Mario Kart 8 Review
-Customising vehicles to find a perfect fit is a lot of fun.
-Controls are responsive.
-Anti-gravity adds a new dimension to traditional racing.
-Visually stunning, right down to the finer details.
-Single-player content is lengthy, multiplayer is endless.
-Best split screen racing money can buy.
At the time of writing this review, Mario Kart 8 is the fastest selling Wii U title to date and as you will learn if you read on, it’s really no surprise. It’s also no secret that to sell consoles you need great games and unique experiences exclusive to that particular platform. Mario Kart to Nintendo is what Uncharted is to PlayStation, Halo is to XBOX and this time, I’m glad to say Nintendo have really pulled it out of the bag with what is easily one of the best exclusives of the year.
Mario Kart 8 is exhilarating, exciting and can be completely chaotic at times. It’s everything you would expect from a Mario Kart game and the latest in this long running series most definitely delivers. What makes it so enjoyable are the controls which are extremely responsive and simple enough to allow anyone of any age and ability to pick up and play. The responsive controls allow you to fire that green shell at the exact moment you need while drifting with ease around demanding corners. Whether you’re using the Wii U gamepad or a traditional remote and nunchuck, or even perhaps the more challenging motion control racing wheel, you get the same responsive experience which makes MK8 a joy to play. The game flows smoothly with each race loading in a few seconds after the conclusion of the previous. This is a real positive as you’re never waiting too long to jump back into the great racing experience MK8 provides.
What MK8 does so well is combine a number of different mechanics into each and every race. The main one, introduced here for the first time, is anti-gravity which is implemented at different sections of each course. During these sections all vehicles have the ability to drive up walls and reach previously unreachable parts of tracks. The inclusion of anti-gravity has allowed for some creative track designs which are a pleasure to race on. The 16 new tracks are a real delight. Another feature of the anti-gravity sections allows racers to bounce off one another to gain a speed boost, giving themselves an advantage over slower racers ahead or behind. This can also prove hazardous for less able players who may lose control with the extra speed resulting in wall collisions or falling off the track altogether. It’s a neat feature and works well with the tight controls.
Gliding also makes a reappearance, as do underwater sections of certain tracks. Neither drastically change the experience and these sections are easily traversed. However, it does add a nice variety to the courses meaning you’re never stuck to the tarmac, sand, snow or whatever driving surface it may be for too long. Finally, coins are included that can be collected by each racer for the duration of a race. The more coins you have increase your maximum speed but I found this speed boost to be rather minimal and felt like the coins were forgotten about during the chaos of a typical race. I would have much preferred the courses to be littered with countless banana skins dropped by other racers, as was the case in Mario Kart Wii, but this is a minor complaint at worst.
Speaking of banana skins, the weapon selection here is solid with a mix of the iconic and several new weapons that separate Mario Kart from other racing games. There is still the usual bombardment of red and green shells with lightning strikes thrown in and mushrooms aplenty, but it’s the new weapons that standout. The most interesting of these is the ‘Super Horn’ that has the power to stop any incoming item. It’s also the first weapon that stops the deadly spiny shell with a 100% success rate and adds a defensive ability against the usual array of offensive items. A boomerang that can hit other racers forwards and backwards, as well a Piranha Plant that chomps at anything in its path are also great additions. The final new addition is the Crazy 8 that grants you eight iconic items that circle your kart, waiting to be unleashed on unfortunate racers who come near you.
One of the many highlights Mario Kart 8 offers is its visuals. For the first time in the series you can enjoy the fast paced chaotic racer in HD, running smoothly at 60fps. It’s a great looking title that plays like a dream with no stutters or hiccups whatsoever. After playing Mario Kart for as long as I can remember this bump in the visuals was instantly noticeable when I finally sat down with the game for the first time. Each track on the game looks glorious, from the crisp white slopes of Mount Wario to the dazzling multitude of colours that flash past your kart on the fan favourite and deadly Rainbow Road.
