Mario Kart 8 May Not Reinvent the Wheel but It’s Still Got It.
Nintendo may have made another critical mistake as far as timing is concerned. One of the biggest titles of 2014 and of the Wii U’s life was released just days after the much-hyped Watchdogs. A risky gamble that Wii U owners do not own other consoles or are not going to be otherwise occupied with Ubisoft’s behemoth of a title.
When Sonic & Sega All-stars Racing Transformed was released, I said then that it was the future of this genre of racing games. Mario Kart 8 confirms that prediction by adopting a lot of what made All-stars Transformed great.
With more opportunities to boost, more drifting, and overall faster cars, races are more about speed than ever before. Maintaining a top speed is hugely important and taking every boost opportunity will matter the most in determining who comes first, second, or third. With this new-found speed, Red Shells are more devastating and crashing can be a death sentence. It’s refreshing to see a new level of challenge injected into the karting franchise.
Best of all, players using the Wii U Gamepad can switch between motion control and joystick control in the middle of a race. This means you can try out the wheel-style control scheme without being shackled to the abomination for the rest of the Grand Prix.
Diddy Kong Racing also lends its services to Mario Kart 8. The courses are littered with coins that boost your top speed – much like the bananas from DKR. They are also used to unlock vehicle customisations. Although they are capped at ten, collecting them gives a player with a demonstrable lead something to do.
Big Levels, Small Sound
Mario Kart 8 is certainly enjoying the benefits of being on the Wii U. Nintendo have used all the machine’s power (relative to other games in the series) to put out a product that is visually stunning. In fact, the first course, Mario Kart Stadium, is a celebration. Glorious, vibrant, and only the slightest bit indulgent. The remainder of the courses are equally impressive. A lot of work has been poured into the backdrops and it really makes the world around track come alive.
With 32 tracks to keep you amused, there is not shortage of scenery to enjoy. Like Mario Kart Wii, half the courses are retro, making appearances from earlier iterations of the racing game. It sounds like a bit of a cop out but they have all been given the HD treatment and one look at Moo Moo Meadows will show you the improvements. Even those made on levels as recent as on the Wii. Though I’m not sure if I can forgive Nintendo cutting N64 Rainbow Road in thirds.
Musically, Mario Kart 8 grows on you. It would be unfair to say understated as that implies a positive result. It’s one of the few things Nintendo left behind from Sega All-stars Racing: the bombastic musical score. There may be nothing akin to a booming version of Sonic & Knuckles‘ title theme and this is the biggest disappointment. Star Cup’s Electrodome is let down by the lack of a powerful soundtrack. For what it’s worth, the music does get better the more you play. Quirky but not fitting the huge scale of the tracks.
The Battle mode makes a return with even more options for customisation. Teams are an option now – not forced one way or the other – and items can be restricted to shells, bananas, or mushrooms. Individual battles are now somewhere between traditional Mario Kart battles and battle races from the old Sonic R and Sega All-stars Racing. Free driving on a normal course trying to land three hits on another player. Lots of fun and the best of both worlds.
A slew of new characters have been introduced into the series. So far it looks as if Birdo and Bowser Jr. are among the first casualties to make way for Metal Mario, Baby Rosalina, and the Koopalings. There are now enough characters that even those stuck, nailed, and riveted to Yoshi or Bowser may have reason to think twice. Except I think they only included the Koopalings to force everyone to learn their names.
Some new items have also made their way into Mario Kart 8. With the exception of the Piranha Plant, they really don’t add anything new. The Boomerang and Fire Flower are glorified Green Shells and the cannon lacks strategic value at the positions it is most common. A few changes to existing items are the more exciting parts. Triple Banana comes out as a shield spinning around your kart (a la Triple Shell) and consumes your item slot while it’s active. Generally stopping players in first with a good lead from having six bananas for defence. Crazy 8 is a nice game-changer (read: All-star) but is just a collection of eight other items, not a massive boost in power unique to each racer.
Originally I thought the kart customisation was a feature solely aimed at competitive players of the game. On the surface it is complicated and takes much longer than the pick character -> pick kart rhetoric of previous instalments. After playing around, however, the change allows for more freedom in character choice. Ordinarily, your preferred play style determined which characters you were able to pick. In a typical Nintendo move, the new system allows you to fit any character into almost any play style.
Mario Kart TV is a new feature that provides highlight reels of your race and can be uploaded to the Miiverse. They are fully customisable, can focus on up to three racers, and various types of action (items, drifting, etc.). It’s a nice update for those who like to share this sort of thing online or actively use the Miiverse. Otherwise, the first few are fun but it gets tedious quickly. Even more so because the “View Highlight Reel” button is the default option after a race. Mashing A-button to get through menus between courses will have you starting more than your fair share of retrospectives.
A review of Mario Kart 8 feels almost redundant. Gamers will know whether or not they will like it before even playing it. It is a reputable instalment in one of the most renowned video game franchises of all time.
I have no question that it will sell. Having Mario in the title and being on a console that is literally aching for games will almost guarantee Mario Kart 8 will sell out in seconds.
On average, the courses are better than the courses in previous games and they are stunning. The updated gameplay elements and battle races really are quite good. You may know what to expect from Mario Kart 8 but it does it well. Probably the best Mario Kart since the Nintendo 64.