Nintendo Switch had a successful launch thanks to the strength of "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild." But more than a month after its release, what other great games are coming out for the system?
With several projects already in the works, Nintendo is turning to an old stalwart to carry the load while its first-party titles bake a little longer. "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" is a port of a game originally released in 2014, but the version available on the Switch is different from the one gamers bought earlier.
First off, "Mario Kart 8" on the Wii U offered downloadable content. This included free Mercedes-Benz vehicles and character and course packs that cost extra. The "deluxe" part of "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" is that the DLC is now included, along with additional tweaks and changes. It's a refinement of the kart formula, in which players race around a track and try to pass each other with the use of weapons and driving skills.
In the "Deluxe" version, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr., King Boo and the Inkling kids join the rest of the post-DLC cast for an enormous roster of 42 characters. Further changing the gameplay, Nintendo added two new items: the feather, which lets players jump extra high to avoid turtle shells; and Boo, which helps them steal items and then become invisible. The final major update is an ability to carry two items, which adds a new dimension of strategy, especially during close races, and makes those item boxes more important than ever.
"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" improves the disappointing battle mode with the addition of four new rule sets to the tried-and-true Balloon Battle. These modes are diverse enough to be fresh, but aren't all winners. Bob-omb Blast is a chaotic mess; Coin Runners and Shine Thief combine vehicular combat with enough racing skill to stand out.
Finally, Nintendo has made the game more accessible to beginners with Smart Steering, an assist that helps keep "Mario Kart" newbies on the track. It's especially useful when playing with a group that includes kids and adults.
That's significant because "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" capitalizes on one of the Switch's biggest strengths -- its portability. The "Mario Kart" series has always been a party game at heart. It's best during get-togethers with friends, where everyone can pick up a controller and whip around the track. Adding more people amplifies the fun.
"Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" makes the Switch a party in box. Players can bring it along while waiting in line for the new "Guardians of Galaxy" movie and instantly entertain friends. They can take it to a dull birthday party and liven things up. Of course, bringing along an extra set of Joy-Con controllers will help, too, and the system and peripherals are compact enough to fit into a small bag.
The biggest question facing gamers is one of value. If they haven't picked up "Mario Kart 8" on Wii U, the decision is a no-brainer. The game represents the pinnacle of the kart-racing genre. No other game is as fun or infuriating (if you get hit with a blue shell and three red shells during a race). It rewards those who stick with it.
The dilemma is tougher for those who already have the Wii U version. "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" includes roughly 20 percent more content than the vanilla version released in 2014. The tweaks and new additions make this version superior, and its feel is closer to the earlier titles, which are the best iterations.
The game does show its age in terms of the visuals. Despite being on a more powerful system, "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" is almost indistinguishable in looks from the previous version. Nintendo uses the added horsepower to highlight more items on the track and objects in the distance. Other minor alterations include the color of Toads cheering in the crowd and the confetti on the ground at the start of a race.
Ultimately, "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" is a game players can skip if they purchased the previous DLC on the Wii U version.
'Mario Kart 8 Deluxe'
3 1/2 stars
Platform: Nintendo Switch
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