Mario Kart is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises and as a massive fan of the N64 version, I was incredibly keen to see how the latest version on the Switch stacked up. I’m happy to report Nintendo have absolutely nailed this game. Its everything it should be, familiar enough for a nostalgic 30 somethings to relive their childhood, while delivering a perfect blend of new and different to feel like a brand new game with loads of replayability.
This time races get an extra degree of difficulty (and visual interest) with tracks that move and morph and even turn upside down and sideways. You’ll also be racing underwater and spending plenty of time in the air. Smashing through the colourful question marks will give you not only 1, but now up to 2 power ups which come in an extensive selection of random bonuses. These include your favourites, as well as some fresh newbies to fall in love with, like the mega 8-item combination powerup (trust me, you want this one).
When it comes to game modes, you’ll select from Single Player, Multiplayer (local), Online Play and Wireless Play (multiple Switches). From here, you can choose from Grand Prix where you’ll choose from difficulty levels ranging from 50cc to 200cc which actually have a surprisingly aggressive difficulty curve and require you to master the brake while drifting.
There’s also Time Trials, VS Race and the return of Battle mode which includes Balloon Battle, Renegade Roundup, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners, Shine Thief or Random game types.
There are no less than a massive 42 characters to choose from in this game, a seriously impressive selection screen. There’s your traditional offerings like Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Koopa Troopa, Bowser, as well as some special favourites like Donkey Kong, Wario and even Link from Zelda.
The best part is, you get to choose from any of the 42 characters, right from the start, which allows players to race their favourites.
Collecting coins during races can seem like a frustrating experience as your growing haul continues to be eroded by opponents and obstacles. Spending time during races collecting coins, as well as finishing at the top of the leaderboard will see you unlock vehicle upgrades.
There may be only 3 selections you need to make, but this screen can be a 5 minute decision process. First you choose your vehicle, then wheels, then your parachute.
You’ll be tempted at first to select ones that look cool, but as you spend more time in the game, you’ll want to optimise and as part of that process, you’ll press the +/- buttons that display the Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling and Grip parameters of each selection. Only with the right blend of 3 can you strike the right balance to have you winning races.
Thankfully Nintendo didn’t forget about tracks either, in fact there’s so much detail, diversity and colour, its possible this is the cause of the game not making it to launch. Whoever designed these tracks, thinks very differently about the world and what race tracks can be.
Injecting fun into racing laps around a circuit is no easy feat, but Nintendo have found an amazing balance of diverse challenges, and complex environment designs and genuinely fun tracks to race on. Its things like underwater racing that’s done so well, making players duck in and out of the water at different parts of the lap. This delivers a different pace to different parts of the race track and there’s still plenty of obstacles to avoid (and be assisted by) under water.
Drifting is still in the game and actually a great asset if you can master it as the resulting speed boost can be the difference between winning and loosing. In the faster leagues, you’ll need to use the brake to make the corners, while the beginning leagues are easy enough to hold the gas and turn, making it great for kids.
Catch up is alive and well in Mario Kart in 2017, with a strong lead unlikely to last long. Often I found it better to hang back in 2nd or 3rd position until the last lap or even the last turn. Catch up sucks if you’re at the front of the field, but if you’re at the back, you’ll appreciated it. It would be great to see an option to turn this off though.
This game is great in single player, but really comes alive when you play with friends. Local Split Screen is an old favourite and supports up to 4 players, or if you have Nintendo friends, you can pair up to 8 Switches together.
Controllers and wheels
The downside of multiplayer on the Switch is the lack of ergonomics on the Joy-con controllers. They’re just small in your hands while that’s fine for kids, adults want to have fun with it too. If you’re serious and don’t have a problem spending more money, then there’s a couple of options available.
The first is the most likely, the Joy-con wheel pair offer plastic housings, much like we seen with the Wii, for the controllers to snap into and give you more to grip. If you choose the tilt to turn option, turning the wheel, turns you vehicle. If you’re after a more adult solution, then you’ll want to consider the Switch Pro controller which gets you closer to an Xbox controller.
Price & Availability
Mario Kart Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch is available today.
In my review of the hardware I mentioned the Switch is too expensive and that’s demonstrated again when we look at the price of entry. If you’re a family and think Mario Kart Deluxe would be a great addition to the lounge room, you’ll be up for A$469.00 for the console, then another A$69.00 for the game itself and likely another $24 for the wheel controller accessories. This brings the total price of admission for a 2 player experience to massive A$562.00
While there’s a Mario Kart bundle on the way to help that price, its a massive hill to climb for parents who want to buy the Switch as a Christmas, birthday or really any kind of present for their kids.
If you have a Nintendo Switch already, buy this game, it makes the console. If you’re on the fence, Mario Kart Deluxe is likely to title that’ll tip you over the edge and get a Switch and you’ll be thankful you did, its a brilliant version of the game and so perfectly matched to the diversity of the console.
Price aside, what Nintendo have created here is simply magic, its so diverse, magical, colourful and engaging that you delivers the fun, experiences to single and multiplayer gaming sessions the Switch was designed for.