There’s no doubt that Mario Kart is one of the most well-known party racing games out there. It has survived the test of time for 20 years, and continues to outplay every competitor that dares challenge it. With every title comes new ideas, for better and worse, and Mario Kart 8 is not shy of this. Mario Kart 7 introduced a few new ideas with its hang-gliders and underwater sections, so now it’s time for Mario Kart 8 to literally turn all this upside-down.
The transition from Wii to Wii U has fared incredibly well. Players who skipped Mario Kart 7 from Mario Kart Wii will feel right at home, with only the GameCube controller (now replaced with the Wii U Controller Pro) being omitted from the list of usable controllers. Motion controls still have a little hiccup on occasion, but still feel natural and fun to use. The controls are extremely similar to that of Mario Kart Wii’s, with a few differences that we’ll get to soon. You can play off-TV and the GamePad also features (for now) the only way to see the overview map.
The track list is on-par with every Mario Kart game since Retro cups were introduced, with 16 brand new tracks and 16 Retro tracks. The difference being that this time, the Retro tracks are now remastered to fit the new gameplay style of Mario Kart 8. With this, they also continued the use of linear tracks from Mario Kart 7, for example Mount Wario or the newly remastered Rainbow Road 64, where instead of laps being loops, they’re instead a sort of checkpoint. These linear tracks still feel great to race on and blend in nicely with the other tracks.
The character roster has been bumped up a little, although not by much. With the addition of several brand new characters to the franchise (and a couple of odd additions alongside that), the roster totals 30 playable characters. Each character has their own stats and weight classifications, which carry over to their vehicle’s stats during customization.
On that note, there are now three types of usable vehicles in Mario Kart 8. Along with karts, the bikes have returned from Mario Kart Wii and they brought their friend, the Quad Bike. Each vehicle has their own specialty to them. Karts are the all-around vehicles, with a balance between control and speed. Bikes focus more on speed, and with the sub-class “Sport Bikes” remove their similarly loose control and allow for tighter, inside drifts. Quad Bikes sacrifice speed for much better grip on ice and sand, giving them much better control overall. Each vehicle has different stats ranging from six different categories. You can unlock new vehicles and vehicle parts with coins that you collect during races. Now, onto actually racing instead of hanging out in the garage, looking at shiny vehicles and revving engines.
The gameplay is similar to that of Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart Wii. The tracks are designed so that you can now go under shallow water with a propeller and use hang-gliders to float over large gaps, giving the track design a much-needed boost in creativity. However, new to Mario Kart 8, they have introduced anti-gravity. The focus of Mario Kart 8 is this anti-gravity design, which altogether allows for insanely detailed level design which gives players many different options on how to move through the same sections of track. You want to ride on a wall in Thwomp Ruins instead of taking the middle path with a hang-glider? You can. How about taking the right path in Twisted Mansion so you can get a little higher and get a better chance at taking the higher path on the final straightaway? You can. Anything is possible this time, and this has pushed Mario Kart to its limits. The anti-gravity also changes how to race, like bumping into other racers or boosters that are on some tracks gives them both a boost.
Now, it wouldn’t be Mario Kart without items to screw over your friends and rivals, right? Well, most of the fan-favorite items have returned in Mario Kart 8. Shells, mushrooms, bananas, Bob-Ombs, Bloopers, coins, Bullet Bills and stars; they all make a return in this game. However, there are new items to be thrown into the mix. The Boomerang Flower makes its debut in Mario Kart 8, along with a Piranha Plant and Super Horn. The Super Horn, for the very first time, gives players in first place a chance to block a Blue Shell. Along with this, players can also get an item called the “Crazy Eight,” an item so crazy, it’s beyond explanation. However, you can now only have one item at any point. Every item is a nice addition and although a couple of items are really only useful in specific situations, they’re welcome to the franchise.
You might have noticed in the pictures a little “MKTV” logo in the corner. If you haven’t, well now you can’t un-see it. Back on topic, Mario Kart 8 has a legitimate “replay mode” now. If you had a really good race, then you can favorite it for later and change things like players to focus on, length of the highlight, and things to highlight (like hits, tricks, or drifts). You can fast forward and slow down the footage at-will, although sadly you cannot pause it. This allows you to see the finest details of the game, from the tire treads, to sparks flying from your tires as you drift, to even the flames that trail you after you drift. More on that later. However, the replay mode is sharable on Miiverse and allows you to show off your insane lap time or even your lucky Green Shell shot.
Your traditional modes are all here. Single player Grand Prix and Time Trials, VS Race which allows you to finely tune everything from race type, to vehicle restrictions, to even the items that spawn in the race. Finally there’s Battle mode. Admittedly, the Battle mode is the most underwhelming part of the entire game. Instead of arena-based insanity and carnage, you’re now restricted to playing on the maps you can race on, but now you can go in any direction you want. So instead of being able to track and intercept other players, like in the other title’s Battle modes, you spend most of your time chasing after rivals in what is basically a long-winded joust. It gets boring incredibly fast and overall just isn’t what it should be.
You can still play multiplayer locally with four-player split-screen, or you can take it online with up to two-players locally. The online is incredibly smooth, although with a decent chunk of downtime before a race (undoubtedly to sync everybody up and remove most latency). It’s the smoothest online mode for a racing game I’ve ever experienced; it’s amazing. All in all, there’s plenty of content for everyone to enjoy thoroughly over and over again, although the Battle mode leaves something to desire.
The graphics are outright amazing. Each track is vibrantly lit with gorgeous dynamic lighting and even minute details are noticeable in the replay mode. The artists did very well making sure everything was perfect, and even the Retro tracks got a huge boost in detail. The characters breathe a life never before seen in such detail, and you can even see them pass glances at each other as they race, or even look at a Blue Shell before it takes them out. Racers glisten after getting out of the water or after getting covered in ink by a Blooper. You can even see the individual skid marks from drifting, which is replaced by blue trails during anti-gravity sections. You can clearly tell that they cared so much about making everything the best it could possibly be without docking from the game’s already constant 60FPS at 1080p. There was never a point where the game lagged, and that is something to be proud of.
If you all are familiar with my Super Mario 3D World review
, then you all should know that I’m a huge fan of orchestrated music, and Mario Kart 8 is not shy of some of the best original music I’ve heard. On top of that, they did fantastic work on the remixes for the Retro tracks. The music even changes in some tracks depending on if you’re underwater, or in Cloudtop Cruise’s case, in the middle of a storm. On the topic of gorgeous detail, you can even hear the sounds of the tire treads hitting the road in slo-mo; they put that much detail into the sound quality of this game. The entire thing in one seemingly childish package somehow manages to beat out some of the highest quality racing games out there in terms of sound design.
Mario Kart 8
Gameplay – 8/10
Graphics – 9/10
Sounds – 9/10