Mario Kart 8 / Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Bad Ideas, Great Execution

That title isn’t true as a blanket statement, per se — there just happens to be a lot in Mario Kart 8 that happens to fit that description.

Let’s get this out of the way from the get-go: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is (objectively) the strongest entry in the Mario Kart series. Strong track design, clean graphics, a large roster, and solid online play really help build this title up, both on Wii U and Nintendo Switch. That being said, at the time of writing, it’s been over six years since we’ve received an all-new Mario Kart game. Some parts of 8 Deluxe are starting to wear thin. And I take issue with one particular aspect about the game.

That’s the long and short of my incoming analysis. Before I start going more in-depth, I’m going to have to plug some other posts. I’ve written a number of guides on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, including how to win 200cc races, farm coins, and unlock everything in the game. Our amiibo training guides tend to overshadow posts like those, so I figure any additional exposure on my lesser-known “work” is helpful.

Now then! Back to the topic at hand. Mario Kart 8 has a lot going for it on both its consoles. If you’ve read any of my opinion posts, you know the drill: we’re going to break this game apart. What it does well, what it doesn’t do well… and believe me, I’ve got an entire section dedicated to dragging its roster through the mud. Let’s get started!

Introduction

Mario Kart’s been huge for a long time now. Even though Super Mario Kart on SNES started it all, they say Mario Kart 64 is what really brought the series into the limelight. Then you had Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii, which were both incredibly solid entries on super-popular platforms. When Mario Kart 8 was released in May 2014, Nintendo was surely aware of the Wii U’s subpar sales. So they put a ton of effort into making a great Mario Kart to save the system! …Spoiler alert: it didn’t actually save the system.

Regardless, Mario Kart 8 made a number of advances. It retained Mario Kart 7’s gliding and underwater sections while adding an entirely new gimmick: anti-gravity! This “gimmick” isn’t really much of a gimmick, though. If you don’t already know, certain sections of courses zap racers’ wheels sideways, allowing them to zip up walls and even drive upside-down! This is mostly cosmetic, though; the only gameplay difference is that you get a brief speed boost if you bump into an opponent. Mario Kart 8 also took kart customization to a whole new level, which isn’t actually as cool as it sounds.

Mario Kart 8 was later ported to Nintendo Switch as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It was almost a launch title for the system, too! But it was about a month late, which is fine. Everybody was busy playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild anyway. At the time of writing, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best-selling Nintendo Switch game. It didn’t save the Wii U, and it didn’t really carry the Switch, either, but it didn’t have to!

Gameplay & Presentation

Mario Kart 8 features what I believe to be the most balanced gameplay in the series. That opinion is subject to change, though. Everything about this game — almost everything about this game feels smooth. Driving is smooth, drifting is smooth, performing tricks is smooth… you get the idea. The gameplay is super polished and refined, though I do believe the game’s excellent presentation plays a large part in this. Despite being six years old, Mario Kart 8 looks really good. It was the first HD Mario Kart, but you wouldn’t guess that just by looking. The character models are clean, their animations are full of personality, the courses are detailed and colorful, and even items like the Fire Flower look cool. I’m not sure if Mario Kart 8 really has an art style, but it doesn’t necessarily need one. The entire game looks like it was power-washed, but in a good way! Kind of like those power-washing videos you might see where the end result is really satisfying.

The music is excellent too. Just about every track in the game has unique background music, and each one sounds fun and upbeat. Toad Harbor, Dolphin Shoals, and Mount Wario – in addition to being a few of my favorite courses – are also home to some of my favorite themes. I really can’t overstate how cohesive and refined Mario Kart 8’s presentation is. This might seem obvious, but Mario Kart 8 feels like Mario Kart in its purest form. Look at the screen for a split-second, and you know it’s Mario Kart. It’s got a very vibrant aura that I don’t think many other games have been able to capture. Not even past games in the series.

