Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review: Back around the track again


With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo gets a second go-around at a game that was already amazing the first time. What’s changed, and is it worth a second lap?

The reports are in: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is currently selling faster than any other Mario Kart game in the franchise’s 25-year history, clocking in with a whopping 459,000 copies sold on launch day in the United States by itself. When looked at on its face, these numbers are baffling. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is effectively an “enhanced edition” of a game that came out three years ago, in a series that hasn’t changed its formula up all that much over time. With that, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features very few changes from its original version to make spending $60 plus the cost of a Switch worth the buy.

So why is this game so darn appealing anyway?

I played Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U as one of the few who did. The game sold astoundingly well on the system, but the low purchase rate of the Wii U as a console meant that many fans of the series missed out on the initial entry. While I’ve broken out the game once or twice in the last year or so for group gatherings, it’s largely gathered dust on my shelf as other new games appeared to play. So I had few expectations going in — some enjoyable kart racing, a new Battle mode, done. Right? Wrong.

Credit: Nintendo of America official PR image

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the sort of game that is an absolute treat to rediscover. Nintendo has combined a truly well-made title with just the right technical improvements and handful of additions and placed it on a system far better suited to the title than the Wii U ever could have been.

To begin with, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows its beauty whether you’re playing it on the tablet controller in handheld mode or, even more so, on the TV screen. Its lush colors pop on each unique track, making the distinctive environments and background detail all the more appealing to watch as you sail by if you’re not too focused on the road. Of course, the kart racing itself is good as ever, offering four difficulty speeds and a wide array of cups.

The variety of activities in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is augmented by the fact that each track is so different from the other, even more than just visually. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to zoom upside down with my anti-gravity wheels on, or zip underwater and dodge fish. Spinning over ramps, sliding up rivers, shooting out of cannons — all augment the already excellent design of Nintendo’s tracks, which range from busy airports to snowy slopes to lush jungles to space. Put succinctly, every track is fun. Even the remake of the dull Donut Plains has been given something to make it sparkle.

Credit: Nintendo of America official PR image

There are new characters, certainly, and new karts, though I’ll admit those features aren’t very noticeable in a roster that was robust to start. The new double slots for items and inclusion of Boo do make their impact known, however, as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s item game is taken to a whole new level. Your racing skills matter less than they ever did as, in first place, all you ever get are coins and banana peels. But that’s a small price to pay in a light-hearted, family game where racing skill has never particularly mattered.

It’s not so much that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe changes anything, but rather that the Switch is just such a better place for it to be.

For all the woes about the Nintendo Switch’s online features, at the moment, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s online and local features are so standard that you’ll forget you were ever worried about them. It’s a good thing. You can play with up to four players on TV or tablet (and it looks just fine even on the small screen, never fear!). You can also join up to twelve in online multiplayer, friends or strangers, which I experienced with a stable, pleasantly unremarkable connection throughout. Online modes offered include regular Vs. Races or the Battle Mode Runners. The Battle Modes are excellent, by the way. I wish more than the one was available online, because the variety offered is a credit to the return of the mode.

But that said, that online breeziness will suddenly be taken away from plenty of unsuspecting folks in the fall:

So enjoy it while you can, I guess.

There’s little to complain about otherwise in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, though I’ll caution that if you still have a Wii U and play the game liberally, a slight graphics upgrade, a new battle mode, and some extra characters may not be worth the >400 bucks you’d have to shell out to play the game properly, especially if you include those extra Joy-Cons for 4-player. But if you already have a Switch, were sitting right on the fence about purchasing one, or just really want to delve into Breath of the Wild alongside one other game, this game is a perfect companion.

Credit: Nintendo of America official PR image

It’s not so much that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe changes anything, but rather that the Switch is just such a better place for it to be. Taking the game on the go or playing it at home, connecting it with another portable Switch or just handing a friend a Joy-Con from where it was attached to the system — all are such wonderful, simple ways to enjoy this already enjoyable game. Untethering it from the clunky GamePad was the best thing Nintendo could have done, and it shows. Oh, and that HD Rumble? Heavenly. Try playing with a Joy-Con in each hand, separated from the tablet. It may seem trivial, but that rumble is still one of my favorite Nintendo Switch features.

Next: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Delays a Win for the Nintendo Switch, If Not for Us

If you’ve ever enjoyed a Mario Kart game in your life ever, you know what I mean when I repeat yet again how Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just pure fun to play. You’ll enjoy the challenge alone, or bring in friends to rage incessantly at them as they fling shells at you in all your first place glory. It’s a testament to the excellence of the original gameplay design that Nintendo could just throw a handful of new features at this, stick it on the Switch, and have it still feel fresh and new. For Nintendo Switch owners now or later on down the line, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an absolute must.