Opting for enhanced and expanded deluxe / director's cut / remastered / Game of the Year editions of last-gen games is a well-worn tactic in the early days of a new console. Some of the most enjoyable games on PS4 and Xbox One are high quality re-releases, taking a top-notch title and sprucing it up for a new generation with all of the DLC add-ons thrown in. Nintendo, unsurprisingly, has opted for that approach with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an easy win that fills out the early schedule and gives a potentially new audience a chance to enjoy one of the best titles the series has to offer.
The original Mario Kart 8 on Wii U was, and still is, a fantastic title. We'll focus on what's new and different in Deluxe here and you can always check out our original review (in which we were too kind on the old Battle Mode, to be blunt) for the full breakdown of the ways in which the Wii U title evolved the series. Let's just summarise that here before focusing on the 'Deluxe' part of the package.
MK8 delivered what still feels like a leap for the series not just in terms of its visuals, but also the technicalities in the racing. It's still anarchic fun with the formula we adored in older releases, but racing became - arguably - more balanced and enthralling than ever before, as Nintendo carefully blended new ideas such as anti-gravity with refinement of what makes a kart racer tick. Karts and bikes have relative weights to them, and fiddling around with a vehicle's customisation to adjust values actually feels worthwhile. Throw in some neat items like the Piranha Plant and we have an entry challenging to be best-in-class.
It still stands up as a great time on Wii U, too - the visuals still look lovely, the action is still intense. In fact, in an alternate universe the Wii U has sold 60 million units and the new Switch version is really a 'Game of the Year edition' on the last-gen system, with a new Battle Mode and a few characters available as DLC for long-term owners. Sadly for Wii U that's not the case, but the point is simple - Deluxe is a whole lot of brilliant Mario Kart gaming in one place.
Of course, with new hardware come expectations of what it can do with the graphics, though as this is Nintendo we're dealing with a concept system in a tablet form; we're yet to see its full graphical potential, it's a step-up from Wii U but not a new dawn in visual fidelity. A little like with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the differences are pleasing but not mind-blowing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe garners most of its boost simply by upping the resolution - the original was a native 720p that was then upscaled, whereas the new entry is a pure 1080p.
There's still no real anti-aliasing to be found, for you Digital Foundry fans, and those picky about such things can still note some occasionally iffy textures and shadows, for example. Yet cutting beyond all that, and also acknowledging that the entire game is spent zipping around tracks, what we have is a beautiful game. In the Wii U era Nintendo mastered the cartoony HD look, and it pops nicely here. The resolution boost adds a pleasing amount of sharpness and extra detail, and the system's full RGB range and improved processing also delivers deeper colours; Nintendo has also tweaked and improved some visual effects like the Blue Shell's explosion, and turbo-boosted motion blur has also been amped up, to our eyes. It's a bit like going from 'medium' to 'medium/high' settings in a PC game, or as this writer's sibling describes it, "Wii U turned up to 11".
Most importantly, it still flies along at 60 frames per second when playing solo or in two-player splitscreen, and also fixes the minor frame skip issue that existed on Wii U; we still see a drop to around 30fps when multiplayer splits the screen into three or four players. The overall effect on the TV, then, is impressive and simply delightful to look at as that trademark Mario Kart chaos unfolds on screen. Another big selling point is how good the game looks when played on the Switch in portable mode - the drop to 720p is absolutely fine on such limited real estate, and it looks crisp and colourful on the console's display. When you consider the previous portable option was Mario Kart 7, it's eye-opening to consider that we're now playing a game this handsome on the go. Pleasingly there's also no performance discrepancy from docked to portable play that we can see; it's buttery smooth however you decide to race.
In terms of its feature set, as mentioned above MK8 Deluxe serves up a lot of content by including all of the previous updates and DLC from the Wii U original. In simple racing terms that provides a welcome upgrade in content with 48 tracks across 12 cups, all unlocked from the beginning. Right from the off you also have all almost all characters - including some newcomers like Inklings, King Boo and Bowser Jr. - and all weight classes. That means you have total freedom to jump into the faster classes if you like, or you can be a traditionalist and try to win gold in order from 50cc right up to 'Mirror' 150cc and even 200cc.
The fact Nintendo lays it all out there from the start makes sense, even if we felt a slight tinge of regret that the 'chase' for unlocks is limited. The only thing you'll unlock in bulk unlock through repeated play is vehicle customisations, which does mean that playing a lot will get you some of the cooler and stronger karts and bikes, including a couple of new Splatoon rigs and the previous DLC. You get these through coin accumulation, with Battle and online play also contributing to your profile's overall total.
Also, to clarify a question that comes up a lot. Yes, Mii characters are supported, as are the amiibo costume unlocks; in fact the Splatoon amiibo have been added for another outfit to access. Any Mii characters you've created on your Switch will pop up as playable in the game.
As for how that core content plays? It's still fantastic. It's a heck of a collection of cups and tracks, while chasing ghosts through Time Trial runs is also fun. Yet there are subtle evolutions, examples of the developers adjusting and enhancing areas as they feel fit. For example we're convinced some underlying values and physics have been tweaked; when capturing comparison footage with an identical setup on Switch and Wii U Bowser felt a tiny bit 'heavier' on Switch, and in a sensible way. The weight and physical feel from the original has seemingly been refined a little bit here, or perhaps it just felt that way to us.
