The rumours you’ve heard are true ㅡ Mario Kart is back. Of course, if you’re one of those brave souls (like Rob) who boarded the good ship Wii U (and continues paddling even as it begins to take on water…), Mario and friends never left. This new Deluxe version, only available on the Nintendo Switch, offers a few extra bells and whistles to try to entice the die-hards, but, putting that aside, this game threatens to be the definitive Mario Kart experience of all time.
Now, if you’ve followed us up to this point and you’re enjoying your foray into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe so far ㅡ assuming you’ve worked out how to choose the right combination of controllers, as there’s no prompt to choose which control setup you prefer, regardless of what you’re using when you turn the game on ㅡ one thing you might not have yet realised is that this game literally plays itself.
We’re talking about the auto drive and auto steer options, which are enabled by default and about more than just slamming on the breaks as you go careering into a corner, something which you might have experienced in the likes of Forza (though, admittedly, these games are worlds apart). In fact, the aids will effectively drive the entire course for you if you want them to, meaning the barrier of entry for the game has never been lower.
This does make sense, as it’s a game which should bring families together in front of the TV (or crowded ‘round the Switch) like nothing other than Doctor Who or another ill-fated World Cup match has done in years gone by, but if you’re trying to get the feel of the game it can be distracting to notice the computer wrestling some of your freedom away. The story is the same with motion controls, which are oddly disabled by default, but work effectively in any controller configuration; that said, playing in portable mode with the Joy-Cons attached to the screen can be a tad disorienting.
It might seem like things are a little bit hectic so far. Really this is one of the main emotions you feel when getting into the game for the first time, even on its slowest speed (and, therefore, lowest difficulty), as there’s an awful lot to take in. Does it get easier once you’ve got your head around it all? Yes, and it gets even better.
Depending on how confident you are, a run through each of the 12 cups will give you enough experience to feel like you’re fully in control, and the confidence to believe that you aren’t actually half bad at the game. Upping the difficulty can make all the difference, of course, particularly when combined with the game’s mirror mode, which poses a mental challenge as all the courses are ㅡ you guessed it ㅡ mirrored.
The AI unfortunately doesn’t share the same amount of personality and verve as the rest of the game, in that no matter who your rival in a given cup ends up being (it’s usually dictated by which character you choose), they all behave pretty much the same.
Multiplayer helps remedy that issue, however, as you (and a friend, if you have one hanging about) can take on savvy human players the world over in online races (providing you can connect OK). Many of them will relish the opportunity to screw you over at the worst possible moment, which is all part of the fun, but the lack of voice chat and emotes stops you feeling connected to other players, making what could have been raucous fun just an adequate experience.
There are also online tournaments, which Nintendo will hopefully use like the Global Missions in Pokémon Sun and Moon to bring players together, albeit more competitively. Players are able to tweak rules at their leisure, making AI more complicated or restricting what items are available to customise the level of challenge across the currently available roster. It’s a nice thing to have, but not the main event when you consider everything else the game has to offer.
Speaking of which, we’re yet to talk about the revamped battle mode, which is probably the biggest change from the original Wii U release of MK8, and, in many ways, where the most memorable moments will be created. Getting four people together in a room, or more if you have additional Switches handy, to pummel each other with bananas is not to be underestimated.
Getting four people together in a room to pummel each other with bananas is not to be underestimated.
There’s no finish line here, only a variety of surprisingly diverse game modes which involve you getting up close and personal with items. The familiar Balloon Battle is present and accounted for, but there’s also the endearing Renegade Roundup, which pits two teams against each other cops and robbers style, with one team trying to gobble up the other with piranha plants and the others trying desperately to free their friends. Just to reiterate: It’s an absolute blast!
The look, feel and handling of the game itself are all excellent. This is a series which has a lot of history, and Nintendo know how to do it right by now. Everyone has their favourite instalment of the franchise, and it’s nice to see a few things which had taken a break come back in this iteration, but for those coming in fresh, this really is everything Mario Kart has to offer.
While there are flaws, considering Deluxe’s price in comparison to some other Switch titles (we’re looking at you, Super Bomberman R), there’s great value for money on display here. The courses are diverse and interesting, with very few including features that annoy and many boasting interesting tweaks ㅡ The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing-themed courses in particular are a bit of fun.
In short, this is the second essential purchase on the Switch so far, closely following Breath of the Wild, and one which really re-enforces what the new system is designed to be ㅡ something which brings people together, in this instance to argue about who deserved to win after a carefully placed item and a bit of luck turn the tables metres from the finish line.
● Looks stunning & plays brilliantly
● Full of content - good value for money
● Play as Link, but this time on a motorbike
● Could do more to teach new players the ins and outs
● Limited communication options damage the online experience
● Those bloody blue shells!