For a 22 year old franchise, you’d think that Mario Kart would struggle to change up its formula enough to make each game in the series unique. Yet, somehow, Nintendo manage to pull it off each time. Whether it’s making the jump from 2D to 3D or adding two people driving or adding a glider, the experience always feels a little different, even though you know you’re playing a Mario Kart game each time. Mario Kart 8 is no different to this tried and tested formula.
There are a couple of big game changers for the franchise in this instalment, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s in HD. Everything looks crisp and detailed. There’s also some great lighting at work, the likes of which you don’t really see in Nintendo games as of yet. It makes tracks like Piranha Plant Slide come to life and feel a bit more atmospheric as you speed through the course. This combined with the sheer attention to detail, right down to the tiniest spark, will have your jaw dropping in seconds of booting up the game.
The second thing you’ll notice is that there’s anti-gravity sections to nearly every course, enabling you drive on walls and up-side down. This adds a new layer of depth to the experience, especially when you see the backgrounds the wrong way up as you speed along. A nice little addition is that when you’re in anti-gravity mode, colliding with other racers will give you a small boost, giving you a whole new reason to bump into other racers other than to knock them off the track.
The last big new thing you’ll notice is the inclusion of Mario Kart TV. MKTV allows you to see highlights of your race, and then, if you so want to, upload those highlights to MiiVerse and YouTube. It’s a really great way to take advantage of the MiiVerse platform and allows you to show off the really intense moments of the race, especially those tight finishes. The YouTube integration also works well, as it allows you to share those moments with your friends who might not be on MiiVerse as well. The slight downside to MKTV is that there just aren’t enough editing options when it comes down to the final cut of the video. Before the final cut, you can mess with the video all you like but most of those don’t carry over to the final cut, which can be annoying when you have the perfect highlights reel in mind.
There’s also a plethora of old features that have had a revamp too. One of the most crucial revamps is the item system. The items now feel a lot more balanced than they did in previous instalments. One of the best new items is the piranha plant item, which acts a little bit like the bullet bill but instead offers small boosts instead of one large one and also eats up items in front of you. This does leave your back exposed though, so red shells are still a threat. On the flipside, one of the more annoying new items is the boomerang. This item requires a lot of patience to use as it doesn’t like hills, turns or actually hitting people. Thankfully it gives you three tries, although if you pick up another item after you’ve thrown it, the boomerang disappears. The item regeneration times are much faster now, so if someone a little ahead collects the item box, you’ll likely be able to pick up that same item box as well, which makes the experience less frustrating than in Mario Kart Wii. That said, being bombarded by several items in a row is still a big issue, and will have you turning the air blue with frustration as you watch your hard earned lead disappear.
The overall physics engine has also had a revamp and feels great, although it takes a little getting used to. The controls don’t feel as light as they did in Mario Kart Wii so it requires you to put a little bit more effort into steering around a corner. The issue with this, is that using the motion controls to steer is now out of the question. The steering just feels way too heavy and the karts just don’t move enough around the corners using the WiiMote. So the ideal choice then is to go with either the Gamepad, which works better than you’d think, or the Pro Controller. From the time played with Mario Kart 8, the Pro Controller seems to be the best choice with the most natural and usable button layout. On top of this, the game also features one of the best drifting mechanics in the series. It takes the Mario Kart 7 system and makes the needed improvements with the new physics to make the drifting feel seamless and natural.
Also making a welcome return are gliders and the ability to drive underwater. They were easily the best features of Mario Kart 7 and they feel a lot more implemented in this title. They give you a lot more scope to seek out the best routes and shortcuts through each track, which adds another layer of depth to the whole experience.
Another feature making a return form Mario Kart 7 is the kart customization options. This time around there are a lot more options and combinations to choose, but more importantly, the options actually feel like they have an effect on the how you perform in the race. You can feel how faster or slower you are and how sharp or wide your drifts are. It’s an important step forward for Mario Kart, especially as this feature felt like it had missed the mark in Mario Kart 7.
And during all this, you’ll be having your ears melted by the best soundtrack in Mario Kart history. Every song feels like a winner and the live band sound, a first for the series, just makes everything feel so much better. Every track just feels that little bit more alive. You’ll have tears of nostalgia as you play through the classic tracks and hearing each song with that added bit of life to it.
However, the game is held back by one thing in particular. It’s all just a little too easy. You should have no problem in getting a least one star in every Grand Prix if you’ve played at least one game in the franchise before. That said, with a little practice, anyone should be getting the top prize again and again in this title. The recovery for falling off the track is much quicker too, which is great but you don’t really feel punished for falling off anymore. And Mario Kart 8 isn’t exactly rewarding either. You just have to get gold in a Grand Prix to unlock a character, which will only take you two classes at the most. Not only that, but the characters you unlock aren’t exactly great. Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach feel like shameless reskins of their original characters and having seven of Bowser’s kids is excessive and almost a little pointless.
The battle mode isn’t exactly that great either. Instead of arenas, Mario Kart 8 decides to shake it up a bit by making you battle it out on a selection of tracks. While this sounds like a great idea, and the freshness of it is appreciated, you just find yourself racing around until you find someone and then hope you can hit them. It just lacks the overall intensity of previous battle modes and almost feels a little tacked on to the actual experience.
Overall then, Mario Kart 8 is quite possibly the definitive title in the series. It has plenty of strengths that hold it up as one of the greatest kart racers of all time. It’s just that it also needed to be a little more difficult for the veterans of the franchise and offer greater rewards for winning all those races and also the heavily nerfed motion controls. It’s just these few things that hold it back from being the perfect kart racing experience. Everything else is on point. The physics, the pad controls, the graphics, the music, the item balancing and Mario Kart TV are all great features, which heavily outweigh the downsides to this experience. There’s really no other place to go for your kart racing fun, this is the definitive kart racer experience.
– Improved Physics
– Pro Pad Controls are Great
– Music and Graphics are Fantastic
– Motion Controls Suck
– It’s a Bit Easy
Genre: Driving, Racing, Arcade, Kart, Kart, Automobile
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development
Publisher: Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development
Official Website: https://mariokart8.nintendo.com/