Many spin-off racing games have come and gone, yet Mario Kart lives on. Going further than surviving the ages, it has instead evolved into a series with it’s own identity. Throughout the years we’ve seen changes both graphically and mechanically to the much loved franchise. With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe we see the culmination of everything the series has succeeded in, on the best platform ever.
There has never, and will never, be a bad time for a few rounds of Mario Kart. A household name that, in some circles, has surpassed in familiarity the games that it draws it’s characters from. It’s striking that Nintendo can have such success selling games that most players have owned on older consoles, while still keeping these titles fresh. Although Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essentially a port of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of newness and excitement when I loaded it up on my Switch. Everything from the shiny UI to the brilliantly composed menu music adds to MK8D‘s charm. It isn’t until you dive into a race that you truly understand the benefits that this enhanced port has to offer.
Nintendo could have easily changed the “Deluxe” to “Definitive” for this iteration of the go-karting extravaganza. I can never look at another Mario Kart game again. The colours pop, the characters are beautifully rendered, and the backdrops and courses are brilliantly vibrant. Forget the revamped battle mode, forget the portability and forget playing as a character from Splatoon. All you need to convince yourself that you want this game, is to see MK8 being presented in 1080p at 60 frames per second. Deluxe‘s beauty can convince even the previous owners of the Wii U version. The smoothness of its visuals is also a benefit to the gameplay. There are no on-screen nasties to detract from your enjoyment of the frantic and fast action. And boy, is it enjoyable.
The four game modes that we have come to enjoy from Mario Kart are all present. Grand Prix, Time Trials, Versus and Battle Mode are represented in their finest form. Nintendo have the perfect formula for MK games nailed, so why change it? Well, in the name of perfecting the already perfect, some quality of live improvements have been implemented that make all the difference. In a throwback to the cult classic Double Dash, we see the return of dual item slots. The tactical ante has been raised up to an immense degree thanks to this brilliant inclusion. So you’ve managed to dodge my triple red shell assault? Well, I hope you were prepared for the fireball hell I’m about to take you to! Battle Mode has received some love too. Without simply reeling off the update list, I’ll simply say that it works infinitely better than it’s predecessors. Better arenas, better rules, and a quirky take on “cops and robbers” that will have you and your friends obsessed for hours.
Thanks to the brilliant design of the Nintendo Switch, MK8D comes with splitscreen multiplayer readily available. As an important staple of the franchise, it feels as good as ever. Whether you’re using the Joy-Cons in their grip, or just a single controller with the strap, everything feels smooth, reactive and simple. No need to mess with any unnecessary revamps or complicated control systems. There’s even a few new features to ease newcomers, younger kids, or those with motor-skill difficulties into the madness of Mario Kart. Auto-steer and auto-accelerate allow anyone to join in the fun without the frustration of constantly hitting walls or diving into the abyss of Rainbow Road. In fact, as a seasoned player, I’ve been known to turn on auto-accelerate just to give my poor “A” button a rest (I mean, come on, does anybody actually ever let go of it?).
If Splatoon 2’s Global Testfire was Nintendo pushing their servers to breaking point, then MK8D is reaping the benefits of their findings. Online play is smooth, enjoyable, and responsive. I haven’t experienced any rubberbanding, disconnects or otherwise. My only issue is that joining a lobby often results in you waiting on a game in progress to finish. Wait times in excess of five minutes are common. I’m no back-end network developer, but surely there is a better way? The sheer number of online players waiting to connect could allow for an empty lobby to be created to fit them in. This is a small gripe, and is all but forgotten once the green light flashes and the tyres spin up.
“…the experience is so beautiful, so engaging and so passionate; that it relentlessly draws players back in time and time again…”
Customisable tournaments make their return for speedsters who wish to assert their dominance in a structured environment. These can be personalised with different rules to suit all, and includes Battle Mode as an option. While I haven’t had a chance to test drive the tournament feature yet, I’ll no doubt be slinging shells in regional and global ones in the future. It has to be said that the lack of a fully-fledged online service doesn’t detract from the functionality of MK8D’s online play. Playing against recent players or your friends is a doddle. However I’d like to see something in the form of a clan system be implemented. Nothing compares to the idea of teaming up with your squad to prove that you’re the greatest racing team in the Mushroom Kingdom. Unfortunately, this is incredibly unlikely to happen.
PIMP MY KART
For the completionists among you, there are items aplenty to unlock. Although there were heated debates surrounding the announcement that all courses, characters and speeds were being made immediately available, MK8D still gives players plenty to race for. There are close to 80 confirmed items available to unlock. Some of them will be achievable by only the fastest and most skilled racers around. It gives players incentive to play race after race in the hot pursuit of shiny new Kart parts. I’m one of those players who can’t put something down until I can craft the most ridiculous looking vehicle ever seen. It may one day be the death of me.
As you would expect, customisation is deep. With expanded weight classes and huge differences in vehicle and part statistics, it would take days to uncover your perfect vehicle. The replayability of MK8D is surprising when you boil down how simple and repetitive this game is. The fact of the matter is that the experience is so beautiful, so engaging and so passionate; that it relentlessly draws players back in time and time again.
Calling Mario Kart 8 Deluxe an enhanced port almost feels diminutive of how improved it really is. The source material has survived the test of time, of course. Where Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shines is in its ability to inject the raw gaming experience into a simple concept, but blow away players with gorgeous visuals, fantastic gameplay and the ability to feel “new” every single time. Bravo Nintendo, you’ve done it again.