Double Rainbow Road for the win
It is no secret that the Wii U has not been selling very well. The biggest problem being that there haven’t been many must have games released for the system. However, ever since the idea of a Wii successor was announced, one of the first games players dreamed about was a next-gen Mario Kart. Every game in the series has been a best seller for its respective system and sales from the first weekend alone project that this one will be just as successful (Mario Kart 8 sold 1.2 million copies, making it the fastest selling entry). There was a lot to live up to for Mario Kart 8, as it is the first Mario Kart game to feature high-definition graphics and players were interested to see what new features would be added to make this a unique entry into a fan favorite series.
About the Game:
Mario Kart 8 continues to build on previous games by retaining bikes from Mario Kart Wii and bringing back the gliders and coin collecting from Mario Kart 7. Players can collect up to ten coins while racing, which helps increase their max speed, but falling off of the track or hitting a banana or shell will take some coins away. Collecting coins also helps unlock carts, wheels, and gliders, which players can use to customize carts to their choosing. Just like in Mario Kart 7 players can swap carts, wheels, and gliders with each combination providing a different rate of speed, acceleration, weight, handling, and traction. The characters themselves have unique stats, where heavier characters are faster but accelerate more slowly and lighter characters aren’t as fast but accelerate more quickly. The game features 32 players, ranging from those that are always included like Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Toad, and Peach, lots of baby versions of characters, and new to this installment, all of the Koopalings.
Karts race across land, air, and water as before but this game adds anti-gravity portions to new and old tracks, which provide some unique angles and also means when players bump into each other it results positively with a speed boost for both. The anti-gravity portions largely add variety to the viewing angle as players drive across the tracks but also adds strategy with bumping into players as well as bumping into columns located on some tracks that also result in a speed boost.
One to four players can play locally via Grand Prix against computer controlled racers that will unlock hidden characters and help collect coins towards unlockable karts, wheels, and gliders. The Grand Prix includes three levels to start, 50cc, 100cc, 150cc (hardest), which after earning a gold trophy on all eight Grand Prix sets unlocks Mirror Mode for even more difficult racing. Battle mode is also available locally which has portions of the actual tracks instead of unique battle stadiums as before that players drive through with three balloons and hitting players with shells and bananas makes those players lose a balloon; last one standing wins.
One to two players can also play online regionally or worldwide on all of the tracks, similar to the mode first available in Mario Kart Wii. The difference here is that players are provided three courses and a random option with which to choose where they would like to race next instead of being able to select from all courses each time. Online mode also tracks player ratings and now features tournaments that are created by Nintendo as well as creatable tournaments that you can invite friends to play along.
Mario Kart 8 is absolutely gorgeous. At the start of the current console generation, it seemed that many were not sure how well the Wii U would stack up to its contemporaries in terms of graphics but this game looks fantastic. All of the racers and karts look great and the courses are replete with tiny details and stunning backgrounds. The animations of the drivers are fluid and feature lots of action from throwing shells to winning races. The retro courses that are always featured in Mario Kart games get an upgrade from their original version, especially those from the SNES and N64, and all of the retro courses are very well done. While playing locally, the video streams at a crisp 60fps, while online seems to be closer to 30fps, but still very sharp.
The big visual change for this game is that two player multiplayer splits the screen vertically instead of horizontally. The players are given a vertical picture to race with instead of a nice, wide view of the track. A bit jarring at first, this doesn’t affect gameplay that much except in some cases during the anti-gravity spots which can be a little disorienting and tough to navigate. The view for single player is almost distracting in how much detail is available to view while zooming around the track. The racer is almost smaller in comparison to the rest of the screen as in previous games, which lends to much more to look at while driving but there are times that I think it is hard to see exactly what item hit me as I tumbled to a stop. Warning bubbles still pop up to alert me that a shell is incoming but sometimes it happens so abruptly that I don’t even see the item hit me and I mysteriously carom across the track.
The track tunes are okay for this game, not as notable as typical Mario games, and the ambient sounds are in the foreground while racing. Revving up, tossing items, and characters reacting are the primary sounds during the game so the background music largely gets shunted and isn’t as noticeable.
Menus are nice and sharp while also being easy to navigate through. There aren’t very many options outside of choosing modes and racers, and the kart characteristics isn’t immediately provided until you press the + button on the controller. There is also a lot more loading than other disc based games in the series which isn’t long enough to be a nuisance but is different from previous games.
