Post Game Wrap-up: Mario Kart 8

Posted: June 16, 2014 in Current Gaming, Post Game Wrap-up
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Mario Kart 8

Nintendo is banking on some big titles to turn the tide for the struggling WiiU. The first of those, Mario Kart 8, finally hit stores just a couple of weeks ago. Since the initial entry on the Super Nintendo, a Mario Kart title has graced each of Nintendo’s systems, becoming one of their best selling franchises. The big question now, is it a strong enough franchise to begin to turn the tide of the WiiU’s fortunes. Initial results are promising (1.2 million units moved since launch), but whether or not that will be a long-term trend remains to be seen. The smaller question I’m looking at though, does this title do its legacy justice.

This will be a bit of a different wrap-up than what I usually do. This is the first game I’ve done one of these for that hasn’t been a story drive game, with an established beginning and ending. All I have to look at is content and gameplay, so that is where my focus will be in this post.

The Set-up:
The principles of Mario Kart are well established, so I’m only going to touch on them briefly. You choose a racer, a kart, and a track or cup, depending on your play mode. You then fight tooth and nail with other competitors to win the race, using slick driving and an array of items. That’s the gist of it. Quickly, speaking of the items, there is a mix of old and new here, with the most prominent of the new items being a horn that, when used, will destroy any items within range, including the much dreaded blue spiked shell. Other newcomers are the piranha plant, boomerang, and crazy eight item (similar to the lucky seven item from Mario Kart 7).

There are a few differences here from the last console entry on the Nintendo Wii. First of all, the karts (as well as bikes and ATV’s) are customizable with different tire and glider options. This is the same mode as found in Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, but is new to a console entry. As you complete races, you will unlock new kart, tire, and glider options by collecting coins during races, a feature that was absent in the Wii entry, but was, again, present in Mario Kart 7. The differing options do seem to make a difference in handling and speed, and are quite a bit of fun to mix and match in an effort to get the best combination.

Customize Kart

As with all the entries, you will have numerous characters to pick from to pilot your kart. A few have disappeared since the Wii entry (Diddy & Dixie Kong, for example), while the Koopalings have all shown up for this entry. The characters vary in weight class and your pick will affect your acceleration and speed. To unlock new characters, you will need to win Gold in each of the cups. This is essentially an aesthetic choice that won’t affect much, but there is something fun about being able to race as Ludwig Von Koopa or Metal Mario.

Personal favorite.

Personal favorite.

The Gameplay:
This is what it’s all about. Essentially, there isn’t too much to say here, but that is a very big positive. The Mario Kart series, for the most recent entries especially, have excelled in control, and that remains true here. Drifting is integral to advancing and winning any race. As with all new entries, there is a learning curve regarding the drift and how to play with it to take the tightest turns, but after a few races, this will become a non-issue as you adapt to the new physics.

Completely new to the series, adding to the holdovers from Mario Kart 7 (underwater racing and gliding) are sections that will see your car shifting to anti-gravity mode, meaning you will be racing vertically, horizontally, and upside down. There’s no real change to the racing style in these sections, excepting a spin followed by a slight speed boost when you make contact with another racer, but it does allow for some insane track design that would occasionally leave me shaking my head in awe at what Nintendo came up with. One particular section (as called out in a comment in my Top 8 Tracks post) sees you racing up and down waterfalls. What makes these sections so awe inspiring is that you don’t always notice the design right away. This sounds like a negative, but it’s actually a testament to how smoothly the track transitions from one section to the next and, once you do notice it, you will be left wondering how you ever missed it.

Shy Guy Falls

Speaking of track design, including in Mario Kart 8 is the traditional collection of 16 new tracks, along with 16 reworked classic tracks. I did question a few of the included classics, but also had to remember that many tracks have already received the “classic” status in previous entries. Despite my questioning of the tracks, they are still quite fun, and the new elements have been included seamlessly. The new tracks in Mario Kart 8 are some of the best I’ve seen in an entry. Looking over them, there are truly none that I don’t enjoy racing at, which is not a statement I can make about any other entry in this series. The designers for this game definitely deserve a tip of the cap as they were at the top of their game based on the new tracks included in Mario Kart 8.

One thing that I must address before wrapping this up is the dispersion of items. Mario Kart Wii received some well deserved criticism for what seemed like an over abundance of blue spiked shells that would all too often steal a race in what felt like a very unfair manner. My time with Mario Kart 8 saw far fewer blue spiked shells being used, so I do believe that Nintendo addressed this. It will take some more time with the game to truly determine this, but my short term opinion is that they have been cut down on. One thing I have noticed, however, is that green shells seem far more accurate in this game. I’ve been hit with more green shells in this game than in any other entry. It could be a massive coincidence, but I suspect that a larger margin of error has been included in this game. Like the blue spiked shell usage, however, it will take more time with the game to be able to make a true call on this.

The horror...

The horror…

I’ve focused here on the racing, but there is also a local multiplayer mode, a battle mode (on tracks instead of arenas as in past games), and wi-fi racing for both single player and multiplayer. My time with wi-fi was very positive. I was added to a group very quickly and observed the end of their race before joining them in the next match. I saw no lag or anything that I could point to as a negative.

I don’t know if this game will move units or turn around the fortunes of the WiiU, but is a very solid game and another strong entry in the Mario Kart franchise. Nintendo may be having hardware issues with the WiiU, but when it comes to game making, titles such as Mario Kart 8 remind you of why they have been around so long and will continue to be around for some time to come. This is simply a fun game, and a joy to play, be it by yourself, with a friend(s), or online. I can’t say that you should buy a WiiU to play this game since that is a major investment, but what I can say is that if you already own a WiiU, you owe it to yourself to pick this title up. I can’t imagine anyone regretting a purchase of Mario Kart 8.

  1. Lo Burton says:

    My skepticism about these games stems from the feeling that sooner than later, the hype will die down and people won’t be playing it in mass numbers anymore. I felt a bit of pressure to buy it now while everyone is still talking about it, or I’d be something of a pariah. Historically speaking, I seldom reach for MK when I need a game to bring people together, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s reliable fun, and so far MK8 seems to be a well-made game.

    Remind me to add you on NN!

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