Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the first time we’ve gotten a Mario Kart game on a new home console in less than a year from release. It’s exciting for new console owners, but to be fair, this is also not an entirely new entry in the series. While MK8D offers features never before seen in previous MK games, it does heavily rely on assets from the original MK8 on Wii U, complicating the feelings loyal Nintendo and MK fans may have towards it.

 

Doing Laps

Before I get into the full review, I want to set aside time to comment on the fact that this is more of an “enhanced” version of the game than a true sequel. While this practice isn’t unheard of for consoles, PC gamers, with our ability to receive online updates and share games across a myriad of computers with different specs, might find this hard to swallow. As someone who bought and paid for the previous entry and all its DLC plus the new game, I can appreciate the enhancement but feel as though I’ve paid too much for what feels like more DLC. Combined with the fact that the new features are not available to Wii U owners, it does feel like Nintendo is milking its customers and fans.

I understand cross-system release titles, like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at this stage of the Nintendo Switch’s life cycle, but giving additional content to an old game, asking consumers to pay full price for it, and then not allowing them access to it on its original, still manufactured console, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If you’re short on cash and have already experienced Mario Kart 8, the deluxe version of the game can be skipped, at least for now. That being said, hardcore karting fans and those who missed out on the previous game should take note, even if you do not yet have a Nintendo Switch.

 

Race Entry

For those who don’t know anything about the Mario Kart series, know that it is the definitive racing series to use when introducing non-gamers to gaming. Casual and even core gamers can also easily enjoy it. Controls tend to be rather simple, as is selecting your character and building a kart. While the stats are displayed on screen for the kart’s body, tires, and glider (yes, you’ll be airborne a bit), hard numbers on the bonuses aren’t displayed, though the difference between the combinations can be felt by even the most casual gamer.

While there are sometimes strange techniques used, mastering the game was something most people could handle through basic gameplay. Players who fall behind can get a speed boost by literally following behind the player in front of them. If they fall too far behind, the game gives them power ups to help make a comeback. It’s a series where being in first for the entire race can still end in your utter defeat right in front of the finish line. Because of this, hardcore gamers sometimes disparage the series as being “too random,” but it’s beloved by many primarily because of this accessibility.

 

New Tools

The game’s even more accessible now than ever before. Not only does the game come with nearly all except one racer and some customizable kart parts, it also includes all the tracks and difficulties from the previous Mario Kart 8 and all of its downloadable content. In addition, it introduces two new series changing features: auto acceleration and smart steering. I’ll talk about battle mode a bit later, but these two features are fairly meaningless in battle mode as battling requires techniques far different from racing.

Auto acceleration isn’t much for regular players. It just means your kart will always move forward, even if you don’t press the acceleration button (which is what you should be doing 99% of the time on most of the game’s difficulties). You won’t automatically get the boost at the start or any help drifting or doing tricks on ramps for boosts, but it’s good for those new to the series.

The smart steering, however, is a real game changer, especially for non-gamers (and some lapsed veterans). It prevents you from driving off-course with a rather light touch, with the only down side being the loss of the new Ultra Mini Turbo (pink sparks, for all vehicles to boot!). The Ultra Mini Turbo takes awhile to set up and is generally reserved for rather large turns. This makes it so that veterans who may not know about smart steering may not even notice when it’s on. The other small issue is that certain short cuts that are slightly off-course aren’t available to you unless you use a boost.

Don’t think of smart steering as complete “easy mode” though. The MK8D brings back MK8’s 200cc, a break-neck speed option that requires the use of the brakes or at least releasing the acceleration. While smart steering may help keep a player on the road in 200cc, it will often result in being stuck in an sort of “limbo,” between being off-course and on, unable to fully accelerate for several seconds until freeing yourself. Combined with the lack of the Ultra Mini Turbo, I’m not too worried about the addition of smart steering. In fact, I welcome it!

Staying on course helps ensure that new player at least have a fighting chance. Combined with the auto acceleration, it gives new players who are poor multi-taskers the chance to try more advanced techniques. I introduced the game to someone who is more at home with puzzle and digital board games, but has played several of the past Mario Karts. Previously, she tended to place last. However, in MK8D, the options freed her to experiment with drifting and ramp tricks, long time features she had never taken advantage of before, even with motion control options. In fact, she even placed 6th on the SNES Rainbow Road on 100cc, which I still think is one of the hardest courses in the series.

