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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's excellent new tracks prove the original is still the best

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It’s hard to believe that Mario Kart 8 is coming up to eight years old. Yet it’s also hard to imagine a time before it; like only a small handful of titles before it, Mario Kart 8 is a constant that’s become woven into my life, one of those rare forever games that’s always by my side. The weekly Mario Kart meet-ups might be no more – so much time has passed since the original came out on the Wii U that most of the group that used to squeeze into my shed for boozy four-player sessions have moved onto more adult pursuits, or moved out of the country altogether – but I’ll still boot it up regularly for an online race or two.

It’s comfort gaming, yes, but it’s also comforting to spend time with something that flies so close to perfection. Whether it’s the exquisite rhythm of its racing, pulled along by ribbons of triple-tier drift boosts, speed-up pads and pirouetting tricks, or its sugar sweet palette that ensures it’s prettiness hasn’t dimmed a jot, Mario Kart 8 remains a thing of wonder. When Nintendo announced, coming up to five years since the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch, that it was following that up not with Mario Kart 9 but with more Mario Kart 8 I wasn’t exactly disappointed. It just makes sense – if you can’t improve on perfection, why not just go back and serve up another round or two.

Going from the big grin on my face this morning when playing through the new tracks for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it was the right thing to do. The first wave of the DLC drops eight new tracks – by the time the whole lot’s out the track list of Deluxe will have effectively doubled – and they’re up to the standards set by the originals. It helps that they dip into Mario Kart’s rich past – the N64’s Choco Mountain looks as delicious as it ever has and comes complete with those outrageous humps, while the DS’ Shroom Ridge feels even more like Toad’s Turnpike played out on a precipice in its new makeover.

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It helps, too, if you never really dabbled with Mario Kart Tour, the mobile offshoot that came out in the considerable time since Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. I’m something of a prude when it comes to mobile games so tracks like Tokyo Tour and Paris Promenade are new to me and while they don’t wow like some of the other additions they’re still fun enough and delivered with decent fidelity. There’s been some consternation online about the standard of the visuals in these new tracks, and while playing docked on a 4K TV will show up some flatness played in handheld on an OLED it still pops. Maybe you can see the roots of a mobile game there, but perhaps more pertinently you can see a game whose foundations were made on the Wii U.

Even then, when it all comes together Mario Kart 8 can look every bit as dazzling as a modern day racer. Like in Ninja Hideaway which, alongside the resurrection of the GBA’s Sky Garden, is the highlight of this first wave of new tracks. It’s presented as an entirely new thing in game, though people smarter than me have told me it is indeed another lift from Mario Kart Tour; regardless, it’s an exquisitely detailed run through a house dense with shortcuts and alternative routes, decorated with hanafuda illustrations on the ground floor while up in the rafters wrigglers prance about. It’s incredible, and it’ll take more than the couple of runs I’ve had at it so far to unlock all its secrets.

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Doing that alongside others online has been a blast, as has getting another excuse to spend quality time with one of Nintendo’s highest quality games. The only real downside I can see right now is having to wait for all the tracks to drop, but I’ll be patient. In the meantime, maybe I should see about getting those Mario Kart nights back up and running.

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