Mario Kart 8 Review
‘It’s just Mario Kart’.
When asked by our peers to summarise Mario Kart 8 while playing it for review, it became hard to really pinpoint what to say about the experience, about the subtle tweaks and key features it is purported to have.
‘You can drive on walls now’, was all that could be added.
And it feels unfair to open this Mario Kart 8 review with a fairly negative tone, because it’s clear that Mario Kart 8 is a brilliant game. Nintendo has spent an extreme amount of time fine-tuning it, making it perfect.
But Nintendo making a great game is hardly a surprise; these days, however, if Nintendo made an innovative game there’d be cause for celebration.
What’s New In Mario Kart 8?
It’s worth first pointing out how gorgeous Mario Kart 8 is.
For all the criticisms of the Wii U’s lack of power, it’s telling that all you need is a good developer and a fantastic art style to really make your box of wires pump out the good stuff.
There’s a spectacle to Mario Kart 8 that is worth checking out, and it is perhaps the best looking game on the Wii U.
But the biggest change is the inclusion of anti-grav sections, whereby tracks can bend this way and that, or open access to otherwise inaccessible areas and hidden shortcuts.
There’s grandeur to each track as, oftentimes, you’ll find yourself able to peer up at the ground. If that makes sense.
Meanwhile the optional side-routes will likely lead to strategic division – blocking off that tailing red shell or gaining access to boost pads that would have not been available on the boring old ground route.
Sadly, though, these anti-grav sections don’t provide the level of depth you might’ve hoped for. Visually impressive they are, but mechanically rich? Nope.
There’s a thrill to curving around the track (vertically), but it’s not really a strain on the karting – a bend around the ground is the same as a bend through the air. And when the tracks are as wide as they are, this presents no extra challenge.
How’s Mario Kart 8’s Driving?
Course, after Mario Kart on the Wii there’d be concern that the core mechanics aren’t up to snuff. Not true; Mario Kart 8 is perhaps the most finely-honed karting game in a long time, Nintendo’s own included.
There’s a slickness to everything, and when that is combined with the mini-boost you’ll get for hopping after every jump there’s a deeper sense that skill will win out.
Ignoring the typical barrage of shells you’ll unfairly receive for being in first place, mind.
Tracks like Wario’s Stadium best highlight this, where a series of small undulating steps over a mud pool can be traversed without any real quandary; the expert karter will pace ahead, however, as they trick off the peak of each of these steps.
It’s a subtle thing that combines with the flawless steering (a la hop-cornering) and smart positioning that makes the series as loved as it is.
It still suffers heavily from frustrating rubber-banding, but then this is Mario Kart – what did you expect? The core tools are incredibly well designed, and that should be all that matters. It’s a dream to play.
Tracks & Customisation In Mario Kart 8
It helps that the tracks are so well designed, too. As already mentioned, there’s an elaborate show to each of the tracks – from a replica Bowser slamming his fists on the ground to an elaborate downhill race to the zenith of Mount Wario.
And though the tracks don’t often maintain the same level of difficulty as their predecessors – the routes are too wide for that much of a challenge – each is entertaining to zip around.
With that said, the AI will put up a fight on 150cc, and if you want to test yourself while you unlock all those extras this could be the way to go.
Unlocking these extras is by and large fairly simple, though. The tracks come – as ever – from ticking off each cup, while vehicle customisation options will be yours after collecting a certain amount of coins.
The customisation doesn’t really bring much to Mario Kart 8 though. It’s a quaint touch, but little else. Whether you ride a kart, a bike or a carousel buggy doesn’t change anything – merely how you look.
And there’s merit in that, of course, but more than anything it seems the distinction between which character and kart you pick is more irrelevant than ever – despite the obvious differences between heavyweights like DK and lightweights like Toad.
All the same, it’s great to have such a variety on offer in Mario Kart 8, and it gives players a consistent feedback and reward to the game.
Mario Kart 8 Review
It’s a weird one, to be honest. Mario Kart 8 is a great karting game – and a standout title for the Wii U – but it’s hard to get excited about it. There’s nothing here that we haven’t already seen.
Fan service has always been something Nintendo has done well, but it seems more and more these days that Nintendo is no longer seen to be serving its fans but, instead, has become slaves to them.
Mario Kart 8 is probably the one to highlight this more than any game recently, where it has built a game deserving of praise but is too hamstrung by an unnecessary ticking checklist of must-haves.
And in many ways that’s kind of a disappointment.
It’s disappointing because a new Mario Kart game – especially one as finely-honed as this – should be something to get excited about, but it’s hard when Nintendo is struggling to bring considerable improvements.
But then that’s the difficulty it faces; as it becomes more of a relic, where can it go and what can it do to claim back its adoring fans? Is it enough to rely on nostalgia alone?
All the same, it’s not fair to end a Mario Kart 8 review on such a harshly critical tone; ultimately this is a fantastic karting game that is well worth your time – at least if you already own a Wii U.
New weapons, careful balancing (outside of that rubber-banding) and a bevy of gorgeous, superbly-designed tracks makes Mario Kart 8 quite easily one of the most thoroughly enjoyable experiences on the Wii U.
Version tested: Wii U