Also of interest for those with children, or perhaps less experienced players, is that Nintendo has added optional assist items that are enabled at the vehicle select screen. One is auto-accelerate, leaving players to focus on steering, and the other is in fact auto-steering. The latter simply redirects your kart onto the edge of the track if you start to lose your way, and as we've shown in a video these options can technically allow you to win 50cc races without any inputs. While that's funny, it's worth highlighting that these are good additions to ensure anyone can enjoy the game, and the reality is that these tools won't help limited players beat more experienced racers in higher classes; these assist tools actually get in the way and restrict better players. In that sense they're harmless to most but welcome for some, broadening Mario Kart to audiences that would perhaps otherwise find it difficult to play.
A key addition to racing, too, is a third purple boost point when drifting. It takes longer to trigger and is typically reserved for long, sweeping bends, but it gives an appreciably longer boost. It can certainly make a difference, not only when aiming for top times in Time Trial to upload to the world, but also in small margins within races.
To cover off control options, too, you can use a Pro Controller, a sideways Joy-Con (which is a bit cramped for our taste), Joy-Con in Grips or the new tiny Switch wheels. The wheel is interesting in that it takes a little adjustment due to its increased precision over the old Wii Remote equivalent. Initially we struggled, but when you stop turning like a madman you'll likely appreciate that the motion sensing is more accurate. We still prefer physical inputs, but wheel fans should only need a little practice before they get the hang of the new accessory.
The biggest addition here, of course, is Battle Mode. After the underwhelming (and probably rushed) compromise in the original we now have a more traditional offering. There are five modes and eight new arenas, which we covered in some detail here; we'll stick to a summary here to avoid this review turning into a post-doctoral thesis on virtual karting.
Going into play, whether solo or in a group, you can adjust various rules depending on the mode, with each option (apart from one) available for both teams or dog-eat-dog play. The five options are all entertaining, from the traditional Balloon Battle to the brilliant Renegade Roundup. The latter is all-new and so simple an idea that we're surprised it took this long - teams are forced in this one, with one round each hunting renegades with piranha plants,or going on the run, dodging trouble or making daring runs to 'spring' teammates from their elevated cells. Shine Thief, familiar to Double Dash!! veterans, is also fantastic fun, but none of the modes are flops - Bob-omb Blast and Coin Runners also offer a good time.
The eight arenas also show that Nintendo was keen to make amends with this Battle Mode. Three are remixes from SNES, GameCube and 3DS, but five are all-new and riffing upon fresher themes. Many will naturally be drawn to the Splatoon-inspired Urchin Underpass, but our favourites are Lunar Colony - which is full of jumps and hop points - and Dragon Palace, which has an inspired transition from indoors into a courtyard. The only arena we're unsure of is the anti-grav heavy 'Battle Stadium', but we suspect some will love its inherent complexity of layout.
There's one other nice touch to talk over with Battle Mode. In battles, much like in previous entries, you can easily wheelspin on the spot and quickly rotate and flip your direction. By holding both brake and accelerate while turning you can rapidly re-align your kart, ideal for arenas where you may need a quick shift of focus.
When it comes to local multiplayer, too, Nintendo has opened up some solid options to help Switch owners play together. Local Wireless allows up to eight players to connect through WiFi, and in one test (in admittedly ideal conditions) we played for around two hours without a hitch. There's also the option to use LAN to connect up to 12 players, something we haven't tried and involves a slightly fiddly process to 'authorise' a router; we'll produce a video guide on that. This will suit events and expos well, whether players are taking part on their handhelds or sharing a bunch of TVs and docks.
Online play is also present and correct for up to 12 players in a room, and like much of the game (as it is a 'deluxe' re-release) is mostly identical to the Wii U equivalent. You can play solo or in two-player split online, with Global and Regional rooms for racing and battling. As before you can also search by 'Friends and Rivals', while 'Tournament' returns with the same settings, allowing you to create timed events in which players join by searching for them or entering a code. You can setup to use any of the tracks or battle modes as you please, and you can even insist that nobody uses steering assist if you like.
It's a solid online setup with the potential, like on Wii U, to keep us playing for months and even years to come. We did have a few short sessions online for the purposes of review and encountered no issues aside from one disconnect in Battle, but this was with limited numbers. We foresee no obvious issues here - as there weren't on Wii U - though will naturally report upon any problems when the game launches.
Overall, then, that's a lot of Mario Kart - in the case of this particular entry that is no bad thing.
When it comes to passing final judgement on a re-release like this it's tricky - do we scale back praise because it's content we've mostly seen before, or simply judge a release on its own merits? We've opted for the latter here, and so we have a definitive version of a fantastic Wii U game that adds its own extras to spruce up the experience.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe delivers a huge amount of racing goodness right out of the box, and it's a polished version of a Wii U entry that was a proper Battle Mode away from being top of class. Now that issue has been addressed, what we have is arguably the best Mario Kart release we've seen. Some will argue about where this entry stands in the pantheon of the franchise, but for our money it's competing for top spot.
It's the definitive Mario Kart 8 experience, content-rich and a delightful feast of comedic, cartoonish karting action. It's a game that continually raises a smile and, occasionally, induces that trademark Mario Kart rage as shells strike and positions are lost. It's addictive and unifying, unfiltered fun that draws in anyone daring enough to take up the wheel. If you're a Switch owner, it's an easy choice.