Mario Kart 8 is an excellent game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is even better.
Normally in a situation where a game we’ve reviewed in the past gets an updated version on a new console, we’d simply republish the original review with some notes on any significant differences. The Mario Kart 8situation is a little different. The original came out on the Nintendo Wii U, a console that tried real hard but was never really a huge mainstream success. Conversely, Nintendo is calling the Switch its fastest selling console ever, with more than 2.5 million sold worldwide in under a month. There’s a whole new audience flocking to Nintendo’s new hybrid console, and they’re going to need a racing game to play once they’re finished with all of that Zelda. This is that game.
So welcome, newcomers. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the latest installment of Nintendo’s long-running series of kart racing games, in which colorful characters from across several different Nintendo properties race through fantastical Nintendo-themed tracks. Winning requires a combination of racing skill and luck, as random power-ups sprinkled throughout the tracks bestow powers and weapons to help even the odds. If you’ve not yet experienced the joy of taking a blue shell to the face inches from the finish line, you’re in for a real treat.
Much of what I wrote in my original Mario Kart 8 review still stands. Nintendo’s prolific kart racing series hadn’t really resonated with me until the Wii U installment came along, offering arcade style controls much easier to come to grips with than in previous games in the series.
In the past I’ve struggled with Mario Kart driving controls, struggling to grasp the correct timing of the series’ signature drift and boost system. Moments into my first run through the game’s first track, Mario Kart Stadium, I was powersliding around corners like a semi-pro.
Vehicle handling is more intuitive than ever before, and adjusting from a wide-sliding kart to the tight cornering of a motorbike is just a matter of taking a quick test drive around a track. For a relatively novice player the learning curve is incredibly short, which breeds the confidence needed to take on tougher tracks at higher difficulties. Never in my history with the series have I tore through all of the courses (16 new and 16 revamped classics) with such enthusiasm.
Of course my enthusiasm has waned somewhat after three years and countless trips around the same set of courses. Though some minor changes have been made, the game feels completely the same. Or at least it does once you figure out how to turn off Smart Steering, a handy crutch for new players that’s inexplicably enabled by default.
It’s familiar, but by no means stale, especially now that we can play Mario Kart 8 wherever we want, whenever we want. No longer are we constrained by the signal tether of the Wii U game pad. The Switch’s tablet mode allows us to play Super Mart Kart 8 all over the damn place. I was playing in a bar the other night during my family’s weekly bar trivia events. We lost. I have no idea why.