 

Tutorial Fail

While the Mario Party series feels like it’s found several options to help new players learn the game with effective in-game tutorials, the newest Mario Kart fails miserably at this for any but series veterans. The game’s manual only includes the most basic of controls on a single page fold out image. There is no online manual, a change from the Wii U era of games. Even worse is the lack of any kind of tips during loading screens.

While the courses may get progressively more difficult in each cup (a collection of four courses), and each cup get more difficult, only series veterans will know the proper order of cup progression (left to right, usually top to bottom). By unlocking everything at the start, new players may feel like, similar to the character screen, all course are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth though. While I thought courses like Baby Park and Excitebike Arena, being very circular with very few traps, pits, or hazards, would be easier thanks to smart steering, my test subject did markedly worse on these courses by placing 10th or lower.

The need to understand mechanics that go unexplained through casual gameplay, like spin boosting and drifting, really divides the newbies from the veterans. Of course, this is only one individual, but I’ve seen similar results online.

 

Online Play

Naturally at MMOGames, a bit part of our coverage is online play. Players can simply jump into a race, where the speed level tends to be 100-150 and randomly selected once player elected courses have (again) been randomly selected from the group. Battlemode works the same with battles being randomly selected. You will have an online rating based on your performance, but I’ve never felt like it’s meant much. The series is known for being random and accessible, so even power players will be cut down to size if they lose favor with the RNG gods. That being said, coins collected online still help players unlock additional parts for their karts, just like solo play and local multiplayer.

Nintendo isn’t known for having solid online gameplay, but it is looking to charge players for it on the Switch this fall. So far, online play does seem to have improved on the Switch. During the first week of release, I experienced very few disconnects, and all of them occurred before the race began. While it can be frustrating to lose connection after having to spectate an entire race, it’s much better than being dropped right before you hit the finish line. It’s also nice that, once again, players can bring one other friend online with them, allowing for simultaneous two-player local gameplay with online play; this is a happy compromise I love experiencing, especially when combined with player made “tournaments” that let normal users select rules like item sets, speed, and whether or not the new smart-options can be used. It would be nice if we could also choose what characters are allowed or the specific items (I dream of an all-turtle shell battle!), but I’ll take what I can get.

As with most Nintendo titles, don’t expect a lot of communication. There’s no voice chat, nor typed responses. For racing, this may not be a big deal, but one of the best selling points of the new MK8D is the revamped battle mode. Gone are the simple race tracks without laps being counted. Players have full, battle mode specialized maps that cater to a more intimate battling experience. Not only has the item-centric Balloon Battle returned with Bob-omb Blast (nearly the same modes, with balloons acting as health, but with the latter restricted to bombs stacking as high as ten at a time), but we have a few new options when compared to MK8.

First is Shine Thief, a kind of mobile King of the Hill where players fight to hold a giant star, which is another Mario Kart: Double Dash! returnee. The idea is simple, but it feels like the most difficult of the battle modes, especially without teams. Players must know how to drive, make use of items, and also strategize against their opponents. Perhaps the single-kart co-op nature of Double Dash’s basic gameplay helped to mask this, but this mode can be very frustrating for newer players who may never touch the star, especially in part because of the large number of opponents.

Next is Coin Runners from Mario Kart Wii. The match is similar to Balloon Battle except that the main object is to collect coins. Much like with offline play, it’s fun enough but reminds me of a lot of coin battles in Smash Bros where players often focus more on killing other players than collecting the bounty. Heaven forbid you stay outside the melee to collect, as you become a larger and larger pinata. This can be fun or frustrating depending on your preference, but as someone who often collects raw materials in FFA PvP games and has to run away from actual warriors, I’m fine with this style of play.

