, or as separate controllers with or without the wheel accessory. Using the tiny Joy-Con wheel with motion control is a must for younger players, as they get to experience Mario Kart in the front seat. But for those with larger hands, it’s best to stick to the familiar for a more solid and controlled drive. You can still switch controllers mid-play with the Switch’s automatic controller detection, though motion control, smart steering and auto accelerate must be manually turned on or off. Deluxe is also silky smooth and sharp on the Switch screen itself, making it easy to play on the move.
The in-game menus have also had a small refresh since the days of the Wii U, with Miiverse, Stamps and the Shop icons removed from Deluxe. Instead, players will find a cleaner menu with Play Stats, MKTV and Amiibo icons placed at the bottom of the opening main menu. When choosing your kart, players will have to locate their plus or minus button on the Joy-Cons to access vehicle specifications, along with the motion control, smart steering and auto accelerate features. The ability to turn these features on or off is surprisingly well hidden in the menus, given that smart steering is turned on by default. Though only a minor flaw, perhaps a more obvious “options” menu would have been the smarter choice in this instance.
As an additional option, smart steering is a superb choice for inexperienced Mario Kart players. Used as an assist to prevent players from falling off the track, it’s an absolute godsend for 200cc mode on Rainbow Road, slowing down your kart and steering you away from the edges with as little friction between tyre and road surface as possible. And while it does take the frustration of falling and repeatedly summoning Lakitu’s cloud to your rescue, it also takes away some of the natural fun too. As the saying goes; sometimes our greatest glory is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall – with a blue spiny shell, naturally.
Of course, the real elephant in the room for Mario Kart 8 has always been battle mode. Nintendo makes bold amends in Deluxe with five new battle modes and eight new arena courses, specifically designed for karting wars. The refined menu selection leads to better mode customisation in each of the modes; Balloon Battle, Coin Runners, Shine Thief, Bob-omb Blast and the all-new mode, Renegade Roundup. Split local co-op into randomly selected teams or take the crown without any help as you battle for the golden trophy from a minimum of four to a maximum of 24 rounds.
While each battle arena has its strengths and weaknesses, such as hidden areas for avoiding players and smaller areas for close-call action, each of the five battle modes can be played to satisfaction. Playing Bob-omb Blast with frantic items in Urchin Underpass is a particular highlight, given how each corner can be used to your advantage with those fiery blue or red bomb blasts. Team battle mode Renegade Roundup is also a great treat in Dragon Palace, with the many twists and u-turns a player can make to outrun the Piranha Plant law enforcement team. While Coin Runners in Wuhu Town is right on the money with the ability to weave in and out of streets. Battle Mode in Deluxe is such a far cry from Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U; it’s fun, well presented and exactly what every fan has been looking for.
With the arrival of two item slots, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is certainly double the trouble. Each player, CPUs included, all have the ability to collect two items – either from one single or stacked question mark block on the track. Working as they’ve done in previous iterations, players must use their first item before they can use the second. Perfect for those who want to secure their first-place victory with triple bananas and a green shell, or for those who need to catch up with a Bullet Bill and a lightning bolt. As a sorely missed feature on the Wii U, having two items in your arsenal just adds that extra spice to race and battle modes in Deluxe.
Deluxe’s online mode for racing runs exactly the same as it did on the Wii U, with global and regional rooms. Each player selects one of three available courses, with the other relegated to a random course choice. The interaction options between players are still there, of course, and you’ll still be able to race with just two players if you’d rather not wait for additional people. Battle mode works a little differently, however. Each player will select a course in the same way, but there’s no control over which battle mode you’ll get. From what I’ve played, it appears to be chosen in a cyclical fashion, adding in CPUs for Renegade Roundup if there’s only a few Miis occupying the room. When there’s only a few players occupying the arena, online battle mode certainly gets dull, fast. It’s a shame CPUs aren’t added in for every mode as Renegade Roundup was a treat with a full roster. And despite the rooms being less than full, Deluxe is still plagued with communication errors when a fellow racer drops out, booting everyone out of the field.
Perhaps the only real downfall for Deluxe is its lack of bonus content for those who owned the Wii U version. Bonus tracks or exclusive vehicle items for those who own the DLC via the same Nintendo Account would be a neat reward for those loyal to the genre. It can’t help but feel a little bittersweet. But that said, the slickest, most polished version of Mario Kart 8 can only be experienced on the Nintendo Switch. For now, Switching it up is as good as it gets.