Mario Kart 8 Is Back For A Triumphant Second Lap On Nintendo Switch

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a double-dip that offers the same core game that was released on the Wii U roughly three years ago. And yet, even if you picked it up way back in 2014, it’s definitely worth another lap on the Nintendo Switch.

Some might mislabel this as a straight-up re-release, but there are plenty of upgrades and additions to entice even those who’ve already mastered all 48 courses on 200cc. Boasting new characters (bringing the total up to 48 in total), reintroducing old-school items, and delivering a souped-up Battle Mode, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the most essential Switch game since the system launched last month with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

As I stated, everything from Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 is available here, including its two terrific DLC packs that added new tracks, karts, and characters from beloved franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, Super Mario Bros., Excite Bike, and F-Zero.

On top of what was already offered on the Wii U, five new iconic characters have also been added to the roster: Bowser Jr., King Boo, Dry Bones, and Splatoon’s Inkling Boy and Inkling Girl. With new racers also come new vehicles, namely the Splat Buggy, Ink Striker, and Bowser Clown Car.

As if there wasn’t enough mayhem on the tracks, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings back the ability to carry two items at once—Mario Kart: Double Dash!! style—which allows for some killer combos. On the subject of items, there are now 28. Back from older iterations is the Feather (which launches your vehicle in the air to either avoid danger or land on someone’s head to steal a balloon in Battle Mode) and Boo (which makes you temporarily invisible and invulnerable, or allows you to steal a fellows racer’s precious item).

Of course, the biggest and best addition to the game is a totally revamped Battle Mode, complete with eight all-new arenas that work way better than the Wii U version’s long and lonely recycled Grand Prix tracks. All eight areas do a fine job of introducing totally new scenery as well as paying tribute to old-school battlefields with nice some modern touches thrown in.

Fortunately, there are plenty of new modes that make the most out of these areas. One of the most enjoyable additions is Renegade Roundup, which has one team running from and/or chasing the other—not unlike cops and robbers (hence the flashing red light on the Piranha Plant’s head). When playing as the cop, you have to chase down each opposing player to send them to a prison cell that also happens to contain a switch underneath that will set its captives free when a racer successfully drives into it. Don’t count on checking the map to find your robbers before the timer runs out—they’re completely hidden. This cat-and-mouse scenario is easily the best addition to Battle Mode, leading to plenty of amusing chaos.

Silver medal for new mode goes to Coin Runners, which simply requires you to snag (and hold onto) as many shiny gold coins as possible. What makes things interesting is the overall lack of coins sprinkled throughout each area, enticing players to duke it out with items to shake some coins out of their opponent.

Another favourite from the Double Dash!! days is Shine Thief, in which players scramble to take hold of the Shine and keep it until their respective timer runs out. This obviously means avoiding attacks and head-on collisions. Even if you do knock that Shine free, you’ll have to actually grab it, lest someone else steal it first.

Rounding out the collection is the tried-and-true Balloon Battle (in which you attack our opponent with your item arsenal in order to deplete their balloon count) and Bob-omb Blast (where you can wield up to 10 Bomb-ombs that explode on contact… and they’re the only item available).

A few more reasons to upgrade to this definitive edition is that it runs at a smoother 60 frames per second in two player mode and displays at 1080p–as opposed to Wii U’s 720p display. Overall, the graphical improvements aren’t day and night, but they’re certainly welcome on larger screens. As for the small screen, another big plus is the ability to kart on the go when playing on an undocked Switch. I still can’t fully get over how amazing handheld gaming can actually be thanks to this snazzy new console. Also, if you run into a friend, you’ve already got two Joy-Con ready to go. Of course, online play is also an option, and jumping into a match is marginally quicker than before. After taking my unit to work to play with coworkers, I’d say the Switch lasted just under three hours before a battery recharge was required. No complaints in that department—just make sure you have an adaptor handy for extended play.

Lastly, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has added optional Smart Steering (the game sets it to default, so make sure to turn it off if you know your way around the track) to prevent rookie racers from steering off course, and 200cc Time Trials, so you can try to beat your best times in the game’s supercharged 200cc mode.

All and all, this is a re-release done right, slightly enhancing everything that worked on Mario Kart 8 and rectifying what was pretty much its only glaring drawback: a lacklustre Battle Mode. Having ceaselessly played every Mario Kart title since my parents bought me that first SNES cartridge 25 years ago, I can say with confidence that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best entry to date. Now bring on some fresh DLC and I’ll be hooked for at least three more years.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out April 28 exclusively on Nintendo Switch. Check out the game’s Overview Trailer below: