There’s a lot riding on “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.”
The latest entry in the venerable franchise is the first major game released for the Nintendo Switch since the console launched alongside “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” Although the system is starting to feature a solid lineup of indie games, it will live and die on the strength of first and third-party releases.
Time will tell whether “Deluxe” reinvents the “Mario Kart” wheel. But after spending a few days with it, we found the game to be an essential, although occasionally frustrating entry for the Switch.
It’s important to note that “Deluxe” isn’t a true “Mario Kart” sequel. The game is a port of the Wii U’s “Mario Kart 8,” as it features virtually everything found in that game. It was smart for Nintendo to bring back all of “Mario Kart 8’s” characters, karts, levels and modes, including the ultra-fast 200cc mode.
Unfortunately, though, the game’s troublesome online mode also made the switch to “Deluxe.”
“Mario Kart” games are enjoyed most when friends are involved, but sometimes online play is the only way to connect. And although it’s possible to play “Deluxe” online with a friend, Nintendo currently doesn’t offer built-in voice chat, and the game’s matchmaking system is strikingly bland.
Furthermore, the fact there’s no way to invite friends to join your matches is an archaic move from a gaming company that prides itself on being innovative.
That said, playing “Deluxe” offline is something the Switch was made for. Surprisingly, the Joy-Cons on their own are perfectly fine controllers, although they’re admittedly a little small. Also, propping the Switch up on its kickstand and playing multiplayer while, say, the NBA playoffs are on in the background, is the greatest example yet of what make’s the system so unique.
The biggest difference between “Deluxe” and “Mario Kart 8” is the revamped Battle Mode. Following its predecessor’s frustratingly limited offering, “Deluxe” provides the series’ most dense and exciting Battle Mode yet.
Balloon Battle, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners and Renegade Roundup all are great, action-packed modes. Renegade Roundup is the real star, as players must fend off opponents or break teammates out of jail in what amounts to “Mario Kart’s” version of cops and robbers. Again, though, all of these great modes aren’t nearly as exciting when played online.
From a presentation standpoint, “Deluxe” is nothing short of stunning. The graphics, gameplay and soundtrack all are fantastic. Although all of the game’s levels were available on Wii U, they look even better on the Switch, with every tiny detail given the chance to pop.
Overall, “Deluxe” shines, but its future might be brighter. Nintendo has embraced the current trend of releasing games with the intention of improving and adding to them with future updates, and they might do it better than any other developer.
As it stands right now, “Deluxe” is a very satisfying game. But it has room to grow, and Nintendo has given us every reason to believe they will give “Mario Kart” the treatment it deserves.
Thumbnail photo via Nintendo