The Nintendo Switch covers a lot of bases: handheld, game console, and -- someday, hopefully -- a central hub for all Nintendo games present, future and past. In that sense, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a test run for the Switch as total replacement for the Wii and Wii U. Can the Switch handle one of the best Wii U games ever made?
I've been playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch, and the quick answer is yes, in nearly every way.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe feels fast, fun, and it's got a ridiculous amount of tracks and characters to choose from. The Switch game includes both separately-sold add-on track and character packs on the Wii U, as well as a few extra battle modes for multiplayer. That's 48 tracks, eight multiplayer arenas and 42 characters you can race as. That's a lot of replay.
I tried racing games and battle modes with my eight-year-old son, and we had a blast over a single Switch screen. Yes, on-the-go multiplayer works, and the gameplay feels exactly the same in a good way.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also looks better than the several-year-old Wii U version, but on a game system that's a handheld. That alone often feels shocking. And, at the very least, it's proof that the Switch can be everything the Wii U was and more.
The bad news is that, at $60, Nintendo's asking any existing Mario Kart 8 fan to buy in again for largely the same game. But the good news is that this easily the best game to have on the Switch right now next to Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And, it's the best multiplayer/party game on the Switch, so bring friends.
But, don't bring too many... unless they have their own Switches.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe supports up to four-player split screen on a TV or even the Switch's tiny 6-inch screen. Four people huddled over the little Switch in four-player mode is a gameplay challenge, but the fact that it works at all is impressive. The frame rate drops in four-player split screen, but it's playable.
Really, you're meant to play four-player split screen when docked with a TV, and yes, it's great like this.
The better option for on-the-go play in kickstand mode is putting two people in split-screen, which is still cramped but works a lot better. But, using the tiny wireless Joy-Con controllers individually can get a little hand-cramping, especially when trying to press the tiny top shoulder buttons. (Nintendo's included slide-on Joy-Con grips make the needed top shoulder buttons larger, and I'd recommend you use them.)
To get up to eight players playing, you need more than one Switch. Actually, you'd need four. Connecting multiple Switches for wireless only allows two players to play split-screen on the Switch at a time. One Switch creates the lobby and picks the games, and the other Switches join in. We connected two Switches with two players each for four-player multiplayer, but we ran out of Switches for further experimenting.
You'd need a USB-to-Ethernet LAN adapter for the Switch to connect enough Switches for 12-player games, and I simply don't have that equipment. I also don't think I'd gather enough friends or Switch controllers in real life to make that a reality. But, it is possible.
I'm a gaming loner. Mario Kart 8 still has lots of challenges in single-player, including time trial races against ghosts and battles against CPU players. Or, playing with people online. The game looks fantastic in single-player mode on the handheld screen.
On a TV, it looks even better.
Mario Kart 8 is best played with a full-size controller and a larger screen, but this is the definitive version of Mario Kart 8, and stands alongside Zelda as a killer duo of launch games. Make this your second game (after Zelda).