Nintendo’s long running Mario Kart series has always been one of the most popular games for each respective console. I’ve always enjoyed the series though felt that some games missed the mark a little, such as the Gamecube’s Double Dash!! which just felt a bit off to me somehow. Mario Kart 7, the previous game in the series which was released for the Nintendo 3DS, was very well received and added both a new glide ability as well as underwater driving, leaving Mario Kart 8 a task in terms of bettering it as well as adding something new.
The big new gimmick of Mario Kart 8 is antigravity, where you run your kart over a trigger, similar to the game’s jumps, which then makes your kart stick to walls. The track will then usually twist on itself or go vertical, leading to some rather crazily designed stages.
All the standard gameplay modes are still present, with the usual Grand Prix, single races, time trials and battle mode, as well as all these being available in both split screen multiplayer as well as online, aside from time trials.
As with previous games, the Grand Prix is split up into eight cups, each featuring four races. The first four cups all have brand new tracks, while the other half of the tracks are all returning courses from previous games. These have generally been faithful reproductions, but the antigravity means that many have been redesigned, with tracks now going in completely different ways to they had previously, so even a veteran of the older tracks can be surprised.
This is then split into difficulty levels, with 50cc, 100cc and 150cc increasing in the speed of the karts and difficulty of the computer controlled players. 50cc starts very easy, but by the time you get to 150cc you’ll be cursing the screen as you get hit by the fourth consecutive attack and drop from first to last instantly on the last corner.
Completing all three difficulties unlocks mirror mode, with the enemy karts on 150cc difficulty. This is all the tracks of the game again but flipped, and you’ll have to be paying attention to make sure you don’t accidentally take a left turn like the usual course instead of a right.
Single race is self-explanatory, with you able to pick a single track to race against friends or the computer, while time trial allows you to attempt to set the best lap time on any of the tracks.
The final mode then is the battle mode. This had traditionally been one of the most fun modes in multiplayer, with players competing against each other to be the last one standing. You’re given three balloons at the start, and each hit takes one away and you’re out when you have no balloons. In previous games these matches would take place on specifically designed arenas that have you going round in tight circles to keep facing your opponents. For some reason in Mario Kart 8 the decision was made to set this mode on the existing tracks, and that couldn’t have gone more wrong. The longer and wider tracks mean that there can be long gaps between finding other players, so the frantic nature of the game is completely lost.
New to Mario Kart 8 is the ability to see a replay of the race you’ve just completed. This allows you to see the track from various angles and focus on other racers, and you can post clips online of your best moments. You can then view your videos or those by thousands of other players through Mario Kart TV.
Online multiplayer works very well, with no noticeable lag or connection issues. I usually fare pretty well in Mario Kart games, but even so I never tend to do as well online and nothing much has changed here.
The real joy is in the split screen multiplayer, with up to four players being able to play on the same machine. It almost seems like a lost art these days as fewer games have same machine multiplayer but the old school fun of having several friends around and playing against them is still as much fun as I remember from many, many sessions of Mario Kart 64.
As you’d expect, there are a large number of characters to play as, with more unlocked as you progress through the game. All the usual suspects are present such as Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Bowser and so on. The Koopa kids, originally from Super Mario Bros. 3 all make appearances as well, likely due to their role in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It does make the roster a little bit Koopa heavy, but there’s still plenty of variety that I’m sure everyone will find a character they like.
Also returning from previous games is the kart customisation, which allows you to choose the body, wheels and glider for your vehicle. As well as the standard karts there are also motorbikes and quad bikes, so there’s quite a bit of scope to alter your vehicle as well as the different parts having different stats so you can make a lighter, faster vehicle or a stronger one with better handling and so on.
Control wise it works almost exactly the same as Mario Kart 7. You can still jump at the top of a hill or when coming off a jump for a little extra speed boost, and drifting around corners is still key to victory. There are various little tweaks to the gameplay such as Lakitu not taking as long to pick you up if you fall off the track so you don’t lose as many positions, and the starting boost if you begin accelerating at the right time seems to be a lot smaller. There are several new items, such as the Piranha Plant, Boomerang Flower and the ‘Crazy 8’, which replaces Mario Kart 7’s Lucky 7 power-up and gives you 8 different items to use. The biggest change, aside from the antigravity, would come in the form of how items can be used.
Previously, if you had already equipped a weapon such as a multi shell or banana this would orbit around you or a single one can be dragged behind, and your item box would then be empty to collect another item, allowing you to keep one in reserve. This has now been removed, and any weapon you’re holding or have equipped now keeps your item box full until it is fired. At first I wasn’t too sure about this but it does add an extra layer of tactics to the formula as you now have to decide a little more if you want to hang on to the item you have when you’re coming to another set of pickups.
Visually, it’s absolutely stunning. While not as sharp on the Wii U’s gamepad (though that’s fine, it’s not supposed to be) it’s still no slouch there and when the game is running on a TV in 1080p it looks absolutely amazing. All the tracks are bright and colourful, with huge amounts of detail in the backgrounds. All of the characters look great too, and luckily for you all I’ve made myself take screenshots with a range of characters so you aren’t just seeing my usual Yoshi all the time. The Wii U gamepad is used for the mini map as well as displaying the positions of each racer, much like the DS versions of the game, so this information is kept off the main screen for a much less cluttered and cleaner screen..
I’ve not been particularly blown away by the visuals on most current generation games as yet, but Mario Kart is the first to really have an effect on me.
Audio wise it’s much like you’d expect from a Nintendo title. Catchy music tracks as well as the usual sound effects that anyone who’s played a Nintendo game before will be familiar with, all the usual voice actors reprise their roles and the coin, fire flower and invincibility for example use the same sounds that they have for decades. It all sounds great, but doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary here.
I’d say that it’s arguably the best game in the series, certainly the most visually attractive and is huge amounts of fun. If you’re able to play it with friends then that’s certainly the best way to go but even played alone it’s still fantastic. Happily, it’s release has boosted sales of the Wii U quite a lot prompting many (myself included!) to pick up the console finally and certainly something that should be owned by any owner of the console.
Mario Kart 8 is out now on the Nintendo Wii U.