Review: Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo Wii U)

Mario Kart 8
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 05/30/2014

Something, something, something, Nintendo financials. There’s your obligatory state of Nintendo for this review. Seriously though, it would seem that we can’t discuss how exciting it is to be getting another console Mario Kart game without discussing the sales (or lack thereof) of the Wii U. And while I would certainly like to encourage more people to purchase the system, as more consoles sold will lead to more and better games, I’d rather talk about my experiences with Mario Kart 8.

I’m going to be up front with you and say that Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the gold standard in which I hold every other game in the franchise, as it is my favorite in the bunch by a long shot. I absolutely LOVED the idea of two person karts, where one player can focus on the driving aspect, while the other takes over assaulting opponents with items. Sadly, this feature hasn’t been seen since, though I’m willing to overlook its absence should the experience be enjoyable enough to exist without it. Mario Kart 8 has come the closest by far.

Now, if you haven’t played a Mario Kart game yet, just let me know and I’ll help you lift the rock you’ve been living under. Players pick from one of many characters from the Mario franchise, which consist of the popular plumber himself down to the less recognizable, such as the Koopalings. There are even a few truly bizarre options, like Pink Gold Peach or Lakitu (who should be waving the flag or pulling you out of the water). At any rate, you then get to pick a vehicle, be it the standard kart, a motorcycle or even buggys. More options unlock as you play, and you can configure your ride down to the tires and parachute/hang glider that you use too. And yes, your options do affect performance. After picking a course or set of courses, the race is on.

There are a TON of different control options at your disposal, which should help any player, regardless of experience, get acclimated with the gameplay. You can use the Wii U gamepad buttons, the Wii U gamepad tilt controls, the Wii remote with or without the steering wheel peripheral, the Wii remote/nunchuk combination, or any number of classic/pro controllers. Whomever has the Wii U gamepad has a mild advantage simply due to the ability to see opponent positions and course map, though it’s rare to have an opportunity to look down during a heated race anyway. The gamepad player also has a giant button for a horn in the middle of their screen. Just because.

As in prior games, techniques that could be utilized to gain an edge in a race are still applicable here. If you start holding down the gas at the right time during the beginning of a race you’ll gain a rocket start. Drifting has always been a huge part of the MK experience, and maintaining your drift for a certain amount of time will also grant a temporary boost in speed. Tricks can be performed while going off of ramps and other small jumps that add the same effect. If a course takes you off of a cliff, your hang glider will open up, forcing you to float to the next part of the track much like in Mario Kart 7. New in this entry is the ability to collide with fellow racers while in anti-gravity zones in order to earn both both players a speed advantage, which is useful while unlocking things in Grand Prix with friends.

And yes, I did say anti-gravity zones. Short of actually releasing an F-Zero game, Nintendo has instead decided to borrow elements from that title, which becomes one of the primary gimmicks of Mario Kart 8. Most tracks have segments that allow you to drive up walls or on ceilings without falling off, which gives off the futuristic racer vibe that F-Zero is so well known for. It’s a minor addition, but one that really lends itself well to the course design and adds to the rush of a tight race. Especially during moments when you aren’t even racing alongside your fellow competitors, but rather on the ceiling above them.

Various items, such as turtle shells, bombs, and banana peels are still obtainable for slowing down the competition, but they are less prevalent in determining the winner than in entries past. Most item blocks result in the receipt of coins, which while a factor in mildly increasing a racer’s speed, doesn’t offer the same type of advantage as say a lightning bolt would. Plus, you can no longer hold an item to the back of your kart will picking up another; you are limited to one item at a time, period. Still, a few new items were added to the repertoire for those lucky enough to discover them. Piranha Plants attach themselves to the front of your kart and lunch forward in a burst of speed, sometimes biting passing enemies and eating their items. Boomerang Flowers, true to their name, fling a boomerang from the front of the kart and can injure opponents whether it’s on its way forward or back. Perhaps the most notable of all is the Super Horn that causes a shockwave to destroy any item within range, including blue turtle shells, which formerly didn’t have a way to defend against it. If you’re incredibly lucky, the Crazy 8 item will endow you with eight separate items that orbit you and can be used at will so long as the one you want to activate is at the front of your kart.

