Mario Kart 8 Deluxe refines what was already an all-star entry in the Mario Kart franchise. Yet it’s the greatest Mario Kart game of them all that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has to thank for its best additions, and that would be the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!.
As the most experimental Mario Kart game, maybe this is a controversial choice. I’ve certainly professed my love for Double Dash!! to an incredulous audience on numerous occasions. But there’s a reason Mario Kart 8 Deluxe brings back elements not seen since the GameCube’s Mario Kart title, and their return only serves as a reminder that Double Dash!! got a lot right amid its reinventions.
Double Dash!! was a co-op affair, as its title makes plain. Even in single-player, every racer had a buddy with whom they’d swap places in their jerry-rigged, two-seater karts, one handling the wheel while the other was in charge of dishing out items. This added an extra bit of strategy and challenge to a series whose basic, simplistic premise was steering toward stale, three games in. Finagling which character would take point in the front and which would hold down the rear was one thing; switching them around for optimal item usage, another.
It could seem like a lot to juggle, but just like any good game, practice made perfect. Coupled with some great tracks, music, character selection and extra battle modes, Double Dash!! felt like a unique iteration on a classic formula.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, like every Mario Kart to follow Double Dash!!, ditched many of these innovations. But it brings several of the best ones back, to its benefit. There’s the return of double item boxes, giving players an additional item to work with at once. It’s an easy way to complicate racing around the same tracks we’ve already played in Mario Kart 8 (and previous Mario games, what with all those retro courses).
And then there’s the revamped battle mode, which is much improved over Mario Kart 8’s. Two of the best types of battles in Deluxe come straight from Double Dash!!: Bob-omb Blast, where players blow each other up; and Shine Thief, which is essentially Capture the Flag.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also maintains the experimental vein of Double Dash!! by introducing some new features of its own. There’s now an ultra mini-turbo speed boost for players to try to nail down, and beginner features like automatic “smart steering” could make Mario Kart far more accessible for the youngest players.
The influence of Double Dash!! permeates Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which is a very good thing. I’m still mourning the experimental exclusives of Double Dash!!, but it’s cool to see the Switch game bring some of that back — and add some cool changes of its own.