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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's improved Battle Mode is bound to bring out some people's inner child in the best way (this author very much included). As for the rest of the racing action, the tight and polished multiplayer action is as good as it's ever been - and the ability to take it on-the-go is like a dream come true.
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When I first took Mario Kart 8 Deluxe into portable mode, all I could think was, “Man, we’ve come a long way since Super Circuit.” To be fair, that Game Boy Advance classic is 16 years old, but I can remember thinking at the time that the developers at Nintendo had a long way to go before they’d accurately be able to bring fun Karting action to a portable system (I wasn’t exactly a fan, as you might have guessed). But here we are: it’s 2017, and the latest, massive console game – and easily the most beautiful Mario Kart ever — can be taken with you wherever you want to play it.

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I’m leading off with this because it’s the best part of the Mario Kart 8 re-release for me, someone who already thoroughly enjoyed the gravity-bending antics of the 2014 Wii U original. The other new stuff is great, to be sure – in particular, the new Battle mode represents an incredible improvement – but it all feels rather minor compared to the boon of being able to lift the Switch out of its dock and continue racing. This is, in my eyes, the most polished entry in the series, bringing together a set of fun new courses and well-curated old favorites with unmatched visual clarity (in 1080p, 60 frames per second when docked and 720p/60 when portable) and a rollicking, toe-tapping soundtrack produced with live instrumentation.

Essentially what I’m saying is, whether you enjoyed the original game or have yet to play it, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is already worth a look based solely on the virtue of the original’s qualities made portable. But then there are those extras. In the original 8, the classic Battle mode feel was stripped of its goofy charm thanks to Nintendo simply repurposing the racing courses and adding balloons, etc. It was a lame replacement, one that I personally felt would have been better not included at all… but it’s all been fixed with this re-release on Switch, and we’ve got the sort of properly designed wide-open courses that work best with Battle mode. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t the first thing I jumped into the moment the game loaded; and honestly, I can’t remember the last time I laughed aloud and talked back to the screen so much.

To be sure, Battle mode isn’t as polished as the normal racing, and I can’t really disagree with its detractors — it really is kind of dopey, mindless fun, mostly devoid of strategy. And yet it brought me right back to my childhood, when the word “multiplayer” meant my friends and I gathered around a couch, beating the stuffing out of each other in Mario Party, Mario Kart or Smash Bros. with little thought to strategy or even competition. We lived for the fun of the game, for the laughter of the ridiculous experiences we would surely encounter, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘s superbly silly Battle mode – which includes such fun additions as text alerts that let you know who hit you (so you can properly go after Pink Gold Peach for revenge) – reminded me of that innocent joy in a way that I needed given the oft-challenging reality of the game industry as an adult.

There are some neat changes to the main racing modes in Deluxe, as well. Most notable among these is that, save for one character, all courses, modes (from 50cc to Mirror mode and the blistering 200cc) and racers are unlocked right from the very start — including those that were optional DLC in the original release. Joining this batch of greats and not-so-greats for the first time are the Inkling Boy and Girl straight outta Splatoon, although it’s a shame that they don’t get their own regular racing course (they do get a Battle arena, but it would have been neat to see a mind-bending track a la Splatoon the same way Zelda, Animal Crossing and F-Zero got represented). At first, I thought not having to unlock any of these things would remove some of the fun, but with a slew of Kart parts to nab with your hard-earned Coins, that worry ended up being unfounded.

Other changes include a few wrinkles to the main gameplay mechanics. Players are now able to hold two items (a callback to Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, but without the dual-seat action), and there are “double item boxes” to account for this change. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to swap between the items you’re holding, adding a little bit of risk-reward since you have to empty your main slot in order to access your second item.

There’s also a special third level of drift boosting accessible, and I had a lot of fun trying to find areas where I could slide along enough to build up the special pink flames that indicate it’s ready to go. Perhaps to more technical players’ dismay, the ability to “fire hop” (an exploit used to keep boosts running longer in the original Mario Kart 8) seems to have been removed. Personally, I prefer things like this remain out of games meant to be as accessible as possible, so I see it as a highly positive change.

But again, I must reiterate, the best part of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is simply being able to take the extremely polished and fun gameplay of the original on the go with you. Whether you’re racing with CPU opponents, online foes or a group of nearby friends, the splendid course design and gorgeous graphical fidelity of this latest entry in the Kart series makes it — in my eyes — the definitive console and portable experience for this beloved franchise.

This review is based on the Nintendo Switch exclusive, which we were provided with.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's improved Battle Mode is bound to bring out some people's inner child in the best way (this author very much included). As for the rest of the racing action, the tight and polished multiplayer action is as good as it's ever been - and the ability to take it on-the-go is like a dream come true.

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