Let’s talk about the core of the Mario Kart series: its items. The only ones cut from Mario Kart 7 are the Super Leaf and Lucky Seven (which makes perfect sense). There’s a few new ones, too. The Boomerang Flower can be fired forward three times, and on the third shot, it continues flying until it hits a wall and breaks. This item is okay. I often get it in 3rd or 4th place, where I’d much prefer something like a Red Shell, so I often have to waste the Boomerang to open up my item slots again. The next one is the Piranha Plant, which stretches its neck to bite opponents while giving its user a small speed boost. Nothing too crazy. Then we have the Crazy Eight, which grants its user a revolving circle of items. These include a Banana, a Green Shell, a Red Shell, a Mushroom, a Star, a Blooper, a Bob-omb, and a Coin. None of these items are too helpful in a pinch (except for maybe the Star), so I often found myself just mashing the button instead. Then we’ve got my favorite: the Super Horn! It creates a shock wave around the user that attacks any surrounding karts. Better yet, it can destroy the dreaded Blue Shell in a pinch! I really like the Super Horn — not just because you can avoid Spiny Shells, but because you can be really rude with its blast radius. The rest of the new items don’t matter too much.

I’d like to mention how pretty the menus are, too. I can kind of tell they’re from 2014, if that makes any sense, but all the buttons are clean and shiny. The menu art is beautiful, and switches out to a new picture every so often. Everything’s just so colorful without being overwhelming, and that’s a balance that I have no choice but to respect.

So, we’re about a thousand words in, and we’re just getting started. We’ve still got quite a few things to talk about: the roster, the race tracks, the original game’s DLC, and the deluxe version’s new content. We just went over one of Mario Kart 8’s strongest suits – its presentation – so let’s switch to one of its weakest areas: its roster.

Character Selection

It’s time to start ripping into this game. On the surface, yes, Mario Kart 8 has a larger roster than any other entry in the series. Unless you count Mario Kart Tour, and believe me — we’re going to talk about that too. But let’s focus on for now. You’ve got your series staples intact: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Yoshi, Toad, Toadette, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Waluigi are all present. That’s understandable. Then you’ve got Rosalina, Koopa Troopa, Shy Guy, Baby Mario, and Baby Luigi. That’s fine. Now we’re getting into shaky territory. Baby Peach and Baby Daisy return from Mario Kart Wii, so now we’ve got four baby characters. Baby Peach at least appeared in Yoshi’s Island DS and Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time… Baby Daisy, on the other hand, is exclusively seen in Mario Kart titles. The very definition of a “filler racer”.

And that’s really the problem with Mario Kart 8. It’s got way too many “filler racers”. In fact, every new character introduced in is filler. All seven Koopalings – Larry, Morton, Lemmy, Iggy, Wendy, Roy, and Ludwig – were made playable. I’m not a big fan of the Koopalings myself, so to have nine roster slots dedicated to Koopas (plus Bowser and Koopa Troopa) is a bit ridiculous in my opinion. That being said though, I do appreciate each of the Koopalings’ varied animations, as they each have their own personality while racing. I don’t like the idea of the Koopalings being playable, but I can’t really complain about their execution.

Metal Mario returns from Mario Kart 7. As you might expect, he’s a metallic version of Mario with a slightly altered voice and more robotic animations. And he’s got origins in Super Mario 64, so I thought his inclusion in was kind of neat. introduced Pink Gold Peach, yet another Mario Kart-exclusive “character” with no clear origin. At the very least, she has slightly modified voice lines and animations. Again, a terrible idea with a fine execution.

Now let’s talk about a character who was a terrible idea and was terribly executed: Baby Rosalina. This brings our total to five baby characters and two metallic characters, which is clearly, clearly roster padding at this point. Baby Rosalina appears exactly how you think: a baby version of Rosalina. But if you’ve played Super Mario Galaxy, take a moment to remember Rosalina’s storybook. She didn’t have blonde hair as a child, she had red hair. And she didn’t even discover the Lumas as a baby; it was much later. This means Baby Rosalina’s very existence is clashing with Mario series canon. Not that I play Mario Kart for the story or anything, but still.

