Return to glory.
Power sliding is almost second nature at this point. Having played Mario Kart since its inception, I have become all too familiar with the mechanics of the game. Decades later, that formula hasn’t changed. Mario Kart 8 plays like any other in the series, and somehow that is still a good thing. The latest incarnation of the franchise finally brings the series into HD with a few new tweaks, but the feel and enjoyment remain the same. While it hasn’t deviated from what makes the series so special, Mario Kart 8 is also the best entry in the franchise in a long time.
One of the biggest things that make Mario Kart great is its tracks. The eighth entry delivers some of the best courses I have experienced since the N64 outing. Offerings like Cloudtop Cruise and Mount Wario deliver breathtaking visuals and verticality like no other tracks before them. Bowser’s Castle finally lets me enjoy driving through the enemy’s headquarters, while Dolphin Shoals gives me that Wave Race feeling I haven’t experienced since the Gamecube. All 16 of the new tracks are fun to play, and are some of the best the series has had in quite a while.
Platforms: Wii U
Multiplayer: Online up to 12 players, Offline up to 4
Price I’d pay: $59.99
Length: 15-20 hours to unlock everything
The retro tracks included are also impressive, even if there is a severe lack of SNES ones to be found. Only Donut Plains 3 is here, and that makes me sad. There are, however four N64 tracks, and four of the best. Toad’s Turnpike, Royal Raceway, Yoshi Valley, and the venerable Rainbow Road, all remastered in high-definition. They have never looked so beautiful. There are a couple of Wii tracks tossed in, and plenty from the portable version, rounding out a nice, healthy selection of 32 total courses. I am hoping this is the first MK game to also offer DLC in the future.
While the formula remains familiar, MK8 does tweak it just a bit. Most of the usual power-ups return such as red shells, stars, and lightning. There are also new items such as the super horn (which is the only thing that can combat a blue shell) and the boomerang flower, which is as chaotic as it sounds. Items can no longer be stored by holding down the button, meaning racers can only carry one item at a time. That changes up the dynamic drastically.
The new anti-gravity mechanic is also a great addition. Being able to traverse walls to gain those few seconds on my lap time was satisfying. Racers also get a speed boost when bumping rivals in anti-gravity, but I had to make sure I hit them at just the right apex to pull ahead. It is a really dynamic mechanic.
Visually this is the best-looking Nintendo game to date. The smooth 60 frames per second motion accompanied by the slick visual style make this game a joy to watch. The track design is immaculate, and the little touches such as seeing Mario’s hat wet after coming out of the water seal the deal. Also seeing all of these classic tracks rebuilt for an HD Nintendo console makes my inner fanboy squeal with delight. I am happy that Nintendo finally brought their series into the HD generation. Now bring on Zelda.
What I wasn’t a fan of is the severe lack of direction MK8 delivers. I cannot remember the last game I played that didn’t have an options menu. There is also never any explanation of the new mechanics, or even what the new items do, so players coming in without doing any research are in for some trial and error. There are even areas, such as the stats for kart parts, that may never be discovered because Nintendo never points it out. It just feels poorly designed in so many ways.
The cast of MK8 is also abundant, but I feel like it is time to expand. Sure there are tons of characters to choose from, but who really wants five baby versions of characters, or worse yet, the Koopalings. There are too many same-y choices, and I feel like Nintendo really needs to expand the roster into their other properties. Perhaps Samus in a kart, or of course everyone’s favorite green tunic-wearing hero. This seems like a no-brainer, but here we are 22 years later and the roster remains stale.
Online is also a hit and miss affair unfortunately. While racing with up to 11 other players was a blast, I was still limited to voice chat in friends-only lobbies. There is also no easy way to invite friends into a race outside of coordinating it divorced from the game. Once in a race though, things were genuinely smooth, and I could even upload clips of my races to YouTube. Nintendo has also released the stranglehold of online a little by allowing two players from the same console to play online. Baby steps I know, but at least it is progress.
Mario Kart 8 is certainly more Mario Kart, but that isn’t a bad thing. Any series that can last over two decades and still generate this much love from gamers has to be doing something right. While the latest entry doesn’t set the world on fire with its innovation, it makes up for it by delivering some of the best tracks in the history of the franchise, and rock-solid visuals. Add that to good online play and we have the best entry in the series in years. MK8 is slowly becoming one of my favorites in the long-running franchise, and it is a must-own for those who have a Wii U.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.