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REVIEW | The Checkered Flag Waves For Eighth “Mario Kart”

By
Posted on August 25, 2014 AT 03:30pm

“Your move, Nintendo!” These were the final three words from my review of Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With An Engine, an under-appreciated kart racing game that managed to get practically everything right with its genre. Soon after it was released Nintendo got started working on the next game in its beloved Mario Kart franchise for the the Wii U. The end result, after much eye-popping teasing, hit the console last May. Nintendo made its move, but was it a game-changer?

Mario Kart 8 offers various ways to play within its single and mutliplayer modes, many of which are similar to its Wii predecessor. Grand Prix will give you the chance to unlock new characters, along with earning some extra coin for new vehicle parts and bodies. Time Trials will have you fill your need for speed as you do your best to beat the previous record holder, while Battle Mode will have you go against other drivers as you attempt to eliminate one another. Finally there’s Versus mode, the multiplayer mode that will have you go against friends in the same room. (The Online mode, where up to two players can join in, is basically the same thing, only the scope of the people you’ll race goes worldwide.)

Perhaps we should start off by weeding out the weakest aspect of the game modes, and that is Battle Mode. Unlike in past versions, where special maps and arenas were used, you are only given the exact same courses that are featured in the regular races. Because of this Battle Mode now just feels like a mere expansion of either the Grand Prix or Versus Mode, instead of a totally different experience. In all honestly Nintendo should’ve either went back and made this mode the same as it was before, or simply cut it out in favor of something different.

Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get into the juicier part of the meat in Mario Kart 8. Racing against the AI in the Grand Prix has never been this challenging. In Mario Kart games of past I’ve always felt like I was winning first place with too much ease. Not so here, as I’ve come to have first place snagged away from me on numerous occasions, sometimes down to the last second of the race. It’s an incredibly welcoming change for veterans of the Mario Kart franchise, although newcomers may shake their fists and Wiimotes in anger whenever they have a big victory snagged away from them.

The new and classic racing maps showcase the most gorgeous worldly elements seen in any Nintendo title. From the very first sight of the Mario Kart Stadium and the shine of the Electrodome to the fires of Bowser Castle and the colors of Rainbow Road the new maps each have a sort of unique characteristic that the other maps don’t. The retro maps add an extra coat of paint to the classic tracks that we’ve come to fall in love with, from the bovine populous that is Moo Moo Meadows to the busy highways of Toad’s turnpike. You may find yourself watching the video replays just so you can capture every hidden gem found on each track.

Speaking of video replays, the fact that you can upload your racing highlights to both Miiverse and YouTube is an incredibly brilliant move, making it far easier for gamers to show off their skills without forking over big bucks for a game capture card. With the ability to customize what you want shown — from specific racers to whichever special moments happen during the race — your victory will be front-and-center once you share it to the world. The only downside is that it takes awhile for a video to upload, with 30-second highlights having a roughly ten-minute wait time.

Mario Kart 8 starts you off with sixteen racers from the Mario realm, with the option to unlock twelve more as you earn more first-place trophies. It’s nice to see you’re able to play as some of Bowser’s minions such as Iggy and Lemmy, not to mention the appearance of Super Mario Galaxy princess Rosalina. Being able to race as your Mii again is also great, with players being able to go head-to-head with one another as themselves. However it would’ve been nice to see just a tad more of the lesser popular characters from the Mario universe like Birdo, Nabbit,  or even the Paper Mario villains like Count Bleck and Sir Grodus.

With almost 30 vehicle bodies, nearly twenty kinds of wheel styles, and a dozen gliders to choose from you’ll be able to customize your racer to suit your very well-being. However as the person and vehicle you choose will have different weight classes it’ll be up to you to figure out what will be the better combination that’ll give you a stronger chance at victory. Do you go for a medium-weighted character with a heavier ride, or do you keep your racer light with a normal-sized kart that’ll still give you enough weight to knock someone off-track? The choice is up to you.

What Mario Kart 8 does a grand job at is keeping players engulfed in the atmosphere the tracks offer. Whether you’re gliding through mountains, swimming underwater, or riding up walls or ceilings, your mind will take in every gameplay aspect and make it seem realer than it truly is. On many occasion I found myself balancing on my chair as I road on a wall, or if I was gliding down I controlled myself as if I was really attempting a smooth landing in a real vehicle.

These feelings happen more often than not thanks to the game’s control scheme. Using either the Gamepad, a Wiimote, or the Pro Controller you’ll find the right style of motion that feels most comfortable to you. Considering I enjoy some tilting mechanics I found myself using the Gamepad as if it were a real steering wheel. Turning and launching weapons at your opponents react flawlessly, with better accuracy than what was seen in Mario Kart Wii. However when it comes to gliding there were times when my character wouldn’t react to the way I was turning my Gamepad, which forced my character off the track and penalizing me. It’s a small bug, but it can cost you victory if not careful, so hopefully a patch will be coming along in the near-future to fix it.

New additions to the weaponry add a new degree of fun to the race. The Boomerang Flower can hit your opponents both forwards and when it returns, whereas the Piranha Plant can chomp down on racers while giving you a small boost of speed. However nothing compares to owning the Super Horn, which can take out opponents, obstacles, and even the dreaded Blue Shell when in use.

When you want to test your skills against others, you’ll have plenty of fun with the Online Modes. With races set up quickly with people all over the world there is very little wait time to twiddle your thumbs before the starting flag is waved. So far I’ve yet to come across any online issues, nor have I been kicked out of any server. What’s also fun is the ability to create racing communities for your friends, fellow journalists, and even avid readers and listeners.

After all is said and done, whether or not Mario Kart 8 is a game changer depends on who you are asking. While one of the most beautiful racing games out there it lacks a sort of unique gameplay element that makes it stand out from the rest of the herd. I mentioned Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With An Engine in the beginning, which had more gameplay modes than even this Mario Kart title has. (The Matador mode, where racers go head-to-head on opposite sides of the track, was the most exciting racing style I’ve ever played.) In fact the reason why I’ll be racing with Mario Kart 8 more than Anything With An Engine is a simple yet sad one: more people will be playing it.

PROS:

  • Beautiful race tracks
  • Solid online play mode
  • AI racers a better challenge this time around

CONS:

  • Lacks racing variety
  • Tilt controls have some flaws
  • Battle Mode feels like a waste of space

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Mario Kart 8 is a fun and gorgeous racing game, but it does suffer from a lack of styles to go head-to-head with. However it’s still a blast to play, even if its gameplay isn’t totally unique. Nintendo made its move, and while it doesn’t place their opponents in check it will keep its competition a little bit more on their toes.

FINAL GRADE: 8.5 (out of ten)

Evan Bourgault is an accomplished music, anime, and video game critic. His passion for discovering new bands, developers, and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Evan joined the ElectricSistaHood team in 2008, where he is a contributing editor and host of one of the network's weekly podcasts. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck


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