Mario Kart 8 is perhaps the game a lot of people have been waiting for as a reason to purchase the Nintendo Wii U or for people to even consider the Wii U as a console with the potential to deliver a game that is so entertaining. Nintendo have been delivering the fun filled racer for over 22 years now and the series has managed to deliver a new way to play with each release making each game more different than the last. Sure, many have tried to copy the formula of Mario Kart over the years (especially in more recent years) but nothing can quite compare to what Nintendo have created and have been able to sustain over the years.
Mario Kart 8 follows the usual format of competitive play of racers comprised of famous Mario characters, past and present, in a series of tracks which follow popular themes from various worlds and levels which appear in levels across the expansive list of Mario games from the last 3 decades.
In the latest entry of the long running series, there are a great range of ways to play in single player and multiplayer modes, both local and online. Grand Prix is available in both single player and multiplayer modes and features a series of four racers in one of the 8 cups (which is comprised of 4 individual tracks) against computer controlled racers. Time Trials lets players race to beat previously set race times by yourself, your friends and even Nintendo staff.
VS mode is a singular race with custom made rules. Finally, battle mode is a free for all which allows for players to collect power ups and seek out your rivals and take them out on the bases that if you are struck three times, it’s game over and victory going to the last man (or woman) standing. All modes are equally rewarding and most importantly – fun, which has been the entire premise of the game since its creation on the SNES.
It has to be said, that the worlds that Nintendo create, not just for Mario Kart, but across the many exclusive and first party titles the company have developed, were made for HD. The vibrant, crisp and beautifully coloured characters and worlds that Nintendo can create are so extraordinary, the power of the Wii U can finally give these games the treatment that they deserve.
You may not notice it at first, due to the fast paced nature of the game and while becoming familiar with the tracks, but once you’ve had a few races and got used to the mechanics of the game, you’ll be awe-inspired by the beautiful worlds in which you race. Everything, from the wind flapping in Mario’s beautiful, manly moustache, to the tiny bumps and reflexes of the tyres and suspension of your kart, feels perfectly crafted.
As an example of the detail that you can expect to see in this game, when racing in the Dry Dry Desert track, your tyres will quickly cover with sand and will highlight the tread on them, however a portion of the track has you drive underwater which will clean the tyres and turn them back to black. Coming back to the surface and driving back on the surface will soon begin to cover them in sand again. This may seem like only a minor aesthetic addition and something that is seen in many other racers, it is a welcome sight to see this in a game such as Mario Kart, not known for this level of detail.
Not only is the game something of visual beauty, but it is also an incredibly well designed and balanced piece of programming that only the team at Nintendo seem to be able to capture so consistently.
As previously mentioned, all tracks are inspired by worlds and levels from Mario history which makes these tracks fun. One cannot sit unimpressed by the sheer thought and love that has gone in to each track design. Tracks such as Bowsers Castle, drawing inspiration from the boss levels across the numerous Mario games library, and the Twisted Mansion track being inspired by Ghost House levels from decades of Mario Adventures.
All race tracks also have a suitable themed soundtrack which fit in perfectly with the race and the track. Of course, the soundtrack pulls heavy influences from the related levels such as a sample of the Gusty Garden Galaxy theme from Super Mario Galaxy.
So how does it play? Well, like any other Mario Kart! Now I guess that sounds like a half hearted response but this statement is not intended to be a bad thing. Nintendo have always ensured that they bring a well balanced game to all and that the controls can be easily adopted by players of all skill levels.
Mario Kart 8 does exactly that but also picks up the pace so that everything moves smoothly and races never seem to last too long, nor end too soon. Falling from the track will also mean that you are recovered in a timely manner and you quickly return to the race without too harsh a penalty for your mistake or for someone else’s aggressive shoving which has sent you to your fall.
There are numerous little tricks that will help to get you ahead and give you the edge against your foes which you will pick up along the way. If you are a newcomer to Mario Kart, noticing how other racers spring from the edge of a ramp or over bumps in the road, giving them a boost when they land will get you wondering how to do the same and with a little work you will soon figure out how to do the same. Colliding in to other racers while on anti-gravity tracks will give you a small boost but again, with practice you will figure out how to do this perfectly and when is the best time to do it.
