I wrote about 8 different lead-ins before deciding to cut the fluff and get straight to the point. Does Mario Kart 8 live up to the hype? Yes!
Mario Kart 8 was exactly what I expected. It’s very rare to have anything accomplish that. Some may see matching expectations as failure by falling short of exceeding them, but not for Nintendo. As fans, we have such high expectations that it’s a miracle to just meet them.
Mario Kart 8 does a great job of respecting its predecessors and remembering what made it one of the top-selling Nintendo franchises. Besides the obvious being the first title in HD, Mario Kart 8 feels like the culmination of the 7 previous titles.
The basics of Mario Kart are there. Mario Kart 8 offers 30 racers with 32 courses, 16 new and 16 retro. All the normal CC’s are there (50, 100, and 150), with Mirrored mode and more. The courses are a mixture of difficulty and a range of styles and environments. There are item blocks and different items in those blocks. Most of the useful items are back with a mixture of exciting new ones, my favorite being the boomerang. Pretty much everything that Mario Kart fans have grown accustomed to is there. But what makes this Mario Kart so great is the little changes it offers while still keeping to its core.
Mario Kart 8 presents subtle mechanical changes to some of the original features. One, which was already announced through a Nintendo Direct, is the difference between the Karts, Bikes, and ATV’s. Any difference I noticed came from the wheels and gliders. Bigger wheels offer better traction on sand, ice and off-road. Smaller and thinner wheels offer less traction but are more suitable for drifting. Mastering drifting with smaller wheels can become an advantage on the slipperier courses. The gliders don’t make that much of a difference, just affecting distance and control.
Mario Kart 8 also makes a few changes to items. It pretty much takes a lightning bolt from Thor for a racer to drop an item. In fact, falling off the edge, getting hit by a shell, or even running over a banana will not cause the racer to drop an item. The only thing I found that would cause any drops was lightning and bombs. The logic probably being the character shrinks and can’t hold the item anymore or a massive explosion would cause anyone to drop what they had.
Now racers can only hold one active item at a time. This means the time of having three shells floating around the Kart and another item at the ready is over. It’s not until all items have been dispensed that a newer item can be gathered.
Most of the normal game modes are available, but with two differences. First, the battle mode uses its own actual tracks instead of special arenas. This became a nice opportunity to explore all corners of the tracks available to battle mode. Actual tracks does make battle mode a little more enjoyable, but it’s still pointless.
The other addition, and what I found most exciting, was Custom Mode. In this mode players have more control over what is played. Here, players can choose the mode (CC), what item/s, vehicles and controls will be used during the race. Yes, a 150cc Bike race with bombs and motion controls is possible and just as confusing as it sounds. Even with little customization, the Custom Mode adds something a little different to the typical race.
Probably the one new aspect everyone is wondering about is anti-gravity. Mario Kart 8 does a great job mixing together forced anti-gravity with strategic anti-gravity racing. Some of the courses have large anti-gravity sections that everyone must go through. Then there are a few courses that offer sections of anti-gravity that racers can either bypass or take, depending on one’s strategy. I do have one minor gripe. While there are few courses that go with the strategy route, I wish there were more. Strategy is a huge part of Mario Kart. Adding the extra wrinkle of anti-gravity really adds to the strategy of races.
Mario Kart 8 does a nice job handling the aspect of being in anti-gravity. Sometimes the anti-gravity feels pretty natural to the course and the racer may only notice a slight difference in the overall racing experience. Other times there’s a sense of vertigo as Karts fly around curves, upside down and all types of directions. It’s good to have this mixture. If every track had the vertigo feel, it would become unbearable.
One of my biggest complaints, pretty much for most of the recent Mario Karts, is the rehashed retro levels. Most of the time those levels felt like just that, rehashed. While it’s nice to play old SNES tracks, I always felt newer tracks would be more exciting. I don’t have that complaint with Mario Kart 8. The game does a great job keeping the nostalgic feel of retro levels but making them new to the Mario Kart 8 experience. Levels that I really didn’t enjoy before, like Sherbet Land, have become a lot more enjoyable. One reason for this is how the game uses features like anti-gravity and gliding in the retro levels. None of the anti-gravity or glider additions feel forced or out-of-place. The two new aspects feel like they were part of the track all along.
Before I started writing this, I read a comment that Nintendo pushed the Wii U with Mario Kart 8, and that shows. Mario Kart 8 is beautiful. As far as I can tell, everything runs at a smooth 60 FPS at 1080p (Not sure how to confirm that last part). The environments look alive, there are reflections off wet surfaces, the coins have a nice shine and sparkle and the items actually have texture. This is truly a beautiful introduction to Mario Kart in HD. Over time, I became more impressed with the details of the track than anything happening on it. The environments outside the tracks made for a feeling of grandness. There is so much more to the world than just the track itself. For the first time, I felt the race was a part of a bigger environment.
Unlike the single player, Mario Kart 8 online was a little more than I expected. Online offers single and two player matches with friends, regional and world-wide opponents. There are also two new features with tournaments and custom racing with friends. Nintendo has finally added voice chat, but only with friends in lobbies. I don’t want to be that guy. It is better to have something then nothing at all, but voice chat was a little underwhelming. It does work between races, which I was hoping would be the case, but the problem is the time between races. There was more than a few times where I was in the middle of a conversation, and the game would turn off the microphones and move onto the next race. I am personally ok with no chatting during races, but having some control in an online party to finish a conversation would be nice.
Mario Kart TV got a huge boost with the integration of YouTube. Mario Kart TV saves footage from the last dozen races. The footage can be edited to highlight segments or the entire race can be re-watched . Editing also allows for changing the focus of the highlight, to different racers or actions, and the ability to cut sounds. Sadly, for this review, Mario Kart TV was limited to mostly local use. Once fully functional, Mario Kart TV will allow for Miiverse and YouTube uploads.
If enough attention is paid during a race, the Mario Kart TV crew can be seen filming the race. The most obvious area is around the finish line. But for those more astute individuals, the crew can be seen throughout the course catching all the action.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I say. Pretty much everyone reading this knows what Mario Kart is all about. I think the real question everyone wants to know is, how good is it compared to its predecessors? I play the handheld versions of Mario Kart, but a strongly prefer the console versions. Taking out the handheld versions, Mario Kart 8 holds its own against the top Mario Kart titles. With only a small sample of hundreds of races, it’s hard to compare against thousands of hours of races I had with past Mario Kart titles. If I had to project – everyone will be very satisfied with their time with Mario Kart 8.