The weapons in the game are semi-randomly assigned, with those further back on the grid getting more powerful weapons to tackle foes with. Inversely, the further you are ahead, the fewer items you'll have with which to defend yourself. It's not entirely unknown to just get coins or a mushroom when you're in the lead.
This randomness factor means that no matter how good you are, there's a chance you'll be beaten, which makes the game a satisfying multiplayer experience to play with friends, even if it turns out one of your friends is a godless racing machine. The Switch's natural connectivity helps here: You can have up to four players on the game at any one time, each using a single joypad. You can also play with a local wireless mode with up to two people on each console for a maximum of eight, or just go online. All of these work fairly well, and over the course of a press trip this past weekend I played the game in wireless multiplayer in the press room at Anfield, online using the hotel Wi-Fi when I was back at the hotel later, and then the next day on the train home played some multiplayer with a colleague in local split-screen.
The local split-screen in handheld mode is untenable and gives me a headache because the screen is so small, but the sheer number of ways you can play Mario Kart with other people is useful if you play games with friends or have kids to keep amused.
To aid with these multiplayer shenanigans and the many Nintendo Switch owners that may never have played a Mario Kart title before, the game has added two new features: auto-steering and auto-accelerate. Auto-steering is turned on by default and will attempt to get you around the track without dying horribly. Auto-accelerate brings you up to speed. It's quite heavy-handed, however, and very powerful. At home, I played a two-player game with the second player being a controller sat on my lap with auto-steer and auto-accelerate. It came 8th out of 12 racers.
The assists are powerful enough that those nervous enough about the game can get an advantage, but occasionally it'll override your inputs, which is a big negative. They're more like training wheels for those learning the game, and it's as easy to turn off as pausing the game and pushing a button.
There are enough courses here to keep you busy, although if you're a single-player fan, there's not much depth here beyond learning these courses and perfecting your racing lines. The game feels like a multiplayer title at its core, and you'll get a lot more play out of it with friends.
However, if you're an arcade racing fan or have readily available friends, this is an instant classic. The revamped battle-mode brings back the arena-based carnage and isn't personally to my tastes but offers a lot of variety, with several variants on 'Twat your friends with green shells for fun and profit.'
I'm aware I'm gushing about Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in the review, but it's one of the most overwhelmingly positive, joyous, and vibrant experiences I've played this year. I'm worried about how much content there is to amuse those playing single-player, and that stops Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from snatching our top award, but it's fair to say this has shattered all expectations for what to expect from the 25-year-old franchise. Well played.