Some of my fondest video game memories have been from the Mario Kart franchise. True to Nintendo’s core stable of games they are easy to pick up and hard to master. For me personally the franchise has been one of the few that I can not only enjoy by myself but can also bring others who wouldn’t consider themselves gamers and instantly have a great time. The series has continued to have great success and has now been released for the ever struggling Wii U in the form of Mario Kart 8. Does the game have the right moves to bring home the gold yet again?
Throughout Mario Kart’s extensive history (Super Mario Kart was released for SNES in 1992) the series has stayed close to its roots while always continuing to innovate. Mario Kart 8 follows that trend. There is no doubt that this is a Mario Kart game but there is enough newness in Mario Kart 8 that makes the Wii U experience a memorable one. First and foremost there is a re-emphasis on good old fashion racing. Many have complained in past Mario Kart games that it was too easy to come from the back of the pack to the front with a power up. Nintendo has done a fantastic job of re-balancing the Mario Kart experience. In fact the worst place to now be is in the middle of the pack, where you will get pounded by the computer opponents. Gaining and maintaining a lead is much more the norm then it was in past Mario Kart games as there are new defensive power-ups that can stop things like a blue shell from derailing your run. Granted don’t expect to get the cream of the crop for power-ups either if you’re in the lead.
The re-balancing of the racing is a bigger deal then you might think. It makes it really important to stay close to the front of the pack to stay competitive in a race. It also adds even greater emphasis on racing that is wildly refreshing. This is also helped by some of the most innovative and exciting tracks the series has seen in a long time. I absolutely love the new tracks for Mario Kart 8 and even as I’m writing this can’t wait to go back and race them a 100 more times. With the addition of antigravity and an added emphasis on drifting the racing is as fun as it’s ever been. Mario Kart 8 is just slightly faster than Mario Kart games and that adds to the excitement of each race.
Mario Kart 8 also marks the series first foray into the HD era and it does a masterful job. It’s one of the, if not the best looking games on the Wii U to date. The new tracks are just awe inspiring and will make you want to go back and watch the highlights. Nintendo has always been a master of color and the purity of the color within Mario Kart 8 is something to marvel at. I’d put Mario Kart 8 up against almost any game on the market today, it’s that gorgeous.
There are unfortunately some minor missteps for Mario Kart 8 as well. The most notable is the re-worked battle mode. I know that the mode has probably overstayed its welcome for most but I’ve always found it to be a great side experience from the main racing. Sadly this is the game that made me sort of wish it wasn’t even included. Instead of having an arena setup like past games, the battle mode now takes place on a selection of race tracks. Really the only difference is that half of the racers are going one way and the other half the other way. Each racer has three balloons and you battle as you pass people on the track. It just isn’t even close to being as interesting as it would have been in an arena and is a mode I quickly moved on from.
The other misstep comes online. Mario Kart 8 is a fully featured online experience but is held back by the Wii U’s online design. Trying to setup a game with friends is nearly impossible and has to be handled using something outside of the Wii U’s online infrastructure. Otherwise the online setup for Mario Kart 8 is actually really good. Getting into a race is simple and at least pre-release the game runs beautifully online. I never hit any lag issues online and the competition with that many human players was insane and tons of fun.
I probably don’t need to say this but Nintendo knows what it’s doing when it comes to the Mario Kart franchise. Time after time, they come back with exceptional racing games and Mario Kart 8 might be the best we’ve ever seen. The track designs are gorgeous and innovative. The racing has been rebalanced to be less frustrating and yet wildly competitive. All I’m really left with is that Mario Kart 8 might be the single best entry into the series and is one of the best games of 2014. If you have a Wii U why wouldn’t you buy this game?
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.