When we reviewed Mario Kart 8 back around its release on Wii U, it's fair to say that we liked it a lot. Now it's back in a new Deluxe package on the Switch, and Nintendo's flagship racer is in better shape than it has ever been before.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe lands on Nintendo's new console complete with nearly 50 tracks, more than 40 playable characters, loads of interchangeable car parts, fresh and returning modes, and subtle changes that make the game more challenging for the best of the best, and increasingly accessible for newcomers. Notably, it takes advantage of the Switch's unique design, and we enjoyed playing two-player races on the train with the Joy-Con controllers, almost as much as we did playing locally on the big screen, where it looks sharper than ever thanks to crisp 1080p visuals and a steady frame-rate that rests around 60 FPS.
There are new features and additions to tell you about; some subtle and gameplay-enhancing, others adding more variety from a visual/cosmetic perspective. The most impactful addition is that you can now hold two items at once. You can't switch between your items at will, but you can pick up two at a time (be careful, though, as other racers will target the double pickup too) and potentially give yourself two tricks to help you stay ahead of the chasing pack, or, you know, catch up with the leaders. There are also two new items, with the item-stealing Boo in there for races, and a feather that'll help you jump higher in the Battle modes.
In terms of the actual racing, the 200cc mode that dropped as DLC for MK8 is included (in fact, all of the DLC from the original is here, even the Mercedes-Benz one). On top of that, things get even faster thanks to an all-new third tier for boost, so sliding around those corners for longer will now get you the pink boost. Those who play at the fastest speeds will have to recalibrate their approach a little to make the most out of this subtle new addition, so there's something there for hardcore fans to contend with, even if it's a relatively minor adjustment in the grand scheme of things.
At the other end of the skill spectrum, there's a new smart steering feature that makes the game more accessible for new and younger players. Seasoned veterans won't look twice at this, but if you've got little racers at home, this feature basically keeps players on the track, allowing them to compete at a higher level than they otherwise would. In one move it turns Mario Kart 8 into genuine family fun, where even players as young as four years old can have a good time and feel like they're involved in the action.
If you're in a competitive family, or if you've got friends who like to venture online or gather for local multiplayer shenanigans, then you might want to take to the arena and check out one of the eight new courses designed solely with competitive play in mind. There are five modes, including one that's completely new to the franchise: Renegade Roundup. This new mode is basically cops and robbers in Mario Kart form, with one team trying to catch the other, locking them in cages until they're either rescued by those still on the run, or all of them are behind bars together.
While this new mode is fine, we had more fun with some of the returning classics, including Balloon Battle and Coin Runners (both of which have self-explanatory titles). Bob-omb Blast has you lobbing ticking bombs at your opponents, while Shine Thief has players scrapping over the titular shine, with the first one to hold it for a certain period of time emerging as the winner. All told there's a decent mix of modes, and they work fine locally over two or four-player split screen, and online (while we admit that it's early days and servers were relatively empty, everything seemed to be working smoothly ahead of launch, and getting into games is easy).
Heading back into the realm of racing, there are time trials available for all 48 courses, and a dozen cups that are made up of four tracks each, each one playable in 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, mirror, and 200cc. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe certainly isn't lacking in terms of content, and if you were to find yourself addicted to its blend of characterful racers and quirky track design, you'd have lots to master and almost endless replayability.
The main thing that will drive your addiction, beyond the thrill of overtaking your opponents or the joy of stealing a win with a well-placed shell shot as you zero in on the finishing line, is the number of collectables that are added to your collection as you progress. Grabbing gold coins across all modes feeds into this unlock system, and as you play you get more and more new items to differentiate yourself on the track. Now you can look even more fantastic behind the wheel, and with the five new characters that have been added to the roster, including Inklings from Splatoon, Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, and King Boo (actually there's six, but you need to complete all cups in 200cc to unlock the Gold Mario), you're basically spoilt for choice.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe builds on the excellence of the original, augmenting what was there at launch with all of the subsequent post-launch DLC as well as a couple of new features, most notably the Battle arenas and modes that have been added for the more competitively inclined. All in all, it's a near-perfect package that offers something for all ages to enjoy, with lashings of content to keep players coming back again and again. This is a fantastic version of a fantastic racer, and if you've got a Switch it's well worth picking up, especially if you never got to sample its many delights back on Wii U.