The tracks from the previous titles that are included are almost unrecognisable to their original versions. The lava really pops on the challenging Grumble Volcano, as does the golden sand on Cheep Cheep Beach. Tires also become covered in whatever terrain you drive across and it’s these finer details that make Mario Kart 8 visually impressive. Character models are extremely detailed and the iconic sounds of all your favourite characters are also present and as good as ever. The world you are racing in also feels more alive, with dense and detailed backdrops that complement each and every race track, adding even more visual thrill as you glance ahead looking for the next daunting turn or rival racer. Everything flows on and off the track. It’s exactly how a racing game should be.
There are a total of eight grand prix, each containing 4 races for a total of 32. In single player the ultimate goal is not just to get gold in each grand prix, but to gain 3 stars in each one at every level, which is achieved by finishing in first every race. The traditional modes, 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and Mirror, which is unlocked after completing the previous three, all make an appearance here and this adds plenty of hours of game time. It is definitely something each perfectionist will strive to achieve. It’s a pretty lengthy and entertaining single player experience with AI racers giving you a good challenge on higher difficulties. The tracks themselves are fun and challenging though I think there could have been a better selection of retro tracks. (Dino Dino Jungle, Baby Park anyone?) Also, be warned that you will become frustrated with things from time to time. This frustration is a staple feature of Mario Kart games, mainly caused by a random wandering green shell or a deadly blue shell stopping you right in your tracks as you near the finish. Devastating.
While completing each grand prix will unlock the next one, unlocking new characters and vehicle customisations is done so by collecting the aforementioned coins that appear on each track. Strangely enough, there isn’t a way to check how many coins you have collected while you play through the single player mode which is a bit of an annoyance. The main problem I had with this unlocking requirement was the dissatisfaction I felt on a number of occasions when I gained 3 stars in a grand prix but didn’t unlock anything, only to unlock something midway through another grand prix when I had collected a sufficient number of coins. It’s not a major problem but I would have much preferred to be awarded for achieving first place finishes, than collecting coins that are hard to miss while playing.
One of Mario Kart 8’s highlights is the content that is available to unlock and then can be used in any mode available in the game, both offline and online. You can pick from a multitude of karts, bikes and ATV’s then combine them with a number of different wheel types and gliders. This customisation is a real standout allowing you to tweak your choices until you have a vehicle that suits your driving style. Combining different vehicle parts changes vehicle statistics such as speed, acceleration, weight and grip. You can spend a good amount of time trying out different combinations until you find the perfect combination to suit your needs. Time Trials are also included with a staff ghost that you are challenged to beat on each track. This is a great way to familiarise yourself with any track and allows you to try out different characters and vehicle combinations. It also has a competitive edge with players fighting to post the best time on a circuit.
Speaking of competitiveness, multiplayer is where Mario Kart has always excelled and it’s more of the brilliant same here. For me it’s the best local multiplayer experience in racing and it’s perfect for bringing family and friends together for some light-hearted competitive gaming. The number of thrills and competitive arguments I’ve had playing this series across the years are countless and I will have thousands more in the future playing this title, no doubt about it. Hitting a family member or a best friend with a red shell and overtaking them on the line for the crucial victory is one of the most satisfying things in gaming. The online section is also comprehensive with up to two versus two friends online available as well as the ability to have 12 human controlled karts in a race. The latter in particular feels distinctly different to the usual Mario Kart experience as the lack of any AI can lead to some intense races when playing with 11 other skilled racers. The online experience is also impressively smooth and I was able to jump into a game online with a friend within a matter of moments. A highlights studio is also available allowing you to relive and share great moments from epic races, it’s a nice addition and works well with Miiverse.
Mario Kart 8 is like previous Mario Kart games, which is a good thing. It’s exciting, fast, frustrating and completely bonkers at times. It is all of these things combined and the end result is a video game that is just so much fun. The controls are great and so is the content. There are countless hours to be had playing either by yourself or better so with friends and family. From gaining 3 stars in each and every grand prix, unlocking and customising your drive, smashing time trial records or starting arguments with family members after firing a well-timed red shell, Mario Kart has it all. It’s a great package and it is most definitely time to consider purchasing that Wii U, this one should not be missed.