Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Review
There a few genres nowadays that Nintendo still dominates like they used to in past century. The industry has grown a lot since back then and while most games from Nintendo still belong to the top of the crowd, there is one genre that they still dominate today like they did back since 1992: the fun racer. Although humble attempts at the genre like Crash Team Racing and Blur tried to break Nintendo‘s monopoly, the fun racing genre is till all about Mario Kart. A game series that started of brilliantly with Super Mario Kart and stayed on top of every eventual competition ever since because they never radically changed the formula although with every game there was some unique aspect like the two player on one cart mechanic from Double Dash or the motion controls added to Mario Kart 7 for the Wii. Now we’ve got Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the new Nintendo Switch which for the first time wasn’t built on top of the basic Mario Kart foundation but instead iterates on a complete game released on the WiiU in 2014.
So what did the Deluxe version change compared to the WiiU version? Well, the most communicated change was the addition of a bunch of real Battle Mode arenas that the WiiU version is lacking. It was the biggest complaint about the 2014 Mario Kart because the Battle Mode has been a core mode of the series ever since the SNES Super Mario Kart and while technically still existing in Mario Kart 8, it was clearly handled with a lower priority with no dedicated arenas and players instead driving around the standard race tracks of the game trying to pop each others balloons. For Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nintendo did put in a bunch of real arenas specifically designed for this Switch release. The other big change is that players can now hold two items at once and some item containers now give two items when driving through them. I’ll discuss the implications of this change later, just let me tell you that while being a positive change in general it really drives the frustration factor in some places. Other than that, Nintendo has added some additional drivers but that’s about it.
Mario Kart 8 was a great game to begin with and as you would expect the Deluxe version starts high because of that. The art direction is what I would still call very strong, with great track designs and small details like face expressions of the characters when overtaking others or getting hit. Effects are being put to good use without ever getting in the player’s face and textures are underlining the overall aesthetic of the game fine. The Deluxe version received some technical improvements compared to the WiiU version though, most notably a true 1080p resolution and I am not sure if it’s because of that or if Nintendo also raised the texture resolution but the game looks better than its 2014 foundation. It also stays at a solid 60 frames per second when playing split screen with another person and drops to 30 frames when playing in 3 or 4 player split screen mode without sacrificing the 1080p. One thing that has to be mentioned again is just how great the soundtrack of this game is. It was praised back in 2014 for its quality and Nintendo luckily didn’t change a thing here.
Nintendo also added some control options, most notably the smart contols. Those will auto correct the driving of the player without the player really noticing it and it really helps to stay on track and just feel good playing Mario Kart. The only visible clue that a driver has enabled this helper mode is a little antenna coming out of the back. It won’t enable to let beginners play like a pro all of a sudden but it makes the game more accessible. The other options are auto accelerate and motion controls and with all three enabled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can be controlled similarly to what was possible on Mario Kart 7 on the Wii or Mario Kart 8 on the WiiU, but it works much better!
In general Nintendo should be commended for all the options they put into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe but then again it shouldn’t be surprising that the company that was always on the forefront of intuitive gameplay and new control options is thinking about how to draw in new players while not putting off long time fans. The only change that I don’t really get is the missing YouTube export from the replay gallery. This was a very nice feature of the original Mario Kart 8 and it seems to be missing in the Deluxe edition. Maybe this is due to planned system wide video sharing functionality that Nintendo promised at the Switch reveal event but right now there is no way of getting your replays from Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to YouTube without additional hardware.
Teased before, let’s talk about the change in game mechanics with the dual item handling. I can see why this decision was made by Nintendo because it makes the game more interesting for beginners and gives them more opportunities to attack drivers in front of them, but it really raises the difficulty on the other end of the spektrum significantly. Mario Kart being sometimes brutal with the things that can come at you in the final round is a thing that exists since the introduction of the blue shell that will automatically hit the driver in the first place. But never before has it been this punishing, especially in the 200cc cups. See, in the slower cups, any perfect turn and every drift boost that you can get out is something the rest of the drivers will have a hard time catching up to because the speed of the vehicles is limited. Even with Mario Kart’s infamous rubberband AI, you can gain so much advantage that even bad luck won’t hold you back from taking that 1st place in the end. But as you enter higher cc cups, the reward for driving perfectly is less pronounced in gains but not driving perfectly is punished harder as it becomes more difficult to stay on the track.
200cc is a speed introduced as a free update for the original Mario Kart 8 and back then I didn’t spend a lot of time with it. At that time I had already unlocked everything and was comfortable with playing online (which is 100cc if I am not mistaken). But in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you need to get at least the gold trophy in ever 200cc cup to unlock Gold-Mario; this is just a prestige thing, but a long-time Mario Kart player like me needs to have him, especially since every other driver is unlocked from the start (which is different from the WiiU Mario Kart 8 and – as I think – a good thing). I just got my last 200cc cup finished with a gold trophy and 3 stars (which means you need to finish every race in that cup 1st place) this morning and the journey towards that was brutal. 200cc needs you to learn a new facette of Mario Kart: braking. And by that I don’t mean hard braking before going into a turn, it is braking while drifting to reduce the drift radius on the fly so your speed will not vault you off the track. By the time I unlocked Gold-Mario I felt pretty confident in the art of brake-drifting but of course I wanted to have those 3 stars everywhere. And this is where the frustration began. Taking the first place in every 200cc race is not so much a matter of skill at some point but you need luck. A lot of luck sometimes.
I was struck by luck sometimes where I managed to finish some races 1st place after coming into the last turn as 8th place only to see that all 7 drivers before me had been hit by a blue shell explosion. But more often, I found myself driving perfect races only to have my blue shell destroying horn taken from my by a ghose powerup from a different driver and then get hit by a blue shell and 3 red shells just to come in second. Those are moments where the randomness of Mario Kart will not result in exhilerating enjoyment anymore but pure frustration due to the fact that every other driver now has double the chance to screw you over because of that changed gameplay mechanic. I want to stress though, that those frustrating moments don’t happen until you hit that skill ceiling and really start to go for that ultimate goal of having the perfect rating in every cup. If that’s what it takes to get more players into Mario Kart because its more enjoyable for them I think the change is a good one in the end after all.
It also works surprisingly well online where I didn’t have a feeling of “that’s much more chaotic than before” so far. Races pretty much feel the same they did with the original Mario Kart 8 which is probably due to the fact that the AI is somewhat working together against the player while actual players are more of lonely bastions only trying to fight for themselves. I onyl tried out the Battle Mode briefly online because I still need to improve a lot to be competitive there but it’s fast and fun and filled with enough different modes to feel fresh even after playing for 1 or 2 hours.
Conclusion: 4 (on a -5 to 5 scale). Let’s get it out of the way: if you have even the slightest interest in fun racing there is no way around Mario Kart, and if we’re at that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It’s the best version of the best fun racing series that is available to date. If you already own Mario Kart 8 for the WiiU it might not be worth the full price (especially if you don’t want to play online anymore) but on the other hand you can eventually sell the WiiU disc and give yourself a decent discount for the Switch version. I hope that Nintendo will find a better way to balance out the random generator in a future installment and I don’t understand why the YouTube sharing function has been taken away from the replay mode. But other than that I feel like Nintendo has very little room left for improvement in future Mario Kart titles and I am curious what they will come up to differentiate the next Mario Kart from this great installment.
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