The Nintendo Switch has had a breakneck first two months. The console hybrid is Nintendo’s fastest-selling system ever; launch-aligned, it’s even overtaken the sensation that was the Wii. Driven by a robust selection of quality titles, the Switch has topped charts worldwide and is continually sold out. But Zelda and Snipperclips aren’t the reasons to buy a Switch right now. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is. Here’s why.
It’s a sensory showpiece
Even on the Wii U, vanilla Mario Kart 8 is one of the most gorgeous games of the generation, despite only rendering at 720p. At 1080p docked, Deluxe cements this further. The game does phenomenal things with lighting that I’ve never seen anywhere else, even on the PS4 and PC. Nintendo’s iconic characters have a soft, almost toy-like look (especially when drenched in sun) that looks even better in motion. Thanks to expert art direction, it’s easy to be fooled that Wario’s flatulent flab — as it jiggles up the cobbles of Toad Harbor — is made of real clay.
When you take the Switch out of the dock, Deluxe becomes even more impressive. Apart from the 720p resolution, the portable game is completely identical to the docked version. Races pop on the Switch’s brilliant IPS display. And considering that the last mobile Mario Kart was the once-impressive Mario Kart 7 on the never-impressive 240p screen of the 3DS, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe represents an exponential graphical leap over the series’ last handheld iteration, as shown by Digital Foundry below:
Completing the synesthetic spectacle is HD rumble — coins “jingle” in your real-life hand as you collect them in game. You can also feel the difference between the three levels of drift boost from the barely-there blue to the new, game-changing pink; the tactility allows you to keep your eyes on the road instead of your kart. The judder of train tracks under your wheels, as well as the different textures when you go offroad, give you another form of feedback that lets you know that you need to get good.
It’s the definitive version of an all-time great
Mario Kart 8 was the best in the series, and Deluxe improves it further. It’s running at a true 60fps this time — the Wii U original had a weird issue that resulted in an effective 59fps framerate. Thankfully, that glitch has been resolved, as has the fire-hopping exploit that made leaderboards and online matches a total shamble.
All the DLC content is included here, which results in a total of 42 racers, 48 tracks, and an overwhelming number of kart parts. Deluxe also corrects the only deficit in the otherwise impeccable Wii U version by amending the original’s deplorable Battle Mode (which had racers fighting on tracks made for racing, making for bouts wherein combatants rarely saw each other). Deluxe has eight arenas specifically designed for Battle Mode, as well as five play modes that include the classic Bob-omb Blast and the all-new Renegade Roundup, where one team of “cops” has to catch and jail the other team of “robbers” — but a free robber can rescue their teammates at any time. It’s a frantic party game, and is almost worth the price of entry.
Parties are no fun if people can’t join in, and Deluxe shines with its wealth of accessibility options for inexperienced players, easily toggled from the pause menu. The old standby of tilt controls returns, and an optional set of joy-con wheels completes the conceit. The new auto accelerate is useful and fair; in Mario Kart, you never let up on the gas anyway. But the most welcome addition is smart steering, which implements an invisible hand to keep racers from falling off the track. If you’ve ever played any kart racer with small children or non-gamers, their frustration with bottomless pits will be familiar. This setting alleviates that problem, and allows everyone to play.
(Nearly) everybody has it
The game has proven immensely popular barely a week from release. In America, Deluxe is selling faster than Mario Kart Wii, and that went on to sell a ridiculous 37 million copies worldwide. Apparently, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also has an attach rate of 45 percent, which means that almost one out of every two Switch owners has this game. You won’t have trouble finding someone online to race against, or a real-life Switch buddy to go head-to-head with. But even if your friends don’t have a copy, it’s okay, because…
It’s the poster child for local multiplayer
Remember the promise of the Switch in its debut showing? The Switch is the only modern system that comes with two controllers out of the box. Couple that with the screen, and you can play whenever and with whomever you want. Take one joy-con for yourself, and share one with a friend (or even a total stranger) and you have instant local multiplayer. If you have more controllers, up to four people can play on a single Switch in splitscreen. Bring the joy-con straps, though — bare joy-con are horrendously uncomfortable, what with Mario Kart’s reliance on the shoulder buttons. An IGN producer compared using the naked shoulder buttons as trying to drift with your phone’s volume rocker, and there’s no more apt way to describe the discomfort.
The Switch’s — and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s— ability to be played anytime, anywhere, and by anyone makes the system inherently viral. The Switch is an ad for itself, and the simple act of playing together has convinced at least three people in my own social circle to get one for themselves.
It (re)introduces you to Nintendo
In the grand scheme of things, no one bought a Wii U, and to the non-hardcore, Nintendo disappeared from consoles for almost an entire generation. To the general public, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a high-definition debut of sorts for Nintendo’s stable of characters, including Mario himself, as we wait for their respective games to arrive on the Switch.
The celebration is a riot. Apart from the Nintendo mascot and seemingly his entire extended family, the Villagers and Isabelle from Animal Crossing compete on Möbius tracks inspired by Excitebike, F-Zero, and Wii Sports Resort. Exclusive to Deluxe, Inkling Girl and Boy from Splatoon and the upcoming Splatoon 2 appear, and mark the first time that people of color (who aren’t Miis) are playable in any Mario Kart game. Rounding out the roster, looking the most out of place in this world of red shells, high technology, and anti-gravity, is Link. And if you want more of him, you know which Switch game to play next.