Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch)

A timeless multiplayer classic returns with improvements in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch. Race your carts over graphic-rich environments while you release deadly toys to frustrate your opponents, or switch over to battle mode to focus entirely on the combat. One part racing mixed with one part chaotic combat, Mario Kart defined a genre and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-buy for gamers interested in multiplayer games on their Switch. It presents all of the best the Mario Kart franchise has to offer.



What is Mario Kart? (For those familiar with Mario Kart, jump ahead to the next section.)

Like all the Mario Kart games, players choose a Nintendo character and race around colorful, animated racetracks to be first to the finish. Two aspects define a Mario Kart game. Players can run over “surprise” boxes during the game to collect offensive or defensive weapons to help them during the race. Second, players can “drift” around corners, earning a slight speed boost if their drift lasts long enough.



Other common threads include racetracks featuring popular Nintendo characters and features that not only decorate but can also interact (typically with bad results) with racers if they venture too close. The surprise boxes provide many different toys (power-ups.) Simple ones include bananas, dropped behind or thrown forward as objects that can cause racers to wipeout and turtle shells, which can be shot forward or backwards as projectiles. Green shells travel in a straight line and bounce off the sides, while red shells home in on the racer directly ahead of you. Mushrooms give a player a quick speed boost when used. More “complex” power-ups include a star, which speed up and make a player invulnerable to other attacks, a shrinking attack that slows down all the other players, and even one which turns a player into a bullet, automatically careening down the track and knocking aside any opponents in the way. For good or ill, racers are much more likely to gain “better” toys, if they are farther behind in the rankings. The race leader will typically gain bananas or shells if they’re lucky, while a player in the back may encounter a star, bullet, or lightning-zap. This provides the game with a bit of player balancing (and can be a source of frustration, as it encourages a “pick on the leader” situation.) Some players will even hang back a bit to gather up better toys and then save them as they try to race forward in rankings.


What’s New in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe?
In one of the largest Mario Kart games to date, MK8 Deluxe includes all the tracks from Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, including the DLC. Most of these are already unlocked at the start of the game. This includes 42 different characters to choose from (a few, like Yoshi and Shy Guy, who even have multiple color schemes.) In addition to characters, players pick a race kart, wheels, and a “glider” for their racer. The four components interact to give one an overall top speed, acceleration, weight (important for collisions), traction, and handling. There are twelve different sets of Grand Prix tracks (where you race for points over the course of four races) for a total of 48 total tracks. There are an additional 8 tracks used for the “battle mode” where racers attempt to attack or collide with other karts to knock them out of the game.



Beyond the pre-unlocked tracks, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has a few changes from Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. The Switch version includes five new characters (King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr., and an Inkling boy and girl. The Boo power-up item is back, which lets a player turn insubstantial (to avoid hazards) and steal an item from another racer.

There are two key changes to the gameplay, and two additions to help new players. Racers can now save two power-ups at a time so they can fire off two in quick succession if needed. The power-slide benefit is now extended up to a third level. When sliding, the wheels start to turn blue and if the slide is released, there is a brief boost of speed. However, sliding longer turns the wheels orange and will give a larger boost. In the Deluxe version, there is now an even greater boost available if you slide long enough to get the wheels sparking light purple.

For family gamers, the two game-assist additions are very welcome. Players can turn on or off three different options. First, karts can be set to automatically accelerate, so players don’t have to hold down the accelerator. Second, karts can be set to automatically turn away from walls if they get too close. This does limit one’s ability to take off road shortcuts on the track and prevents players from reaching the bonus “purple” level of power slide. A final option introduces “tilt-steering” as an option, but I have found using a joystick the preferred option for every player I’ve encountered.



My Gripes
There are so many things to like about the game, it is a reach to find many faults. My main gripe lies with the initial customization of your kart. You pick a character, then can choose a specific kart, set of wheels, and a flight “wing.” Each of these pieces change the characteristics of your kart. A simple button press tells you how each piece affects your rating in each category when you are choosing your racer and its parts. However, each character also has different starting characteristics and there is no way to see what those characteristics are (not during character selection, nor at any other place in the game.) One can guess at a character’s acceleration and top speed based on their size, but other than trying every combination, there isn’t a way to compare one character to another. My other gripe lies with the multiplayer implementation. One can play up to four players on a single Switch, or link up to four Switch consoles together to get an 8 player game. However, in linked mode, a Switch can only be used by up to two players. That means that a single Switch will allow play with up to FOUR player. TWO Switch consoles will allow up to… FOUR players. So, you need to get THREE Switch consoles before you can play with more than four players. I understand there may be design decisions here, but for a game and system that prides itself on great multiplayer opportunities, it is an opportunity missed. A final, minor quibble of mine results from the new levitating kart sections of tracks as unfamiliar tracks can be disorienting at times since you can race up on the wall or twist a track onto the ceiling. This is fixed as one becomes more familiar with each track.




Kid Factor
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an excellent game for kids. Everything is presented in bright, cartoon-y colors and all the “weaponry” is clearly kid-friendly. I love the power-up catch-up mechanism since players further behind (typically the younger kids) will encounter more interesting and “fun” toys during the game. More competitive minded kids may find this particularly frustrating, as the leading player will often be consistently bombarded by the worst of the power. Less-adept players will be able to make great use of the driving-assist features of the game. (I use the auto-accelerate almost all the time so I am not constantly pressing that button.)


Final Verdict
For content, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe gets five stars (mushrooms?) It has more characters and tracks than any previous game. For new players, it gets five mushrooms for the various assist-buttons and options. I wish I could play with more than 4 players if I had access to two Switch systems (I could conceive of a household that might have two systems, but can’t see many households actually owning three – along with buying three copies of the software, etc…) For such a multiplayer-focused game, it is a shame. Despite that failing, it is still THE game to have on the system for multiplayer games. It could have been better, but it is both the best Mario Kart to date and the best multiplayer Switch game to date.

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