Mario Kart 8 is a true return to form. After the last console entry underwhelmed, Nintendo has unleashed this kart racing giant onto the struggling Wii U. If you were ever a fan of the series, you must play Mario Kart 8. It is, ignoring the battle mode, the most complete and comprehensive Mario Kart ever.
First, let me start by saying that Mario Kart 8 is a ton of fun. I shouldn’t really have to qualify that or explain, it’s kart racing with Nintendo characters and at this point everyone and their grandma has played it. This entry does have a few new things to separate it from the previous entries though.
There are a few new items such as the boomerang and the piranha plant but they are all pretty standard Mario Kart fare. The difference this time is that you can no longer bank items. Previously you could hold a single shell behind the kart or the circling defense of three shells would allow you to pick up another item. Now you can only have a single item at a time and this really changes the game. The item balance has also changed quite a bit to where, when you are winning, the item you get is probably not going to be worth giving up what you have if it is something decent. Knowing when to ‘waste’ items is so much more important now, especially on higher difficulties.
But with items come issues. Being anywhere from 4th to 8th has always been pretty awful. The items are better and all the racers are so close together. It’s a warzone and I’m not quite sure how they could fix it without removing half the item spawns in the level. Still, it is possible to recover from these middle positions, it is just difficult and can sometimes feel unfair.
The main portion of the gameplay revolves around the grand prix mode and there are 4 sets of 4 completely new courses and 4 sets of 4 HD versions of courses from previous games. 32 total courses is a lot and I’m glad to see them not skimping here (I was previously bothered by the lack of 18 hole courses in Mario Golf). The tracks are beautiful and creatively designed, especially with the anti-gravity areas. There’s so much going on during the races that it can be hard to notice you’re racing along the wall of a previous section of the course, however. And the antigravity never gets to too big of heights like there were in F-zero GX on the GameCube but it is still a cool new feature. There are even plenty of splits where one way is normal and the other is along the wall or ceiling. These are nice little touches and oftentimes there isn’t one that is clearly the faster way so you can optimize to your play style.
The driving in antigravity is different but not enough to really change how you play. The only major difference is that, when in this mode, you can run into other racers and get a speed boost. Otherwise it just feels like you are floating around. The perfect driving controls on the ground are sullied somewhat by how the anti-gravity areas feel.
What is missing here is a true single player mode. Even one so simple as just random challenges to complete on the courses. Mario Golf has that and the latest Sonic Racing game had a fantastic single player that was really just races, time trials, challenges, and grand prixs but in a linear order. It’s simple but it gives players a goal with things to unlock along the way. Without it Mario Kart 8 feels a bit old. It is ‘just’ racing; even if it is fantastic.
You unlock racers and parts for the vehicle customization by collecting coins that are placed around all the tracks. However, I’ve yet to see where the game tells me how many total coins I have or what the coins do during a race. I know I lose some when I get hit by items or fall off a course but … there might be a deeper meaning. The game never makes it known if there is.
This isn’t the first Mario Kart with online play, and I can’t speak too much about the online in previous entries, but in 8 it is very well executed. Nearly anything you can do in single player or couch coop can be played online and it runs super well. The only time I saw lag was when I was being a spectator before a race. It’s a buttery smooth experience that highlights the very best of Mario Kart. There are also online tournaments to create and/or compete in that have a slew of customizable options. There is plenty to get lost in with this online mode and it is clear that most will be playing it for months to come.
There is a lot to like in Mario Kart 8, namely that racing around is super solid and fun. It feels like how I remember Mario Kart being when I was younger, just a fun, relaxing time racing. Sure there could, and probably should, be more features but the game is solid enough as it is and those are only minor gripes.
Naturally every Wii U owner should pick this up but old fans should also consider it because it truly is the Mario Kart that you remember.