Mario Kart 8 Review – It’s Flippin Fun
It’s Mario Kart! Mario Kart!
I know this review is a tad belated and perhaps a little redundant at this point. In truth, I did not want to rush myself into playing Mario Kart 8 just for the sake of posting up a review in a timely manner. I believe in the mantra, that appreciation comes from freedom and cannot be achieved with the shackles of a deadline. I despise the notion that one must rush through a game in order to put a review up. It’s not my style and will never be. Having said this, I’ve killed serious hours into Mario Kart 8 – and I am fairly confident in writing a fair and honest critique of Mario Kart 8.
The most talked about, and no doubt the most laudable feature of Mario Kart 8 is the visual presentation. For a series with a reputation that was not built on aesthetics, I find it surprising, and somewhat impressive, that Mario Kart 8 pushes itself as a contender as one of the best looking games of the new generation. Sure, you could argue from a technical perspective that Mario Kart 8 can’t hold a proverbial candle to games in rival consoles, but that would be terribly disingenuous, Mario Kart 8 is a gorgeous game by any metric. Fact! Mario Kart 8 impressive visuals are the result of color, art design and technical wizardry from Nintendo. I found myself in constant awe about the small visual details that bring the courses to life, from the reflective puddles of SNES Donut Plains, the dawn skies of Moo Moo Meadows and the spectacle of watching a commercial plane taking off during mid-race.
As you already may know, being a beautiful game means nothing, if the fundamental game design is terribly flawed in execution. Thankfully, the Mario Kart formula that we have grown to love and cherish remains intact. In fact, the Mario Kart experience is better than ever thanks to the extra power within the Wii U. The animation smooth and slick with the game running at a sexy 60fps (I don’t care what Digital Foundry says). The backbone gameplay of the franchise has remained largely un-changed. The arcade racing is as crazy as it was back all those year’s ago. You will still be drifting, boosting and slipstreaming your way to the finish line. The core Mario Kart experience remains intact and is remarkably addictive. I appreciated that Nintendo included all the improvements implemented in Mario Kart 7 in number 8. The smaller elements like the vehicle customizations, the glider and coin collecting (needed to obtain max speed) rear their faces in this iteration. When all pieces are fitted together, you get the most complete Mario Kart experience ever.
Although Mario Kart 8 remains true to its roots, it’s not necessarily a conservative entry. Nintendo has added a unique twist to the formula (pun intended) with the new anti-gravity gameplay. As the name suggests, racers will be able to defy the laws of gravity – traversing on looped terrain, walls and well even on ceilings. Apart from the visual candy that the anti-gravity provides – the mechanic lends itself to some insane level designs and interesting play styles. For starters, the antigravity adds an extra layer to the land, air and water racing, essentially allowing more options for players to experiment and exploit a quicker route. Additionally, colliding into other racers or specific objects whilst in antigravity mode will give you a neat boost. Typically, you would tend to avoid any physical contact (unless you have a star). However, Mario Kart 8 challenges this convention with this new mechanic, which encourages pushing and shoving. I found myself milking the boost from the collisions, as a strategy to gain grain to the race leader, and maintain distance from those behind me. Of course, trolling other players by disrupting their lines and pushing them over the edge is devilishly fun.
Item balancing is a crucial point to nail in any Mario Kart 8 game. From my experience, I believe Nintendo has reached a perfect pitch in terms of item balancing. For starters, Nintendo has removed the ability to back spam item, by that I mean, you can only hold one item at a time. Race leaders are far more vulnerable to red shells, making the task of maintaining a lead much more difficult. So conserving a banana and green shell in 1st place is no longer possible. Secondly, the new items are not overpowered (like the Giant Mushroom), the Piranha attacks only those in biting range, and the boost is negligible. The Boomerang becomes a lethal weapon in the hands of a sharp shooter. Even the Blue hell is less prevalent from my experience. I recall the Director mentioning hours went into item balancing, and it undoubtedly shows in Mario Kart 8.
Mario Kart 8 comes with all the standard modes you would expect from the series – Grand Prix, VS Race, Time Trials and Battle Mode all make a return, without Nintendo foregoing the local multiplayer facet. Presumably, most players will spend 90% of their time online, racing and battling against random players. Thankfully, like Mario Kart 7 and Wii before it, Mario Kart 8 online play is solid and stable, perfect for an arcade racer of this type. Even at my petty net speed, online matches ran like a dream, with no choppiness at all. Entering online matches has also been streamlined – with all the clutter and communities from 7 taken out, and entering matches simply involve selecting your kart and character, then the mode of choice. What draws you to hop online again and again, is the VR points that are earned by competing. It is strangely addictive seeing your score increase after each race, and the sense of accomplishment is even more pleasurable when you come first. A testimony to its addictiveness, my average play session ranges from 2 hours to 4 hours a day.
Taking advantage of the large YouTube community – Mario Kart TV is a comprehensive feature that allows you to view, edit and share your highlight reels on Youtube. Despite not being as feature rich like other modern online game – Mario Kart 8 is still a valiant effort, nailing the important elements well.
Unfortunately, Mario Kart 8 isn’t perfect. One only needs to look at the abysmal Battle mode. I went into the mode with an open mind, but left the room acknowledging the truth, that the changes made to the Battle mode has a detrimental effect. Excluding the Arena stages, and replacing them with the normal race course is the worst possible design choice that Nintendo has made in Mario Kart 8. I understand the reasoning behind the choice, in theory the narrow corridors would be conducive for gripping items fights. However, in real life (in the game) this is far from the truth. Battle mode feels like a wild goose chase, a tedious and slow task involving a lot of searching and very little battling. Worst of all, coin runner was shockingly cut from battles, the one mode that would make sense with this design choice. Really, Nintendo?
There are other notable, but smaller issues that detract from the overall experience. I know some might accuse me of nitpicking, however, Nintendo games are so special because they do all the small things right. Therefore, it is only fair to uphold them to their own insane standards. Small issues like the lack of mini map on the television screen, the coin item, the less than exciting character roster (too many babies), earning a 3 Star ratings no longer feel like an accomplishment and the general lack of any new modes (the fake Shine Thief mode sounds intriguing), brings the overall experience down, falling a little short of perfection.
Despite the flaws in Battle Mode, and the small issues that I mentioned – Mario Kart 8 is the closest the series has ever reached to perfection. Fantastic visual presentation! Fun arcade racing! And the addictive online play! What more could you ask for? If you are interested in purchasing a Wii U, or already own one – you owe yourself to buy this game.