Last but not least is the mode that really got me to pay attention to the game. Renegade Round-Up is cops and robbers Mario Kart style. Although being locked up sucks, it also makes the action more frantic, as you watch those outside trying to help free you. There are several cages players may be held in, and using your horn shows a bit “Help!” on the map. Your team mates simply need to drive under your cage and hit the big button below you to free everyone who is caught in that cage. Conversely, being the cop means patrolling the mean streets hoping you can clean up before someone releases the baddies your team has fought so hard to capture. While the U-turn (hold B while accelerating) is useful in all battle modes, it feels like it’s the most important in this mode. That may sound like it can act as a barrier to entry, but I was freed by several players who (through pre-selected options) mentioned being newbies prior to the match.

 

Gameplay: 10/10

Note that I’ll be rating this game as if it were a stand alone and not a simple enhanced version of the game, though I will comment on how veterans may see things if I feel there’s a difference.

While I’d still love to see a return of Double Dash’s 1 kart 2 players, the new smart steering and auto acceleration really do help make the game more accessible. The former even helps to ease veteran players into the 200cc scene, which in and of itself gives Mario Kart a way to really attract more core racing fans, who can host their own online tournaments without items to focus on more competitive play.

 

Innovation: 10/10

The game’s smart steering is a wonder to behold. It’s a light touch with a huge impact I’d love to see replicated in other games, especially with the way it’s balanced so as to give players a reason to eventually take off the training wheels. Renegade Round-Up is a simple kind of gameplay that I’m surprised hasn’t been seen in MMO battlegrounds.The return of players being able to hold two items at once, combined with the feather and Boo items makes me feel like Nintendo not only learned to not rush their battlemode feature, but to build on it.

 

Community: 6/10

There is very limited “community” feeling, mostly due to the lack of communication. Even if you do find a racer you enjoy playing with, there’s no option to add them to your friend’s list. You can find them under a list of players you’ve played with before, but there’s the sense that they can simply fall off and be lost in the online crowd.

 

Graphics/Sound: 10/10

I’ve never been a big graphics/sound guy, but I will say that I do own the sound track for the last game. New pieces from Splatoon, which had excellent music, only adds to this. Considering graphics are rarely a strong point for cartoony Mario games, seeing the plumber’s denim print, the harsh rain falling in photo-realistic puddles on Neo Bowser City, or the flame effects when blasting past an opponent really makes you wonder what Nintendo could do if they unshackled their artists and allowed them to create PC versions of their games. What’s done on the system’s limited specs is gorgeous to behold and a tribute to Nintendo’s designers and engineers.

 

Value for Money: 10/10

In a void, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is literally a system seller. I stood in line with many other people to purchase both the game and my system on the same day. While I still feel the system is on the expensive side for something that may only last 5-7 years, the game itself is a value when compared to the total cost of Mario Kart 8 and all its DLC.

That being said, if you already own Mario Kart 8 and all its DLC, consider this more of a 5. The new options bring a lot to the table so it feels like it could be a $40 expansion at most. However, Wii U fans are locked out of the new features and forced to purchase a $500+ system; a second controller is really needed, as the Joy Cons being divided into two single controllers really highlight how cramped they feel. Nintendo really is asking a lot of loyal customers who purchased last generation consoles and games, and MK8D feels like a slight to them.

 

Overall: 9/10

Again, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a console seller. If you missed out on the original Mario Kart 8 and have the cash to invest in a Switch now, you owe it to yourself to do so. I was personally hesitant about buying the console, but upcoming online games like Arms and Splatoon made me a bit antsy. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe seemed like a good way to see how Nintendo’s current internet infrastructure would handle stress, and I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far. The game itself is beyond solid and remains one of those games you can use to get non-gamers to enjoy a digital night in. Or out, as the Switch isn’t terrible as a portable console that supports split screen, even if it’s a tad cramped.

Even for those who own the original Mario Kart 8, after re-evaluating my score, I’d still give the game an 8 overall, and I think that says a lot about what’s actually in the game. Plus, we have the Splatoon inklings, Zelda’s Link, and Animal Crossing characters available altogether now, without being in a Smash Bros game. Really, what more do you want?

Pros

+Great game for gamers and non-gamers alike

+Robust, online battlemode

+Smart steering acts as training wheels even vets can appreciate

+Custom tournaments

+It’s portable and can go online

 

Cons

-Online communication and friend-adding is lacking

-Poor tutorial

-Have to buy a Nintendo Switch for what amounts to a Wii U game’s data-independent expansion

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