Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: Better than the original, but is it worth buying again?
by on May 26, 2017

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the newest installation of the Mario Kart franchise and an updated port of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U. Right off the bat, It includes all the downloadable content from the original, and then it adds new characters, an improved battle mode, and the introduction of smart steering and auto acceleration.

Mario Kart 8 already expanded on features from Mario Kart Wii, such as the inclusion of bikes, and Mario Kart 7 with the ability to glide and drive underwater. However, it also brings its own new additions as well, most notably, its anti-gravity and the 200cc Grand Prix option, and with characters such as Pink Gold Peach and the Koopalings. Deluxe claims to be the better version of Mario Kart 8. My curiosity got the better of me, and, since I owned the original, I decided to see for myself.

Full disclosure
Nintendo of America was gracious enough to provide Zelda Universe with a retail copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for us to review.

Like the original, there are four main modes to the game: Grand Prix, Versus, Time Trials, and Battle Mode. Grand Prix has 12 four-race cups and five different CC classes to race in with the goal being to get as many points as possible to get trophies. Versus is the ability to race your friends and the computer with any number of custom rules, such as using only one item or by playing in teams. Time Trials force you to compete against the clock (as well as the ghosts of Nintendo’s staff’s best) to get the best time possible. And Battle Mode is of course a no-holds-barred free-for-all, and it’s this mode that’s been greatly overhauled from Mario Kart 8.

A bigger, better Mario Kart 8 experience

Despite the game including all of the previous game’s DLC, at the beginning of the game only six vehicles are unlocked. Just like the original, most of the kart and bike parts are initially locked, only able to be gained by collecting coins. While you can pick any of the DLC characters from the start, many of their unique karts, wheels, and gliders are either partially available or entirely locked away. For example, you can play as Link the moment you open the game, like I did, but the Master Cycle, Triforce Tires, and Hylian Kite are unavailable. However, Isabelle’s Streetle kart and the City Tripper bike, both of which are from the Animal Crossing DLC, are available right off the bat, but the Leaf Tires and the Paper Glider are absent.

The racing experience in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has been greatly revamped in ways that haven’t been included in any Mario Kart thus far. First, there’s smart steering, and that gives you the ability to stay on the track and off walls. This proves incredibly useful for younger players, inexperienced racers, or veterans who find 200cc to be just a bit too fast. Thinking this sounded way too good to be true, I even intentionally tried many times to run off the course. I picked the most difficult one I could think of –the newest Rainbow Road –and I just couldn’t fall off! The downside to smart steering though is that with it on you cannot get the new third purple boost, a second new feature that expert racers will love for shaving seconds of their time. But more pragmatically, I’m guessing they thought if you can’t stay on the track you probably don’t need to be drifting so much.

Third, they’ve also introduced auto acceleration, and that does exactly as it sounds like. It allows you to accelerate without having to hold down the A button. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this functionality is, but I’m guessing it was designed for younger players so there would be less buttons to keep track of or if you’re just too lazy to keep holding A.

Smart Steering proves incredibly useful for inexperienced racers or veterans who find 200cc to be just a bit too fast.

Some of the less impactful, but still interesting tweaks to the game are the addition of five new characters — Bowser Jr, King Boo, the Inkling Girl and Boy, and Dry Bones — along with old-school items such as the Feather from Super Mario Kart and the Boo from Mario Kart 64. You can also play 200cc in the Time Trials now as well, and there are several neat additions to tracks, such as an abundance of giant multi-colored Yoshi eggs in Yoshi Valley.

A bevvy of controller options

The controls on the Switch can take some getting used to. Of course, with the multiple configurations of the Switch, there are many controller configurations as well. Nintendo has produced a new range of Switch Wheels — yes, just like the Mario Kart Wii Wheels — to fit one of the Joy-Cons, and of course this means that tilt controls are back as well. I look forward to racing this way since I owned the golden, Zelda-themed Wii wheels, and at only US$14.99, the price isn’t that bad.

You can also play with a single Joy-Con without the wheels, of course, and this is good for playing multiplayer mode. And you can use both Joy-Cons within the Joy-Con Grip for a more traditional experience. And you can affix both Joy-Cons to the Switch itself and play the game as a handheld. Or there’s the Pro Controller, which must be bought separately for US$69.99. Since one of the selling points of the Switch is that you get two controllers in the box with your Joy-Cons, I personally don’t think that a Pro Controller is worth it for this game since, with one Pro Controller, a second player will still be stuck with a Joy-Con. That is, unless you bought two of them for a whopping US$140!

However, going back to the controls, I did however find it harder to turn the using tilt controls with the Joy-Con and with the Joy-Con Grip than doing so with the Wii U GamePad. It felt that making those extra sharp corners was rather difficult. However, I did discover the tilt is controlled by the right Joy-Con when using them together — such as in the Joy-Con Grip — so knowing this can allow for better performance with tilt controls. You can still steer using the analog stick if you want, and you can also mix tilt controls with the thumbstick as well. As a result, I was also able to turn tighter using the stick and steer the rest of the time using tilt.

Multiplayer gains a huge improvement

All of your favorite classic modes are back — Grand Prix, Time Trials, and Versus.

Multiplayer is perhaps the biggest selling point of the Mario Kart franchise. The ability to race together is easier than ever with the Switch as it comes with two Joy-Cons right out of the box, something that hasn’t universally been the case since the Nintendo 64. The only downside to this is that if you are using the two Joy-Cons separately, you should configure them on the home screen before going into the game to play multiplayer. If you don’t set the controllers up beforehand, you can get stuck in a dialog loop when trying to select controllers later on. I had to turn the Switch off and restart the game because I couldn’t get the Joy-Cons to register.

