My pants are around my ankles, I have the worst pins and needles you can imagine, and I am five minutes late for an appointment. But none of these things matter, because I’m in first place on the last lap of the Special Cup. The only thing that matters now is making sure that I win this race and steal the 200cc cup away from Wario… hopefully wiping that grin off his face once and for all.
My animosity towards Wario is nothing new. What is new is the ability to engage in this decade old feud while on the throne.
What I hope this charming anecdote demonstrates is how the portable nature of the Switch makes Mario Kart 8 Deluxe more than just a port. Now you can get everything you loved about Mario Kart 8, whenever and wherever you want. It’s no longer a static experience at home, but a companion of sorts. A refuge of good times, ready at a moment’s notice, to offer you and your friends an experience usually relegated to a fixed place and time.
Of course, this portability is the charm of any handheld game. But what makes experiences like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe special is that no sacrifices have been made for its portable nature. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not only the same as it was on Wii U, but actually bigger and better. The dream of portable console experience has only been truly achieved twice: first with Breath of the Wild, and now with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Deluxe contains an impressive breadth of content, bringing together all of its vanilla content and DLC, while adding several of the cartoon racer community's most requested features and modes. All up, it offers a substantial 48 tracks, including 16 remade classics from past instalments. The tracks are universally compelling, without a bad egg in the bunch, and the sheer number means that I still haven’t grown tired of any single circuit or cup.
There are definitely highlights, though. Many are found in the fan-service tracks that were DLC for the Wii U version. The Excitebike track in particular is a real standout in terms of great aesthetic and design – especially in how it uses the jump boost feature on the classic Excitebike ramps.
Alongside a plethora of tracks, Deluxe offers 42 playable characters, including all of the game's past DLC drivers and six new characters; King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr, male/female Inklings, and the gold variant of Metal Mario. As nice as it is to have such a wide range of your favourite Nintendo characters to choose from, the really compelling addition is Gold Mario, who is unlocked when you win all Grand Prix Cups at 200cc.
Those who played Mario Kart 8 on Wii U know that this is no mean feat, and I found it hugely rewarding working towards unlocking him. So much so, in fact, that more character unlock incentives wouldn't go astray, because that shiny fellow aside, all characters are available from the outset.
What can be unlocked through gameplay are a wide range of vehicles, wheels and gliders. These components are all designed with the care, attention and whimsy you expect from Nintendo, making choosing parts a form of personalisation for most players. For the hardcore, however, there are ways to min/max drivers and tracks with each component through experimentation.
The real coup de grâce of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the addition of a proper suite of battle modes and maps. For many Mario Kart players, battle mode is the main drawcard, especially as a multiplayer experience with friends. Deluxe straight-up nails its battle mode, adding some of the best modes and maps the franchise has ever seen. The game features five modes: Balloon Battle, Renegade Roundup, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners And Shine Thief. The last three are perfectly serviceable experiences, but I can see them consistently falling to the wayside.
Balloon Battle is the classic Mario Kart mode, and Nintendo has made some smart changes with this latest iteration that keeps it relevant without changing anything too drastically. Most notably, it is no longer a 'last man standing' affair. Instead, players earn points by damaging other players, and are no longer knocked out when they lose all their balloons. Instead, their points are halved. These are smart changes, especially as the maps are designed for eight players, and are typically populated by bots alongside you and your friends.
The new mode, Renegade Roundup, is the real standout of the battle system. Here, half of the players are cops, and the other half robbers. The cops have Piranha Plants which gulp down robbers and send them to one of several jails scattered across the map. The robber team must attempt to have at least one robber free when they time ends, while the cops win if they manage to capture all of the robbers.
The trick is, however, that robbers can free their fellow teammates by hitting a button beneath the jail. The resultant matches are a brilliant combination of cat and mouse and go home/stay home, with each side weighing the risks and rewards of defensive and offensive play at all times.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is everything you could want from a port. It features a wealth of content, and feels like a response (and then some) to fan criticisms of prior games. But for me, the real triumph of this game is the symbiotic relationship between the game and the new system that it inhabits: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is proof that Nintendo wasn't just blowing smoke when it proposed the Switch as a portable console experience. I got a profound sense of satisfaction and enjoyment by having this game with me on the go and getting to play it whenever the opportunity arose. It is, in many ways, a dream come true.