The 8th mainline Mario Kart is here for the Wii U. Is it worthy of all of the praise, and accolades the press has handed it?
PROS: New innovations, improvements, and features.
CONS: The roster could have been a little better.
DON’T PISS HIM OFF: Luigi’s death stare is a meme now.
What can I say about Mario Kart 8 that hasn’t been said already? It has even the biggest Nintendo detractors talking it up. It has a lot of 9 out of 10’s in the professional reviews department. It has also given the world the funniest meme since I was frozen today.
Mario Kart 8 at its core is still the long running game we’ve enjoyed since Super Mario Kart came out on the Super NES. The game features an 8 cup campaign, half of which are retro tracks. The retro tracks this time around are a pretty nice selection, and have some alterations to fit in with the rest of the game. As with every Super Mario Kart, there are three engine speed difficulty levels. 50cc is the slowest, with the easiest computer controlled racers. 100cc is the medium difficulty, and of course 150cc is the highest difficulty coupled with the fastest speed.
As in previous games, playing through the campaign, and shooting for gold trophies will unlock cups, tracks, and other secrets. Mario Kart 8 differs in that playing on a higher difficulty setting will grant the rewards of winning on a lower setting. So those who jump right into 150cc racing, and win trophies will also have the trophies in 50cc, and 100cc races.
This is quite a nice feature since in previous games players found that they had to re-beat the game on lower settings after winning to get certain characters or karts or bikes unlocked. This brings up another change. Coins make a return in Mario Kart 8, and collecting them will not only increase your Kart’s top speed, but work toward the unlockable items. This also carries over to multiplayer so even players who skip the Grand Prix can still find some of them. Collecting 50 coins will begin the treasure hunt. After a certain point the number doubles.
Nevertheless, you should play through the game’s Grand Prix mode to get the trophies, and unlock the tracks the game has to offer. In addition to the aforementioned retro tracks the new tracks in Mario Kart 8 are nothing short of amazing. Nearly all of them take advantage of the new gravity mechanics as well as underwater sections. Tracks have certain blue striped bars that when driven on lead to alternate paths. Many of these paths will bring back memories of F-Zero GX, as they corkscrew over other sections of track. Sometimes you will be driving on walls or ceilings. Other times this will be blended with underwater sections, or combined with the glider system which has been carried over from Mario Kart 7.
Cart customization has been completely overhauled too. In the past you would pick your character who would decide what vehicles you could use. Some characters were too heavy to use some vehicles, and some were too light to use others. With Mario Kart Wii, the series would also throw bikes into the mix.
In Mario Kart 8 any character can use any vehicle. The stats will change depending on the combination, but nothing stops you from using what you want. On top of this, you can mix up tires, and different gliders or parachutes for your vehicle. All of which change stats from not only speed or acceleration, but weight, and cornering too. Mario Kart Wii gave us bikes. Mario Kart 8 retains them, and also gives us A.T.V.s to boot. These can be tweaked as well as the karts.
You’ll really want to experiment to get the right feel for your particular play style too. Because Mario Kart 8 is pretty cut throat. While the rubber band A.I. has been reduced it is still prominent. You may very well hold a lap long lead on Rainbow Road. But don’t be fooled. It is very likely the computer will pull off a last second victory, putting you in fourth place. You will rage after barely losing your opportunity to be champion.
Nintendo has also thrown in a few new equalizer items to try to balance things from being so casual things become purely luck, and so skill based newcomers ought not bother. The biggest, and best is the new horn power up. The horn can help in a number of ways, the sound can cause nearby racers to crash. But more importantly it can destroy weapons. So really good players who want to keep their lead can use it to get rid of the blue shells. The #8 is another new one. It will give players a random eight items orbiting around their vehicle. There is also a boomerang that can hit on the way out or the way back.
The actual racing mechanics will also feel a little bit different to lapsed players. You will still be drifting around corners no doubt, but the feel will change with every vehicle combination made. Stunt jumping makes its return too. Pressing the drift button just after going off a ramp results in a trick jump, granting a boost. The drift boost is back as well. Moreover, the speed on some of these tracks approach the level of F-Zero, where one minor misjudgment can have you going off of the track.
In the gravity themed sections players also have to worry about how they bump into one another. Swapping paint gives both players a boost, but the player who hits the other in the correct area will go farther. This also causes both players to spin out AS they boost. So once again, doing it incorrectly could lead to falling off the track.
Fortunately, Lakitu no longer takes his sweet time to get you if you do fall off. He swoops in immediately, costing you only a few seconds. He does however take coins away from you which reduces your top speed until you replace them with more.
