- Single Player, Multiplayer, Co-op
- Nintendo Switch
As I type up my review, fresh from a cold yet heartwarming day at GeekFest 2017, my strongest memory is the Nintendo stand – a mass of humanity huddled around the various Nintendo Switch’s, clamouring for a go on Mario Kart 8 deluxe. Eager punters challenging newcomers to best the leaderboard, not out of competition, but a genuine need to share this joy with others.
Releasing what is essentially a ‘Game of The Year’ edition of 2014’s critically-acclaimed Mario Kart 8, on their shiny new console instead of a new Mario Kart might seem like a strange choice, however, I am glad to say that Nintendo has made enough tweaks and upgrades to warrant the purchase. It works because unlike a remaster of Super Mario 3D world where the core experience doesn’t change, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is less about celebrating individual track design (or marvelling in the upgrades to old favourites) and more about the joy of racing karts.
I’ve been a fan of the series since Mario Kart 64 (arguably the best multiplayer game on the console that doesn’t rhyme with Shmoldeneye) and even though it’s been almost 20 years since my first green shell, I am far from catching Kart-fatigue (then again, Nintendo doesn’t have Call of Duty’s annual publishing cycle).
Out of the box, you have access to 42 playable entries and 48 courses, with no grinding to unlock characters. You still need to collect coins to unlock vehicle parts, so it isn’t completely open from the start (Crossing fingers to unlock the Mercedes Benz SL300 Roadster body). I never purchased the DLC for Mario Kart 8 (I don’t usually purchase DLC unless it’s something like Witcher 3: Blood and Wine) so was chuffed to play as Link (even though I reverted back to my number one, Bowser, after the third cup). It’s important to note for newcomers that there are three different character classes, playing to different strengths, and the car bodies, tyres and gliders are not merely cosmetic and have an effect on driving. While not having the same impact as a Call of Duty loadout, it is worth experimenting to see what works for you. Personally, I prefer the ATV to a kart or bike, but I try and switch it up now and then.
Newcomers can also take advantage of smart steering and automatic acceleration as balancing weapons and trying to drive can be overwhelming at first. This is a great feature and should go some way to ensuring there’s a low barrier to entry. Heads up though – this was switched on by default, which kinda spooked me out when I put the joycon down to reply to a tweet. The ability to pick up two items has returned ( this feature was last on the Gamecube version) and while I enjoy the addition, I wonder why Nintendo has not given players the ability to swap between them. This would make the game a little more strategic so I hope they introduce it in a patch.
Three years on and the game is still a wonder to behold (ageing about as well as Grand Theft Auto 5 – didn’t expect to reference that in this review) and looks wonderful on both the big screen and the small. I haven’t played Breath of the Wild so Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was the first time I took the Switch off the dock and carried it out of the house so that I could keep playing. I spend a lot of time travelling for work, and with the decreased load times compared to the Wii U version, as well as addictive battle modes (more on this below), I see the Switch becoming as essential as my tablet when I’m away from home. I took it to a mate’s place last week and within minutes we were battling it out, trying to beat each other. The ‘play anywhere’ is literally like the commercials I’ve seen on YouTube, and the small screen doesn’t hinder the experience whatsoever. Very excited to take the console down to Durban and play with my niblings. They love Mario Kart on their DS so it will be fun to beat worthy opponents.
Mario Kart games often suffer from ‘rubber-banding’, where the AI catch up to you no matter your lead. I understand why this would be programmed into a game to simulate tension but is often frustrating and undermines the skill used to amass said lead. I’m glad that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t appear to do this, and while it may occasionally get lonely in front (in 50 cc), it’s a rarity on higher difficulties.
While the Switch allows you to play with various controllers, including well-designed steering wheels (for added motion control immersion), I was disappointed that my Wii U Pro controller was not supported. I don’t have the Switch Pro but found that the Joy-Con grip was the best option (the stand-alone Joy-Cons that you use for two players weren’t great for extended play, and I felt some discomfort in my palm due to the Z-Trigger). I wasn’t sold on motion control as it affected input fidelity and felt gimmicky but I’m sure some players would opt for it (assumably a younger crowd, a much younger crowd).
While you could play with the Gamepad on the Wii U, I much prefer having a controller that’s separate to the screen. Above is a pic of me playing, using the Joy-Con grips while my wife watches terrible Adam Sandler movies on Netflix. Win-win.
After besting a few slower Grand Prix’s I tried my hand at 200 cc (previously available only once you gold the Grand Prix’s in Mario Kart 8). This was pure torture as I constantly lost control of my vehicle and saw Lakitu pull me up more times than I could count. It’s basically a Dark Souls mod, and should only be attempted by Mario Kart gods. After that humbling experience and a few 50 cc races to restore my bruised ego, I jumped into online. I don’t usually play online with strangers but Mario Kart is such an enjoyable experience and so unpredictable when you’re playing against sentient beasts that I’m probably going to make it a weekly staple. My only gripe with online is that I can’t choose to display a South African flag and that there’s no chat option – a non-issue for me as I don’t chat to strangers but strangely regressive.
Battle mode makes a welcome return to the franchise and you’re gifted with five enjoyable modes, with 8 battle maps to experience them in. I was very familiar with Balloon Battle from my N64 days, so I didn’t spend much time there, instead opting for Renegade Roundup, which pits you and your crew against Piranha Plant wielding po po. This single mode was more fun than the entire Need for Speed Rivals career. I also enjoyed Shine Thief (a take on hold the parcel) and Bob-omb Blast.
I love what Nintendo did with Super Mario Maker, adding challenges in the individual stages to enhance replay value. I wish they considered that for this game (e.g drift a total of 10 seconds) or discover three shortcuts etc) as it would have enhanced an already polished product. Perhaps something for the sequel.
The challenge for Nintendo seems to be attracting new players to the fold. The company is built on strong franchises, and while they are often dismissed for playing into nostalgia at the cost of innovation, I think that’s an unfair and reductionist sentiment. I wish more people gave Nintendo a chance because they produce magic, and should be celebrated.
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