MK8 provides the strongest case to use the GamePad so far in that it does act like a second screen if players want to play without using a TV, but also includes the race map which is absent from the TV presentation. This is a cool option when playing single player but playing multiplayer puts everyone else at a disadvantage, especially when GamePads are not available to purchase so only one player can benefit at a time. I understand that this frees up the interface for more awe-inspiring detail but I’m not sure that the trade is one that most players enjoy.
The game plays largely identical to Mario Kart 7, with most tracks playing like a typical race track with obstacles and jumps, but also incorporating some air and water elements. Soaring through the air, you can guide your kart towards some coins to gain speed or find a few shortcuts, which are largely dependent on the glider. Other than the anti-gravity speed boosts when bumping in to other racers or boost columns, the game is largely unchanged from the typical Mario Kart formula, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Players can control their race a few different ways: with the Wii Remote motion controls, with the Wii Remote D-pad, with a Pro Controller, or with the GamePad. My personal preference is towards something with a control stick, as the motion controls are fun but not quite as accurate for speeding through races as a traditional controller. Tricks are now done on controllers by hitting the drift button, so no more need to worry about hitting another button to get a boost off of a jump.
There are a few new items, along with all of the items from the last few games. The boomerang is like a shell that you toss out but it returns back twice, which can be of some use but is largely like a shell. The Pirahna Plant chomps on other racers, obstacles, and coins plus it gives a small speed boost on every chomp. The horn is the first time that there is a defense against the dreaded blue shell, as sounding the horn disrupts all racers and objects around you. The Crazy 8 is, well….crazy. Eight items, including mushrooms, shells, and a power star, rotate around you until you activate each one by pressing the item button when the item is in front of you.
One new feature for this game is the ability to select certain items. It is nowhere near as robust as the toggle in Smash Bros Melee, where you could turn on/off each individual item, but instead you can choose from shells only, bananas only, frantic, etc. It would have been a lot nicer to turn certain items off like the blue shell or Bullet Bills.
Which segues nicely in to my overall impression of the gameplay; that it seems like things are a bit more homogenized than previous entries. Some little tricks and advantages have been removed entirely and in my play experience, it seems like there are not as many blue shells, Bullet Bills, or golden mushrooms floating around the item boxes. Bikes can no longer do wheelies and now have the double drift boost instead of just one, so now they are exactly like karts except that they handle better. Kart customization is also rather bland as the biggest factor in changing attributes is the character’s weight class; big players go faster, small players go slower. Some kart options slightly alter certain stats but there is no golden item that players will lust after nor are there any giant shifts in attributes by finding a great combination of items. It’s nice that all items have their tradeoffs, but it doesn’t make unlocking items very exciting.
After playing Mario Kart 8 for a while, I tried to digest everything about the game and figure out where this installment stacks up in the Mario Kart series. Graphically, there is no competition as this is the only game that outputs high-def graphics and it obliterates the rest, naturally. I think that this game is a great candidate for the second best game in the series, which is still a pretty good ranking considering the other games, but I feel that Mario Kart: Double Dash!! had a few more nuances, like character specific items, that make it a more strategic game compared to MK8. There isn’t a lot of incentive to get all of the kart parts outside of just the achievement that you’ve unlocked all of them, and most players will probably simply choose a heavy character.
The character selection is way too bloated with baby characters and the Koopalings. The retro tracks are okay, but they could have gone with a more even mix from all of the previous games. I have absolutely no idea why they included TWO Rainbow Road tracks (one new, one from N64), because no one likes Rainbow Road, not even Rainbow Road. The races also seem a bit shorter than other games.
The online game is also a bit lacking, but that’s largely because of Nintendo keeping options very bare bones compared to other interfaces on PlayStation or Xbox. Players cannot communicate during the game and options for races are too basic. It is still a very fun experience to play online but it could be much better if it were more open.
If you own a Wii U, you have zero reason to not purchase this title. Every Mario Kart game has been solid gold and this one is a very fun game, especially playing with friends. Mario Kart has never looked so good, and even though grinding through the Grand Prix game is pretty quick, there is still tons of fun to be had playing with your friends either locally or online.
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Review Statement: The author of this review purchased a copy of Mario Kart 8 for the purposes of this review.