Overall, I feel like Mario Kart 8’s roster was a bit rushed. at least had decent newcomers; Wiggler was alright and Honey Queen was such a silly inclusion that I couldn’t help but appreciate it. Then you had Wii, which introduced Funky Kong and Dry Bowser, among others. It’s just a bit obvious to me that 8’s newcomers don’t even begin to compare. Not to mention baffling exclusions of characters like Diddy Kong and Birdo, among others.

Course Selection

Mario Kart 8 introduces a treasure trove of new courses. It does continue a trend in Mario Kart that I’m not a big fan of, though: they aren’t really based on any particular locations from the Mario series. That’s fine, as almost all of the new tracks are well-designed, but it would be nice to see this change in a future entry.

Now, I’m not going to list every course – that’s perhaps best saved for a separate post – but I will list my favorite and least favorites. As mentioned earlier, all of the courses look great! They’ve got very defined themes and excellent music to go with them. Sunshine Airport, Toad Harbor, Dolphin Shoals, and Mount Wario are my favorite new tracks. They’re energetic, really nice to look at, and most of all, fun to play on! It’s difficult to describe these courses to people who haven’t played on them, though. My least favorites are probably Bone-Dry Dunes and Rainbow Road. The former feels kind of empty and generic – it’s just a cave – and the latter has a newly-introduced technological flavor that I don’t think meshes very well with Mario Kart’s traditional Rainbow Road courses.

Almost all of the retro tracks are really well-done, and a few of them feel like entirely new courses (in a good way)! Gliding, underwater, and anti-gravity sections have been added to almost every track. As a result, there are new shortcuts to explore on a few of them! A few of my favorite retro courses are Sherbet Land, Toad’s Turnpike, and N64 Rainbow Road. There are some unfortunate exclusions here – such as Koopa Cape and Maple Treeway from Mario Kart Wii – but I understand that their inclusions might have skewed track representation too far into Wii’s favor.

The Legend of Zelda x Mario Kart 8

As you’re likely well aware, Mario Kart 8 received two DLC packs during its tenure on Wii U. The first was titled “The Legend of Zelda x Mario Kart 8″, and you’ll be shocked to learn that it adds Link as a playable character and Hyrule Circuit as a new course. In all seriousness, though, that’s about it as far as Zelda content goes. But let’s take a closer look at what was added.

In terms of playable characters, this DLC pack added Link. I’d love to stop there, but it added Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach, too. According to The Cutting Room Floor, Tanooki Mario was planned for the base game but was eventually moved to DLC. The same isn’t necessarily true for Cat Peach, but these two characters share something in common: they’re both filler. I don’t think anybody would have bought this DLC pack if Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach were the only new playable characters. They’re honestly really weak additions. It would’ve been nice to see Birdo or Diddy Kong come back, but oh well.

The pack added two new cups, so let’s start with the first one: the Egg Cup. Yoshi Circuit makes its return from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, and it’s one of my favorite courses in the cup. It’s nice and simple, the entire track is in the shape of a Yoshi, and there’s a ridiculously cool shortcut at the beginning that requires a Mushroom. Then we’ve got Excitebike Arena, which is a randomly-generated course. This is certainly my least favorite new courses, as it’s essentially just driving forward and pressing the trick button a few times. Not a great idea, but good execution. That’s becoming a recurring theme with this game. Dragon Driftway and Mute City are the last two courses, and I like these two. But it does make me wonder why they didn’t ditch Tanooki Mario or Cat Peach in favor of Captain Falcon. That would’ve been so much cooler.

