I’m far from the only one for whom Mario Kart played a significant role in their childhood. I mean…it’s Mario Kart. It’s going to be good. Still, starting with Mario Kart Wii my interest in the series began to slip slightly. I enjoyed Mario Kart 7, but it was probably the Mario Kart game I played least. Therefore, Mario Kart 8 wasn’t necessarily one of my most hyped games. Turns out, it joins Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart DS as one of my favourite instalments, pretty much perfecting the series. It’s going to be tricky to get better than this.
Although Mario Kart 8 has its gimmicks, it doesn’t succeed because of them, it succeeds because it is one of the most perfectly put together games I’ve ever encountered, made by a clearly passionate and talented team of developers. Before thinking about the main differences, I want to make clear just how well this plays. The handling of Mario Kart games can vary a lot, but in my opinion it was at its best in Mario Kart DS…until now. Power-sliding around the courses just feels brilliant, standing as the solid base everything else is built on. The chaotic local multiplayer of Mario Kart is, of course, still the highlight, and I have had and look forward to plenty more awesome evenings getting drunk and playing this with my friends. You can play online against friends, which I like, and against strangers, which I don’t. The inherent frustration of Mario Kart is fun with pals, obnoxious with strangers, but perhaps that’s just me.
There are a few new items, such as the Piranha Plant which drags you forward in little boosts and bites nearby racers, and a new item that can even block blue shells, if timed right. Being able to block blue shells shakes things up somewhat, but the introduction of the ‘coin’, a near useless speed boost (which is also used to unlock upgrades) is the bane of first place and denies that comfortable defence that could generally be formed with bananas and green shells. This can be really frustrating when the single player gets tougher (and it does get tough towards the end), but really it just furthers the egalitarian experience that is Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8 is regularly frustrating, but similarly to Mario Party the frustration is actually an essential part of the experience, and something really core to what the series is about. It’s frustrating, but it’s the good kind of frustrating which drives you to ‘just one more race.’
The flying and underwater sections from Mario Kart 7 make a welcome return, with the new ‘anti-gravity’ sections which see Mario and co. driving up walls and boosting off each other being visually stunning and exciting, even if it doesn’t necessarily effect the gameplay too much. It’s extremely welcome though, and feels in some ways like an F-Zero influence on Mario Kart. The new courses are generally designed with these in mind, with a whole bunch of awesome new tracks. The highlight for me was the lap-less one track Mount Wario, which sees you karting all the way from a cargo plane to the bottom of a mountain. There are loads of good ones though, and no real duds. The classic tracks are cannily altered to take advantage of the flying and anti-gravity gimmicks, feeling new whilst still retaining the character of the classic tracks. There are some odd choices, with a lot of the best classic tracks having already been pilfered in previous games. Still, overall the 32 tracks you have stand as some of the best Nintendo have ever put together.
Mario Kart 8 is a pretty packed game, with the typical grand-prix single player mode, as well as time trials and plenty of unlockable characters. Nintendo phoned it in slightly with some of these (Baby Rosalina probably being the worst offender), but it doesn’t do any harm having them does it? The karts and bikes are significantly customisable, with loads of different chassis, wheels and wings for you to play around with to suit your play style. The online modes will keep people happy for a long time, and the local multiplayer will be a staple of my social group for a while…at least until Smash Bros. comes out. The lazy battle mode, which sees you racing around normal tracks rather than duking it out in distinct arenas, is an uncharacteristically unpolished addition to a game which, in every other respect, is one of the most polished games I’ve ever played.
Mario Kart 8 is possibly the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. My PS4 maybe the most powerful console in my house, but there’s not a single game on it that can rival the visuals in Mario Kart 8. Running at a smooth 60FPS, in HD, Mario Kart has never looked this beautiful. Visuals aren’t everything, but they do help, and Mario Kart is a stunning sight to behold. This, combined with the Zelda Wii U reveal trailer, is showing just how powerful the Wii U may actually be. There’s a wonderful amount of detail in every environment and in the characters themselves. I usually never watch replays, but they’re honestly one of my favourite things about Mario Kart 8. The Luigi death stare is well documented, and the game is filled with awesome little details. The music is lovely as well, with my favourite being a track which briefly recalls the lovely Gusty Garden Galaxy music from Super Mario Galaxy. Mario Kart 8 is one of the slickest, smoothest running games you’ll ever encounter.
I can only hope that this is the game that finally begins to shift my favourite console. I like my PS4, but it’s purely there as a tool. I love my Wii U, and separately want it to be a success. Hopefully this, combined with Nintendo’s fantastic showing at E3, will finally convince people to pick one up. Mario Kart 8 is probably the best Mario Kart game ever, but it’ll almost certainly be the worst selling. That would be a true injustice to this excellent game.