Rev up your engines, it’s time for Mario Kart to flip your world upside-down, quite literally. If there’s one thing anyone can be sure of it is that any title that includes the Mario Kart words comes packaged with an endless amount of fun. This time though I don’t think the words ‘fun’ quite describes the ridiculous enjoyment you’ll get out of this game.
Muscle through a swirling sand whirlpool or meander around it risking banana skin slip-ups? Thrust up a wall ramp to use speed boosts or risk cutting straight through a swathe of the course under a threatening large Thwomp? Use this blue shell now, or wait until your biggest threat gets to the front of the pack? These are the moment-to-moment choices I’m faced with playing Mario Kart 8. Each moment is naturally peppered with GASPS, uncontrollable swearing, fist-punching and some serious face-palming. It’s the game that’s single-handedly move the Wii U into the must-own territory.
With every new iteration of Mario Kart comes an introduction of a new element. In Mario Kart Wii motorbikes were introduced, which have made a return, and in Mario Kart 7 we saw the beginning of hang gliders and underwater tracks. Those features have been ported to Mario Kart 8, but this time they’ve thrown in gravity-defying courses. A selection of 32 tracks are at your disposal. 16 of the circuits are brand new playrooms, whereby the other 16 are made of up of remastered Mario Kart classics. Some of the earlier tracks are straight-forward, to help newcomers get into the swing of things, but there are some standout courses we expect will become favourites.
Thwomp Ruins sees you fighting off your rivals as you dodge a giant rock wheel that rolls right through the centre of an early part of the track. This gives way to risk versus rewards sections as you have to make split-second decisions as to the course that will reward you with the best outcome. Another track with more charm than a fluffy bunny is Shy Guy Falls. The track is all over the place. First you’re sliding around tight corners, then you’re whipping up and down waterfalls and towards the end you’re bopping up and down on your chair to the sounds of Shy Guy’s, chanting to the tune of the music. It’s these small moments of Nintendo magic that no other developer can match.
Winning your races may perhaps come down to your racing skills, like knowing when to power slide or when to bounce to gain some extra boost, or slipstream (which now works better than ever) to gain an advantage. Picking up 10 coins will slightly increase your speed so will bumping into opponents or strategically placed items when you’re in anti-gravity mode. These things all help you to be victorious, but it really does come down to your strategic use of your items. It’s always been the secret that’s set the better players apart from those who struggle. If you’re in the back and gain items, such as a mushroom or golden mushroom, it’s no use using it around corners as the impact will be minimal. If you find yourself in the lead and receive a shell or banana it’s best to hold in your ZL button to place the item behind your kart. This protects it from any incoming threats, like those pesky homing Red Shells. Be aware of one thing if you’re new to Mario Kart – that strategy does nothing for the devastating Blue Shell, but Nintendo has come up with something ingenious.
Several new weapons have made an appearance and this time they’re actually useful (yes, I’m looking at the useless tail in Mario Kart 7). In past Mario Kart games you were generally in a hopeless position if a Blue Shell headed your way. Unless you knew some nifty tricks on older games you’d slow down to include everyone else into the carnage. Say hello to the Super Horn. Pick up one of these babies and its shockwave will destroy the Blue Shell. It’s also great when surrounded by other players as activating it will see them flying and dropping a plethora of coins. One of the coolest weapons I’ve seen in some time is the Potted Piranha Plant. This hungry plant of death will chomp anything in its path. Bananas, Shells, nearby rivals and even the bastard Bloopers (that unlike previous outings now really hinders your viewpoint when they splash it with ink) will be swallowed whole. And when there’s nothing in its way to be demolished it jolts forward to gain you some extra speed and momentum. The Boomerang comes from one of Mario’s suits and simply throws out a boomerang to damage foes and returns to you damaging anything on its way back. To me it’s nearly as useless the Tail in Mario Kart 7, but at least you get three turns to throw it.
Where Mario Kart 8 has improved drastically is in the overall balance of the game. Everyone stands a chance at winning. When you’re in first place, when you cross the line for the third and final lap, you’re not guaranteed victory. You can now only carry one item at a time. So, if you’re dragging a Banana behind you and it’s hit by an incoming shell you are left with nothing else to defend yourself. The days of carrying a second item to improve your chances of winning are gone. What it does do is increase the amount of fun you’ll get out of playing online with friends, as the single player mode is over far too soon and feels a little bare to be honest.
Move into local or online mode and get ready to play the REAL MARIO KART 8. This is where the franchise blossoms into life. Now you can have another local friend join you online in split-screen mode, unless of course you want to play with up to four players offline locally. The online offerings allows you to race or battle global or regional players or play online against your friends. Like Mario Kart Wii there is a simple pre-loaded message system to chat to strangers, but when you’re playing against your friends you can now finally talk to swear at each other. That’s not all. Nintendo have added something brand new. Something that our local SA Gamer ‘Tuesday Mario Kart Evening’ players will be glad to hear.
They’ve finally come to their senses and added a tournament mode. Players can it up with their own unique settings, which goes into great detail, and invite a group of players to contest in daily, weekly or monthly tournaments. (In fact, if you’re an SA Gamer reader be sure to join us every Tuesday evening, 20:00-21:00, and use this code to join our tournament: 8933 2162 0989). If that sounds like too much hassles you can join one of the many other available tournaments.
I guess you’d like to know about the Gamepad features? Well, it’s actually a little disappointing. Yes, you can use it to play the game if someone else is using your television set (as any other Wii U title), but adding motion control, a hooter or the use of a map is so 2006. How about a rear-view mirror? In terms of controllers you can use just about anything that can connect to the Wii U and play it in any style you’d like. The Wii Remote held sideways, Wii Remote and Nunchuck, Classic Controller and Pro controller all work.
There is just so much more to Mario Kart 8. The soundtrack and graphics are out of this world. You have a wealth of characters to choose from, including the new Koopalings and… Pink Gold Peach? WTF?! There are so many kart parts (frame, wheels and glider) to choose from, which affects the weight, speed, acceleration and handling. MKTV lets you watch highlights from previous racer whereby you can play it back in slow motion and upload it to YouTube. It’s just filled with so much and with the online offering feels like the complete package. The lack of an online connection will really hurt the score (deduct a point if that is the case), but if you’re available to the world it truly is your oyster. The powerful consoles best check in their rear-view mirror. Mario Kart 8 is the definition of fun.