Platform Wii U
Developer Nintendo Publisher Nintendo
It’s not often you’ll find someone who dislikes Mario Kart, the incredibly successful Mario-racer series that debuted on the Super Nintendo in August 1992.
Seriously, think of all the people you’ve ever played Mario Kart with, and you have more than likely played at least once in your gaming career. Has anyone ever told you they didn’t at least enjoy it? Sure, you may have lost some friends in the process from your last-minute victory with a red shell, keeping them inches away from the finish line and stealing their coveted first-place title, but it’s hard to deny the sense of triumphant pride from your devious win.
This and its accessibility are part of what makes Mario Kart so successful. It’s easy for anyone to jump into, but it can be challenging enough for the more seasoned gamer and those wishing to fill their virtual trophy shelf with grand prix wins. Even more so is its multiplayer appeal, which has seen friends and family screaming at blue shells on the television screen for over two decades now.
Mario Kart 8 follows this formula, and with more success than its console predecessor, Mario Kart Wii, thanks to some much needed tweaks and extensive customizations to vehicles.
Much like Mario Golf (read our Mario Golf: World Tour review here), Mario and Bowser friends have, for whatever reason, set aside their differences to bask in something outside of fighting one another for a kidnapped princess. In this, it’s in the form of fun cart racing in a series of grand prixs and occasional versus battles.
With three settings – single player, local multiplayer and online multiplayer, which is split up into two parts with one-player and two-player online – 12 racers go head to head against one another in heated laps across 32 tracks. Half of these tracks are brand new to the series while the other half are redesigned courses spanning across previous games in the franchise.
You can easily drift your way through every track, whether you’re with friends or not, in a few hours, but it’s the series’ new additions and modifications that make Mario Kart 8 perhaps the most fun entry to the series yet.
For starters, there are bountiful options to get the exact racer you want. Do you always have those two friends griping over who gets to play as Yoshi? That’s no longer a factor since everyone can be Yoshi and other characters if they wanted to, not to mention there are 30 characters for the picking, even more if you include any Miis you have created.
This isn’t where the options end, however. As coins are collected in races, which gives players a slight upgrade to their set of wheels’ speed, you will unlock more vehicles – such as karts, bikes and even small sports cars – wheel and gliders with every 50 to 100 coins collected to build your dream racer.
Another contributing factor to how your vehicle handles is the characters themselves. The smaller the character’s size, the better they are at acceleration and handling those tight, sharp turns while heavier set characters have increased speed and are tougher to push around. These stat-changing features cleverly contribute to the size of your Mii’s as well.
This kind of customization and depth is fantastic to see in a fun kart racer because it allows the players to achieve the exact stats they’re looking for instead of settling on fixed settings. I especially appreciate how I can finally have a balanced vehicle to take on the Nintendo mascots and any banana peels that stand in my way.
You’ll need to create your vehicles with precision if you wish to handle the incredibly well-designed tracks, both new and remade. Whether you’re driving through the more novice Sweet Sweet Canyon in the Mushroom Cup or the infamous new Rainbow Road in the Special Cup, every map is designed with much distinction and features enough twists and turns to not make it feel like the same experience with each lap.
Even the retro tracks have received face lifts of their own. They haven’t been altered to the point where it won’t spark a memory or two, but don’t think because you played Royal Raceway from Mario Kart 64 forty-seven thousand times that you’ll know the lay of the land here. Each of the retro courses have been modified in order to boast the series’ newer features since the courses’ original debuts. The redesigns are enough to keep the stages fresh compared to their elder counterparts while bringing out any inner nostalgia you may hold.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mario Kart game without its signature multiplayer, which once again shines for the most part in this latest entry.
You can expect to have a blast with friends locally, whether it’s grand prix races or your own custom rules, which range anywhere from no items to Mirror Mode to teams and more. The computers have also been majorly toned down since Mario Kart Wii. They’ll give you a run for your money when you amp up the difficulty, but they won’t seemingly focus solely on human players like last time either.
Sabotaging one another is more fun thanks to the tuning of classic items as well as the new Piranha Plant, Boomerang, Crazy 8 and Super Horn items. Thankfully, the notorious Spiny Shell does not appear nearly as frequently in Mario Kart 8 as it did in Mario Kart Wii. There is also no more holding onto multiple items. Once you get an item, it’s the only one you can possess until it’s used. This may sound like a set back, but it relies more on the player’s skills in turn, something I always welcome in any game.
