Given that a number of gamers who pick up the Nintendo Switch may not have owned a Wii U, it makes a lot of sense to have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in the launch window for the new system. Not only is it one of the most fun games on the Wii U, but it has also been the best-selling too — with over eight million copies sold worldwide. That's an astonishing attach rate for a console which has struggled to shift less than 14 million units. We got to spend some time with the new Deluxe edition at the Nintendo Switch premiere in London recently, and it feels like a perfect fit for the system in docked mode or on its 6.2" screen.
So, what's new in the deluxe edition? The main addition is the presence of a fully fledged battle mode that harkens back to the Super NES original, but we'll get on to that later. Players can now race as Inkling Boy or Inkling Girl from Splatoon; each have three colour variations to choose from. Dry Bones makes a welcome return to the Mario Kart roster, along with King Boo and Bowser Jr., who we are sure will be popular choices. At least in the build we played it appears that Mii characters are out, but we'll see the full roster when the game launches.
No new Grand Prix tracks seem to be present in the Deluxe edition, however the two DLC packs are included, so there are a whopping 48 tracks to race around in total; besides, it doesn't get much better than racing around Mute City in the Blue Falcon, does it? In a nod to the GameCube's Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, the Deluxe version offers an additional slot to store items, which comes in handy so you never feel too defenceless with an item in reserve. Oddly for a console called the Switch, you cannot switch between these two slots, so you have to use up the first item you pick up first.
Speaking of items, two new item types have also been added. The item-stealing Boo makes a welcome return from Mario Kart 64, allowing you to nab items from other players inventories. In the battle mode you might also run over a Feather which debuted on the original Super Mario Kart on the Super NES, this will allow you to jump in the air over barriers with the greatest of ease to take your opponent by surprise.
Those with young children (or particularly unskilled friends) will also welcome the addition of a driving assist mode which is signified by a flashing antenna on the back of the kart, when enabled. This prevents more reckless players from driving off a course's edge into oblivion and could save a lot of tears with young children who don't like to lose! Think of it as using a bumper rail in tenpin bowling when playing with kids. It's also worth noting that one of the setups in the event mimicked eight player local play, in theory with friends all playing via their own Switch. The units were wired in some way, though, so it couldn't be treated as a fully legitimate test of the local wireless performance in the game.
Moving on to visuals. When docked the Switch version of the game looks absolutely wonderful on the TV screen, running at 1080p and a rock solid 60fps. The game always ran at 60fps on the Wii U (give or take a barely noticeable stutter here or there), but the docked Switch resolution is an improvement on the 720p native of the previous system. When used in handheld mode, however, it reverts back to 720p, though there need not be any concerns here. It looks great on the Switch's 6.2" screen, vibrant and colourful while maintaining that all-important framerate.
Various control options are available, as you might imagine. You can play with a Pro Controller, or with the Joy-Cons attached to the tablet screen - which feels like a Wii U GamePad in some ways. If you're short on controllers you can also play with a single Joy-Con, we tried it with the Joy-Con plonked in a wheel attachment (similar to what Mario Kart Wii came with), which worked really well, tilting to steer with nice prominent shoulder buttons for power-sliding and item use.
By far the most exciting improvement in the Switch version of the game is the fully fledged battle mode. At the time of release Mario Kart 8 was really well received, but many gamers were left upset at the lack of a decent battle mode (there was even a petition!) — thankfully this has now been addressed. One of the coolest arenas, called Urchin Underpass, looks exactly like a Splatoon map, with colourful splatters on the floor and graffiti on the walls. The ink doesn't work like oil slicks, however, in case you were wondering.
Up to four players could take part in battles when we played (with AI also filling out the field if you like) and there is a little map in the middle of the screen so you might get a inkling (ed: sorry) that an opponent is attempting to sneak up on you. You start out with 5 balloons, which act as lives, and the aim is to pop all your opponents' balloons before the timer runs out. Even if all your balloons get popped you can still play, however your score will be halved for that round.
One mode allows you to use all the items, including the new Feather item, and Bob-omb Blast mode limits you to only using bombs, but you can store quite a number of these at once. The gameplay in battle mode is predictably frantic and lots of fun; we can imagine a lot of players spending plenty of time in the mode.
Summing it up, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive version of what this humble scribe considers to be the best Mario Kart game of all time. It looks better than ever when played docked on a TV screen, and in handheld or tabletop mode it is as smooth as butter too. It cannot be emphasised enough how colourful and vibrant Mario Kart looks on the Switch's 6.2" screen, making it a real standout in portable gaming; this is now the ultimate way to play Mario Kart while on the move.
Releasing this remaster in the launch window for the Switch is a smart move by Nintendo, rather than rushing out a less-than-stellar sequel. We are sure there will be a Mario Kart 9 on Switch in the fullness of time, but for now this could be a great purchase to tide you over.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out on 28th April for Nintendo Switch