Oh hey, a real battle mode
Despite the minor issues I had with Mario Kart 8 (RIP Wii U), they were nothing compared to the lack of a real battle mode -- it was kind of annoying that they even slotted in a fake stand-in for it, if we're being real.
But now with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, a living breathing console that hopefully won't be discontinued in four years, they have a chance to rectify that mistake.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 1
Release Date: April 28, 2017
[If you want to get a good rundown of what to expect from the base Mario Kart 8 kit, check out my original review. This piece will mainly cover what's new.]
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe should look wholly familiar to anyone that already plunked down the cash on the Wii U version. Which, in part, makes the decision to buy it all over again more difficult depending on how much you value what's new.
All the tracks (including both DLC packs) are the same, but Deluxe does sport six new characters (Dry Bones, Bowser Jr., Gold Mario, King Boo, Inkling Girl/Boy), the aforementioned legitimate battle mode with five rulesets, and an upgrade of 1080p60 on a TV (which means something for this vibrant and gorgeous game) even if you're playing split-screen. It looks amazing while docked, and better than the portable Mario Kart 7 in tablet form (not to mention it has some of that iteration's best levels and mechanics, rendering it essentially obsolete).
There's also a few more low-key alterations like some additional vehicles and amiibo costumes, more opportunities to play in 200cc, another level of drift that provides an extra boost, two returning items (the Feather and item-stealing Boo, but the former is only available in battle mode, presumably so it doesn't break the game), double item boxes coupled with the two-item system from Double Dash, and smart steering (which makes the game easier for newcomers, but disables the extra drift). It's debatable how much of this should have been baseline or provided as a series of free updates in the original, but it's here now in Deluxe.
The best part? Gold Mario is basically the only unlockable in the game -- you can get just about everything else by merely booting it up and selecting it, including extra cups, tracks, and battle levels. It's a boon for folks like me who played the original to death and don't want to have to re-do everything. Wait, battle mode? Yeah, unlike the poor shoehorned excuse of a gametype that was in OG Mario Kart 8, you get an actual way to duke it out arena style with Deluxe.
They didn't half-ass it either, as the old-school balloon style isn't the only option -- there's a sort of "greatest hits" on offer here that includes picks from previous games. Balloons are there if you want them, but so is the cops and robbers-esque Renegade Roundup, the chaotic bomb-only Bob-omb Blast, the currency collection-centric Coin Runners, and the hoard-the-object Shine Thief. Renegade, which tasks renegades with evading capture from piranha plant chomping and busting their friends out of jails, is by far my favorite. There's a cool sense of tension throughout and an innate feeling of comradery, even with bots.
It sounds sparse on paper, but five modes and eight maps (which is the second most any single game has offered, behind Mario Kart Wii) is enough to last a long while -- not accounting for any unannounced DLC in the pipeline. There's only three repeats of "classic tracks" this time, and even the old ones (including one SNES reboot) look fresh. I mean, we all wanted Block Fort and Skyscraper, but the wide open Battle Stadium, Fort-like Sweet Sweet Kingdom, dazzling Lunar Colony, cuteness of Urchin Underpass, and the intriguing verticality of Dragon Palace make up for it. Double items also ensure every skirmish is even more exciting as you're consistently upping your arsenal and weighing your options.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is straight-up a better version of the game without compromise. It looks crisper, there's more to do, it's portable, and it might even outsell the Wii U version to ensure a healthier long-term community. With battle mode firmly in place, it's one of the best kart racers ever made.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe reviewed by Chris Carter
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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