When it comes to multiplayer, there’s a lot of variety to explore. While you can play Grand Prix, Versus, and Battle Mode by yourself with a cavalcade of computer players, these modes are best played multiplayer. Grand Prix and Versus modes haven’t changed much since Mario Kart 8; the former provides the exact same racing experience as before, and Versus modes provides a more a la carte variant of those races, allowing you to choose which courses you play, the availability of items present, the difficulty of the computer, even how many rounds you want to play. Playing Versus with teams is one of my favorite ways to play, perhaps because it’s not as intense as racing through a Grand Prix.

But the bright, shining star of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is its Battle Mode, and this is a very welcome change. The Battle Mode from Mario Kart 8 only allowed you to play Balloon Battle, and even then you could only play on a limited set of the existing courses. What made this mode unpopular was that, instead of playing on custom battle arenas as in previous games, you could only play on some of the actual Grand Prix courses. Not only this, but every player would start at a random position on the track, possibly facing backwards instead of forward. This made the mode rather lackluster as it was quite difficult to even just find your opponents on the track. It honestly was the biggest failure of Mario Kart 8.

At long last, Battle Mode is finally fixed.

But with Deluxe, Nintendo fixes all of this. Beside the double item boxes pulled forward out of Double Dash!Deluxe reintroduces the Shine Thief and Bob-omb Battle battle modes as well as Mario Kart Wii‘s Coin Runners. Even better, it offers a completely brand new mode as well called Renegade Roundup. It also features eight battle arenas specifically suited for the multiplayer chaos of Battle Mode. Five of these eight are brand new arenas: Lunar Colony, Urchin Underpass, Battle Stadium, Sweet Sweet Kingdom, and Dragon Palace. The remaining three are retro courses from previous iterations, namely Double Dash!‘s Luigi’s Mansion, Mario Kart 7‘s Wuhu Town, and the original SNES Mario Kart‘s Battle Course 1.

Balloon Battle is still present, and the mode is something that evokes in me a sense of nostalgia on the older days of the franchise as I played Mario Kart DS with my cousins. However, this isn’t your standard Balloon Battle from yesteryear. You start out with five balloons and are trying to score as many points as possible by sending shells into your opponents. However, instead of dying and becoming a ghost once you run out of balloons, as was the case in previous games, here you merely respawn with three balloons. Coin Runners is similar, but you win by collecting as many coins as possible before time runs out.

Double Dash!‘s two modes bring back a breath of fresh air. With Shine Thief, you’re effectively playing a variant of King of the Hill; the objective involves grabbing a Shine Sprite and holding it for a period of time… and naturally trying to steal it from the player who has it before the timer runs out. It’s very chaotic, but I found it very fun. Bob-omb Battle is actually not that different from Balloon Battle, but the real difference is that the only available items are Bob-ombs. It’s great playing this in the Luigi’s Mansion arena as it reminds me of the days I would chuck bombs off of the room onto unsuspecting players down below.

The most novel and unique mode is a recreation of old-fashioned cops and robbers.

As mentioned before, the newest addition to Battle Mode is Renegade Roundup, and it features teams of red and blue. One team is the Renegades, and the other is the Law. The Law is equipped with lights and Piranha Plants of their color. The Law needs to chase down the Renegades, while the Renegades have to avoid the Law. Getting eaten can be a little anticlimactic as you end up stuck in a tiny cage. That is unless one of your fellow Renegades can free you by hitting the big button beneath you, which will break the cage propel you out with a big boost. You’ll switch from playing the Law and the Renegades over several rounds, and whichever team captures the most wins.

Local play isn’t the only thing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers; you can play with other players on the internet as well. You can choose to play with your friends, with people in your region, or worldwide. You can even enter and create tournaments. I attempted to create a tournament myself, and, while the creation screen for the tournament seems straightforward, I was never able to get it working. If you have a lot of friends far away or know people around the world, it’s a nice feature to have. But if you have a lot of friends much closer who also own Switches, you may be interested in playing wirelessly. This allows two players per Switch to race with up to four Switches for a total of eight players. A common complaint of this mode is the ability to not use four players per Switch; however, I believe it was designed this way to be instantly accessible. Perhaps a patch for four players wireless play may come out down the road.

Is Deluxe worth it if you already have Mario Kart 8?

Overall Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is its own racing game. It may share the same tracks and many characters as Mario Kart 8, but it brings a lot of great things to the table. Its new characters and karts, its improved ease-of-use features, and a much more fleshed Battle Mode make it a wonderful game. If you’ve played the original Mario Kart 8 and are skilled at Mario Kart, especially if you purchased the DLC, I would imagine that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe may not appeal to you now. But for newcomers and especially the more casual racers, I’m sure that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just the thing they need to enhance their racing experience. As the Switch continues its journey and becomes more popular, I have no doubt Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be one of the games every Switch owner will want to play.

I have no doubt Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will be one of the games every Switch owner will want to play. But spending another $70 to play a game you’ve already played? That may be a steep price to pay.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed the smart steering and auto accelerate, and the Battle Mode improvements are quite fun. However, I can’t seem to grasp the controls as easily as I could on the Wii U. And if I had to weigh the advantages of spending another US$70 to play a game that I’ve already purchased and played? That may a bit of a steep price to pay.

Score 8/10
Chloe Kirk
Chloe Kirk was once a game developer but decided it was much more practical to spend her time managing the work instead of doing it! When not traipsing around Hyrule, she’s lending her hand as an avid game healer.