Mario Kart 8 Deluxe [Switch]
Nintendo went above and beyond porting Mario Kart 8 to the Switch, and despite the impressive amount of polish I can still clearly recognize the game I fell in love with all those years ago. This is without a doubt the definitive Mario Kart experience: Pure, simple and fun.
What is Luigi Kart 8 Deluxe?
Yoshi Kart is a kart racing game where you control you favorite Nintendo character, hop on a Nintendo themed kart and race against 11 other players on Nintendo themed tracks. Random power-ups grant you various items allowing you screw over the poor sap next to you, and leave each race up for grabs until the very last moment. It’s fast, it’s fun, and if you’re thinking about what Switch game to get next, choose this one.
New from the Wii U version are slightly faster load times, updated visuals, 5 new karts and 6.5 characters as well as a proper battle mode on proper battle maps. Characters, cups and modes are unlocked from the start, but you’ll need to grind about 5000 coins to unlock all of the karts, wheels and gliders available.
There are a few gameplay changes as well: We now have a third drift boost stage with the purple spark, red shells follow you through the air, fire hopping is gone and the ability to carry two items at once is back from the Gamecube days. QoL MVP: You can now change your kart configuration in multiplayer without having to leave the lobby first.
The driving mechanics are tight, and mini-turbos have never been this satisfying. In Peach Kart you can power-slide around curves which maintains your speed and builds up a boost, while jumping the moment you leap off a ramp or ledge will reward you with a smaller air-boost. Both are very intuitive mechanics which provide constant feedback and acceleration, but involve a high degree of mastery as the time you shave off from getting the timing right really adds up.
But Bowser Kart wouldn’t be Wario Kart without the items, which you get from driving into power-up blocks sprinkled throughout the tracks. The random item you get can range from a ghost that turns you invisible all the way up to the infamous blue shell which will seek and utterly destroy whoever’s in first place.
The general rule of thumb here is: The further back you are, the better items you get, and you’re not affected as much when you get hit by them. While luck is still a significant factor which levels the playing field, the addition of a second item slot adds a lot of depth to the item management and clever usage is required to come out ahead when everyone is around the same skill level.
What is most impressive about all this is the simplicity of the controls – You accelerate with the A button, steer with the left stick, drift with the R button and use items with the L button. Realistically, that’s all you ever need which makes it incredibly easy to pick up and play the game. Tilt controls are also supported, but I haven’t found them to be responsive enough.
You get coins for finishing races which automatically unlock new karts, wheels and gliders. The thresholds are quite low, so you can try out new parts very frequently. Don’t worry – you have more than enough competitive parts to start with, but not an amount that would overload a newcomer.
While there are plenty of stats for us nerds to min/max our configs with, this system elegantly avoids the issue of having “poor controls” by letting you put the kart together yourself. Each configuration has noticeably different handling characteristics, and finding the one combination that feels just right enhances the gameplay a lot.
The track layouts are intuitive, and slamming into a wall because you didn’t know where to go is nowhere near as frequent as in previous installments. Because most tracks are simply rearrangements of universal track sections with a different skin, the pace at which you familiarize yourself with the game is greatly accelerated.
The anti-gravity mode allows you to traverse tracks side-ways or upside-down and results in some really creative designs, while unique gimmicks such as a super long jump, weird obstacle or even just a splitting path give each track its own identity instead of just looking different. Some tracks also feature shortcuts, which are usually only accessible with a mushroom and allow you to catch up to first place.
The game’s 48 tracks are divided into 12 Cups featuring 4 Races each, and clearing them all on every speed setting is good fun. To receive 3 stars in a Grand Prix you need to get 1st place in every race, which makes it a bit more challenging but also a lot less intuitive when trying to clear the cups with 2 or more players. A high score function or being able to see the race time in general would’ve been a nice addition.
Time trials let you race on each track by yourself to get the best time possible. Each race comes with a ghost (recording of a player’s driving performance) from a Nintendo staffer which gives you a decent benchmark to go for, but you can always download and race against ghosts from other players. It’s a really cool mode – seeing how the best players in the world race and what kart configuration they use is a great way to get better at the game.
Battle modes are back, and now take place on proper arena-style maps and usually involve hitting someone or something with an item while trying to not get hit yourself. The included modes are Balloon Battle, Bob-omb Blast, Shine Thief, Coin Runners and Renegade Roundup. While not as polished as the main race mode, they’re a fun distraction and definitely a step up from the previous iteration.
While the game has a decent amount of content to offer, playing alone against the CPU will get repetitive very fast, and the absence of proper single-player content such as the Mission Mode from Mario Kart DS is unfortunate. Ultimately, you want to get this game to play with your friends and/or online.
With the press of just a few buttons you’re in a standard race against 11 other players from around the world. Playing decently will net you points, while playing terribly will cause you to lose some. As a result, the points are more of an indicator of time spent playing rather than actual skill which leads to the matchmaking being decent at best. There’s no online leaderboard either, which further limits their value.
In the lobby, players can vote for the next track, change the kart configuration and exchange some preset messages (“I’m using tilt controls!” is the closest to actual banter you’re going to get). The higher the average point count of a room, the more 200cc and Mirror tracks you’re going to roll. It’s fast, it’s fun, and if you get a decent room you can get some incredibly competitive games.
Unfortunately, the online experience gets worse if you want to do something other than a standard race. Any custom tournament you join is automatically added to your favorites, and you’ll have to manually delete them to make room for more. This can become a frequent issue because filtering is rather limited, and if you’re not playing at peak times you’ll have to sift through a few dozen empty rooms first.
While you have decent control over what kind of tournament you want to create, it will start as soon as the minimum amount of players has been reached. This makes it a pain if you’re trying to play with a group, as everyone has to join at the exact same time by entering a 12-digit tournament code. I could write an entire article about the dreadful design of this system, but I’ll leave the discussion around that for another day.
The game uses servers for basic tasks and P2P for actual gameplay, with unfortunately mixed results: Going online and finding a room is super fast, but the quality of a game can vary drastically. Thanks to decent client-side prediction the gameplay never visibly stutters when playing against people with a poor connection, but your single-target items may miss things they shouldn’t, or have seemingly no effect when they do connect. Worse still, if the host has a poor connection it can take up to a minute for the race to start and another to calculate the rankings at the end of it.
Ultimately, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe lacks the intricacies of a modern multiplayer game required to build a lasting community, and the sub-par online service is a blemish on the otherwise stellar experience.