Despite the fact that a blue turtle shell assault is no longer the concern that it was before, your computer controlled opponents are just as ruthless as ever. In Mario Kart 8‘s Grand Prix mode, you can choose to race in 50cc, 100cc, or 150cc just as before, with each option becoming increasingly more difficult. Choosing to race in 150cc is punishing, with one mild mistake, such as going offroad momentarily, spelling the difference between first and sixth place. Fortunately, if you’re only concerned with unlocking characters and parts, the Grand Prix mode can be played with up to four players, so your friends can protect you as you try to bring home the gold trophy.

Other standard MK modes return as well, such as Time Trails and Vs Race. Those longing for Battle Mode will be delighted to hear that it is back as well, with enemy combatants flinging items at each other until all three of their balloons disappear, though failure allows players to continue to participate as a ghost. I was a bit disappointed in the course design for the Battle Mode, since the selection consisted of just the race tracks, rather than zones specifically tailored to be an arena. It works well enough, I guess, but it feels lazy. Especially considering how well designed the thirty two standard tracks are for racing. There were times where I played matches that didn’t have the full twelve player slots filled out where we couldn’t even find each other before time ran out.

I should also mention that sixteen of the tracks are all new additions to Mario Kart 8, with the remainder pulled from prior games in the franchise. Perhaps more impressive is that they are not just the same exact tracks but with a graphical facelift; many of these are repurposed with the anti-gravity zones, making it feel all new while retaining the nostalgia. You’ll never look at the N64 rendition of Rainbow Road the same again.

As in Mario Kart Wii, you can go online with the game and compete with your friends, people in your region, or folks from all over the world. Chat is available using the gamepad’s microphone if you wish to talk trash before a race, and tournaments can be assembled to rank the players participating. Perhaps more importantly, the net code seems a lot more reliable in Mario Kart 8, with races generally being lag free and less of a hassle to join. Whether you decide to race or do battle mode, the game has its own ranking system to determine how you measure up with those around you. Two players can go online together split-screen as well, which is sweet.

Mario Kart TV was a heavily touted feature for this entry, and to that end it works pretty well. Highlight reels can be recorded and subsequently uploaded to Youtube if you want to show off your best moments to your friends. All you have to do is input your Youtube account information into the game, select your favorite highlight reels, and start uploading. It’s fairly seamless and easy to use, even though the likelihood of anyone caring about your Mario Kart 8 performance is probably quite low.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Mario Kart 8 is one of the more visually impressive games on the Wii U. I mean, if Nintendo made the console it stands to reason they would be able to best utilize its power, right? Everything from the character animations, to the lens flares, to the glint on the coins as you pass by, it all looks fantastic. The sound is equally incredible, particularly on courses that involve thumping bass or driving on pianos, though all reused tracks have remixed music that should tickle the nostalgia of anyone old enough to have experienced the original games.

I will admit that Mario Kart 8 is the best release SINCE Double Dash!!, with the improved net code, stellar course design, and more balanced item selection being a huge step up from the Wii entry. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it looks and sounds great, allows the use of every controller imaginable, and is just an all around fun game. It’s the kind of title that makes a person glad they invested in a Wii U despite the hesitance of third parties to develop for it. Heck, it’s the kind of title worth investing in a Wii U just to play.

Short Attention Span Summary
Mario Kart 8 manages to combine the best aspects of both Mario Kart and F-Zero into one cohesive package that’s guaranteed to be a big hit among friendly gatherings. It’s well presented, the course design is fantastic, and the online modes are more stable than they were previously. Little touches, such as the ability to play Grand Prix with four players and the more balanced arsenal of items really bring the whole package together. Honestly, if you own a Wii U, this game needs to be in your library.



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