Three years ago, I felt comfortable calling Mario Kart 8 on Wii U “the best Mario Kart ever.” It wasn’t a drastic shift for the long-running series, but more of a refinement. From the twisting, gravity-defying tracks to game-changing new weapons to the vibrant and beautiful levels, Mario Kart 8 took almost everything I loved about the series and made it better. Mario Kart 8 went on to become the beleaguered Wii U’s best-selling title by a huge margin; more than half of 13 million people who owned the console also had a copy of Mario Kart 8.
Next week the game is getting a chance to reach even more players with the launch of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Nintendo Switch. It’s largely the same game from 2014, but with a few important changes and additions that make this the definitive version. The best Mario Kart is now even better — here are the most important reasons why.
You can hold two items at once
The biggest gameplay change seems like a small tweak: you can now hold two items at the same time. The improvement is significant. It alleviates one of the few problems with the original version of the game. Now, if you’re holding onto a useful item like a fire flower or a super horn, you don’t have to use it in order to pick up another item.
Unfortunately you can’t swap between the two items. But the ability still adds an extra layer of strategy to an already well-tuned experience. I found myself trying to collect two sets of turtle shells or bananas, using them as a defensive shield once I darted ahead of the pack.
Almost everything is unlocked from the start
When you start Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you’re greeted with a huge roster: there are 42 characters in total, including a handful of new additions. All of them are available from the beginning. Unlike in the original Mario Kart 8, you no longer have to spend hours grinding through the Grand Prix mode to unlock new characters or race tracks for multiplayer. That said, you’ll still need to collect coins in order to gain access to new vehicles and parts, but having so much content available right away makes it easier to jump into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, especially for those who already played plenty of the Wii U version.
It goes where you go
Like most Switch games, Mario Kart 8 benefits a great deal from the console’s portability. It may be best-known as a console series, but with Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7, Nintendo produced some of its best entries for handhelds. It’s a game that works well on the go, though fans of the early entries may prefer playing split-screen crowded around a TV. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe allows for both.
Finally, a proper battle mode
The original Mario Kart 8 was an incredible racer, but it lacked one big thing: a robust battle mode. The mode was technically included, but was seriously lacking in options. It also re-used race tracks from the main game, which weren’t ideal for all-out battles. Deluxe fixes this with eight arenas designed specifically for battle mode — four new, four based on arenas from previous games — and five different kinds of battles.
Most of the new battle options are pulled from previous Mario Kart games, but my favorite is new. Called “renegade roundup,” the mode gives each player a chomping piranha plant, and the goal is to snap up as many members of the opposing team as possible.
Smart steering makes it easy for kids to play
One of the new additions to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is something called “smart steering.” Essentially, the feature makes it easier to stay on the track, subtly correcting your steering to avoid accidents. When you couple this with the automatic acceleration option, you have the perfect racing game for kids. Now they can just focus on guiding the kart and using items.
With both of these features switched on, my four-year-old daughter managed to get through an entire grand prix and finish in fourth place; not bad for her first time playing the game. Even better, these options can be switched on individually for each player, making it easy for players of different skill levels to play together.
You get all of the downloadable content
The original Mario Kart 8’s downloadable content added many new tracks and characters, some from outside of the Super Mario universe. You could race as Zelda’s Link through quaint towns based on Animal Crossing, and there was even a fast-paced track based on futuristic racer F-Zero — probably the closest we’ll get to a new F-Zero game anytime soon. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes all of these add-ons in addition to the main game, so you’ll get an extra 16 tracks and an oddball mix of Nintendo characters right out of the box.
In a word: inklings
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe doesn’t introduce any new tracks, but it does include a handful of new items, characters, and vehicles. There’s the Boo ghost power-up that steals items from other racers, and you can now drive as Baby Bowser or the skeletal turtle Dry Bones. By far the best addition, though, is the inklings from Wii U paint shooter Splatoon. These human-squid hybrids are some of Nintendo’s best new characters in years, and with their colorful, competitive nature they slot seamlessly into the world of Mario Kart. Let’s hope this is just a step towards Inkling Girl joining the cast of Super Smash Bros.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is coming to Nintendo Switch on April 28th.