25 years ago, we first started playing Mario Kart – 1992’s Super Mario Kart for the Super NES arrived fully formed, combining a near-laughably simple premise (racing karts around tracks disguised as popular Nintendo characters) with brutal yet rewarding gameplay that seemingly had no right to be quite so deep and addictive. A quarter of a century later, the franchise is still going strong, to such an extent that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is definitely the best Mario Kart ever.
The arrival of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe so soon after the Switch’s launch offers concrete proof that Nintendo has truly got its act together for the best item of hardware it has launched for years. In the bad old days, Nintendo would have made us wait years for an all-new instalment of Mario Kart. But instead – to the gratification of Switch owners – it decided to take 2015’s Mario Kart 8 and quickly jazz it up.
But the most surprising aspect of the game is that it is far from a mere reheat involving tarted-up graphics and little else (although it looks simply stunning, with super-crisp graphics and great textures). Nintendo has made some small yet profound fundamental changes, which add freshness to the general gameplay. Including a third level of boost when you drift around corners (which requires very long corners, but is very satisfying when you pull it off). Plus, you can now hold two power-up items, and even pick two up at once, thanks to double-item boxes, stacked on top of each other. And the Boo item, which steals someone else’s item when you deploy, has returned after being omitted from Mario Kart 8.
Adding all the (originally paid-for) downloadable content that was created for Mario Kart 8 must have been a no-brainer for Nintendo, but it still impresses. That DLC includes 16 tracks, all of which are top-notch, and some of which are proper classics. And the number of new characters, karts and kart-parts which it added borders on the bewildering.
Battle mode transformed
One aspect of Mario Kart 8 has been completely rebuilt for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and it was the original game’s weak spot: Battle mode. Battle mode’s previous attempts to add gameplay which didn’t involve straight-up racing were less than compelling, but in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a comprehensive rethink has transformed Battle mode into a collection of party-games which, for the first time, are all fun to play.
There’s an all-new Battle mode game called Renegade Roundup, which designates the teams as cops and robbers; the cops are equipped with Piranha Plants, and when they chomp the robbers, those robbers are transported to a jail. They can, however, be sprung by elusive colleagues driving over a switch outside the jail.
Balloon Battle has been rejigged to be more inclusive – you are no longer eliminated when opponents pop all your balloons – and Coin Runners (a mix of collecting coins and stealing your opponents’), Shine Thief (holding onto a Shine for as long as possible) and Bob-omb Blast (Balloon Blast with Bob-ombs) are all thoroughly enjoyable, too.
The multiplayer side of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is exactly the same as that of the original. Which is slightly disappointing, since we’re not a fan of the rather vanilla points-based ranking system (which could have done with a bit of jazzing up). But it does at least work in a completely intuitive and fuss-free manner, letting you race random people from around the world and set up private matches with your mates.
Made for the Switch
Another glorious aspect of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe derives simply from the Switch itself. The console’s unique design lends itself perfectly to a game which is all about racing against others: it’s so easy to take your Switch around to a mate’s house and battle against them wirelessly, without even having to dip into split-screen mode.
Naturally, you can play in four-player split-screen mode on a single Switch, and all each player needs is a single Joy-Con. It’s technically possible to play the game in local multiplayer with 12 people (which would require three Switches), and if they are that way inclined, two people can play online via one Switch in split-screen mode. And of course you can slip the Switch from its mooring and play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe anywhere.
Overall, it somehow feels as though the Switch is the console which Mario Kart has been waiting for during the last quarter of a century. And even though, on paper, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a mere uprated version of an existing Mario Kart game, it feels like an awful lot more than that. The best Mario Kart game ever, in fact.