Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: The return of the king

  • The definitive version of Mario Kart 8
  • Wonderful tracks and characters with beautiful graphics
  • Battle mode is everything we wanted the first time around
  • Rubberbanding will frustrate every player from time to time
  • Mario Kart 8 veterans may not have enough to warrant another purchase
  • Too expensive for a re-release of a three year old game

That I'm sitting here in 2017 and writing a review of Mario Kart 8 definitely seems strange. I have played this game before – a lot – and now I'm revisiting the same game under very different circumstances. Nintendo, recognizing that the original release of Mario Kart 8 likely missed a lot folks because it was released on the Wii U (a console not many people had), has re-released the game on the Nintendo Switch as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, packing in some extra racers, modes, and all the DLC that was released for the original game. Do the extras make Mario Kart 8 Deluxe worth a second purchase?

The good news is that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch is just as good as Mario Kart 8 was on the Wii U. That is to say: very good. Awesome, even. I spent hundreds of hours with the original release on Wii U and none of the fun I had when I first played it three years ago has diminished. It is, in my mind, the best Mario Kart entry ever created.

That's why I'm happy to see this game releasing for the Switch. Mario Kart 8 deserves so much more than the meager audience the Wii U could provide it. True, Mario Kart 8 was one of the best-selling Wii U titles, but the console only managed to hit 13.5 million units sold worldwide by the time everything was said and done, putting a rather low ceiling on the number of possible Mario Kart 8 players. With the Switch selling well and the Nintendo faithful greeting it with a renewed energy, things look much brighter for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

If you've never played Mario Kart 8 and you've enjoyed any of the previous installments, then this is an easy decision: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe absolutely deserves a spot in your library. Even if it would be your first introduction to the Mario Kart series in general, this is still a must-have. I'm not even a huge racing fan and I still count Mario Kart 8 among my favorite games. That's how good it is, and I say without hesitatation that Nintendo has crafted one of the best arcade racers around in Mario Kart 8.

If you still need a little more convincing, allow me to run through everything Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers. There are a whopping 48 tracks in all, split up into 16 different cups. You'd think that with so many tracks, some of them would be lackluster, but that doesn't really end up being the case. Considering that roughly one third to one half of them are remakes of tracks from previous Mario Kart games, we can already expect a certain level of quality. The new tracks don't disappoint either, and I can't say that I dislike racing on any of them.

Part of that is due to the fact that the game just looks so beautiful. While the original ran at 720p, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe runs at 1080p when you're playing in TV mode. This is a welcome bump up in resolution, and sometimes it takes a lot of focus to keep your eyes on the road and resist gawking at the environments you're racing through. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is colorful and vibrant, and serves as a welcome palate cleanser after spending some time with more mature games that have limited color ranges.

There are a total of 42 characters to play as in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, each belonging to a certain weight class that changes the way your vehicle accelerates and handles. Of these, five characters are new, with King Boo, Dry Brones, Bowser Jr., Inking Boy, and Inkling Girl (both from Splatoon) joining the fray. Mario Kart 8's roster spans more Nintendo franchises than ever before – the usual suspects such as Mario, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi are there, but they're joined by Link, characters from Animal Crossing, and even the Koopa Kids. Needless to say, most people will have difficult time choosing their favorite racer (though the best is clearly Link).

As if you didn't already have enough options, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also features dozens of different vehicle parts that allow to form a ton of different combinations. You'll get to choose your kart's body, wheels, and glider in an attempt to find a balance between five different vehicle stats: speed, acceleration, weight, traction, and handling. Between characters and kart composition, the number of customization options you have is immense, and it's fun figuring out which combinations work with your preferred character and which ones don't.

In the original Mario Kart 8, you had to unlock almost everything in the game. This time around, most of it is unlocked from the first time you boot up the game, save for your vehicle parts and Gold Mario. You need to unlock those through regular play, though vehicle parts unlock quickly enough. As someone who already went through the process of unlocking all of the characters and tracks in the original Mario Kart 8, I think this was a great decision on Nintendo's part, and new players get the benefit of being able to dive right into (almost) everything Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has to offer.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also changes the original's formula in a seemingly slight way that actually has some big implications. With this re-release, you can now carry two items as you race – something we haven't really seen since Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube. You can't switch between the items at will, which is kind of a bummer, but this gives you more options when it comes to combating the game's obvious rubberbanding.