The new features, along with the established tropes make Mario Kart 8 one of the best Mario Kart games in years. It may even be the best one in the series depending on who you ask. But there’s still more.
Online multiplayer has carried over from Mario Kart Wii but with a lot of improvements. For starters it now uses the simplified Nintendo ID system. So you don’t have to go sharing or posting friend codes anymore. It also allows you to easily befriend anyone you race with. So if there is someone you enjoyed racing with online you can add them. Setting up a game with friends also lets you choose what stipulations you want. You can even turn off items, so those who always decry the amount of luck in Mario Kart can make it about pure racing.
It also has a really cool tournament feature. With tournament feature you can create your own room, name it, set it’s time schedule, stipulations, and then give the code out to whoever you want.
This has already been a big hit on gaming community forums like NeoGAF, and other communities like Reddit. Allowing big groups from one place to meet up at a scheduled time to play. It’s also nice in that not everyone in a specific community may be friends, but they can still participate if they want.
In addition to the tournaments, and friends lists players can play solo or local multiplayer online. One player can go online against strangers or a second player can join online on the same Wii U playing split screen. The one disappointing thing here is that one of the two players cannot have the gamepad screen to themselves while the other player uses the television. Other Wii U games do this, so it’s perplexing Nintendo didn’t do that with this title.
In all of the race modes the vote system from Mario Kart Wii returns, putting up three track choices, and a random option. The one that is voted on most wins, and that is the track that is raced on. A minor nitpick here is that players cannot just go through the map list, and pick the individual one they would like to vote for. But I suppose this is a sacrifice that was implemented to ensure all of the tracks are played instead of just the few most popular ones.
In any event, online play is a lot of fun. In my play tests I never ran into any lag, even playing against worldwide opponents. The game ran as fast, and frantic online as it did playing alone.
Offline Multiplayer is back as well. Players can still invite friends over for the vintage 4 player split screen races we’ve been enjoying since Mario Kart 64. Playing with four players does have a noticeable effect on the game’s frame rate. But it is still very playable, and still has fewer hiccups than previous versions have. It’s the perfect game for local multiplayer nights.
The only thing that brings it down is the battle mode. Battle mode is still fun, but not as much as it used to be. The big reason is because it fails to deliver its own distinctive maps. Here, instead we see recycled track sections. You still try to do a last man standing by taking out each other’s balloons with red shells, banana peels, and other arsenal. But with the unoriginal tracks the strategic element of it is gone. There’s no camping on a rooftop, or driving into some other zone to throw pursuers off of your trail. Instead it’s the carnage you love, on a section of track meant to be raced on. It isn’t as bad as other people may tell you, because there is some fun to be had. But it is a let down, and you’ll want to focus your time on the racing.
The good news is that the racing is so much fun you’ll come back to it again, and again. In any mode be it online or offline. This could really be considered a killer app that the Wii U really needs. I didn’t even talk about the visuals yet. They will be one of the first things you notice when you start playing.
To be sure, if someone really wants to be a sourpuss they can nitpick on small details like AA being off, or the occasional medium detail texture. But 90% of the time Mario Kart 8 looks amazing. From small details on character models, to NPC’s in the backgrounds to the reflective effects on puddles it is great stuff. So great in fact that when you begin playing with the Mario Kart TV feature you will really start looking for new things you hadn’t noticed before.
Mario Kart TV is a really cool, if limited editing tool. It allows you to broadcast clips of your races to your YouTube account. It allows you to do minor edits to them, and even lets you keep a small list of your most loved ones on file. It includes a slow motion tool that has also birthed the Luigi Death Stare meme.
As with most Wii U games you can still post screen shots to Miiverse, social networking sites, or your image host to display elsewhere online.
The elephant in the room is the roster. It should have been more varied than it is. That much is certainly true. While the Koopalings are a very welcome addition, and the baby version of Rosalina was expected, Princess Gold Peach does come off as a bit lazy. Bringing back King Boo, Petey Piranha, Birdo, or even a different Mario character like Wart would have made more sense. In the grand scheme of things though the roster change really shouldn’t dissuade you from playing this game.
Mario Kart 8 isn’t perfect, but picking it up is highly recommended. It has very fun, and challenging racing mechanics. It has the party game atmosphere long time fans have come to expect. It has amazing track design, and some of the best online multiplayer gameplay Nintendo has ever put out. It also has some of the best driving tunes in the series. Each track has a musical style that complements its setting beautifully. There is a wide variety of locales in the game, so there is also a wide variety of music. The soundtrack is simply wonderful.
You won’t get flawlessness with Mario Kart 8, but you will get a game that does indeed deserve the accolades. It really is worth a high score, as well as being in any Wii U owner’s collection.
Final Score: 9 out of 10