The second new cup is the Triforce cup! It starts with Wario’s Gold Mine from Mario Kart Wii. As with most of the courses introduced in Wii, this one’s pure chaos. Lots of twists and turns, a nice aesthetic, and plenty of short cuts. I like this track! Then they brought back SNES Rainbow Road again. It looks so much better than it did in Mario Kart 7, but it’s still a flat and uninteresting course — at least in my opinion. Third is Ice Ice Outpost, a rather generic ice level with a bunch of shortcuts that don’t actually save much time. The Triforce cup finishes with Hyrule Circuit, a neat little course that goes through Hyrule Castle. Overall, the new courses are fine. It’s good to see Yoshi Circuit and Wario’s Gold Mine come back, but SNES Rainbow Road could’ve been replaced with a more interesting track instead.

The first DLC pack introduced a couple of kart parts, too. The Blue Falcon, B Dasher, and Master Cycle appear here, and they’re all pretty neat customization options. Then there’s the Tanooki Kart, which I don’t think anybody actually cares about. I personally believe that The Legend of Zelda x Mario Kart 8 is the superior DLC pack, but let’s move on to the next one.

Animal Crossing x Mario Kart 8

The second DLC pack… is kind of a slippery slope for the series. By the time Animal Crossing x Mario Kart 8 was released in early 2015, I was already a fan of Animal Crossing. I’m fine with Villager and Isabelle as characters (for the most part). The additions of Link, Villager, and Isabelle were cool, but they created a lot of “what if they made a Nintendo Kart game?” discussions. I’m a firm believer in keeping Mario Kart as Mario Kart.

So, playable characters. As I just mentioned, this pack adds Villager, and players can choose between male and female versions. I quite like playing as Villager in Mario Kart. They don’t have voices, but they do use Reactions from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which I think is kind of charming, in a way. Isabelle speaks in Animalese – you know, the blabbering sound used in Animal Crossing – which is a bit annoying! Not sure if that was the point, but if it is, they hit the nail on the head. It also makes me grateful that Isabelle in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate doesn’t have a voice at all. Dry Bowser’s back, too, but he isn’t as threatening as he was in Mario Kart Wii because his voice has been changed. Now he sounds like a bag of bones more than a powerful monster, which I guess makes sense! You might argue that Villager and Isabelle count as “filler characters”, but they’re certainly more welcome than Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach from The Legend of Zelda x Mario Kart 8.

Two new cups here too! First is the Crossing Cup. It starts with Baby Park, a simple seven-lap romp. The actual course isn’t all that interesting, because it’s one giant loop. It’s so short, though, that the resulting chaos is actually kind of fun. Not to mention the staggering amount of detail in the background, most of which you won’t even be able to see because you’ll be focusing on racing! Next is Cheese Land from Mario Kart: Super Circuit. As with all courses in Mario Kart 8, this one looks great! And that’s about it. I don’t care for Cheese Land at all otherwise. Then there’s Wild Woods, a Shy Guy-themed forest course with an emphasis on anti-gravity sections. The Crossing Cup goes out with a bang with the Animal Crossing course. There are four different versions of this track – one for each season – and each one looks great. They’re noticeably prettier than Animal Crossing: New Horizons (which was released almost five years later). That’s kind of sad. My favorite version of the Animal Crossing track is the Winter season. It’s the only one that takes place at night, and the lighting and snow make for a calm yet energetic atmosphere.

The second cup is the Bell Cup, featuring the Super Bell from Super Mario 3D World. Despite this, not a single course in it makes any reference to 3D World. The cup starts off with Neo Bowser City from Mario Kart 7, then advances to Ribbon Road from Mario Kart: Super Circuit. Then there’s two new courses: Super Bell Subway and Big Blue. I don’t care much about the first three courses; yes, they look nice, but they could have brought back better courses from previous Mario Kart titles (Maple Treeway, Koopa Cape, Peach Gardens, Airship Fortress — I might be a bit biased towards Wii and DS). Big Blue is the best track here, but it makes me wonder again why Captain Falcon wasn’t introduced as a playable character. It’s teasing at this point.

