Mario Kart 8 Wii U Review - The Old School Game Vault
If you’ve been playing Mario Kart for any amount of time, you might have observed that certain people are drawn to certain kinds of powerups. For example, people who love the lightning bolt seem to enjoy creating havoc on the racetrack.
Others, who often use the banana peels, are usually more reserved, and more concerned with winning the race rather than causing any mayhem. While this might be a rudimentary and ridiculous armchair analysis, Mario Kart is full of such fun moments when players reveal their mindsets in the heat of a race, even if the screen is generally filled with mushrooms and cute-looking things. If you’ve been foiled more than a certain number of times by players who got just the right item at the right time during a race, you might have contemplated the same questions.
In recent iterations of the Mario Kart series, items seemed to have gained a rather large importance, and races were often decided not by skill, but by possessing the right weapon to unleash at your opponents, snatching their victory away when they were so close they could taste it. Mario Kart 8 addresses some of these situations by bringing the focus back to the racing, and the game is much more balanced and fun because of this.
The racing physics are fun and intuitive, if often over the top. Your vehicles respond to gravity and impact appropriately, and everywhere in the level, you see the opportunity to burst ahead a little by using some nifty moves. You can slide around corners, boost yourself off ramps for some crazy elevation, and generally make your cart zippier and faster than everyone else. In Mario Kart Wii, speed ramps were often located off the racing track, and you had to take risky detours to reach them. In Mario Kart 8, these speed bursts come to you naturally in the course of your racetrack. So you and your opponents are constantly involved in a game of one-upmanship. You might try to knock one of your opponents off the track so that they miss an oncoming speed burst, and they will definitely try to do it to you.
In previous Mario Kart games, the catch-up mechanic was a little ridiculous. No matter how much of a lead you managed to build over your opponents, after a little while they always seemed to be breathing down your neck again. Mario Kart 8 allows you to capitalize on the advantages you build. When you’re in first place, you can usually stay there if you don’t mess up really badly. You don’t have to worry too much about someone unleashing just the right item and ending your fun when you have the finish line in sight. Being in first place is an oddly lonely and peaceful experience, since you’re not hustling and surrounded by other racers.
Of course, items aren’t completely out of the game. Blue shells do spawn randomly around the level, and if you’re really down on your luck, you might manage to get hit by a few in a row, leading to some possible controller chucking. In this edition, items are there to complement your racing skills. You can use piranhas to sweep the path clear and throw boomerangs at other racers to halt their progress. But if you’ve got enough skill, you can still overcome these hazards to blaze your way to victory.
You can enjoy online and single-player action across a variety of modes. You can battle against AI in Mirror Mode, 50 cc, 100 cc and 150 cc matches. The racing itself is incredibly well executed for the most part. Karts handle smoothly, and once you get used to the specific characteristics of your vehicle, you can play intelligently to win races. As you keep winning, you have the opportunity to tinker with your vehicles slightly by adding different parts. For casual players though, this will be unnecessary, since you want a balanced vehicle in most situations.
What I didn’t like:
There are a few slight annoyances within the game though. For one, Grand Prix mode doesn’t have a racing timer. So you are never really sure how big or small the margin of your victory was. After races, the default option that is selected is View Highlight Reel, and you’ll find yourself clicking this mistakenly when you’re in a hurry to just get to the next race. And even though there are 30 playable characters, they are largely made up of skin changes, babies and even koopa kids. When you’re in the Nintendo universe, you want a beefier roster. Also, Battle Mode, which was a mainstay of previous Mario Kart games, has been largely toned down. There are no battle-specific arenas anymore. You just choose a regular looking track and then drive around and try to hit people with shells. This, as you can imagine, is not a lot of fun.
Mario Kart 8 is a fun, enjoyable experience. If you had doubts about the sustainability of Nintendo’s kart-racing franchise, this game will dispel them. The wide variety of tracks, the enjoyable racing, the fun music and the delightful graphics mean that Mario Kart is still going strong, even after two decades of games. While there are a few minor annoyances, none of them really take away from the enjoyment of the game too much. So strap yourself in, and let Mario Kart 8 race you around the Mushroom kingdom once again.