After The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Nintendo Switch launch lineup was a bit thin by design. Nintendo determined it was more important to have a regular cadence of high-quality first-party titles post-launch than to have a robust slate of offerings day-one. Given the Switch's regular sell outs to this point, that strategy is well on its way to validation, but Nintendo still needs to hit on those post-launch titles to keep interest in the system from flagging.
The company's first major post-launch title, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, hits stores at the end of the week, and early reviews suggest it absolutely holds up its part in the company's plan with an average Metacritic score of 94 as of this writing.
An updated version of 2014's Wii U racer, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe packages the original game and its downloadable content with a revamped Battle Mode, a handful of new racers, and some minor gameplay tweaks. Of course, the most compelling new addition is inherent to the Switch, and that's the ability to play the console game on the go. That was the opinion of Mike Williams in giving the game five stars (out of five) for USgamer.
"This is what Nintendo should've released in the first place and it's glorious."
"Part of the promise of some of the best Mario Karts - Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart DS - is being able to enjoy the game with friends anywhere you want," Williams said. "To get that, you used to have to give up the graphical fidelity of the home console Mario Kart titles. With Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you don't have to compromise."
That flexibility is particularly impressive in combination with the game's multiplayer options, Williams noted. Even in portable mode, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe supports up to four players in split-screen, each controlling with their preference of Joy-Con or Pro Controller. The game also allows two players to go online to race others using a single Switch, and up to eight players can race each other locally with four or more Switches.
Williams also welcomed the revamped Battle Mode, saying Nintendo was "asleep at the wheel" when making the original version. Traditionally Mario Kart Battle Mode took place in custom-made arenas, but Mario Kart 8 originally set them on the game's standard race courses. Deluxe sees the return of the arena approach.
"Battle Mode was the place where I always spent hours messing around with friends, so it's lack of inclusion in Mario Kart 8 saddened me," Williams said. "The fact that it's here in Deluxe goes a long way to making this the definitive package. This is what Nintendo should've released in the first place and it's glorious."
The new Battle Mode was a common point of praise for reviewers. In giving the game 9.25 out of 10, Game Informer's Brian Shea said Nintendo had restored Battle Mode to its original glory and given the Switch another strong addition to its library.
"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is primarily a re-release of an acclaimed game from three years ago, but by adding new content and addressing the biggest complaint of the original, this version is unquestionably the best way to experience Nintendo's great racer."
Eurogamer's Martin Robinson was similarly effusive in his review, giving the game the site's highest recommendation, the "Essential" tag.
"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."
"There's arguably no need to tinker with the original's winning formula, but Deluxe does make some small, subtle changes," Robinson said. "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."
Robinson also touched on a theme common among many of the game's reviews. Is a great game that's fundamentally similar to one already released years ago still worth full price?
"There'll be arguments about what's a fitting price tag for what 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," Robinson said. "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."
Not all reviewers found the game's value proposition so compelling. DualShockers' Lou Contaldi came in at the low end of critic reviews for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, giving the title an 8 out of 10.
"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a Mario Kart game and (predictably) fantastic"
"While the selection of content is undoubtedly larger for the layman Mario Kart 8 owner, people who were huge fans of the series and bought the main game along with the DLC for a whopping $72 will feel fairly ripped off," Contaldi said. "In terms of racing content, there is very little added aside some new racers - Dry Bones, King Boo, and the Inkling Boy and Girl don't necessarily warrant the $60 price tag on their own."
Contaldi also took some exception to the game's Smart Steering and Auto Accelerate features, designed to help new players stay competitive and (perhaps unusually) set to on by default.
"I put both Smart Steering and Auto Accelerate on for a 200cc Mushroom Cup and, without touching the Joy-Cons once was able to place in third," Contaldi said. "Nintendo has created a game that literally plays and beats itself."
Annoyances aside, Contaldi was still clearly won over by the game.
"At the end of the day, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a Mario Kart game and (predictably) fantastic," Contaldi said. "With a fully upgraded Battle Mode and all the portability that comes with Nintendo Switch, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is undoubtedly the definitive version of the game - maybe even the series. However, with limited offerings for Mario Kart veterans who shelled out nearly $100 on the last experience, the title will be significantly less rewarding."