I could kick off this review by mentioning the dire situation Nintendo finds itself with the Wii U and question if Mario Kart 8 could be that jolt of electricity it’s system so sorely needs right now but chances are you’re as sick of hearing it as I am and more than likely here because you’re a fan of the series. You don’t want to hear about Wii U sales. You want to hear about Mario Kart 8 so let’s get started.
It’s hard to believe we’ve been firing red shells and drifting round hairpin corners for over twenty two years now, but the Mario Kart series is one that hasn’t seen the need to change, with a winning formula that continues to please gamers with every new iteration. Sure the series has seen its share of tweaks and new ideas (two racer karts, gliding, character specific weapons, motorbikes and stunts to name a few) but it’s core remains true and the same can really be said about Mario Kart 8. You’re still very much racing eleven other opponents using an assortment of weapons on a host of Mario-inspired tracks. While it certainly doesn’t feel like a true revolution for the series, its implementation of returning features as well as a few fresh twists (no pun intended) helps craft what many might argue is the finest racing experience we’ve seen from the long running franchise yet.
Racing feels as good as it ever has taking the tried and true simplistic handling that’s easy to learn and rewarding for those that want to master. The game offers a wide array of control schemes that should suit all playstyles with tilting making a return from the Wii version. GamePad usage is a pretty miserable affair to be honest. Rather than giving a player their own screen or even allowing a fifth to join what you have is the option to use a horn, map, or mirror simply what’s on your TV. Hardly inspiring. Furthermore you can’t opt to have the map on the TV either meaning when playing with friends, the player with the GamePad is at an advantage with their second screen.
Much like Mario Kart 7, characters and car parts all have their own weight and handling stats. Want a higher top speed but slower acceleration? Opt for one of the heavyweight characters along with a hefty kart. Prefer to excel at handling then select one of the featherweights along with a bike. It’s fun to experiment and find the perfect ride for yourself. As for the character roster itself, the selection is a little disappointing. Gone are veterans like Diddy Kong, Bowser Jr. and Birdo – instead we have plenty of babies and metallic versions of existing characters which to me seems very lazy and I’m hoping this will be rectified with downloadables extras at a later date. On the bright side the seven Kooplings are a surprisingly appreciated addition, each one full of so much character and charm.
Of course the biggest new addition this time around comes in the form of anti-gravity – a neat trick that appears on certain tracks taking the race to it’s side and even upside down. While it doesn’t really change the way the game plays too much (the screen doesn’t flip as you do for example) it does allow for some far more interesting track design. Furthermore the added mechanic of gaining boosts as you hit other racers encourages you to be more aggressive with your racing.
Weaponry has always been a large part of the Mario Kart experience and this sequel is no different. Of course you’ll see plenty of old favourites returning including shells, peels, bullet bills and so on. New toys come in the form of a chomping Piranha Plant that also provides you with brief bursts of speed, a Boomerang that can be thrown three times hitting players even as it returns and the Super Horn, capable of sending out a shock wave that can even take out the dreaded blue shell.
Like previous entries in the series, Mario Kart 8 sports sixteen entirely new tracks along with sixteen returning retro ones. The fresh batch make best use of the game’s anti-gravity mechanic with track designs that see you racing through the streets of a sunny harbour, alongside a dam and even up a waterfall. Finding a dud in the bunch is especially tough with each track housing it’s own highlights – Bowser’s Castle sees you trying to avoid a giant moving statue of the big brute, Twisted Mansion has you racing upside down through it’s flooded basement and Mount Wario is basically a sprint down a giant snowy mountain finishing off with a huge ski jump. I could easily sit here and list off every new track’s “wow moments”. I mean how often can you claim the opening track for a Mario Kart game is actually memorable?! As for the retro selection, in my mind at least this may be the strongest gathering of “classics” the series has ever seen. Of course this is entirely subjective, one man’s Toad’s Turnpike is another’s Wario Colosseum after all. One things for sure though, you can’t argue the excellent implementation of the sequel’s new mechanics into these older tracks.
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