If there’s one thing that I ever worry about with Mario Kart, it’s that there’s only ever one game per console. We get multiple Mario, Pokemon and Zelda titles, but Mario Kart? That’s a one per generation deal. It has to be good. Nintendo know this though, they know that Mario Kart appeals to everyone and anyone even almost as much as a standard Mario game does. Mario Kart 8 feels like this, but in trying so hard you sometimes miss the small parts.
Mario Kart has stuck true to its roots for the most for its entire existence, the Mario Kart formula doesn’t need that much shaking at its core – luckily each game still has its own innovations and improvements. Mario Kart 8 is no different and while never reaching the levels of Double Dash!!, the game still tries new things. Anti-gravity racing is that change and while on the surface it may look like a visual change only, you’ll need to learn and adjust your strategies for racing. It’ll be the difference between a win and loss.
Most of the game’s tracks feature this anti-gravity feature in some capacity, however some are implemented more subtly than others and none of them go over the top at all. When racing in anti-gravity, you’ll want to hit people and obstacles as it gives a boost – no matter how large of a character you pick. Anti-gravity racing is used best on the newer tracks in the game, the retro tracks have it included in most but it’s more understated there for the most part. Perhaps the only downside with the anti-gravity is the lack of feeling it gives. When you see the tracks in the pre-race introduction you can see these giant loops, hoops and dips; when you’re racing on them the camera is perhaps a little too close to the racer for you to feel this same immersion. It’s only when you can see the land below you on some tracks that you trigger ‘oh yeah I’m upside down’.
Obviously this was done to make sure the racing was still fun, but visually the anti-gravity doesn’t feel like it has a proper presence at points. The glider and underwater parts of the game from Mario Kart 7 have returned as well and feel natural now, like they were always meant to be there.
The game’s balance has been tweaked with the addition of new items, it’s now a lot tighter than we’ve ever had before. However the Super Horn, that item previously heralded as a Blue Shell killer is next to useless. You pick it up far too behind in the game and it’s never really put to good use. Sure it’ll stop a blue shell, but the design behind it hasn’t been properly implemented. Other new items include the chaos inducing ‘Crazy 8′ where much like the ‘Super 7′, items spin around your kart in roulette of madness. Racers in the game can steal your items off you to but at their own risk. The Boomerang and Piranha Plant are neat but honestly, and not sound like a braggart, I haven’t used them all too much because I haven’t been that far behind – in the madness of online they should appear more useful.
Mario Kart 8‘s single player remains annoyingly unchanged from previous installments. You know the drill, four cups on the old tracks, four on the new and the better you race the higher star rating you get. The difficulty stacks so if you don’t enjoy 50cc (and who does) you can jump straight to 100cc or 150cc and not bother with the lower tiers. Content is unlocked by collecting coins in the single player modes – although most of the customisations and new karts will fare better in online than solo – where the CPU is never too daunting even on 150cc. That’s coming from someone who’s played every Mario Kart game ever, if you’re new to it – you might find it a bit harder.
You read right, customization is back, the bikes are back as well. You’ll struggle to find the right character, kart (or bike) and wheel combo to start with and you might even have to give up your favourite character if he’s not gelling well with your racing style. If the single player does bore you, it is possible to play all of the GP modes with all four players, collect coins and unlocks – which is nice. Time Trials are back of course and have all the online ghost racing functionality you need, because you’re never really going to battle your brother locally are you?
Multiplayer is where the party is at with Mario Kart and always has been. The game really comes to life both locally and online. Even with two players, the game sticks to a very smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second, though adding anymore players halves it. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice that has to be made for the game to look this good.
Online is now a big part of Mario Kart. You can play online with just one player, or with a guest just like on Mario Kart Wii. As we’ve reviewed this game before release, finding people to race has been somewhat of a chore. We haven’t been able to secure a full 12 player race while online just yet. What we have played through, however, is 5 or 6 races from across the globe. Even with our less-than-average-by-an-international-standard internet, most of the races have played perfectly. The lobby system and it’s waiting system is much like Mario Kart Wii’s system, which isn’t perfect, but it’s what we’ve got for Mario Kart 8. When you race with the general public, you’re limited to pre-determined ad-libs to have conversations in the lobby, but Nintendo have added voice chat to the lobbies of matches with confirmed friends.
That does mean if you do call your mate a knob for blue shelling you on the finish line, he can probably punch you in the shoulder next time he sees you but you can’t go and tell that kind stranger you met from the Balkans to shove it.
Tournaments are also a big part of online now. Any player can setup one and have their friends join via searching in the game or using a code. You can setup and restrict the day, time, difficulty, allowed items and what vehicles you want people to be able to race in. Tournaments can be repeated and they can be private or public – depending on what you want. People complain it’s hard to set up races or games with Nintendo games online, here’s the fix and it seems intuitive and comprehensive enough to work.
Here’s where the penny drops though. Battle Mode. It’s terrible and it’s easily the sorest point of the game. Instead of interesting and purposely built battle arenas, you battle it out in modified loop tracks from the game. So instead of planning assaults and hiding, you just end up racing around in a loop over and over again, never really doing anything. It honestly feels like Nintendo ran out of time on the game, and the placeholder levels they borrowed from the ordinary racing modes to use for testing were left in instead. A real disappointment – especially if you love Battle Mode. You might even cry. Remember when we said there’s usually only one Mario Kart on each console? It’s very disappointing for fans of battle mode is this were the case. There’s not even extra “Mission” modes or any other non-racing fun to be had, which with the advent of more ambitious games like Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing seems a little bit of a missed opportunity.
Mario Kart TV (the mode) is a little bit boring. There’s a board of videos to watch and Nintendo show the most recent exploits of yourself along with others handpicked from the Miiverse. The real joy is uploading your highlights to Miiverse and YouTube at any point during the game. It’s limited, but sharing is fun and video sharing is even more so. The game stores the last 12 races from everyone’s perspectives, and allows you to pick and choose the moments of the game to include in the upload. If you really love something and want to keep it forever, there’s 6 slots that will never be deleted or overwritten. The replay watching and social nature of Mario Kart 8 is littered throughout the game and it’s user interface – after each race and round you can check our your replays and upload directly from there. Let’s hope Nintendo continues to add to this feature and grows it as a platform for both this and future titles. Videos upload to YouTube in minutes, they’re not the best quality but upload quick enough so you can get back into the game quickly.
If you’ve read this far into the review, then congratulations. I appreciate it. But you’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about the game’s presentation yet. For one thing, most of you probably know already how great it looks. There’s videos and clips of it all over the internet. The game, in person, really does look amazing and especially beautiful in high definition. It runs at a perfect 60 frames per second at 720p resolution, and while there’s some jagged edges here and there, they’re barely noticeable when sitting on a couch and not up close to the display. Nintendo’s art design team have outdone themselves, with the bright and vibrant colours bringing the game to life like never before. This quality and eye for presentation continues with the sound design, where a band have recorded higher quality orchestral tracks with real instruments rather than good old fashioned MIDI. There’s new tracks along with remixes and rearrangements of old Mario Kart and related themes. This is definitely a soundtrack that will be celebrated for some time.
Mario Kart 8 is a super slick kart racing experience that looks great in high definition, sounds amazing and will give you months of pleasure and mileage. The online modes and tournament arrangement will mean that you’ll be racing with your friends and loving it for months and maybe even years to come. Nintendo have, at this point, got Mario Kart down to a fine art, but like all masterpieces there’s flaws. However, stand back, take the whole thing in as exactly that – a whole – and appreciate it all. It’s just great.