In my honest opinion, I think the DLC courses are weaker than the main game’s. In my experience, they’re generally a bit shorter and have more predictable layouts. I mean, Excitebike Arena and Baby Park have the exact same shape (though they do differ in size). We’ve arrived once again at the concept of “bad idea, but great execution.” I’m still wondering why they brought back Cheese Land of all courses. At least in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the DLC tracks from on Wii U seem to have a higher selection priority when racing online. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to race on Wild Woods against my will. Ugh.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was released for the Nintendo Switch in 2017. The word Deluxe is a bit misleading. Yes, there’s new content, but not enough of it to warrant spending another $60 on Mario Kart 8. I did anyway, though, so perhaps that statement doesn’t mean much coming from me.

A few new characters are introduced, and they’re much, much better than some of the racers added in vanilla 8’s DLC. Deluxe adds King Boo, Bowser Jr., and Dry Bones, and all three of these guys are certainly welcome additions. Gold Mario is added as a secret palette swap of Metal Mario, and a Breath of the Wild-inspired skin was added for Link in a later update. Oh, and Inkling Girl and Inkling Boy from Splatoon are here, too.

The original Mario Kart 8 didn’t have a real battle mode. You’d just drive around existing tracks with a bunch of balloons. I never got into battle mode even in prior games, though, so I can’t speak to how awful this change might have been. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe adds a wealth of real battle modes, including a few new ones. Balloon Battle, Coin Runners, Bob-omb Blast, and Shine Thief all make their return, and Deluxe adds a new mode called Renegade Roundup. I haven’t played these too much, but I liked what I saw. It’s nice to have real battle modes back.

Let’s swing around to a big downside: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t add any new courses. It still has the largest course selection in Mario Kart history, but by the time Deluxe was released, the Mario Kart 8 courses were already two years old. Not to mention there hasn’t been any word on whether or not we’ll be getting further DLC for Deluxe. And then you’ve got Mario Kart Tour, which seems to be updated every single week with new characters and courses. Tour has Funky Kong, King Bob-omb, Birdo, Hammer Bro, Diddy Kong, and Pauline. 8 Deluxe has the Koopalings. There’s really no comparison, you know? I feel like the $60 retail game should’ve been getting these updates instead. I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in how quickly Nintendo shoved Deluxe off to the side. Not that I was expecting further content, per se, but the fact that they’re developing new racers and tracks for a mobile game instead is a little bit disheartening.

I should probably mention online play, too. I did own Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, but I don’t think I ever played online in that game. I do play online in Deluxe regularly, though, and I’ve never had any problems. I haven’t experienced any lag – even against players from across the globe – and matchmaking has been working well! My only complaint is one I mentioned before: it seems the Wii U DLC courses are given priority. If you’re going to play online in Deluxe, get ready to know Wild Woods like the back of your hand.

The Verdict

I like to complain. Mario Kart 8 has a good amount of content to complain about. But I still think it’s – from an objective point of view – the best game in the series. It’s been six years since we’ve been treated to an all-new Mario Kart, so it’s hard to say if Nintendo has a new entry in the works for the Switch. I would recommend Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but for all we know, they’ll announce Mario Kart 9 during the next Nintendo Direct. If there ever is another one, that is.

If you can somehow find 8 Deluxe on sale or used somewhere, I’d say go for it, especially if you have friends to play with. I probably should’ve mentioned that the game includes four-player splitscreen and local wireless earlier, but I also feel like those features are just assumed at this point. Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is a good time, no matter what system you’re playing it on. Its excellent presentation and easy-to-understand gameplay are really what makes the game. It does suffer from a subpar roster and somewhat weak DLC, but these flaws can certainly be overlooked. Keep an eye out for more Mario Kart posts in the future, by the way! This one counts for both and 8 Deluxe. I’m not sure which game I’ll be covering next.. all I know is that I have a lot of Mario Karts to play.

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