It’s almost unprecedented for a games franchise to still be going strong 25 years after making its debut, but August 27 this year will mark a quarter century since Super Mario Kart first appeared on the Super Nintendo. Of course, Mario Kart isn’t any old game – many have tried to emulate its heady mix of instant accessibility, irresistible cuteness and the utter brutality which manifests itself when the red and blue shells start flying.
A reworked version of the Wii U's Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the biggest Mario Kart game ever, thanks to the fact that Nintendo has added all the (originally paid-for) downloadable content it created for the title's previous incarnation. That includes 16 new tracks, all of which are excellent with some standing out as all-time classics – the four Triforce tracks, including the Zelda-themed Hyrule Castle (in which coins have been replaced by green rupees) are particularly noteworthy. Plus there are new characters to play as, including Inklings from Splatoon, and an array of new karts and kart-parts, including a number of Mercedes-branded ones.
But what really surprises about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is that Nintendo has had the courage to make some small but significant tweaks which significantly impact gameplay. Among those is the introduction of double-item boxes, stacked on top of each other, which net you two items when you drive over them. You can’t pick which one to use first or switch between them, but they prove extremely handy, and add an extra tactical element when everyone makes a beeline for them.
The drift-boost which builds up to earn you a speed-injection as you drift around long corners has also acquired a third stage – it now goes from blue to orange to purple, with the latter launching you in a most satisfying manner. The Boo item, absent from Mario Kart 8 – which lets you steal rivals’ items – has also made a welcome return. With 23 items, 48 tracks and 42 playable characters, the game racks up some serious numbers. The 200cc class, adding a significant speed-boost over the previous fastest 150cc class, and which was added to Mario Kart 8 as an updatek is also present and correct. Complete all of its 48 tracks in the classic Grand Prix racing mode, and you will unlock a bonus character. Otherwise, all the drivers are unlocked from the start, but as you accumulate coins, you unlock new karts and kart-parts.
One clear area in which Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has the edge over its predecessor is Battle mode. Previously the least compelling aspect of the game – Mario Kart’s pure racing gameplay always felt more or less impossible to top – Nintendo has completely revamped it so that now, Battle mode provides plenty of fun, appealing party-gaming. Which chimes nicely with the Switch’s return to the party-gaming values of the original Wii.
There’s a new Battle mode game called Renegade Roundup, taking the total number of Battle mode games to five. It’s also, in our opinion, the best of the lot. Competing players are essentially split into cops and robbers, and the 'cops' are given Piranha Plants. If the 'robbers' get chomped, they are transported to a jail from which any of your team-mates who managed to evade their pursuers can spring you, by driving over a trigger-button.
Balloon Battle, in which you must preserve a number of balloons attached to your kart, has been made more inclusive – instead of being knocked out when you lose your last balloon, you’re apportioned points based on how many balloons you have at the end of each round. Coin Runners, Shine Thief and Bob-omb Blast (in which everyone gets their own explosion-colour, so you can see who is blowing up whom) are all great fun to play and all the modes are perfect for post-pub party action.
The online side of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, introduced for Mario Kart 8, works as seamlessly and in as fuss-free a manner as its predecessor, although it would have been nice if Nintendo had taken the opportunity to jazz it up slightly – the ranking system, in which everyone starts with 1,000 points and wins or loses points according to where they finish in races or battles is a little bland, and it would have been nice to have had some new stock phrases to pick while in the lobby.
But those are really the only criticisms that could be levelled at the game. It looks magnificent – even better than the Wii U version – with a stunning level of crispness and the best textures we’ve ever seen in a Nintendo game. Its gameplay, honed over a quarter of a century, is simply irresistible, and even youngsters who find it too hard for their nascent motor skills to cope with have been catered for, with an auto-accelerate driving aid, and steering assist which will intervene if they are about to plummet off the side of a track.
Surely no other game caters so impressively for a clientele that ranges from those who never play games, right up to aspiring e-sports ninjas. And thanks to the Switch’s versatility and portability, it’s dead easy to set up epic Mario Kart 8 Deluxe competitions in local multiplayer mode. As ever, it supports four-player split-screen play, and it’s possible to connect three Switches wirelessly, allowing 12 people to take each other on. All each player needs to get up and running is one Joy-Con.
After 25 years, Mario Kart has deservedly earned a legendary status in the videogames pantheon, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best version of the game Nintendo has ever made. It is, simply, universally irresistible, and an absolute must-buy if you own a Switch.