Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review - A kart racer with infinite variables
| Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the biggest, prettiest, most fully featured Mario Kart ever. Which might make you wonder why, in amongst the overwhelmingly positive vibes, I feel a slight twinge of disappointment.

If enthusiasm for this new Mario Kart game is set to 'High' rather than the usual 'Rabid,' that's because it isn't really a new Mario Kart game at all.

For the first time in Mario Kart history, Nintendo has issued a rejigged and enhanced version of a previous version in place of a new entry. The result is a resounding success - with a few obvious caveats for 8 million or so Wii U owners.

Right on track

Reviewing a new Mario Kart is a weird thing to do, because the vast majority of your audience already knows precisely how it's going to play and whether they're going to like it or not. Even Mario's platformers don't stick to a winning formula this rigidly.

It will come as no surprise, then, to learn that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a slick arcade racer with a focus on power-slide and trick-induced boosting, as well as smart item utilisation.

In an average race you'll face up to a dozen or so fellow entrants, whether AI or human-controlled, all represented by members of the Mario and wider Nintendo universe.

If the last Mario Kart you played was the previous portable entry, Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, you'll be right at home here in terms of basic mechanics.

Tracks still tend to be generously wide and wildly undulating affairs, necessitating the use of a hang glider for certain vertiginous sections, and a propeller when things get low down and wet.

Mario Kart 8 added anti-gravity sections to the mix, which gives tracks a new sense of verticality - and an intriguing twist on standard MK practice whereby colliding with your opponents actually speeds you up.

But the main thing to note for pocket gamers is the sheer leap in visual fidelity from Mario Kart 7 to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This is an absolutely stunning game, whether at 1080p on your TV or 720p on the Switch console itself - and always moving at a rock solid 60fps.

We often talk about generational leaps in successive games, but Mario's portable racing progress seems to have seen it skip forward two or three generations.

Like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before it, playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the bus or in your garden is one of those moments that wholly justifies the £300 you slapped down for your Switch. No other device on the market can do this.

Social thrills

The game earns its 'Deluxe' moniker in more ways than just its graphics. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers 41 characters (five of which are brand new), 12 cups of four races each, and four speed classes (plus mirrored) all unlocked from the start.

In addition you have a bunch of wild and varied karts and bikes, all with a range of interchangeable components ready to be unlocked through Grand Prix success.

Much of this was in Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, but the main addition here is a massively reworked and expanded Battle Mode.

This restores the mode to its original arena-battling glory, with eight purpose-built levels and a whole bunch of customisable rules and goals. The asynchronous cops-and-robbers hustle and bustle of Renegade Roundup is a particular highlight.

Added to the game's already-robust multiplayer options and the Switch console's unmatched variety of control methods, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe joins the pantheon of all-time-great multiplayer games.

Even with just the default Joy-Con setup you have a two-player game of uncommon depth and flexibility. Straight out of the box, you and a partner can play split-screen Grands Prix (which contributes to your single-player progress), one-on-one Vs race-offs and battles.

You can even play split-screen on the Switch itself - and it works, too, thanks to how sharp and fluid it all is.

There's also a robust online element, so you can opt to bring in friends or strangers through a cute and non-threatening lobby system.

Pole sitter

Taken on its own merits, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an almost flawless kart racer. It looks and plays impeccably in single and multiplayer, and there's a generous amount of content to keep you going whatever your poison.

It's not perfect, though. There's still a little too much chaos and rubber-banding on display, to the point where entering the final lap with a comfortable lead is often the worst idea possible.

Getting hit by a blue shell, followed by a string of red and green shells from the freshly empowered midfield, never fails to irritate.

But only one group of Switch-owning gamers really needs to hesitate in making a purchase. If you owned Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U and played it to death, I'd argue that there's not enough new here to warrant a full-priced purchase.

It's essentially the same game, with an extra boost stage here and a second item slot there.

Where the decision becomes tricky is if (like me) you sold your Wii U to fund your Switch purchase, or if (like me) you have Switch-owning friends who want to indulge in the game's newly expanded and refined multiplayer experience.

It's a tricky decision that you'll need to weigh up carefully, but I've been surprised by how much fun I've had playing through all the old tracks again in single player.

All I can really vouch for here is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's stand-alone quality - which is that of the finest game in the series and the best multiplayer Switch game yet.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review - A kart racer with infinite variables

It's not Mario Kart 9, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best game in the series and a considerable leap forward for portable and multiplayer gaming
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.