Flash forward to 2017, and gamers must be feeling some deja vu. Two months into the Switch’s release, first- and third-party titles remain relatively few and far between. If you’re not a fan of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Shovel Knight, it’s likely you still haven’t justified the purchase. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might change that.
As with Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch looks amazing. Nintendo knows its own hardware; things are crisp and smooth as you throw shells and defy gravity, hovering over sections of track. Simply put, this is everything you remember being great about the storied franchise — right down to a proper Battle mode, unlike the meagre experience over on Wii U. The ability to hold two items at a time also feels… well, right; these small tweaks effectively correct the wrongs of the last-gen release.
Experienced players will find the 100cc and 150cc, not to mention the 200cc events, quite the challenge; past exploits like fire-hopping have been buffed to make you work for placements. Combining constant drifting, taking the racing line and jumping off bumps and ledges for extra boost are all fundamentals to guarantee success; this is then combined with clever item management to ensure you’ve always got a banana or shell (or now, both) to defend attacks from behind, trying to steal mushroom boosts as they circle around your opponents, drafting and remembering the shortest routes. When an unfortunate barrage of shells, bananas and other power-ups can see you go from first to middle of the pack, trying to claw your way back by the end of the third lap makes for some really fun yet rewarding gameplay. Being a second behind first place and firing a well-aimed green shell to hit an opponent just moments from the finish line to take the win will certainly be a highlight.
There’s no denying that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks spectacular and keeps with Nintendo’s tradition of delivering colourful and inviting environments. Beyond this, it’s the level of detail that really needs to be applauded here. Smoke wrapping around your rear tires as you do your pre-race burnout, the colour of your wheels changing as you drive over dirt or ice and seeing skid marks along the track as you and your opponents drift around the course all just come together and it’s great to see how far the franchise has progressed since its beginnings. No longer is racing simply restricted to the ground either, with most races now including anti-gravity sections, underwater routes or even requiring you to fly through the air. I’ve yet to properly conclude whether speed is affected depending on your terrain, although it does add some nice variety to the gameplay. Track design in the Mario Kart franchise has always been a strong point, and for the greater part Mario Kart 8 doesn’t disappoint. Each track is unique; our favourites include Sunshine Airport, which has you driving throughout an airport and amongst aeroplanes, or Mount Wario, a fantastically varied and exciting three-part track that begins with you dropping out of an cargo plane and travelling down the mountainside, through a dam and through a ski course. Finally, Bowser’s Castle not only adds additional challenges as you complete each lap, but looks great too. Deluxe has 48 tracks all up, a combination of ‘new’ tracks (to MK8, that is), DLC tracks and ones from older titles in the franchise.
A hit of nostalgia is always appreciated (and expected from Nintendo), but courses like Yoshi Valley and Royal Raceway from MK64 seem tracks are shorter. In fact, this is something new tracks seem to mirror; races feel like they’re over way too soon. Thankfully, the aforementioned Battle mode scratches that ol’ member berry itch quite well, offering proper battle arenas with which to liberate opponents of their balloons. Gone are generic tracks which force you to drive laps in the hope of besting enemies; this time, you drive straight at ’em and hope to come out on top.
Truly, the best part of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the Switch itself, offering local multiplayer in myriad ways. While the Pro Controller and a TV are best for single play, you can easily fit two friends around a Switch screen, one Joy-Con each, for versus play, or grab more Joy-Cons and the TV for four-player mayhem. 3DS-style, up to 8 Switches can be linked up, giving you plenty to do waiting in convention lines, on the bus, or whatever it is you all happen to be. On their own or part of a group, the Joy-Cons work well with MK8‘s controls, even if you’ve got large hands like me; no player is really at a disadvantage. Nintendo loves its motion controls, though — take our advice and turn them off; you’ll find it easier to play that way.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is solid and enjoyable, with small tweaks that mean it easily surpasses the Wii U’s original release. Should you get a Switch for it? Yes. Yes you should — especially if you’ve got friends who’re up for a race themselves. Those who’ve purchased the game on Wii U will similarly find enough value to warrant another purchase, though it would have been appreciated to receive some sort of discount for Nintendo’s double-dipping. In terms of a Switch purchase though, we’re hopeful Nintendo will make the decision easier releasing the bundled console rumoured for Russia — it’s practically a no-brainer.