Where am I even to begin with something like Mario Kart 8? By now, most anyone who’s interested knows what they’re in for when a new instalment comes to the classic racing series starring Nintendo’s most famous cast of characters; fast-paced action, plentiful items, and hazardous tracks both new and old to carve up with friends, family, and others are the expectation. So, too, do we expect to find new twists on old ideas, just as we expect from any other Mario title that comes along. The important thing to ask is, how does the new entry stack up?
I’ll start off by saying that, in total honesty, I was not especially impressed with the series’ prior outing, Mario Kart Wii. We’ve got a copy, but I haven’t dusted it off in a while mostly because it never really captured me the way that prior entries did, and the difficulty was too high for my son, now going on seven, to really keep up with. The learning curve was a bit too much for him to come into the series, and he was pretty quickly discouraged by that — in no small part thanks to the Wii Remote’s less than stellar precision control. Mario Kart 8 handles this much better, fortunately, and while he’s still struggling, he’s at least interested and able to try and improve his play.
To say that Mario Kart 8 is an upgrade over the last title may be to sell it short. Improved controls, a broader roster, vehicle customisation, and a slew of new pickups – including the impressive and variety-packed 8-item super-power – bring a ton of fresh play into the mix. The graphics are an impressive update, and the retooling of levels from nearly all previous generations brings glorious nostalgia for those of us who started our kart-racing careers back in the days of the SNES and beyond. While I can’t say I’ve torn up every track through the franchise’s many iterations, there were still a plethora of familiar arenas alongside the all-new (and gloriously challenging) maps.
Most of the basic framework remains unchanged – and why shouldn’t it? People may complain that Nintendo is following formula with many of their IPs, but when the formula is one that works as well as Mario Kart, there’s no reason to make sweeping alterations. I’m not too enthused to see Battle Mode do away with open arenas, opting for the use of existing tracks, but it’s still a fun diversion. Allowing online play with more than one local participant is genius, and the four-player ‘couch co-op’ stays true to form for those who prefer to beat the snot out of those within cursing range.
All in all, Mario Kart 8 gives seasoned players the game that they deserved when its Wii sibling hit the shelves, but also doesn’t rely so heavily on past experience, keeping it open for new players. The 50cc class is a nice spot for beginners, and can be used to unlock any of the game’s eight Grand Prix Cups for play in the tougher 100 or 150cc classes. With a decent offering of game modes, good use of the Wii U’s social sharing abilities, and plenty of good, old-fashioned fun, I can’t see any reason I’d tell anyone who’s interested to look the other way. Even if racing games aren’t your thing, Mario Kart 8 may deserve a look to see the sillier (and/or more vindictive) side of the genre in a family-friendly setting.
[+Great roster and item additions] [+Definitive improvement over the prior title] [+Gorgeous new and re-worked tracks] [+Plenty of control options to fit your style] [+Good supporting soundtrack] [-Battle Mode arenas are missed]