Published on June 16th, 2014 | by octaneblue4
Review: Mario Kart 8
Developer(s): Nintendo EAD
Platform(s): Wii U, Wii U eShop
Release Date(s): May 30, 2014
Since the release of the Wii U in late 2012, there have only been a handful of truly noteworthy titles on the console. While games like Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are all great titles and assisted with boosting sales of the Wii U, it’s clear that the Wii U still needed a game with high universal appeal. Mario Kart 8 is certainly a game that the Wii U needed. Boasting gorgeous HD graphics, several online multiplayer options via the Nintendo Network, a massive character roster, and customizable vehicle parts, this is a title that’s worth checking out for owners of the Wii U. Read on for the full review of Mario Kart 8!
For the first time in the series, a majority of the songs in the soundtrack are performed live. The music in the Mario Kart series has always stood out, but it’s even more apparent when performed with real instruments. This goes back to the game’s graphics; the mostly live music just makes the races seem livelier. Standout background music includes the tropical, saxophone-led Dolphin Shoals, the crushing metal riffs of Bowser’s Castle, and the upbeat jazz of GBA Mario Circuit. This is certainly a game you want to play with the volume up.
Mario Kart 8 takes several elements from the two previous entries in the series, Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7. For instance, the vehicle customization feature returns from 7, while the 12-player supported online multiplayer returns from Mario Kart Wii. The gameplay is similar to more recent previous entries in the series, although the game plays noticeably smoother and a number of tweaks and balances have been made, while some new elements have been introduced. The most noteworthy addition to the game are the anti-gravity sections in nearly every single course. As you approach these sections, your vehicle’s wheels automatically fold up and you’ll go into anti-gravity mode. This allows you to drive on walls or on parts of the course that weren’t possible in previous Mario Kart games. The transition from the main parts of the course to anti-gravity sections is seamless, and while it isn’t a huge addition to the series, it’s nice one that works well with the game overall.
In terms of control schemes, Mario Kart 8 supports basically every possible one on the Wii U. Using the GamePad allows you to switch through different displays on the touch screen, including a mirror of the TV for Off-TV Play and a mini map. You can choose to use the control sticks of the GamePad to steer, or you can opt to use gyro controls. If you’d prefer not to use the GamePad, other control options include the Wii Wheel + Wii Remote, the Wii Remote + Nunchuck, the Classic Controller, and the Wii U Pro Controller. Using the GamePad is actually quite comfortable, and the game still looks pretty nice when using Off-TV Play. In an odd design choice however, when playing multiplayer, the GamePad will display the same split screen as seen on the TV. It would have been great to have a player able to see just their racer on the GamePad, instead of squishing the view even further on it.
Mario Kart 8 features 32 tracks overall, which includes 16 brand-new courses and 16 remixed “retro” courses. The new courses are fantastic, and this is arguably the best new line-up of courses in the series thus far. There’s a wide range of locales to race on, including the candy-filled Sweet Sweet Canyon, the lively dance club Electrodrome, and the dark, mysterious area of Bone-Dry Dunes. The game’s retro courses feature selections from all seven of the previous Mario Kart games, including, but not limited to, Wii Moo Moo Meadows, N64 Royal Raceway, 3DS Music Park, and DS Tick-Tock Clock. What’s appealing about these retro courses is that they’ve been modified to better fit Mario Kart 8‘s concept. So there are completely new sections in tracks that weren’t there before, most notably anti-gravity sections. For example, N64 Toad’s Turnpike features the anti-gravity sections on the sides of the road, but also traffic featuring ramp sections that you can jump off of and perform tricks. GCN Sherbet Land features 2 underwater sections that weren’t in the original game. So even if you’ve played these courses in previous Mario Kart games before, you’re bound to find some very different elements.
Mario Kart 8 introduces three brand-new items. The Boomerang can be thrown three times; it returns to you the first two times, so you can hit enemies as its thrown and on the way back. The Super Horn, when used, attacks all nearby enemies and destroys nearby items too, which includes the infamous Spiny Shell. The Piranha Plant appears in front of your vehicle for a limited amount of time, and it eats items on the tracks, bites nearby rivals, and collects coins for you. The Coin items from Super Mario Kart returns in this game. Like the previous games that featured them, Coins increase your top speed. Like Mario Kart 7, Coins are used to unlock new vehicle parts – more on this later. Mario Kart 7 introduced the Lucky 7 item, which involved 7 set items appearing around your vehicle that you could use – your opponents could use them or trigger them as well, if they got close enough. This game brings that back in the form of the Crazy 8, which adds a Coin to the rotation.
