Mario Kart 8 Review
The Wii U has been on shelves for eighteen months now and it’s not exactly a secret that the Nintendo console is struggling to sell or compete with the PS4 and Xbox One. If there’s one sure-fire way to save the Wii U, it’s the first party Nintendo exclusives, the latest of which is Mario Kart 8.
Mario Kart 8 takes Nintendo’s favourite carting series forward into the world of HD graphics. As the first home console Mario Kart title since Mario Kart Wii in 2008, Mario Kart 8 finally screeches onto Wii U consoles with some almighty expectation, and thankfully lives up to most of these expectations.
Graphically, the series has come a long way since Mario Kart Wii; Mario Kart 8 runs in full HD glory and it’s much appreciated. The crisp, vibrant graphics look beautiful and the level design is up to the usual exceptionally high Nintendo standard. Levels have background animations and feel like living, breathing Nintendo worlds that you’re driving through. Nothing is subtle in Mario Kart 8 – it’s very much in your face, bright and full of personality, but that’s a good thing as Nintendo pull it off so effortlessly.
There are returning levels, as ever, from previous games; some of which have been altered with new routes or shortcuts, while still maintaining the core themes of the levels. There’s a great sense of love put into the levels on Mario Kart 8, as has always been the case, and it’s the small touches and details that bring them to life. It’s never more noticeable than the airport track, which feels like a working airport, with background animations and movements going on around you at all times. It really helps to suck you in and give players that “one more go” feeling.
In terms of the playable roster in Mario Kart 8 – it’s a little disappointing. Considering the wide range of well known and loved characters Nintendo could have put into the game, the final line-up is underwhelming although the game covers all the key characters you’d expect to see; Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Bowser and others.
Kart customization is also included, with unlockable upgrades allowing you to pimp out your ride by changing the tyres, cart style and shape and glider. Each of the upgrades has a direct impact on stats varying from handling to acceleration. By unlocking the right parts, it’s not too difficult to put together a cart to master any race. Mario Kart 8 keeps the game balanced nicely though, at no point do you feel like you’ve upgraded too much; the races are never mind-numbingly easy and you’re only ever one mistake or enemy power-up away from dropping back in the rankings.
Gameplay is paramount to a game like Mario Kart 8, and thankfully Nintendo faithfully builds on the formula that has been so successful for over a decade. Basic carting is as simple as ever, you can use the Wii U gamepad’s standard control scheme or the gamepad’s accelerometer to drive your cart. Both control schemes work well, with the latter taking a little longer to get used to, particularly for series veterans who are used to the standard control scheme.
Racing in Mario Kart 8 is as fun as ever – it’s fast, brazen and relentless. AI carters have no reservations about using their power-ups to buff their own carts or wipe out opponents, including the player. The competition will also aim specifically for track speed boosts and use shortcuts in an attempt to gain an advantage. The level of intelligence on show isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s enough to make races against the computer more interesting.
The biggest addition, in terms of gameplay, in Mario Kart 8 is the futuristic hovering your vehicle can perform automatically during certain sections of each track. Whilst it doesn’t alter the race dramatically, the hover sections allow you to ride on walls and tracks overhead, adding some interesting verticality to the tracks. Some of the hover routes aren’t immediately obvious, but provide interesting ways and shortcuts to traverse each level. It’s a small addition in the grand scheme of things, but varies up the races a little and helps to make them feel slightly less predictable.
Online play is included to a decent effect in Mario Kart 8 – allowing you to play single races or competitions if you wish. Unfortunately, finding friends is equally as difficult on Mario Kart 8 as any Wii U game thanks to Nintendo’s stuck in the past online infrastructure, but with a little persistence it is there to be used.
Mario Kart TV, on the other hand, is actually quite a nice and somewhat unexpected gem in Mario Kart 8. It allows you to record, upload and watch videos of races – you can even watch races and uploads online when you’re away from the console on the Mario Kart TV website. It’s a nice touch that takes Mario Kart 8 beyond the Wii U console that you might be playing it on, and allows for sharing of races on social network too.
Competitions remain similar to previous games in the series in Mario Kart 8. There are a series of cup competitions, each comprising four tracks from the selection of brand new and re-mastered classic tracks. Racers are awarded points based on their final position on each race and at the end of the series; the points are totalled to find a winner. It’s standard Mario Kart fare that has worked faithfully for the system for a great deal of time. It’s a shame Nintendo didn’t do anything extra with the competitions; even something like endurance races would have been a welcome addition to add a little variety to proceedings, as everything feels very much routine in Mario Kart 8.
Mario Kart 8 is a great addition to the series, and an absolutely essential purchase if you have a Wii U console in need of some love. Whether or not the title can save the console itself remains to be seen, but there’s plenty of fun to be had here. It would have been nice to see Nintendo play things a little less safe, or experiment with the formula a little, but as things stand it’s a welcome sight to see a perfectly solid must-buy purchase for the Wii U.