Mario Kart 8 Review: Karting Turned Upside Down
We’ve finally got Mario Kart 8 in our hands folks. The long wait for the first HD Mario Kart has been brutal but Nintendo made it worth every second. Mario Kart 8 takes the core concept of what makes Nintendo’s legendary racing franchise great and refines it exceptionally with several small tweaks that make this the best Mario Kart to date.
There is so little wrong with Mario Kart 8 that I feel its easier to get its faults out of the way first. Battle mode is disappointing for fans of the mode made popular on the N64. Each battle mode map is just a slightly remixed version of a normal track. There are no special maps designed for battle mode specifically. These tracks are far too big for battles and you’ll spend more time searching for players then you ever expected.
Aside from a lackluster battle mode the only other gripe I have with Mario Kart 8 is the lack of any menu to view your online stats. This was present in both Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 so its an odd omission. The character roster is probably the weakest in the series so far though. The koopalings seem to have be added at the expense of other characters like Funky and Diddy Kong. Nintendo dropped the ball on characters are some are palette swaps and many of them are forgettable.
These complaints do not hold back the game’s quality whatsoever. It is overflowing with small details and subtle changes to the core Mario Kart formula. Under-water racing and gliding return from Mario Kart 7 with a big twist: Anti-gravity. At first you may not understand the importance of anti-gravity in Mario Kart after watching trailers but once you play it you’ll get it. Anti-gravity opens up extra paths for players that would normally not be there, adding an extra layer to nearly every new track. You can also get speed boosts by bumping into opponents but some strategy is required as this could also give them a speed boost or potentially wipe either of you out.
Anti-gravity adds a risk/reward mechanic that freshens up the classic Mario Kart gameplay alongside the under-water and gliding mechanics added in Mario Kart 7. Coins return as well with each coin collected increasing your top speed and of course unlocking new parts to customize your vehicle of choice. Bikes, ATVs and Karts are all available in MK8 with each having strengths and weaknesses. This kart customization never gets too complicated but its complex enough to add a depth that you would have never expected from Mario Kart ten years ago.
Nintendo believes that items have never been balanced better than in this game and they might be right. Green shells can now bounce up to 10 times over 6 in MK7 and the blue shell can now be destroyed via the new speaker item. Coins are a bit of a questionable item since they’re so readily available on the track and it is disappointing to get a coin when you’re hoping for a defensive or offensive item. Overall though Mario Kart 8 does feel a little bit more balanced with significantly less blue shells appearances in my 20+ hours so far.
Racers can no longer store two items at a time adding another layer of strategy unseen in recent Mario Kart games. As a whole it feels like Mario Kart 8 rewards skill and timing much more than previous entries with less cheap finishes. This does have a negative effect in that if you’re stuck near the end of the pack its harder than ever to go from 10th to 1st. Items are never going to be balanced 100% the right way but Nintendo did the best job yet at making Mario Kart a fair game that still rewards truly good players.
Visually Mario Kart 8 is absolutely stunning. This game has no business looking so damn good on the Wii U’s hardware, running at native 720p at all times. The game runs at 60 frames per second during single player, online and in 2 player split-screen and only drops to 30 frames per second during 3 or 4 player local split-screen. Each track is meticulously detailed with vibrant colors that pop off the screen. Mario Kart 8 might have the best art direction of any game this year or in recent memory and the graphics punch above the Wii U’s weight due to some solid art decisions.
The new tracks are really impressive with unique aspects that use anti-gravity, gliding and under-water racing to the fullest. Retro courses like Rainbow Road N64 are re-created with a jaw dropping level of visual oomph that would make our younger versions of ourselves in the past weep tears of joy. Some liberties are taken with retro courses to incorporate new mechanics like on the remake of 3DS track Piranha Plant Slide but overall most of the retro tracks are faithful and make logical changes for the better. Electrodome, Toad Harbor and the new Rainbow Road are some stand out new tracks while DK Jungle (3DS), Moo Moo Meadows (Wii), Grumble Volcano (Wii), Yoshi Valley (N64) are great picks for retro remakes.
We can’t forget the soundtrack now can we? Mario Kart 8 delivers with some great new tunes while also remixing classics like Rainbow Road 64 and the Gusty Garden Galaxy theme for the new Cloudtop course. Mario Kart 8′s new track music is outshined by the retro track music but it does have some songs that will be franchise staples and fan favorites for years to come.
I don’t think I need to tell you that Mario Kart 8 is the best local multiplayer game this side of Super Smash Bros. Its an absolute blast with 2-4 people and the experience translate into online well. 1-2 players can go online to tackle players from around the world and the online setup is the smoothest, most hassle free Nintendo has ever made. Hopefully Nintendo applies this ease of use to all of their future online games as getting into races, voting for tracks and online races/battles themselves are nearly problem free.
Mario Kart TV is also a good addition to the franchise. Its an entirely unexpected inclusion since Nintendo hasn’t always had the best history with online connectivity. The game stores 6 of your favorite clips as well as several recent videos. You can edit them to focus on different racers or actions and then upload them to YouTube. Its a really cool feature that isn’t as polished as video editors you’d see in Call of Duty or Halo but nonetheless its a fun diversion when you nee a break from all the racing.
If you have a Wii U and don’t own Mario Kart 8 yet then there is something certifiably wrong with you. It should be every new Wii U owners first purchase. It has online play that is significantly better than anything Nintendo has ever offered, fantastic visuals that look better than anything seen on Wii U so far and is a must-have party game when friends come over. Small, subtle tweaks like anti-gravity racing, item management and balancing turn the core Mario Kart fundamentals upside down and revamping a formula that probably could have coasted on its laurels and still been successful.
Mario Kart 8 is the best Mario Kart game to date. Nintendo has made several changes that really mix things up. Its worth the price of a Wii U just for the outrageously fun local multiplayer let alone the surprisingly solid online.