Worth the Double Dip?
The popular mascot kart racer returns for the Nintendo Switch, but this time it’s an updated port of an older game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe takes the original 2014 Wii U title and spruces it up, including all the DLC characters and tracks while adding an improved Battle Mode on top of it. The question is if these new bells and whistles are enough to warrant a double dip.
Here is the video review for your viewing pleasure!
For this review, I will be focusing on what’s new in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. A large percentage is identical to its predecessor. You still participate in kart races of up to 12 participants, trying to earn the gold in a variety of beautiful tracks, made more remarkable due to logic-defying antigravity mechanics that send you twisting upside-down and on the walls. As in the original, you can customize your karts or bikes to most effectively burn rubber, dive underwater, and take to the skies. And in typical Mario Kart fashion, you can easily lose a race simply because everyone decided to bludgeon you with hard-hitting items moments before the finish line. All the fixings are in place, and if you’re new to Mario Kart 8, then the Deluxe version has everything and more.
For anyone else acquainted with the original, this is a tougher sell. On the one hand, this full package includes all of the predecessor’s DLC packs. On top of that, MK8DX introduces five exclusive playable characters: Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, King Boo, and the Inkling kids (or are they squids) from Splatoon. Unfortunately, there aren’t any exclusive new racetracks. At least the ones from the DLC are among the most fun in recent history, coupling captivating settings with well-suited antigravity twists and turns. Truly interesting are the crossover tracks and characters, introducing assets from Nintendo’s other popular series, like The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing, into the once-exclusive Mushroom Kingdom kart races. Futuristic racer F-Zero even gets some tracks. In all, the game has a mouth-watering 42 playable characters and 48 racetracks.
Everything is already unlocked, except for the customizable car parts, so you can play with anyone and do whatever you want from the get-go. You could even start with 200cc, the fastest engine class to date, if you wanted.
Beyond that, there are small but nice mechanic changes. Most notably, you can now hold two items at once à la Mario Kart: Double Dash. This makes it easier to reach and retain first place, though it also means an increase in red shells, lightning bolts, and everyone’s favorite, blue shells. The new “ultra turbo boost” helps veteran racers who have the need for speed. By holding a drift for an elongated period, you can now achieve a third level of turbo boost, denoted by purple sparks. Though this doesn’t drastically change the game, well-timed boosts can decide races or, at least, net you better records in Time Trials.
The more meaningful mechanic changes actually make the game easier for players. The optional Smart Steering prevents players from falling off the course, automatically guiding you away from the edges if you get too close. Coupled with the Auto-Accelerate option that moves the kart for you, these accessibility features work wonders for less experienced racers, younger gamers, or players who benefit from special accommodations. This creates a more equal playing field, allowing more fun for everyone. Though these options can be used online, players need not fret since Smart Steering also removes the ability to take shortcuts or use the new ultra turbo boost, keeping it fair for more experienced gamers.
That’s it for the racing alterations, and that alone may not attract most Wii U adopters. Your purchase decision will likely depend on the biggest addition to MK8DX, its revamped Battle Mode. This classic playstyle pits racers against each other in a no-holds barred showdown where items are your weapons. You may recall the Wii U version’s Battle Mode, which limited you to duking it out on established racetracks. This made no sense since you were essentially running laps hoping you’d find someone else to attack.
MK8DX seeks to amend that mess with its eight new arenas, large battlefields stylized after existing tracks. One of my favorites is a stage based on the ink shooter, Splatoon. The other arenas are also well-designed, with multilayer levels and copious use of antigravity. You even get some items exclusive to the update such as Boo, which lets you steal items as you turn invisible, and the Feather, letting you jump over opponents or obstacles.
There are five genuinely different battle rules that range from fair to fantastic. The most recognizable is Balloon Battle, in which you gain points from hitting others’ balloons while keeping your own intact. If you’re nostalgic for old-school survival battle modes as seen in Mario Kart 64, you’ll be disappointed to know that there’s no such “stock” mode here. Instead, it’s a time-based points affair, which is understandable considering online play would drag in a 12-player survival battle. I would have loved to see that classic style return in local multiplayer, but having 12 players frantically attacking each other over a three minute timespan is an acceptable substitute. There’s also a ruleset where only explosive Bob-ombs are allowed. Though this sounds chaotic, it isn’t as fun unless combatants are bundled together.
My favorite battle ruleset, Shine Thief, is a game of keep away where the goal is to hold a Shine Sprite for 20 seconds while everyone barrages the “thief” for the chance to steal. It’s a hilarious case of one vs. the world, and effectively keeps everyone close together for added chaos. Similarly exciting is Coin Runners, a challenge to amass the most coins and arguably a better executed version of the standard time-based balloon battle. It’s fun to steal coins from other players while showing off the gigantic coin stack on your head.
The final battle style, Renegade Roundup, new to the series, is a decent team game based on cops and robbers. The cops use their installed Piranha Plants to eat the renegades and trap them in cages. Meanwhile, renegades must evade the law and push switches to free their captured teammates. Though the mode can get exciting, renegades can’t do anything while captured and the game too easily becomes one-sided against the cops. Thus, the mode isn’t particularly fun for either side, and a lack of voice chat prevents any kind of team discussion.
Online play is smooth, and matchmaking is effective, whether worldwide or regional. As in the original, you can set up or join custom tournaments with any rulesets. I’ve occasionally had errors online, such as not finding other players in a tournament room or randomly disconnecting from a race. This only happens about one out of every 20 races, and online is otherwise solid with very few hiccups. You can even bring a second local player online. There isn’t any voice chat, which is to be expected, but overall makes no real difference outside its potential uses in Renegade Roundup.
Visually, the deluxe version looks amazing, displaying a crisp 1080p resolution at 60fps. I thought the original looked beautiful, but I am floored by how stunning these graphics look in such fast motion. The only time the frame rate even comes close to stuttering is when it drops to 30fps in 3-4 player split-screen. Though it’s noticeable at fast speeds, it still runs pretty well. Even more impressive is how sharp the visuals are on the Switch screen in portable mode. At 720p, the game is mind-blowingly gorgeous while still running smoothly; it’s definitely miles ahead of the Wii U GamePad’s off-TV play. Playing a race or even a grand prix while on-the-go is perfect for this game, especially if you’re looking to play against other Switch owners via local wireless or even LAN play. Finally, the music is phenomenal, with orchestrated and catchy tunes blazing as you speed down the track. As a bonus, remixes of other series’ themes appear in their respective crossover stages as well.
So what’s the verdict? Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is certainly an excellent upgrade to the original, not to mention a great game in its own right. That said, mileage will still vary depending on if you owned the original and how much you want the small, albeit effective, additions. If you have the original game plus its DLC, there isn’t much new in this port, especially considering its lack of new tracks. The racing adjustments are insignificant. Thus, it’s not worth it for racing alone unless you want the newest online-capable Mario Kart game in a portable form. The Battle Mode’s five rulesets and its accompanying arenas are excellent, but if you’re itching for the classic MK64-esque survival mode, you won’t find it here. But if you’ve never played the eighth installment or if you crave more of the original, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of the Wii U game and a strong contender for one of the best entries in the entire series.