Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not Mario Kart 9, nor is it meant to be – and that’s okay. The original Mario Kart 8 was a blast (and my personal favorite entry in the popular series), making this beefed up version for the Nintendo Switch more of the same, but with some added twists.
I had the opportunity to grab some hands-on time with the upcoming Switch title at PAX South last week. I played a demo using the handheld, Vita-esque Switch set up with the JoyCons locked alongside the screen. Impressively, the game looked and performed identically to its big screen counterpart. There’s an undeniable cool factor in seeing something that vibrant and fast-paced running smoothly on a mobile device. While the game controls fine overall, holding down the Switch’s tiny face buttons–which appear to be slightly smaller than the 3DS’ buttons–to accelerate caused discomfort on my thumb after just one race. That’s a concern for those possessing even average-sized digits.
Battle Mode, a glaring omission in the original Mario Kart 8, makes a welcome return in Deluxe. I played a couple of rounds in Splatoon’s Urchin Underpass arena. While the core premise of lobbing weapons at opponents to pop their balloons isn’t dramatically different, the mode remains as fun as it always has been. Perhaps more importantly, Battle Mode provides another worthwhile destination in an already solid offering.
Not content with touting Deluxe as a straight port with Battle Mode tacked on, Nintendo has tweaked the gameplay and added a number of new tracks and characters. Deluxe players can carry two power-ups at a time, a feature I found added a new wrinkle of strategy to races. New faces like Splatoon’s Inkling Girl/Boy and King Boo join the fray. Fresh tracks and karts (mostly based on Splatoon) offer an expanded assortment of options for experienced racers.
Mario Kart 8’s entire package, including all released DLC, is present and accounted for. Mario Kart 8 isn't the next big leap for the series, but for a super-charged version, it's firing on all cylinders.
The revved up racer releases on April 28 for the Nintendo Switch.