In terms of item mechanics, it’s noteworthy that the item system has changed a bit in the game too. First off, your character can only hold one item at a time. So if you’re holding a banana in the back of your vehicle to protect yourself from shells, and you run through an item box, you won’t get a new item. This creates a bit of a thought process in that you can either use up your item to potentially get a new one, or keep it in the chance that it’ll be needed later. What’s probably the main noticeable flaw with Mario Kart 8 is that its item distribution is flawed. You can be in the back and you’ll sometimes get a single Mushroom or Green Shell, while in the front, you can occasionally get more useful items such as the Spiny Shell or the Crazy 8. While this doesn’t detract from the game all that much, it can definitely be frustrating at times, especially towards the end of a race when you’re banking on that final item to be decent, only to get something totally useless, locking you into your current position, or worse.
Offline modes of Mario Kart 8 include the standard Grand Prix, Time Trial, and VS Race. For the Grand Prix, you start out with only two cups, and the rest are unlocked simply by going through them. You’ll start out with 50cc speed, but you’ll eventually unlock 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror again by going through all the cups — more on the unlockables a bit later. The final offline mode, the Battle Mode, is the one that requires a bit more explanation, simply due to the fact that it’s much different that in previous entries. In all previous Mario Kart games, special Battle Arenas were selectable. Each arena varied in size but were never too large to the point that you couldn’t find opponents or that they could hide for very long. Mario Kart 8‘s Battle Mode seems like an afterthought; instead of selectable Battle Arenas, the game instead uses modified race tracks (4 new, 4 retro) for balloon battles. While battles can be okay in some of these tracks, others just seem too big. Coupled with the lack of any other Battle Mode types (i.e., Coin Runners from Mario Kart 7), it’s just not as fun in this iteration.
But, on the plus side, the online mode of Mario Kart 8 is the best in the series so far. Worldwide races or battles are available to challenge players all over the globe, but if you prefer, there’s also a Regional option available to play against those in or around your country, earning rankings as you perform well. If you’ve added some Friends on your Wii U, they can join your Worldwide or Regional races from the Friends menu. If you have plenty of Wii U friends added and would prefer to make a private room, you can do so in the Friends menu as well. It works similarly to the friend rooms in Mario Kart Wii, but with more options available. When you create a room, you can customize the race options (i.e., speed, specific items, teams, etc.) as you begin the races. The Community option from Mario Kart 7 returns here in the form of Tournaments. Here, you can create rooms that are either public for anyone to enter, or they can be viewable only via a special code that’s generated when you create one. The amount of customization here is rather large, as you can assign specific characters, vehicle types, items, and so on to your liking. You can also make them available at certain times of the day or week, so you can hop on with friends or random players at the assigned time for some races or battles.
Another noteworthy addition to Mario Kart 8 is the Mario Kart TV feature. After a race, you can check out the Mario Kart TV section of the game to view your recent races in their entirety or ones saved to your favorites, which you can activate by hitting the + button after a race (you can save up to 6 favorites). You can also see popular clips from around the world or highlights that your friends made. For your videos, you can narrow down a race into a 30, 45, or 60 second clip that show highlights from the races. There are some decent customizable options, such as focusing on a certain racer, or switching between views of up to four different ones. Unfortunately, you can’t rotate the camera around, so the camera is in a fixed position unless you change the main focus of the clip. Once you publish a highlight, it will be uploaded to Miiverse, where you can leave a comment on it and allow others to comment on it as well. There’s also an option to upload a highlight directly to your YouTube account, a very handy feature for anyone that lacks a capture device but has a noteworthy moment they’d like to share with the web.
The replay value of the game is obviously very high. If you have a group of friends, whether offline or online, you’ll have a great time with those respective multiplayer modes. Even if you don’t know a lot of players with the game, there’s still the Worldwide and Regional races to go through, as well as the Tournament feature. In terms of unlockables, a large portion of the game’s character roster is locked away, but are simply unlocked by going through the Grand Prix mode. The Coins that you can collect during races not only help you speed up a bit, but, like in Mario Kart 7, they’re also used to unlock vehicle parts, and they’re unlocked in certain Coin intervals. Unfortunately, you cannot check how many Coins you’ve accumulated like in previous games, a rather bizarre design choice for a game that puts an emphasis on collecting them. In addition to unlockable characters and parts, the game features unlockable Stamps, which previously appeared in other Nintendo titles like NES Remix and Super Mario 3D World. These are unlocked by winning Grand Prix cups as specific characters and by beating staff ghosts in the Time Trial mode. There are 90 to collect overall, so in addition to the extensive online mode, there is plenty of activities to do in the game.
Mario Kart 8 is quite possibly the best game in the Mario Kart series to date. While it does have some flaws that cannot be ignored, Nintendo did plenty of things correctly with this iteration. The game is absolutely gorgeous, sounds great, and has plenty of replay value and extremely fun local and online multiplyer modes. This is a very solid recommendation to any Wii U owners.
+ Excellent online multiplayer
+ Gorgeous graphics, amazing music
+ Fun tracks, big character roster
– Item distribution is rather flawed
– Battle Mode is poorly handled
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5