Mario Kart has always been one of Nintendo’s trump cards, often selling millions and being incredibly well received, however, with the WiiU in it’s current less than stellar state, will Mario Kart 8’s new tricks be enough to bring the system out of it’s slump? The short answer is: Absolutely.
First off, you’ve got your typical Grand Prix (race in 8 different cups with 3 speed/difficulty settings, with 4 tracks per cup) and time trial (set the fastest times for completing certain tracks, or race staff/your own/top player ghosts) modes that are virtually unchanged from prior Mario Kart entries mechanics wise. The first big change is the addition of the anti-gravity mechanic in the new tracks, which have also been retroactively added to many of the older tracks as well. This mechanic adds a new level of dynamism to each race and allows for some of the series most creative and wacky track designs yet. No longer bound by the limitations of gravity, you’ll soon find yourself taking shortcuts or alternate paths up walls or even completely upside down. It adds an interesting layer to the races and makes not only passing and keeping away opponents a concern, but which path may be the best to take as well. Would it be better to opt for an empty path and lay traps in your wake for unsuspecting followers? Or will it be better to follow another racer down their path in an attempt to try and overtake them? There are also new mechanics while in anti-gravity mode in which you’ll get a speed boost for bumping into other racers or specific objects. This is another interesting addition as it flips the common Mario Kart mentality of “keep away from me/don’t hit obstacles” on it’s head. This can also be taken advantage of in the way that you can cripple unsuspecting racers trying to bum a speed boost off you by using a sneaky green shell or something similar.
The coin system present in the original Super Mario Kart (returning in Mario Kart 7) also makes a return here, which again adds another interesting layer to the races. It encourages collecting and keeping coins to attain a boost to your overall top speed, helping skilled players to stay in first and create some distance between them and the rest of the pack. Item balance has also been completely overhauled for the better, as many of the overpowered items in previous games (the blue shell, the lightning bolt, and the power star) have received significant nerfs and counters (in the form of the shell cancelling super horn), making them only useful if used in conjunction with many other items or against someone who isn’t skilled enough to build a significant lead. This encourages skillful play and improvement on less skilled player’s parts rather than them giving up entirely. The item balancing has also made it so that those powerful items will almost exclusively show up (rarely) when you are in last or next to last place, making a comeback for that player almost impossible.
Another element returning from Mario Kart 7 is the ability to mix and match vehicle parts to create your own custom vehicle with it’s own stats. This grants you the ability to choose a setup which fits your tastes or customize a kart to specific tracks. Gaining these vehicle parts by collecting coins, along with unlocking characters by getting gold trophies in Grand Prix mode, will take up the majority of your time offline. The Grand Prix mode is also playable with up to 4 players, making it possible to unlock all the characters and car parts with friends if you so choose. I must also mention that the new track designs are gorgeous and a ton of fun. From the calming beaches of Dolphin Shoals, to the candy covered cliffs of Sweet Sweet Mountain, or even the fantastical sky high airships of Cloudtop Cruise, Mario Kart 8 is never short on diversity or visual splendor. Everything looks so amazing and runs at a silky smooth 60fps, you wouldn’t be called out for thinking this is a PS4 game, Nintendo really outdid themselves with the game’s graphics and design.
The game’s battle mode is probably it’s only shortcoming, as there are no unique tracks for it this time around. you simply battle on the enormous and linear race tracks, making for a terrible time. Often you’ll be fruitlessly chasing around other players while hoping there’s no one behind you or looming just around a turn. If there is someone trailing you, in order to turn around you must stop, reverse and then continue in another direction making the battle mode incredibly frustrating, often boring, and most of all, clumsy.
Thankfully, the online play for the game is an absolutely amazing experience as during all my time with it, I never experienced lag or a disconnect during a race. Everything runs perfectly, whether you’re racing against someone in your own city or someone halfway across the world. There are also options to create periodical tournaments that can be fully customized. So if you want, you can have weekly races with your buddies, or search for a high profile event race with specialized rules, the customization is near endless. Every player is ranked by a points system so you’ll be able to determine skill levels just by looking, though it is a bit of a shame that there is no leaderboard to check the top players and your position relative to them.
The game also features a replay feature in “Mario Kart TV” where your 12 latest races are saved and you are free to view and customize (albeit somewhat limited) your own highlight reels for each race. The highlights are often very slick and fun to watch and give you the gist of each race within a short video. It’s even possible to share these highlights via Youtube or Miiverse, so it adds a fun social aspect to the game as well.
Mario Kart 8 does a great number of things right, it does away with what many disliked about recent entries in the series (Mario Kart Wii specifically), and introduces many tweaks and new ideas to keep the series feeling fresh. It offers an overall experience that is satisfying and fun for all ages and skill levels. This is a must buy game for the WiiU, if you don’t have a WiiU yet, this is the time to get one! With the new Smash Bros. on the horizon, Mario Kart 8 will be the perfect game to tide you over.
Mario Kart 8 gets a 9.5/10