The four new items are powerful and fantastic as well, but they don’t make an appearance in player’s hands too often. Crazy 8 surrounds you in a ring of eight usable items, which include a Bomb-Omb and Star; the Piranha Plant bites to attack nearby players, destroy any items tossed at you or give the user short boost spurts; the Boomerang can be thrown three times and always comes back to the player; lastly, the Super Horn has a one-time use that negates Spiny Shells or disrupt any players within its small blast radius.
The online features are where players will likely spend much of their time. Racing against others online is seamless, and setting up or searching for matches is a breeze. I am quite pleased with how smoothly the game runs online, both on and off the tracks. There are options to choose from when setting up a tournament, including how frequently it’s active with daily or weekly races. Whether you’re simply racing in a grand prix or participating in a tournament with only green shells, you’ll have a blast competing against unknown adversaries and your friends online.
However, one major dimmer to online while playing with friends is how I can only talk to them in the lobby before the race starts. It’s also the only place I can verbally communicate with other players at all. Part of what makes the franchise fun is the presence of other players, and with the lack of communication, it takes away from the one of the game’s most endearing values. Your best bet is to set up a Skype group or something along those lines if you wish to set up a match and speak with friends.
Outside racing the series’ traditional racing, Battle mode, where the objective is to take out your opponents in three hits using items, returns once again. However, Battle feels like a tacked on feature in this entry. Instead of small arenas created specifically for Battle, Nintendo gives you eight of the race tracks that are only slightly altered to duke it out on. The race maps are simply too big, no matter how many players are present. Sometimes it’ll be over 30 seconds until you can find an opponent. The chaotic nature of Battle is not suited for the size of race tracks, which makes it feel like a last-minute, mundane mode.
Time Trials, a mode only in single player, comes off as another feature thrown into the game simply to add more. Instead of giving players a specific time and earning some kind of reward upon reaching a goal – as every time trial mode in the history of ever has – Mario Kart 8 gives you three mushrooms, tells you to race around any of the 32 courses, and afterward, prompts you to make an attempt to beat the time you previously set. It offers zero sense of accomplishment or reward for a pointless feat the player has to create. A simple gold, silver and bronze prize with time expectancy could have made Time Trials far better and more fulfilling than it ultimately is.
Mario Kart 8 also features somewhat of a gameplay recorder called Mario Kart TV. After each race, you are give an option to edit your highlight reel, which captures the best moments from the course. If you fancy YouTube, the game even grants you a choice to upload reels to your account. While people will appreciate the simplicity behind the editing, there’s a little more to be desired, as you don’t have any control over the camera angles, or perhaps specific moments you wish to savor. Everything is already pre-determined for you. A little more freedom in how the footage is captured and allowing footage more than 60 seconds to be uploaded would have been welcomed. Highlight reels also take a bit too long to load, whether you’re viewing someone else’s footage over Nintendo Network or your own.
Mario Kart TV does give you another good excuse to indulge yourself in the visuals of Mario Kart 8 though. It’s a gorgeous-looking game, and it’s fantastic to see how it can maintain 60 frames with two players, both off and online. The light bouncing off the reflective surfaces truly brings Mario Kart 8’s bright colors and vivid visuals to the screen beautifully when on an HD display, which carries over to the GamePad’s screen as well. Even when the game drops to 30 frames with three or four local players, it’s still a head-turner if you glance at it in passing.
I’ll admit that I’ve never been one to jump aboard the Mario Kart train when I’m at parties or when friends are over. While I enjoy racing games, I simply prefer other types of games, but I can say with full confidence that Mario Kart 8 will become a new suggestion on my list of things to do when hanging with friends – whether it’s in person or the virtual spaces of online gaming, Mario Kart 8 is a fantastic first HD iteration to the franchise with its plethora of vehicle and character options, fantastic map designs and bright, magnificent aesthetics. Some of its shortcomings, such as no communication among players in the middle of matches and Battle mode feeling tacked on, prevent from being further excellent, but if you’re longing for a multiplayer experience everyone can play, while managing to be fun playing alone, you can’t steer wrong with Mario Kart 8.
+ Extensive Vehicles options
+ Excellent map designs
+ Beautiful visuals
+ Online options, except…
– … No communication with players while racing
– Mario Kart TV could have been better
– Battle Mode and Time Trials feels hollow
The Score: 8.8
Robbie Key is the Nintendo editor for Analog Addiction, entertainment editor and copy editor for the Pine Log at Stephen F. Austin State University, news editor for Worlds Factory and blogger for IGN. Follow his completely relevant Twitter updates, watch his awesometacular YouTube videos, and view his LinkedIn profile.