Written by Twisted Ideas
Mario makes his karting return to consoles after his previous outing on the 3DS. One of Nintendo’s most popular party games is back in glorious HD. Is Mario and gang’s slick new look backed up by its gameplay?
Fundamentally, Mario Kart hasn’t changed too much over the years. A series of Grand Prix races and fun multiplayer modes with various items to help you and torment other players. Over the years they added new features to the series. Double Dash allowed for racers to drive multiple karts. DS added online play. Wii added Bikes, stunt boosts and 12 player racing. And Mario Kart 7 reintroduced the coin system, added customizable vehicles and gliders. Mario Kart 8 refined these elements and redefined how courses are designed. You can only hold more than one item at a time but improved the balance. The customizable karts have more depth than before.
Mario Kart 8 starts off with a handful of racers and vehicle pieces. Any of the thirty racers can use any combination of vehicle parts. Each racer is apart of a weight class affecting their overall racing stats. As you complete Grand Prix you will unlock more character and vehicle parts. The Grand Prix has four different difficulties: 50CC, 100CC, 150CC and Mirror. Each has 8 cups with 4 courses. The first 4 cups are original courses and the latter 4 are redesigned classic courses to suit the new gameplay while paying homage. Most courses are designed with multiple paths and shortcuts. There are pros and cons with any given route on a course. Some paths may be longer but have boosters or items to compensate for the skill required to maximize the gains with shorter paths. Shortcuts are more prevalent as most don’t require mushrooms to use. The game encourages skill to make jumps onto shortcuts without driving off the course or into walls after the fact.
Courses are redesigned to be more dynamic, allowing for you to drive sideways, upside down and even under water. Some courses are actually one long track instead it looping for three laps. One of the new features are the anti-gravity portions of the courses. Anti-gravity allows vehicles to stick to the ground allow the course the twist and turn without you falling off. The glider allows you to soar across the course. You can take shortcuts or utilize ramps to maximize you flight distance. Coins are scattered along the course, increasing your maximum speed. You can hold up to ten and you lose three, which you or opponents can pick up, if you’re hit.
There are a few new items in-game: The piranha plant grabs items and attacks near by karts. The super horn creates a shockwave hitting anything in its radius. The boomerang flower is a weapon that can hit twice and can be used three times. The Crazy 8 is a fantastic item which gives you 8 items for the price of one; The items rotate around you and the one in front is the one that’s used.
There is four player local multiplayer and up to two player online multiplayer. Players can control the game with the Wii U Gamepad, Wiimote with or without Nunchuck and the Pro controller. Online multiplayer has you race against 11 oppeonents from around the world raising you rank. Players vote on stages with one randomly selected from the group.
How does it look?
Mario Kart in HD looks slick. It still have that cartoony “Mario” look. While it isn’t much different from what we’ve already seen it’s looks much better than Mario Kart Wii did.
The courses are look fantastic. The graphics give off a glossy look so everything pops. Courses with moving parts are some of the most impressive ones because the amount of detail involved. Courses twist and turn during anti-gravity sections that it’s hard for you and viewers to tell what’s happening when first playing. While some courses don’t have a dynamic feel Nintendo didn’t skimp on the quality of the textures and backgrounds.
There have been a lot of jokes about Luigi’s facial expressions on the internet. Honestly, I haven’t noticed. It’s something that’s only apparent during replays. Speaking of replays, replay feels unfinished. The game chooses dynamic camera angles, which is great to show off highlights but you can’t watch the races in a normal view mode.
How does it sound?
The soundtrack is excellent. It’s familiar invoking the overall feel that Mario games have been giving off over the past decade or two but also sounding new and catchy.
What do I think?
Fundamentally Mario Kart 8 isn’t that much different from any other Mario Kart but it’s still incredibly fun with some of the best designed courses in a long time. I skipped Mario Kart 7 so I can’t speak on its behalf this is a step up from bad design decisions from Mario Kart Wii. Is this it the best Mario Kart? It doesn’t matter to me, it’s a Mario Kart game that I’m having fun with again. It has its share of flaws but it’s a step in the right direction.
Oddly, there’s no minimap for player not using the gamepad or in-game timer outside of the time trials. This seems like a huge oversight or just laziness.
The course designs are great. They give players options with skill vs. ease. The removal of the automatic driving feature it encourages skill and improvement for the player.
Items have been tweaked for the good and the bad. I don’t like Mario Kart Wii because of the items. Too many items were designed to make you lose your times, crippling some players leaving them defenseless. Lightning is the only item that can make players drop items. The green shell is bigger and easier to hit drivers with and the red shell doesn’t magically track drivers around corners and avoid obstacles. With some skillful driving you can cause red shells to break.
The comeback factor is reduced, which is good and bad. There are fewer power items so more skill is required. The boost speed of mushrooms and duration of some items like Bullet Bill and the Star are reduced. Making full comebacks feels impossible. There are so many possible boosts on a stages that it invalidates these items. You still lose so much speed if you bump into a wall or drive off the track. One little bump or under steering drops your speed from 60-10 in about a second. There are some parts off-road that look paved but driving on them makes slows you down as if on sand or grass.
Online is fun simply for the fact that it work well and you’re completing with other people. I understand Nintendo’s stance for a nice, abuse free online environment but there can also be positives. People have created friendships through online games before and the fact you can barely even communicate with strangers is narrow-minded.
Should you get it?
Mario Kart 8 is a great game that bridges the gap between fun and skill. While things haven’t changed too much, it’s still good old fun. The more important question you should ask is if you should you buy a Wii U. I personally bought the bundle with the free downloadable Wii U game. For me that was great value and I realize how well the system works. Based off this past E3 we’ll get more franchise games and third-party games that actually were more impressive than most of the games during the show. There’s a lot to look forward to with Nintendo and people should be willing to take the chance.