Nintendo’s popular Mario spin-off was finally released worldwide on May 30th to the Wii U. With Nintendo struggling for content on its console, high hopes were pinned on the game. Taking these great expectations into account, how does Mario Kart 8 stack up?
At first glance, the game visuals are stunning. Playing it on a big screen was quite the experience. Both the characters and tracks look great visually. Little details in the game, such as Mario’s mustache and hair blowing with the wind add to the visual experience.
As you delve deeper into the game, there is not too much that should surprise those familiar with Kart’s gameplay. The same formula of 16 new courses and 16 throwback courses ever since it was adopted with the DS version of Kart is used again. Although there are 16 retro courses, some have been altered drastically to implement the glider, gravity, and underwater mechanics of the new Kart. It takes a little time to get accustomed to the drifting mechanics, but four or five races changes that. Customizing your racer returns, giving the player to choose the frame, wheels, and glider of their kart or motorcycle. New characters and customization is unlocked by winning Grand Prix and collecting coins.
The three brand new items introduced add new strategy to races. Chomp through banana peels and shells with the piranha plant, or hit streams of enemies ahead or behind you with the boomerang. The final new item, the super horn, will make you weep for joy. I will not spoil the potential the horn has, but will give more details about it in the upcoming Mario Kart guide for Glitched Online.
The new racing mechanic, the anti-gravity track, does not add too much to the gameplay. This mechanic is present in most of the tracks, where your wheels turn sideways and glow a bright blue. While your tires are sideways, racers scale up ceilings or ride along the walls of the track. Also, colliding with an opponent gives you a boost. This being said, the mechanic does not detract from the gameplay itself nor hinder it. It just does not implement more strategy to races.
Of all the Kart games, the Wii U’s controls are the most polished by far. Tight mechanics and controls let players race around Mushroom Kingdom with ease. Handling both bikes and karts is easy to get used to which prevents a steep learning curve for beginners. However, seasoned veterans can get a grasp on drifting more quickly which gives them advantage over the competition. Whether using a Wii remote & nunchuck, gamepad, and Wii U plus controller, the game plays well no matter your controller selection. Take this assessment with a grain of salt, as I played as a drifting character and those used to automatic drift mechanics might have difficulty adjusting to the removal of automatic drift from this installment. I would recommend using the pad, as the mini map can be displayed on the pad while watching the TV.
For all the good the new Kart has to offer, the game does have its flaws. This did not bother me too much, but the automatic drift option is unavailable. This makes the game less accessible to players who used automatic drift in the Wii installment. Additionally, the items seem to hit with a much greater frequency. It is common to be leading on the final lap and be smoked by a blue shell, red shell, and then a lightning bolt for good measure. A driver needs to develop an immense distance from the racers behind them or be prepared to be bombarded by items. Also, the menu selection for versus is a little awkward. You must play through a minimum of 3 races with the same character and racer or return to the main menu every time. A free play mode where players can change between characters and karts between races would be more welcome. My biggest criticism is the FREAKING coin item. As I play a defensive style, it is frustrating to get no protection from shells when you take the lead because coin item arises with high frequency. Finally, some popular characters were left off the roster. As happy as I am that Waluigi made his return to Kart after being absent from the 3DS installment, I sympathize for Diddy Kong and Birdo fans who will be disappointed to learn their drivers did not make the cut.
The issues are overshadowed by multiplayer. Nintendo has a reputation for great multiplayer experience, and they did not disappoint. Local play even if it is with just another player adds to the experience significantly. Online play is also available to provide a platform for players to see how they rank among the world’s best players. Personally, it was fun playing with others in both a competitive and casual setting.
Ultimately, Mario Kart is a must have for Wii U owners. As fellow writer Cole touched upon in his Time to Drive the Wii U? article, Mario Kart 8 might not have done enough to sway fans of shooters and more realistic games. Despite this statement, Mario Kart 8 is a fun experience no matter what your taste in games and a great addition to the Wii U’s sparse library of games.