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Mario Kart 8

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Since it was first released to SNES gamers 22 years ago, the Mario Kart series has proved to be the most competently designed first-party staple for each and every console the company have released. It was Mario Kart 64 that first welcomed me to home video game consoles, and each subsequent release has easily clocked tens if not hundreds of hours across myself and my family as we competitively duke it out against each other and sometimes imbalanced CPU racers in order to claim that Gold Trophy awaiting us at the end of a Grand Prix. With the Wii U losing its ground as an eighth generation console with both Microsoft and Sony’s consoles now available on the market, it was good to see that Nintendo are fighting back with not only a new Mario Kart game, but a Mario Kart game done well. That’s right, this is my review of Mario Kart 8.

The concept behind Mario Kart 8 doesn’t differ too greatly from every other instalment in the series to date, aside from Double Dash (Gamecube) which could easily be considered their most experimental. You take control of a character from the Super Mario Bros. series and competitively race them around a series of 32 uniquely designed tracks (16 brand new courses and 16 classics from previous games) with the aim of racking up the most points at the end of a Grand Prix or defeating your friends. With four additional characters on the track in every race for a total of twelve and a handful of new items, including a way for the Blue Shell to be destroyed before exploding, the races can prove to be some of the most enjoyable and challenging yet.

The biggest “gimmick” for Mario Kart 8 is its new anti-gravity system which allows players to drive along walls, ceilings and occasionally on alternative surfaces. This was a clever idea and in some tracks is effectively used to open up alternate routes, but in other occasions can come across as more of a visual effect rather than remaining firmly on the ground. While several of the new courses incorporate the feature in their tracks alongside Mario Kart 7’s glide capabilities, for the first time they have also directly edited classic courses to embrace the functionality as well.

On the note of classic tracks, all of them have received complete visual overhauls, which for the most part make them much more appealing to play. To their detriment however, the development team have sometimes butchered a level by taking away some of the appeal and challenge that they had before. In the case of my personal favourite Mario Kart track of all time, Yoshi Valley (N64), they chose to make the winding paths much larger and safer to navigate whilst making all four possible routes more equal in length. Rainbow Road (N64) was also edited by cutting the one track down into three separate laps, giving the impression to me that they don’t think my attention span for a track wouldn’t last more than 40 seconds per lap. Irrespective of this, tracks both new and old are very enjoyable to play, with a few notable gems in the mix which completely embrace both antigrav and glide systems. It also helps that each and every track looks amazing, offering some of the best visuals offered on the Wii U to date.

Featuring the largest character cast yet, Mario Kart 8 includes many classic characters from Mario to Yoshi, with a few other notable additions such as Rosalina and Lakitu who has finally chosen to stop playing ‘referee’ and take to the track. Some could debate if the addition of the Koopa Kids (Who have only just started to re-appear in main games since the SNES era), but the most questionable inclusion would be even more ‘baby’ characters. Baby Mario, Luigi and Peach have at least had some role in non-racing games, however Baby Daisy and Baby Rosalina simply feel like attempts at increasing the character count without asking the question: “What new characters from the dozens of Super Mario games could we revive?”. With each character broken up into five different weight classes, and each with different stats, their proficiency on the road can also be hindered or improved through customizing the vehicle, wheels and glider your character uses to race.

Mario Kart has always been a game to enjoy with friends, family or (more recently) with fellow gamers online. This does not change in the slightest with Mario Kart 8. Up to four players can compete with each other in Grand Prix, individual races or “battle” mode, with that number increasing to 12 through online play. While Nintendo is still restrictive about letting random strangers interact with each other in game lobbies, the races are fast paced and in a way the true way to enjoy Mario Kart 8 when you have nobody else wanting to play with you. Unfortunately while the standard racing multiplayer is highly enjoyable, the battle mode is the worst ever seen in the series yet. Gone are the dedicated tracks, and in their place are eight classic tracks that players race around and pop each others balloons in the process. I know Battle Mode might not be the most popular mode at a party and they had 32 new tracks to design… but surely eight remade or brand new arenas would have only required a fraction of the development time.

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Unlike the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Wii U does not feature any built-in recording or streaming functionality. In the past this has mean’t that gamers would need to provide their own capture cards if they wanted to record what happens in-game. While it may not provide the same screen the a player is shown during the race which most live streams focus on,  Mario Kart 8 has a system which automatically provides the player(s) with a customizable highlight reel of every match that can run between 15-60 seconds / whole match and grants control over what events and characters to focus on. Once edited using the simple and intuitive tools, they can be uploaded onto Youtube and shared with the world. An example of this can be found further up in this post.

While the new anti-gravity mechanics were clearly the major “gimmick” for Mario Kart 8, there was still nothing much in the game apart from its greatly enhanced visuals that could be considered groundbreaking for the series. But you know what? That doesn’t matter in the slightest! Mario Kart 8 proves that even after eight games over 22 years it is still a valuable element of Nintendo’s line-up, and is one of the best games released for the Wii U so far.

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Sam
Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fifteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.
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