Face it, the Mario Kart franchise has never been one for the hardcore racing simulator fan. It’s always been a series geared more towards the chaotic than the realistic.
With Mario Kart 8, Nintendo takes that chaotic premise of games past and turns the dial up to 11, creating the most exciting Mario Kart racer yet.
The game features a roster of 30 characters ranging from the usual Mario brothers to the brand new Koopa Kids. Yes, all seven of the little demons are included in Mario Kart 8.
With those 30 racers, most of which are unlocked throughout your early experience with the game, players can race on 32 different tracks that also become unlocked as you complete the various circuits available. Also unlockable are various cart upgrades that come after collecting coins during races.
On the track, the game plays as well as it ever has. The game relies more on a player’s skill on the course than the luck of the draw with the different items. If you’re good enough, a red shell or lightning bolt won’t hurt you too much in the long run.
The new anti-gravity mode doesn’t require you to actually play sideways or upside, but it does add a welcomed new race mechanic to the franchise. While in anti-gravity mode, players have a looser-controlling vehicle, and can also gain speed boosts from ramming into opposing drivers. However, your opponent can also receive the boost when you hit them, so deciding what angle to take when trying to bump another driver out of the way can actually make, or break, a race.
Four new items enter the mix in the form of the super horn, boomerang flower, piranha plant and crazy eight. The crazy eight pulls up eight random items around your driver that you have at your disposal. They also block incoming attacks if the attacking item hits one of the circling ones. The super horn is the only way to stop a blue shell if you are in first place, so holding on to it while you’re in the lead can prove to be a very beneficial strategy.
Speaking of the blue shell of doom, I found that it was awarded to a driver way more often than in past titles. It always came up, at least, once a race, which I found to be too many times for an item that devastating. There were times where the star or Bullet Bill wouldn’t appear for four/five races at a time, but the blue shell always found its way into the fold.
In terms of online play, the game benefits from its simple jump in and play method. It’s easy to set up tournaments, or jump into single races with players throughout the world. However, the restrictions of this mode really shine a negative light on Nintendo’s failure to embrace online play.
Chat is restricted only to the pre-race lobby, and you are only allowed to chat with players on your friends list. That would be ok, but the fact that you can’t even invite friends to races via the game make it near impossible to set up private races with friends without using outside communication means.
But while online play certainly has its flaws due to restrictions, it’s nothing compared to what Nintendo has done to the once fun Battle mode.
Gone are the tracks designed specifically for the battle mode. Now, players get to choose from the game’s normal tracks – minus anti-gravity — to take part in the balloon popping “fun”. Unfortunately, there isn’t much fun to be had.
During battle, even with 12 players, I found myself spending more time looking for opponents than actually battling with them. When a game time is set to only five minutes, this makes the likelihood of you actually destroying all three of an opponent’s balloons slim to none, at best.
This is a mode more suited for smaller, confined areas like this instead of using large tracks. The changes to how it’s played really ruined what used to be a fun mode to enjoy with friends.
Despite the flaws with the game’s battle mode and online play, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Mario Kart 8 is as good a game that a non-handheld Nintendo console has seen in quite some time.
Ultimately, Mario Kart 8 is a game that will definitely help Nintendo sell a few more Wii Us to families. It’s a game that brings back all of the fun from the previous versions, and improves upon it in major ways.
From the zero-gravity sections of the tracks to the new items and characters, Mario Kart 8 is a title that should no doubt help the Wii U rebound from the current struggles.