It’s been 25 years since the first “Mario Kart” game launched on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: A quarter century of cheap, last-second red shells; of increasingly-complicated drifting; of yelling and laughing alongside friends; of Luigi death stares.
Given all that time, it’s amazing that the latest entry in the “Mario Kart” series is also the greatest entry in the long-running racing franchise. Few games perpetually best their predecessors.
“Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” is a delightful exception to that rule.
Here’s why “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” a brand new Nintendo Switch game that just launched, is so incredibly good.
First and foremost: Maybe you’re not acquainted with “Mario Kart” somehow? It’s an arcade-style racing game starring Nintendo’s most popular characters.
Listen, if you’ve managed to make it this far without learning what “Mario Kart” is, we’re impressed.
The long and short is this: It’s a racing game starring Nintendo’s most popular characters, from Mario to Donkey Kong to Link. You and 11 other racers (either controlled by actual humans or by a computer) compete for first place on a variety of race tracks. In the process, you pick up usable items — like a heat-seeking red shell, or a limited-time fireball, among others — to slow other racers. It’s a game of skill, no doubt, but it’s also a game of luck.
Do yourself a favor and play any of the half dozen “Mario Kart” games that’ve arrived in the past 25 years. They’re all pretty similar, and they’re all pretty wonderful. The series appeals to so-called “hardcore” game players and more casual players alike. The latest iteration, “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” is no exception.
If you already played “Mario Kart 8” on Nintendo’s last console, the Wii U, you’ve already played the main section of “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.”
If, on the other hand, you’re getting some serious déja vu from hearing about “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” it’s likely that you spent some time with the Wii U game. That feeling you have is spot-on — “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” is very similar to the 2014 game for the Wii U. In fact, “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” is the same game. The difference is in a handful of tweaks, and a new Battle Mode (we’ll get to that in a minute).
Here’s what isn’t different about the “Deluxe” version of “Mario Kart 8”: No new race tracks.
That might be huge to you. If you played “Mario Kart 8,” and played the additional content Nintendo sold after the game came out, you shouldn’t expect a bunch of new race tracks here. Nintendo’s banking on you not having played the game on Wii U, and that’s a pretty good bet considering how few Wii U consoles were sold.
So, what’s new? The major addition is a Battle Mode.
Yes, the original version of “Mario Kart 8” came with a Battle Mode, but it was a shadow of its former self. Instead of dedicated Battle Mode courses, Nintendo simply walled off a few race tracks and hoped that would be enough. It wasn’t — fans and critics celebrated how wonderful “Mario Kart 8” was at launch, but lamented the hobbled Battle Mode. Previous games in the series included dedicated Battle Mode maps, but they were absent in “Mario Kart 8.”
“Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” fixes that in a beyond-satisfying way: by creating five new Battle Mode maps, and re-making three beloved ones from previous games.