GAME NAME: Mario Kart 8
PLATFORM(S): Wii U
GENRE(S): Racing, Kart Racer
RELEASE DATE(S): May 30th, 2014
Nintendo like their sequels, you need only look at the “8” in the title to figure that much out. However, they also have a history of innovation, making extremely well-polished, family friendly products and their games are incredibly fun to play as a result. The Mario Kart franchise stands as a testament to these facts and as any Nintendo fanboy will tell you, no Nintendo console lineup is complete without a Mario Kart entry. With the Wii U struggling quite a bit in the current market, its difficult to say whether this new iteration will turn things around for the console. What we can say, however, is that Mario Kart 8 is one helluva game and the best we’ve ever played.
The first thing that’s going to immediately strike you is how utterly gorgeous Mario Kart 8 looks. People tend to forget how powerful the Wii U actually is and nowhere is this more evident than this marquee title. The characters and vehicles are bright, colourful and beautifully animated, gesturing at you as they speed pass and transforming gracefully into paragliders as they jump off ramps. While we don’t expect any less from Nintendo and their magnificent artstyle, the game is also technically very impressive, with very little slow down and the framerate at a fixed 60 fps. The game’s 32 tracks are worth a special mention, not only because of how good they look but because of how much of a joy it is to actually just speed around them, especially with the re-introduction of fan favourites from games past. Rainbow road is absolutely breathtaking and is just as challenging as you remember it on the N64, while the 8 new tracks are all incredibly fun to play. Nearly all of these new tracks include the awesome new “anti-gravity” feature which quite literally turns the race on its head. It seems like such a trivial feature, but combined with the already frenetic gameplay that we’ve come to expect, suddenly staring at the ground while fending off blue shells adds a completely different dimension to the race.
With the added difficulty to some of the already punishing tracks, I’m pleased to announce that the game controls exceptionally well (no doubt helped by the stable frame rate) and it is an absolute joy pulling off the perfect powerslide as you round a tight corner. The only small gripe I have with the control scheme is the almost non-existent integration of the Wii U’s gamepad. The added screen really adds very little to the experience, though to be fair it also takes very little away. With that said, players like myself may just be tempted to pick up the normal controller for a more enjoyably experience.
It’s also a pleasure to play a game in this day and age that feels so feature complete. While we’ve already mentioned the impressive character and track rosters, there is also a plethora of gameplay options, including the staple Championship and Multiplayer modes as well as fan favourite Battle-mode and Coin Runners. Unfortunately, our time with the online multiplayer was a bit brief as at the time of writing the servers had not officially gone up. We did manage to get some multiplayer karting done, and what we did play looked replete with features and as Nintendo have proved over recent years the netcode is likely solid.
Unfortunately, while the variety offered is highly appreciated, it is also one of the few criticisms we have with Mario Kart 8. The issue comes by way of the character selection screen. There are certainly plenty of racers to choose from and all the regulars are there, but there are also a lot of characters that seem to appear only for the sake of filling numbers. In particular, having metallic variants (we’re looking at you Gold Princess Peach) and “baby” characters seem trite and uninspired. It also seems a strange omission to have the “Battle stages” take place in the normal levels when in prior releases they had their own specific arenas. It feels like a step back for the franchise, especially as many of the levels now feel two big for that specific game mode. At the same time, the re-introduction of some of the older tracks such as Mario Kart DS’ Cheep Cheep Beach doesn’t introduce any of the near gravity bending features but instead relies on just pure racing.
Not that there’s much wrong with “just pure racing” as the Mario Kart series is quite literally genre defining when it comes to Kart racers (seriously it’s right there in the name). It’s just by now you know exactly that you’re going to get (for better or for worse): It’s a tight, accessible multiplayer oriented game that sees you throwing all sorts of weapons at your friends (now enemies) as you all vie for first place. It really has all been done before, but it doesn’t stop Mario Kart 8 from feeling fresh and exciting every time you start it up. The addition of only two new item pick-ups might be a sore point for some, but as a result the game doesn’t over extend itself and feel unbalanced. The first new addition the “Piranha Plant” can be dropped and pops out to nab passing drivers while the “Boomerang” is a reusable item that works pretty much as advertised with careful timing allowing you to also hit enemies on the return trip.
The two items seem to sum up the game quite nicely. Mario Kart 8 does nothing too ground breaking, but rather acts as a refinement of a pretty much perfect franchise. While the same can be said of many of Nintendo’s releases, it feels like they have truly breathed new life into the franchise justifying any of the fervour or hype before release. If you’ve never enjoyed Mario Kart, this certainly won’t change your mind. But for everyone else, this is truly Nintendo at their very best.