Even on the struggling and failed Wii U, Nintendo was able to sell a great amount of software when compared to its userbase. Games like Splatoon and yes, Mario Kart 8 stood as top sellers despite having a limited amount of overall users. Now, in something I hope Nintendo will continue doing, it is bringing one of the Wii U's top titles to its new and decidedly successful (at least starting off) Nintendo Switch with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. While the game offers some new additions to it, it might be a questionable purchase for those who already played hundreds of hours of the original Wii U release. This review intends to answer the question of whether these Mario Kart 8 owners should trade in their wheels from the Wii U version to the Nintendo Switch updated and upgraded one.
Let's start with what's new in Mario Kart 8. The biggest addition is the revamped and reworked Battle Mode. In the vanilla Wii U original, Battle Mode sadly consisted solely of retrofitted Mario Kart 8 tracks in their entirety instead of standalone, custom-made battle arenas that the series had been known for since its inception. This has been rectified with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, offering eight arenas with five different modes for offline or online play, and in team or singles play. The arenas come in both all-new and retro varieties, just like the Grand Prix tracks. There's Battle Stadium, Sweet Sweet Kingdom, Dragon Palace, Lunar Colony, and Splatoon's Urchin Underpass, while the retro tracks feature SNES Battle Course 1, GCN Luigi's Mansion, and my personal favorite of the whole bunch, 3DS Wuhu Loop. All of the arenas are enjoyable to play on, and there is no loser in this group. My only preference for the future would be to see some additional DLC arenas, but that's just being greedy on my part. What's here is already more than enough.
The five different modes feature Balloon Battle, a slight variation to the O.G. Mario Kart battle mode that has players shoot items into one another for points. When all of a player's balloons have been popped from taking hits, their score is cut in half. Then there's Bob-Omb Blast, a bomb-only mode where, depending on how long the throw button is held down, Bob-Ombs are chucked farther at foes. The goal is similar to Balloon Battle, save for the only items here being Bob-Ombs. Coin Runners has the simple task of collecting as many coins as possible within the time limit. Every hit you take makes you lose several coins. Meanwhile, Shine Thief, the ever popular mode from the GameCube's Mario Kart: Double Dash!! returns. It's a game of holding onto the Shine Sprite for a set amount of time. All the while the rest of the pack guns for you to steal the Shine. The player who can run their timer to zero wins.
Finally, a brand-new mode is introduced in Mario Kart, the fantastic Renegade Roundup. Two opposing sides, which are essentially cops and robbers, take each other on. One side, with Piranha Plants and sirens overhead, try to roundup the other team, the renegades. Those rounded up get put in a cage, but free players can brave the Piranha Plant-wielding enforcers, speeding over the midair jail cell's button to free everyone trapped inside. The round ends when either all renegades have been captured or the time limit runs out. This is a massively entertaining mode and a real innovative one, too. The panic that gets induced when renegades are running away from a closing-in Piranha Plant-toting player makes for a tremendously fun time and makes for a mode that fits in perfectly with the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Battle Mode lineup.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features new additions beyond just the revamped Battle Mode. First, all characters, cups and cup speeds are automatically unlocked from the beginning. This includes all of the DLC tracks and characters from Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, plus new additions to the roster like Bowser Jr., King Boo, Dry Bones, and both genders of the Inklings from Splatoon. You might wonder what drive there is to play through the cups and try for first place, much more the idea of gunning for a perfect three stars on every cup on every difficulty. Well, kart parts, in the form of kart body, tires, and gliders, still have to be unlocked through collecting various amounts of coins. These are still unlocked in a random fashion, so what kart piece one player unlocks at 3,000 coins will most likely be different from what another player unlocks at the same amount. Thankfully, multiplayer races still add to the main player account's overall total. Additionally, Battle Mode coins collected mostly add to this total, too.
The most enviable kart pieces to unlock, not because of their statistics, but the challenge of unlocking them, the gold kart pieces, still take a good while to unlock as well. For instance, the gold kart body is unlocked by earning at least one star on all 150cc cups, while the gold tires are earned through beating every Nintendo staff ghost on all 48 tracks in Time Trial mode. Also, beating every cup in first place in 200cc unlocks a brand-new variant of Metal Mario, Gold Mario from New Super Mario Bros. 2, to the roster. All in all, there is a great deal of stuff to unlock, despite a lot of the base content being already available from the beginning.
