Preview: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Published by Jack Taylor February 12, 2017
We went for a spin with Mario Kart 8's bigger, better sibling ahead of its April release.
Mario Kart is a staple of every Nintendo system, and of course, Nintendo Switch will be no different. A new entry, one that was noted as being strikingly similar to Mario Kart 8 for Wii U, was teased during the Switch's debut trailer - still, any Mario Kart game close to a system's launch is a welcome addition to the library. As it turns out, this new game looks like Mario Kart 8 because it is, in a way - a much-enhanced version called Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with new characters and a return to the Battle Mode of old, among other additions. We went for a spin with it at the Nintendo Switch UK Premiere, and we were very impressed.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe features all of the content from the original game, including the two content packs that were later released, adding new tracks and characters for players to enjoy. In addition, five new characters and three new vehicle parts have been added, including Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl, and two Splatoon-themed vehicles. That totals 48 tracks across 12 grands prix and 41 characters - male and female Villagers now have separate icons on the roster - with Inkling Boy and Inkling Girl making their racing debuts and Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, and King Boo all returning to the series. Furthermore, you'll be able to choose from three different-coloured outfits for each Inkling, while as in the original after purchasing both additional content packs, Yoshi and Shy Guy both have nine colour options. One very cool thing we noticed with the Splatoon vehicles - the Inkstriker and the Splat Buggy - is that when you boost, rather than flames bursting out of your exhaust, you'll get spurts of ink instead. It's a little touch, but one we immediately liked.
The main pull of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is likely going to be its Battle Mode - unlike the original game, which swapped bespoke battlegrounds for standard race courses, the Deluxe offering includes classic battle options and a selection of special courses. Battle Stadium and Urchin Underpass are two new additions, while SNES Battle Course 1 and GCN Luigi's Mansion return from classic entries in the series. Two modes have been revealed: Balloon Battle sets all players up with five balloons, and you'll get a point for each balloon you pop; Bob-omb Blast uses the same rules, except with only Bob-ombs available to use, creating havoc and mayhem wherever you go.
To complement the new battle modes, two returning fan-favourite items from previous Mario Kart instalments have also been revealed. One of these is Boo, which lets you steal another player's item and become invisible for a short while, making you immune to anything you might hit or that might hit you. The second returning item is the Feather from Super Mario Kart, which is included in Battle Mode, and lets you jump over low walls and items that are in your way. You can even use it to jump over an opposing character and steal one of their balloons - particularly handy when you're running low, or - if you're feeling particularly evil - when they've only one left.
We were also able to sample some good old racing, both in an 8-player local multiplayer race and in a 2-player split-screen race. Regardless of which screen you're playing on, the game looks sublime - it plays in full 1080p HD on the TV and makes full use of the Switch's incredible 720p screen as well. One of the tracks we played on was GCN Yoshi's Island, and even the jump from Wii U to Switch is noticeable, as the game looks fantastic whichever screen you're using. In local multiplayer, played on the Switch itself, each player has their own screen - something we missed in the Wii U version, which wouldn't let you use the TV and GamePad screens separately in two-player modes. In addition, as always, up to four players are able to play split-screen on the same console.
Whether you're going to play at home or on the go, there are a couple of control options for you, which are generally very similar to previous games in the series, making it really easy to jump into some quick racing. We played local multiplayer in handheld mode - in which the two Joy-Con are attached to the Switch - and it was intuitive as it is on Wii U, if not moreso thanks to the fact that the Joy-Con R swaps the control stick and ABXY button placement compared to the Wii U GamePad. You're also able to play with both Joy-Con in the included grip, or with the Pro Controller. Your other option, if you're playing with at least one other person, is for each player to use a single Joy-Con held on its side. Thanks to the fact that they have SL and SR buttons "on top" when held sideways, you still have a full button set, making it incredibly easy to quickly play multiplayer. Some steering wheel accessories for the Joy-Con will also be available separately, and not only are these very comfortable to hold, they also have bigger SL and SR triggers on the back, making them easy to use as well.
There are a couple of other additions to the game that we know about thus far, as well. A new Smart Steering feature is included, making it easier for new players and novices to stay on the track at high speeds - handy, when 200cc is now included as standard. We'd expect this to be a more built-upon version of the automatic drifting seen in Mario Kart Wii, which meant players didn't need to drift themselves as it was done for them, although it sounds as though this driving option will potentially provide more assistance with driving and staying on the road. Another returning feature, last seen in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, is the ability to hold two items at once, and double item blocks are also back as part of this. It means that you're able to keep another item in store while you're holding a banana skin or a shell behind you for protection, which in Mario Kart 8 meant you couldn't pick up another item.
It's great to see a Mario Kart title so close to the launch of Nintendo's newest system, and reissuing a bigger, better version of one of their latest and greatest is a pretty smart idea, given the Wii U's relatively small install base. We've played Mario Kart 8 to death for the best part of 3 years now, and the Deluxe outing breathes fresh life into an already impressive experience. For those players who might have already gotten everything out of the Wii U game and have already bought the add-on content, it's worth considering whether or not to go for this version as well, but it seems likely that this will be a strong recommendation for Switch's racing newbies. We look forward to learning more and seeing the final product.