Let's divert a little bit to cover rubberbanding, as it's usually the elephant in the room when we're talking about Mario Kart. For those unfamiliar with the concept, rubberbanding is the game's way of making sure that one person can't just dominate the race from start to finish. In other words: those further behind will typically get better items than those who are leading the pack, giving those bringing up the rear a chance to move up in position.

Nowhere is rubberbanding more obvious than in the fabled blue shell (or spiked shell, as Nintendo likes to call it). The blue shell's only purpose is to seek out the player who is currently in first place and sideline them for a few seconds, allowing others to catch up. Meanwhile, those in first and second tend to find items that noticeably less powerful, like coins, banana peels, or green shells, which can't be targeted but instead need to be aimed. While some of these are good at staving off incoming threats, coins in particular are useless when it comes to maintaining your lead.

Being able to hold two items helps with this, as it means you can hold onto a second items to help defend your position. While this tweak makes the race more fun for everyone, it ends up seeming like a small buff to those in second or first position, and that's certainly a great change for anyone who has been on the wrong side of rubberbanding.

Rubberbanding is, perhaps, the biggest argument against Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It can be very, very frustrating to be dominating a race only to be hit by a barrage of shells as you close in on the finish line. While I've definitely raged such events before, I keep coming back for more, so I can't say it ruins the game for me. I won't excuse it, because honestly trying to justify rubberbanding doesn't really make much sense, but I won't say that it diminishes my enjoyment by any significant amount.

Aside from those new racers and the ability to hold two items at once, the biggest addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is definitely the revamped battle mode. If you've already played Mario Kart 8, this is the biggest reason to buy it again on the Switch. Fans rightly complained about the lackluster battle mode in the original, but here it's in full form and it's excellent.

There are five games to play in battle mode. The first is Balloon Battle, which is maybe the most familiar to someone who put a lot of time into Mario Kart 64. The premise is simple: you have five balloons floating behind your kart and getting hit by another player makes you lose one. Destroying other players' balloons gives you points, and you win if you score the most points during the match.

To me, the most interesting battle game is Renegade Roundup. In this game, players are split into two teams – renegades and authorities. Renegades have to avoid the authorities, which have piranha plants attached to the front of their cars that will capture the renegades if they get to close.

Captured renegades are placed in a cell floating above the arena, though renegades who are still free can release their teammates by driving over a switch. Renegades win if at least one of them is still free by the time the clock runs out, while authorities win if they capture everyone on the opposing team.

Other modes include Bob-omb Blast, which is like a standard Balloon Battle except all the item boxes hold Bob-ombs (this is a particularly hectic mode), and Coin Rush, which tasks players with collecting more coins than their opponents to win. Finally, we have Shine Thief, a keep-away game where the goal is to hold onto a Shine for as long as you can while other players try to take it away from you.

These games are played on a total of 8 arenas, with three of them being recreations of arenas from previous games. All of the modes and arenas are great, and this new battle mode in general really gives Mario Kart 8 Deluxe much more longevity after you tire of playing standard races. The only complaint is that we didn't have it sooner.


So the big question now is whether or not Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is worth a buy. For those who never played the original Wii U version, the answer is absolutely yes. This is a must-have for your library and the addition of battle mode makes this the definitive version of Mario Kart 8.

What if you've already played Mario Kart 8 before, though? Honestly, I think there's enough additional value here to warrant another purchase, provided you didn't play Mario Kart 8 to death the first time around. If you did, you can probably get away with skipping this, but as one of those people who did play a ton of Mario Kart 8 the first time around, I have to say that I've been greatly enjoying this second romp on the Switch.

Still, there are a few complaints. No one really likes rubberbanding, and I think that $60 is too much to charge for a repackaged game that's three years old. $40 would have been a much better price for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, because then it becomes an easier decision for people who have already played the game.

In the grand scheme of things, though, those gripes are relatively minor. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best Mario Kart game released thus far, and in my opinion, it deserves a spot in every Switch owner's library, whether they're newcomers or returning veterans.