Racing-wise, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings some freshness here as well. In something that will allow even more players from lower skill levels to enjoy the game, there are various control options available. For one, smart steering is an option, making it so the vehicle will automatically slow down or readjust to avoid falling or going off the main track. Tilt steering is also available, and if one wants, they could even turn auto acceleration on, for those players who have trouble holding a button down or pushing in the right analog stick. One could theoretically set the controller down and let the game play itself, but you won't be winning most races this way. Unfortunately, when you play with multiple players, each time you turn off the game, you have to turn off the second, third, and/or fourth players' auto settings as they will be on from the start for some reason. This is a minor annoyance, but at the start of playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, my older brother noticed something amiss with his controls. Turned out that the auto steering and acceleration were automatically on, meaning he had to pause the game to turn them off. There wasn't even a warning or notification that these were on to begin with when starting the game.
However, not all of the racing changes are just for new players needing assistance. When performing a drift, not only can you build a mini turbo up to two times, now you can generate a third mini turbo with pink sparks. There aren't a multitude of turns offering such an ability, but when you're able to pull it off, it creates a bigger resulting boost that is ultra satisfying.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also features two returning items not seen in a while in the Mario Kart franchise: the Boo item and the Battle Mode-only Feather from Super Mario Kart, the very first game in the series that dates back all the way to the Super Nintendo. The Boo randomly steals an item from an opponent ahead of you, while also temporarily turning you transparent and impervious to items. Meanwhile, the Feather allows you to jump and spin over obstacles and even opponents. In modes like Balloon Battle, this steals a balloon from them and adds it to your collection.
It's not just returning items in general that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings back, it's double item boxes and the ability to hold two items at once like in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, though the ability to switch between which item you wish to use first has been omitted. Thankfully, with eleven racers already gunning for you, the addition of even more items to conceivably contend with doesn't impact races as adversely as I thought it would. There's still a notable dynamic shift with more items in the rotation in races and battles, but more items also means more chances to get more defense (and then again, more coins, but you never hold two coin items at once, thankfully). Sure, that means that red shells are a greater annoyance when you're in first, but overall, the dynamic shift isn't overwhelmingly apparent. That's a good thing, and I'm sure a relief for many.
Now, how about the multiplayer? Locally, the left and right Joycons that come with everyone's Nintendo Switch are good enough for two players to start racing and battling immediately. My only issue with those is that holding down the left shoulder button, something that doesn't protrude as much as I'd like, is difficult to do. I can't tell you how many times I tried to hold a shell or banana peel behind me, only to let go of the button and lose my defense... and then get hit by a red shell, of course. Two players locally can even hop online to take on other players around the world.
This is where some shortcomings pop their ugly head in. The online options here are quite limited, and if Nintendo wants people to shell out money for its online services this fall, then either what's here is incomplete or Nintendo is crazy. Then again, it could be both. With randoms, you're stuck picking between three randomly selected races to compete on, and you can't even select the speed of the races. That's randomly chosen as well. However, one improvement over the Wii U Mario Kart 8 is that you can choose a different character and kart configuration without leaving an online lobby. This is something I couldn't believe wasn't implemented before, but still, it's a wonderful addition and makes for awesome convenience. Then there are connection errors that pop up occasionally. It just makes for a hard sell if Nintendo wants to monetize online for the Switch in the future without any changes.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks and runs fantastically on the Nintendo Switch, whether it's docked or in handheld form, my preferred way of playing the game just for its convenience and how cool it is. (Then again, I was born and raised on the Game Boy, so thinking back on that to being able to play games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on a handheld-like device such as the Switch now is astonishing to me.) The framerate issues that the Wii U original suffered from are no longer present in the Switch version, and the colors and models are crisper to the eye. Like many of Nintendo's HD games, there's little aliasing to talk about, but the game still looks massively impressive in both photos and full-on motion. Meanwhile, the music is still one of my favorite game soundtracks ever devised, and the new theme additions for the Battle Mode stages are terrific and fit right in with the original Wii U soundtrack. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is, all in all, a delight to look at and listen to.
So, here comes the $59.99 MSRP question: Is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth it if you've already played the Wii U original? My answer is a resounding "yes." The upgraded Battle Mode that can be played with AI, friends, and family offline, or online with friends and total strangers is fantastic, offering five modes, eight arenas, and wild chaos. The new additions like cast inclusions, the third mini-turbo boost, two returning items and Double Dash's double items, and other new features make an awesome arcade racer and installment of the Mario Kart series even more awesome. It might be lacking in online options, even the Wii U's voice chat in friend lobbies, but overall, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be a go-to for many Nintendo Switch outings and occasions for a long time.