It’s been 25 years since the first “Mario Kart” game launched on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: A quarter century of cheap, last-second red shells; of increasingly-complicated drifting; of yelling and laughing alongside friends; of Luigi death stares.
Given all that time, it’s amazing that the latest entry in the “Mario Kart” series is also the greatest entry in the long-running racing franchise. Few games perpetually best their predecessors.
“Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” is a delightful exception to that rule.
Here’s why “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” a brand new Nintendo Switch game that just launched, is so incredibly good.
First and foremost: Maybe you're not acquainted with 'Mario Kart' somehow? It's an arcade-style racing game starring Nintendo's most popular characters.
Listen, if you've managed to make it this far without learning what 'Mario Kart' is, we're impressed.
The long and short is this: It's a racing game starring Nintendo's most popular characters, from Mario to Donkey Kong to Link. You and 11 other racers (either controlled by actual humans or by a computer) compete for first place on a variety of race tracks. In the process, you pick up usable items -- like a heat-seeking red shell, or a limited-time fireball, among others -- to slow other racers. It's a game of skill, no doubt, but it's also a game of luck.
Do yourself a favour and play any of the half dozen 'Mario Kart' games that've arrived in the past 25 years. They're all pretty similar, and they're all pretty wonderful. The series appeals to so-called 'hardcore' game players and more casual players alike. The latest iteration, 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,' is no exception.
If you already played 'Mario Kart 8' on Nintendo's last console, the Wii U, you've already played the main section of 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.'
If, on the other hand, you're getting some serious déja vu from hearing about 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,' it's likely that you spent some time with the Wii U game. That feeling you have is spot-on -- 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is very similar to the 2014 game for the Wii U. In fact, 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is the same game. The difference is in a handful of tweaks, and a new Battle Mode (we'll get to that in a minute).
Here's what isn't different about the 'Deluxe' version of 'Mario Kart 8': No new race tracks.
That might be huge to you. If you played 'Mario Kart 8,' and played the additional content Nintendo sold after the game came out, you shouldn't expect a bunch of new race tracks here. Nintendo's banking on you not having played the game on Wii U, and that's a pretty good bet considering how few Wii U consoles were sold.
Yes, the original version of 'Mario Kart 8' came with a Battle Mode, but it was a shadow of its former self. Instead of dedicated Battle Mode courses, Nintendo simply walled off a few race tracks and hoped that would be enough. It wasn't -- fans and critics celebrated how wonderful 'Mario Kart 8' was at launch, but lamented the hobbled Battle Mode. Previous games in the series included dedicated Battle Mode maps, but they were absent in 'Mario Kart 8.'
'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' fixes that in a beyond-satisfying way: by creating five new Battle Mode maps, and re-making three beloved ones from previous games.
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I can't attest to each new mode being great unto itself -- there are four in total, and they all involve taking on other players/computer players in one of the eight new Battle Mode courses. There are no major shifts here. You're still in a go-kart, and you still have an objective to complete before your opponents.
I can say this: The attention of detail, and the amount of new content, in the new Battle Mode make it a genuinely meaningful addition.
You can play these modes against friends locally on your Switch, or wirelessly against friends who have a Switch near you, and even online against other players from around the world.
But what makes 'Mario Kart' so excellent is the driving itself. In this respect, 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' continues to be the best version of 'Mario Kart' ever made.
And I say 'continues' intentionally -- 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' doesn't dramatically alter the near-perfect racing already found in 'Mario Kart 8' for Wii U.
'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' takes many of the same principles of previous 'Mario Kart' games -- a focus on drifting, collecting coins to up your maximum speed, and tactical item use -- and applies them expertly. The courses feel like they were built for the type of bizarrely slippery racing that's characteristic of the series.
Take, for instance, the concept of drifting -- the idea of sliding around a corner while your car's tires slide across the asphalt horizontally. In 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,' like in 'Mario Kart 8,' you're rewarded with a speed boost for drifting well around corners. But a small tweak was made for 'Deluxe' -- a third 'level' of boost if you pull out a drift for an especially long time. It's just the kind of small detail that makes all the difference in a game like 'Mario Kart,' and separates the most serious players from the more casual ones.
Another subtle tweak: You can now hold up to two items at once, and there are even doubled-up question mark cubes.
This may sound like no big deal, but it makes all the difference. Not only does it mean you can always keep an item 'holstered' in the second position, ready for use as need be, but it means there's that much more madness happening on screen at any given moment.
In experience, I've found it means every race, or battle, is a tooth-and-nail fight to the death at all times. For a series that's already notorious for exactly this type of experience, 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' really takes it up another notch.
Sometimes this works to your favour, and it's fantastic. Sometimes -- oftentimes -- this works against you. And that's when you'll find yourself cursing at the 'cheap' game and your 'cheating' opponents. Try to remember: 'Mario Kart' hates everyone equally.
'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is a game that works particularly well if your household is a couple. My household is just me and my wife (and our dog, but he doesn't like video games). As a result, we've spent a tremendous amount of time playing 'Mario Kart 8' online -- both against each other and against all the other players in any given race.
We picked up right where we left off when 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' entered our apartment. Much of the past weekend was spent dedicated to taking down (and being taken down) by 'Mario Kart' players around the world. You can play Battle Mode online as well, but we mostly focused on the standard race mode. While the online section of 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' isn't quite as fun as playing against other human players in the same room, it offers some of the same gameplay delights. It's hard to quantify how satisfying it is to snake a first place victory from the hands of another actual human playing somewhere else in the world. You can't hear their cries of anguish as you edge them out of pole position, but you can imagine them.
Do you own a Nintendo Switch? You should own 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.'
No equivocations. No caveats.
Like 'The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,' you're looking at a must-own game here for any Nintendo Switch owner. There are two good reasons for that:
- It's a ridiculously good game, alone or with friends; it's literally the best entry in a series composed of great games. There are no truly bad 'Mario Kart' games. That this one stands out says a lot about how good it is. There are dozens of courses, a fantastic new mode that beyond delivers on fan expectations, and a robust online multiplayer mode. I have literally nothing negative to say about 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,' except that Nintendo could've thrown owners a bone and offered some form of discount if you bought the game already on Wii U. But Nintendo knows you'll buy it at $US60, so Nintendo is charging $US60. Such is capitalism.
- The Switch game library is growing, but it's still tremendously limited at this point. Simply put: There just aren't that many games on the Switch. As a result, 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is an instant must-own sheerly based on how small the game library is. It's no surprise that the game is selling so incredibly well thus far -- Switch owners have limited options for games to play. Regardless, that they're flocking to 'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe' is a good thing. It's a game that should even convince some folks to go out and buy a Nintendo Switch. I don't blame them at all -- it's the best 'Mario Kart' game that's ever existed.
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