Mario Kart 8 is a retuning of a over 20 year old franchise that makes it one of the best in the franchise. Those looking for a drastic change in the franchise will be disappointed as this is no reinvention but instead a greatest hits of the best aspects of past Mario Karts. Controls feel tight and responsive, tracks are inventive and feature multiple of alternate paths and shortcuts, and victories feel more attributed to skill rather than luck. Mario Kart 8 may not be the best in the series but it’s definitely up there as it manages to be really fun again.
Right off the bat, this has the biggest roster of racers ever in a Mario Kart. 29 racers are at your disposal as well as a Mii character of your choosing. If there’s a complaint about the racers, it’s that there’s too many baby characters, especially when some characters that are better known, such as Diddy Kong, Dry Bones, and King Boo, are missing. However, this is something of a nitpick as there’s still a great cast here. The different car bodies, wheels and glider parts you can choose from and unlock are a great incentive to keep playing as each really does change how you control in the game. Your favorite character will handle very differently on a motorcycle than it will in go kart or in one of the new ATVs.
The courses in Mario Kart 8 are some of the more inventive tracks made in recent Mario Kart titles. Although the new mechanics of the antigravity sections of tracks are not intrusive during gameplay, the real benefit of them are what they allow the designers to do with the tracks. Courses will go from being a straight away to moving in a 90 degree angle just to be launched across a chasm via your paraglider. This also allows for multiple paths, as you can continue straight ahead or you can drive up the wall on the side and race along a separate antigravity path. This applies to the flying and underwater sections as well, which return from the 3DS title Mario Kart 7. It’s particularly interesting to see how this affects the older courses, as some like the N64 Rainbow Road feel like completely new and interesting courses. Some courses are better than some but you will get a rush going through the new Bowser’s Castle or Cloudtop Cruise or just every course in the Flower Cup. Getting that jump or bumping into another racer while in antigravity for a small boost that pulls you ahead is always gratifying. Some paths may make your run quicker, some paths slower and some are just different. It gives each track high replayability as you’ll want to race it again and find how else you can make your way around the track.
Items have been reworked to better server your position in the race, making it a more accessible but also fair game. Being in first place will almost always reward you with items that can be used defensively and players near the back of the pack will get super stars, red shell triplets and other powerful offensive items. Items like the lightning bolt and the blue shell are now more rare and it’s very common to not see one for multiple races. The new item the super horn is equally as rare but allows for players to take out not only racers around them, but items as well, including the blue shell. The other new items in the game, the boomerang and piranha plant, are nice additions to the game and can be useful but never feel overpowered and feel like less powerful versions of a red shell triplet and super star respectively. Finally, the change to not be able to hold items behind your kart and gain another item in your inventory might polarize some but I never found a problem with it as it just made me have to choose how to use my items.
In terms of modes, there’s the Grand Prix mode that consists of eight cups and four different difficulties, as per usual. Time trial mode is here as well and you can even race three and up courses of your choosing in VS mode. Multiplayer is especially fun and is probably the way to go after you’ve completed all of the cups in Grand Prix mode, though you can do it with up to four players. Then there’s Battle mode, which is the biggest problem in the game and probably the one glaring issue that keeps this game from greatness. Battle mode no longer has courses that are square type arena fields. Instead, there’s just eight of the normal racing courses that you race around and try to take out the other racers. That’s it. Take the normal racing rules, add balloons and take out laps, and that’s battle mode. Needless to say, it doesn’t work and is basically just a waste of time. Online play in Mario Kart 8 is pretty barebones but for what it’s worth, it works great and I haven’t experienced any latency or connection issues. Joining races is easy and you can set up tournaments as well. However, chat is restricted to just friends and there’s no notification messages, making organizing a game online hard. Also, there’s a feature to save replays to YouTube but you can only do replays, meaning your lets play series of Mario Kart 8 can’t be done this way.
Presentation wise, Mario Kart 8 is a beautiful game. It has never looked better in HD and is one of the prettiest games I’ve seen this year. The soundtrack is equally as impressive as it has music recorded by a live orchestra and the sound quality is crisp and invigorating. What’s most impressive is the fact that the game runs at 60 frames per second in both one and two player. The game drops to 30 fps in three or four player but it’s still rock solid and look amazing. The gamepad functionality is regulated to a horn button, the track layout or off-screen play. It’s disappointing to see that one player can’t race on the screen and another on the TV. I also would’ve preferred the track layout to be on the TV rather than the gamepad. Ultimately though, this is another Wii U game that makes the gamepad useless.
Mario Kart 8 is ultimately just another Mario Kart game albeit an extremely fun one. I’ve had fun with my 10 hours or so that I’ve sunk into completing the cups and playing online. However, although I don’t regret my $60 purchase, I ready for the game to sit on my shelf, only to be pulled out when my friends come over or if I get the itch to race again. Whenever I do load the game up, I will have a lot of fun because although it might not be long lasting, there’s still a lot to enjoy.