The beauty to all of this is that the game rewards players that replay the races and grow familiar with the tracks. With this knowledge at your disposal, your confidence to move up the positions into 1st place during your races will increase and you will be a force to be reckoned with.
The gameplay does have some nuances which will grind your gears slightly however. Drifting around corners has always been the easiest way to manoeuvre around the track without the loss of speed. Doing this allows you to either keep the lead or help you move up positions. It will take some getting used to this mechanic not only for the new racers out there but returning players will also feel as though they are in alien territory, with drift timing feeling a little different than that of previous games. This isn’t something that ruins the experience, but is something that will take a few games to perfect with ultimately rewarding results.
As you play, progress and complete each of the 8 cups, you will be rewarded with new characters to race as. Collecting coins during your races will not only boost your karts overall speed throughout the race, but will also help to unlock new vehicle customization parts and coming first in a cup will unlock a stamp for you to use in your posts on Miiverse.
One major marketing focus for Mario Kart 8 was the introduction of anti-gravity racing with racers being able to race on upside down tracks and even on walls. The concept is clever with perhaps some inspiration coming from Super Mario Galaxy, but the addition of this concept does not feel out of place, nor does it feel like it has been shoe-horned in for the simple measure of bringing something new to the series.
The only thing I would say in regard to this new twist is that you never really feel as though you’re driving upside down. The camera seems to accommodate for the shift in position, rotating with the track. This could be to stop possible confusion with controls when driving upside down.
The Retro tracks also see a great facelift thanks to not only the power of the Wii U but thanks to the welcome additions that Mario Kart 8 brings. Tracks such as Toads Turnpike from the N64 add the ability, at certain points of the course, to drive along walls which help you to avoid traffic on the roads. Additions such as these add a great twist to courses that, in this case, are almost 20 years, helping make it feel fresh and new.
The items of Mario Kart are as crucial to the gameplay as any other element. The majority of items from previous entries in the series make their return such as the green and red shells and banana skins. Mario Kart 8 shows a selection of new items such as the piranha plant which will attack other racers around you, but will also destroy banana skins in your path.
Another new addition will have racers rejoicing at the addition of the Soundwave box which finally provides a proper way to protect yourself from the dreaded Blue Shell (outside of a perfectly timed mushroom boost)– the item that all those who are in 1st place fear. The Blue Shell being an item that homes in on your position and blasts you to a halt. The soundwave will also deflect all other incoming attacks and knocks other plays around you aside.
All of these items are as fun to use as ever but sometimes it does feel that you’re at a disadvantage being 1st. You collect a lot of coins from item boxes rather than banana skins which can help you keep your lead. Of course, this is something very minor and does not remove from an otherwise balanced game.
With the release you can see that Nintendo is trying to build a huge community with Mario Kart 8 with the addition of Mario Kart TV. This feature allows you to upload your races at the end of each race to Mario Kart TV and in turn, YouTube. At the end of each race, the game will prompt you to select to view the race highlights which you can use to upload to YouTube for others to see your victories or share hidden shortcuts within tracks. This is a great feature and a great addition that gives the opportunity to show off the beautiful architecture and design of the game from a perspective you would not normally see when you race. It is also at this point when you will see the full extent of the anti gravity twists and turns of the courses and the joyous mania that this game can bring.
Overall, for the minor issues, Mario Kart 8 is nothing short of a monumental joy to play and something that yourself and your friends will enjoy playing. From it’s stunningly beautiful courses, the incredibly detailed racers and karts, a cleverly composed soundtrack and a huge potential for an expanding community – Mario Kart is another entry in to a series that shows no signs of slowing down (pardon the pun).
I’ve always stated that Mario Kart 64 is my favourite of the long running karting racer. But with the release of Mario Kart 8 – I think my opinion may have changed.
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