Since its inception during the Super Nintendo era, the Mario Kart franchise has been a bonafide hit. In fact, its success has not only led to multiple sequels — a number that has now reached a total of seven with the creation of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U — but also imitators, such as Rare’s fantastic Diddy Kong Racing title and Sumo Digital’s impressive Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing series. Still, despite other companies’ attempts at dethroning them, Mario and his kart-driving friends have always remained at the top of the sub-genre they helped create, and for good reason.
After having stuck to dirt, clay, stone and asphalt with its previous iterations, the Mario Kart series changed things up with its seventh instalment, by seamlessly introducing underwater driving and aerial gliding into the mix. Those two changes remain intact in Mario Kart 8, and the game is undoubtedly better for it. Actually, things remain largely unchanged this time around, as the series’ seventh sequel is more of a tried and true experience than a risk-taker. That’s not a bad thing, though, because its developer’s decision to stand pat and avoid making major changes has led to a fantastic final product.
One thing that could be said about this particular entry, though, is that its racing is more demanding than that of its predecessors. What that means is that honing one’s driving skills is more important than ever, if success is going to be in the cards. That’s not to suggest that the accessibility factor that made this franchise so popular back in the nineties is absent, because it’s not. Instead, things are simply a tad more challenging on the higher 100cc and 150cc difficulties, which leads to some rather intense races.
There exists 32 tracks within Mario Kart 8, a total that is made up of sixteen new courses and sixteen remastered favourites from yesteryear. That familiar mix has allowed the developer to, once again, create eight different Grand Prix championships, all of which include four individual races. As such, there’s quite a bit of content to be found within the game’s core mode.
As expected, the returning courses are all quite fantastic, and feature a good variety of styles. That’s also true of Mario Kart 8‘s new courses, though, which are impressively crafted and immensely creative. As such, it won’t be difficult for fans to develop new favourites, which will likely end up being remastered for use within future sequels. My personal favourites happen to be Shy Guy Falls and Mount Wario, two environmentally-themed courses that stand out for different reasons. The former takes place on and around a massive waterfall, which can be driven upon, while the other eschews traditional laps for a challenging and unforgettable race down a steep, snow-covered mountain.
It’s important to point out that some of the fan favourite courses have been altered, to not only allow for underwater driving and gliding, but also the game’s new anti-gravity feature, which allows its karts to drive on walls and makes it so that bumping into things results in speed boosts. An example of this is Toad’s Turnpike, which, in addition to its inclusion of Nintendo-themed vehicle advertisements, now features walls that can be driven upon. These changes are all for the better, though, and are both welcomed and appreciated. Additionally, they show attempts at improvement, as opposed to a developer simply standing pat and sticking with what had previously worked.
Instead of presenting races that only feature eight individual drivers, Mario Kart 8 employs a twelve-racer system. As a result, its events end up being more chaotic and challenging, which isn’t a bad thing at all. To complement this mechanic, new power-ups have been created, including a badass piranha plant that not only provides mushroom-like boosts, but also bites nearby opponents. Then, there’s also a blue-and-white boomerang, which can be thrown several times.
Each driver captains its own unique chariot, too. That’s because the kart creator that Mario Kart 7 introduced remains intact in its follow-up. With it, players can infuse their own personality into the game, by picking and choosing their vehicles’ parts. This includes its body, wheels and glider, categories that are all added to via unlockable items that become available once certain amounts of coins have been collected. Of course, there are also quite a few different characters to unlock, all of whom reside within the series’ largest roster thus far.
In addition to its Grand Prix mode, the game also supports four-player local multiplayer and online play. The latter list item unlocks a competitive world, where one can select to play either regional or worldwide events, on top of user-created tournaments. However, since the game has yet to be released to the public, I was unable to find any matches.
Battle Mode also returns, but it’s not what it used to be, and acts as the game’s only real flaw. For some reason, Nintendo’s entrusted development team decided to forego utilizing the series’ fan-favourite battle arenas, in favour of moving said battles to traditional tracks. The result is a weird-feeling, twelve-racer battle system, which isn’t as cohesive or as entertaining as what came before it. It’s too bad, too, because Battle Mode used to be a favourite of mine.
As a whole, though, Mario Kart 8 is an almost ideal sequel. It’s fast, fluid and incredibly entertaining, offering great reply value and precise GamePad controls. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, however, that it also supports other control options, including the familiar WiiMote-plus-Wii Wheel combination. The GamePad can also be switched into motion mode, if you please, but core gamers will likely prefer to use the controller’s joystick.
Presentation-wise, things are tough to fault, as this Wii U-exclusive behemoth is absolutely beautiful. It’s thoroughly detailed and spectacularly colourful, and complements those facets with a fantastic soundtrack, which mixes iconic tunes with new arrangements. Then, when you add in the fact that saved replays can be watched and shared with the world, via Mario Kart TV, there’s even more to like.
If you’re a Wii U owner, then it behooves you to give Mario Kart 8 a shot. It’s one heck of a good game and will no doubt please longtime fans of the series and newcomers alike.
This review is based on the Wii U exclusive, which we were provided with.
Mario Kart 8 is a nearly flawless kart racer, which is only marred by its developer's confusing decision to alter its traditional Battle Mode.