If it’s artful understatement you’re after, look no further than the manual for Mario Kart 8 in all of its glorious entirety:
I love it for several reasons, not least for how it’s an example of a dying form (and in the case of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, relegated to the flipside of the cover itself, a boon for environmentalists but a blow to traditionalists like myself who get lost in fits of reverie at the mere sniff of a freshly opened manual). Mostly, though, I love it for what it doesn’t tell you.
So yes, in Mario Kart 8 the fundamentals haven’t moved on a jot since Nintendo first laid out the template in 1992. You take charge of one of a dizzying roster of familiar characters, collecting power-ups and drifting across heavily sugared landscapes in pursuit of victory. It really is that simple.
Yet there’s so much more to it all. Over 25 years the series has been retooled, rejigged and refined – with some iterations proving more successful than others – and in 2014 with Mario Kart 8 it flew as close to perfection as the series had ever been since its debut on the SNES with Super Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8’s genius lies in all the little details that add up to a dizzying whole.
It’s there, first and foremost, in the feel of it all. There’s an elasticity to Mario Kart 8’s handling, one that invites you to ping its vehicles this way and that in order to move them forward ever faster. And there are so many ways to go faster in Mario Kart 8: hit the accelerator at the perfect point on the starting line for the time-honoured rocket start; hold onto a drift until your wheels start sparking for a turbo boost; press the shoulder button when you’re propelled into the air for an extra moment of power.
There’s more still. Bounce off an opponent when you’re in an anti-grav section of the track for a spin boost, or sit in their slipstream long enough to slingshot past them. Gather a series of coins to push the needle, or simply collect one for an almost imperceptible kick up the rear. These are amendments that mean Mario Kart 8’s ideal racing line is constantly shifting as you seek out opponents and obstacles in the hope of an extra edge.
You’re constantly engaged in Mario Kart 8, busied by a multitude of systems, but it never feels laborious. Maybe that’s down to how joyous it all is, and how it comes to life in the abundance of character and craft that’s on display. This is the Mario Kart, after all, that supplemented the thrill of a perfectly placed green shell with the cold beauty of the Luigi death stare.
Mario Kart 8 is a pure-hearted celebration of the series, as told best by its outrageously upbeat soundtrack. Perhaps the game’s defining moment comes in the main menu itself, when the live band accompaniment breaks into a trumpet-led rendition of Soya Oka’s original Super Mario Kart theme tune. Just listen to it and try not to smile.
And so Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the Switch’s port of the 2014 Wii U game, inherits a pretty spectacular package. This bundles together all 48 tracks – including those in the two DLC packs, in which the debt to F-Zero GX in the twisting circuits enabled by Mario Kart 8’s anti-grav karts is paid off by the inclusion of two tracks directly inspired by the futuristic racing series – and includes the 200cc mode in which you’re required to brake to make it around certain corners. Sacrilege, I know.
There’s arguably no need to tinker with the original’s winning formula, but Deluxe does make some small, subtle changes. The flame-hopping glitch that proved ruinous for online leaderboards has been excised, and in its place is a new level of drift boost met with pink sparks from the wheels. Two items can now be held, a throwback to the divisive Double Dash yet one that disappointingly ditches the ability to swap items on the fly. Still, they’re tweaks that are for the best, a little nip and tuck here and there to give this three-year-old game a new sheen.
With the Switch, Mario Kart 8 has also arguably found its home. One of the Wii U’s best games, Mario Kart 8’s greatness came despite its host system rather than because of it – by the time it released Nintendo had all but given up on the GamePad’s second screen, using it to host a map (reproduced on the main screen in Deluxe, though it can be toggled off) and an oversized horn. That’s not a feature that’s particularly missed, and in its place is the ability to play splitscreen Mario Kart 8 anywhere (including, should your eyes be up to the task, squeezing four players onto the tablet’s screen).
Impressive stuff, and Deluxe’s biggest trick also speaks to the joys of playing Mario Kart with friends. Mario Kart 8 was a triumph, but it had one glaring fault; its Battle Mode was an afterthought, shunning the dedicated arenas of past games and only giving players the option to scrap on the game’s existing tracks. In a game full of exquisite craft, the Battle Mode in Mario Kart 8 felt plain lazy. Deluxe offers a complete overhaul that brings Battle Mode up to the standard seen elsewhere in Mario Kart 8.
Five modes are playable over eight maps – three of which are revivals of past classics, including Super Mario Kart’s Battle Course 1 which comes complete with a delicious rendition of its theme tune – all of which helps restore some glory to a side of Mario Kart that’s gone unloved in recent iterations. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks back once again to Double Dash here, reinstating Shine Thief (in which players must hold on to a single Shine Sprite for as long as possible) and Bob-Omb Blast. Top pick, though, is the all-new Renegade Roundup, a game of cops and robbers complete with its own lock-up and break-outs that’s a boisterous party game, reminiscent of Nintendo Land at its very best.
It’s an exquisite addition that rounds off an outstanding package, and the only real question that lingers around Mario Kart 8 is where Nintendo can take the series after this. It’s a question we might not know the answer to for some time, with Mario Kart 8’s original director Kosuke Yabuki having moved on to the forthcoming fighting game Arms, so for now Mario Kart 8 Deluxe looks set to be the definitive instalment.
There’ll be arguments about what’s a fitting price tag for is at heart a port, but all that’s moot in the face of what remains one of the most exquisite video games in recent years. The detail, the care and the craft on show amount to a package that feels luxurious, a feeling only emboldened by this deluxe edition, and the few tweaks made here underline its brilliance. There was some debate when it originally came out about whether Mario Kart 8 was the best in the series – with Deluxe, that’s now no longer in doubt.