Review: Mario Kart 8

I could write this review using a single word.

Fantastic.

But it wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t describe the colossal amount of effort Nintendo has gone to to make Mario Kart 8 the prettiest game on Wii U, even prettier than Super Mario 3D World, the prior graphical showcase Wii U owners like me would use to show off what the console could really do if people just tried. From the character models to the fact that this game runs in 60 frames per second, even in split screen two player, Mario Kart 8 is now the go-to-game to show people that Wii U can rival even the PS4 when it comes to graphical prowess. The fact that this came out the same week as Watch Dogs, which looks last gen even on the PS4, makes this all the sweeter.

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It wouldn’t be enough to tell you about the little graphical flourishes Nintendo have sprinkled throughout the world, so little that you don’t really notice them but they help bring the world to life. Things like Donkey Kong’s fur or Mario’s mustache rustling in the wind as their kart zooms around the track. The little background animations that don’t need to be there but are. The word “fantastic” would encompass these things, surely, but wouldn’t tell you how impressive it is in its subtlety.

It wouldn’t let you know that the racing controls in this game are spot-freaking-on, just as they have been in every Mario Kart since the halcyon days of the N64.

“Fantastic” wouldn’t explain how great the music is, from the synthesized beats of the Electrodome to the orchestral music of Cloudtop Cruise.

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Nor would it be enough to tell you how easy the online matchmaking is, putting more “adult” games like Titanfall to shame. Or how well online multiplayer runs. Or just how fun it is.

Fantastic wouldn’t tell you where Mario Kart 8 stumbles, either. The most obvious stumble is Battle Mode, a multiplayer favorite since the original Mario Kart came out on the SNES. Whereas previous iterations of Battle Mode had custom built arenas, here Battle Mode is reduced to reconfigured versions of the Grand Prix mode tracks. It’s such an obvious fumble that you wonder why Nintendo even bothered to include Battle Mode if they were going to half-arse it like this.

There’s also the use of the Gamepad; in the sense that apart from being a horn or being the usual avenue for off-TV play, it’s not really utilised as well as it could be. How about a reverse camera option, so you can always see what’s happening behind you? What about a local 2 player mode that allows one player to play on the TV and the other on the Gamepad? Great ideas that aren’t there for some reason.

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Mario Kart 8 may also prove the adage that you can have too much of a good thing. Some criticized Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS of having too few characters, but here there may be too many. Choice is always nice, but the fact that there are five different baby characters, and six of the Koopalings, makes the character choice seem a bit superfluous. There are differences between all the characters, of course, but when the differences are so subtle because of the large variety of characters to chose from, you end up wishing for less.

There’s the consistent problem of the enemy AI being all knowing. I’ve always seen single player Mario Kart as Me vs. 8+ computer characters working as one. This problem becomes all the more obvious when you start making it to the front of the pack. For example, Mario Kart veterans know that the only time you get items like the Blue Shell, or the Lightning Bolt, are when you’re at the back of the pack. When you’re all the way back there, you can’t really know what’s going on in first. So it’s insane that when you’re leading the race, and about to jump over a precarious jump, that a Lightning Bolt hits you at just the right time to see you spin out and fall to your doom. There’s no other word for that than unfair; fantastic is definitely not apropos.

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A minor niggle I have… and it’s really minor… is the fact that the default menu choice following a race is the Replay button. If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly hitting A trying to speed up your progression to the next race. Mario Kart 8 looks set to break me of that habit, since starting a replay of the race just ends up slowing me down. The replay feature is a nice feature, don’t get me wrong; the ability to edit and share videos on Youtube and Miiverse is especially cool. But it’s not the main game.

Overall, Mario Kart 8 is fantastic. Just fantastic. It’s pure fun. The new anti-grav feature is arguably a gimmick, but when it bends your mind (and the course) it’s just, well, fantastic fun. Mario Kart 8 stumbles in a few places, but the overall package is one of quality and substance. It’s a game all Wii U owners should be buying right now, and it’s a game that should make non-Wii U owners rush out and buy the console right now.

Fantastic. Get it now.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10.

 

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