Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review: Racing to the top

Ever since the Nintendo Switch was announced, there was one game I was most looking forward to playing. Surprisingly, it was not The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Don’t get me wrong, with so many people already crowning Breath of the Wild as Game of the Year in March I was very interested in trying it out myself, but the allure of Mario Kart will always have a firm grip on me.

Blanca got the first real crack at the game on our way to Vegas, as she spent a good amount of time on the raceways. After she made her first difficult decision of character selection, ultimately siding with the cosmic Princess Rosalina, the real fun began.

We were overwhelmed with the high level of vehicle customization. You can choose between different kart types, wheels and paragliders (first time I’ve ever seen these). An important aspect to constructing your kart, something that would have been great to know in a tutorial, was that each kart, wheel and paraglider has its own stat attribute increase and decrease. By clicking the “+” or “-” buttons, an attribute menu pops up where you can see the different categories being affected: speed, acceleration, weight, handling, and traction.

In addition to not knowing about the attributes, the game didn’t really explain Smart Steering, tilt turning and auto acceleration. While the turning and auto acceleration are self-explanatory, the Smart Steering was something that was brand new to us. Having the option on enables you to stick to the track without fear of falling off, however, it will not allow you to go anywhere but forward. If you spot a shortcut a second too late, you can’t turn around and go back.

Once Blanca and I learned most of the tracks, there’s a whopping 48 race course divided into 12 cups, we decided to turn off Smart Steering. The difference in racing with and without Smart Steering is tremendous; utilizing the break mechanic and knowing how to drift is detrimental to your success. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not forgiving when playing on 200CC without Smart Steering, so only attempt this if you’re confident in your racing abilities or if you love flying off the sides of the courses. It’s a new dynamic that I haven’t experienced in a Mario Kart game, but it’s definitely something that brings me back to the game.

One of the more frustrating parts of the game is the lack of item distribution. Blanca and I have put in close to 20 hours into the game, and I think out of both of us we’ve only had a couple stars, one Bullet Bill and a handful of blue shells. It doesn’t make much sense to be in ninth-place and get a double fun box, only to be disappointed with a green shell and a bundle of bananas. I’m not entirely sure if the increased level of CC dictates item distribution, but it’s mind-numbing when the CPU is dropping lightnings and red shells while we’re left with the garbage.

Another minor feature in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe that I was unfamiliar with is unlocking the cosmetic items. During the race, drivers can collect Mario coins throughout the courses and finish with a max of ten. These coins are used toward an overhead-type wallet that unlocks different vehicle cosmetic parts for further customization.

When playing couch co-op, Blanca and I only used the Joy-Cons with the Switch propped up on a table. We’re still figuring out many of the Switch features and how to exactly connect the Pro Controller along with the Joy-Cons on the actual TV. While playing with one Joy-Con apiece on a 6.2 inch screen is fun, the possibility of playing with full controller functionality on a 40 inch screen is tantalizing.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a must-own title for any and all Switch users. The roller coaster of emotion from a race that sees you go from first-place to seventh-place and back again in the matter of seconds is an adrenaline rush you won’t find elsewhere. Mario Kart 64 will forever be my favorite iteration in the franchise, but the Switch version is making a serious run for the top spot. The desire to win gold in each of the cups, the remastered designs of past Mario Kart race courses and the seemingly never-ending quest to unlock all the cosmetic items will keep us coming back to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.25/10

Blanca Garcia contributed to this review.

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