When I first reviewed Mario Kart 8 for Wii U back in 2014, I hoped it would be the game to turn the Wii U's fortunes around. My lengthy review can be summed up as "Great game, but Battle Mode is horrible". It was. In every other measure Mario Kart 8 was an outstanding entry in the franchise, but Nintendo was asleep at the wheel when it came to Battle Mode. The lack of a real Battle Mode is what kept an excellent game from getting all five stars in my review.
Three years later and Nintendo is pushing Mario Kart 8 back into service, hoping the game will keep Nintendo Switch owners occupied until the next major release. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a repackaging of the original, with most of the same content and a few new additions. From another publisher, this would be have the subtitle of "Definitive Edition" or "Complete Edition". It's a chance for Nintendo to smooth over where they may have erred in Mario Kart 8.
Battle Mode is Back!
There are other additions to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but I want to start with the new Battle Mode. The brunt of the new content is here: eight Battle courses, five modes, and the Battle Mode-specific Feather item makes its return. Classic Battle mode maps like Battle Course 1 from Super Mario Kart, Wuhu Town from Mario Kart 7, and Luigi's Mansion from Mario Kart: Double Dash are joined by new arenas like Battle Stadium, Lunar Colony, and the Splatoon-inspired Urchin Underpass. The latter map is one of the strong standouts in terms of actual play, but they're all solid arenas.
Balloon Battle is the classic Mario Kart battle mode we all know and love. It moves away of the last man standing version from Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 8 to a pure scoring system. Hit an opponent and you gain a point. Lose all of your balloons and you return to the match minus three balloons from your score. This adds a layer of tension, because you can go from match leader to lagging behind because of those three balloons. This is where folks are probably going to spend their most of their Battle Mode time.
Bob-omb Blast is Balloon Battle, but every weapon is Bob-ombs. Coin Runners has you racing around the maps collecting coins; get hit and you drop a few. The person with the most coins when the time runs out wins. Shine Thief is a game of keepaway. A Shine spawns in the middle of the map and players have to grab it and hold onto it for a certain amount of time. The Shine Thief drives slightly slower than everyone else and your opponents use items to make you drop the Shine.
They're all rather fun. The only mode that falls flat for me is Renegade Roundup. Here, players are split into two teams, with one side being the Authorities, and the other being the Renegades. The cops have Piranha Plants attached to the front of their karts that eat Renegades and place them in jail. Renegades can be freed by their free teammates via a button beneath the jails. The Renegades win if at least one member remains free when the time runs out. It's not a poorly designed mode, it's just not my cup of tea and spending more time with it hasn't really changed my mind.
Battle Mode was the place where I always spent hours messing around with friends, so it's lack of inclusion in Mario Kart 8 saddened me. The fact that it's here in Deluxe goes a long way to making this the definitive package. This is what Nintendo should've released in the first place and it's glorious.
It's New To You
Battle Mode isn't the only thing rounding out the package. The roster tops out at 42 characters, with the original Mario Kart 8 cast, all of the DLC characters like Link (The Legend of Zelda) and Isabelle (Animal Crossing), and new additions, including Inkling Girl, Inkling Boy, King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr, and a Golden Mario variant. All the DLC race cups are present too, bringing the course total to 48.
Nintendo added some new features for beginner and veterans alike. Beginners get Smart Steering, which corrects your course if you're about to fall of an edge or hit an obstacle, and Auto-Accelerate, which automatically keeps your kart moving forward.
For veterans, Nintendo has added a third level of mini-turbo after a drift. Ultra Mini-Turbo has pink sparks as a visual cue during drifting. With the new mini-turbo, Nintendo has also patched out the fire-hopping technique some veterans used to get ahead. Finally, you can now carry two items at once and the stacked item box from Mario Kart: Double Dash makes a full-time return!
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has a few smaller quality of life changes too. Players can now change character and vehicle combinations within an online lobby, instead of having to drop game. There's also a new in-game guide accessible from the starting menu. 200cc gets Time Trials for the first time ever.
One place I feel Nintendo has erred is a lack of customizable controls. As it stands, A is accelerate, ZR is jump/drift, and ZL uses items. I find that my larger hands tend to cramp in long play sessions, so I wish I could move accelerate to another button to alleviate the problem. Auto-accelerate is there, but I find it doesn't give me the precise control I want.
Giving Your Kart a New Shine
It's a testament to the added content that I got this far in review without talking about the improved graphics of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Like Mario Kart 8, Deluxe still holds onto a rock solid 60fps in both docked and portable modes. In portable, it's 720p resolution, just like the Wii U version. In docked mode, the game jumps to 1080p and though you'd think it wouldn't be noticeable, it is. Mario Kart 8 was always a bright and beautiful game, but Deluxe in docked mode adds an additional level of clarity to the entire thing.
Speaking of portable mode, Mario Kart 8 is very flexible when it comes to multiplayer action. Up to 4 players can play on a single screen with a combination of Joy-Cons and Pro Controllers. Two folks can join online or LAN play via a single Switch. Local multiplayer allows for 8 players in various combinations of 1-2 players per Switch, while online and Lan play offers up to 12 players.
Part of the promise of some of the best Mario Karts - Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart DS - is being able to enjoy the game with friends anywhere you want. To get that, you used to have to give up the graphical fidelity of the home console Mario Kart titles. With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you don't have to compromise. This is a full-fledged Mario Kart, whether you're at home or on-the-go. Battle Mode is back and better than ever. You have a ton of courses and characters, across 50, 100, 150, and 200cc speeds. And multiplayer lets you bring everyone along for the ride.
In my last preview, I wondered if Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was worth the $59.99 asking price.
It's worth every penny. Wrap it up. The best Mario Kart ever is here.
Got gold in all 12 cups at 200cc? Then it's time to go online or rock it in local multiplayer. Mario Kart never ends.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs at a rock solid 60 fps in docked and portable modes. On a TV, 1080p is crisp and clear.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a victory lap for an amazing entry in the series. The only place Mario Kart 8 faltered was in its Battle Mode and Nintendo has rectified that here with a full-fledged version. 48 courses, 42 characters, 8 battle arenas, 5 battle modes, extensive multiplayer action, and the ability to take console Mario Kart with you wherever you go. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is absolutely worth the asking price.