TAKING THE GOLD
Mario Kart 8 is fantastic. If you are reading this, you know that. If you have a Wii U, there is already a 33% chance you own it. Seeing how the game is known across the board as an instant classic, this review is going to be used to highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly of Mario Kart 8 — what should Nintendo do to perfect the series? Further, where did Nintendo make spot-on improvements to the Mario Kart formula with their newest iteration? Is this merely a great or the greatest Mario Kart title?
While most remember Mario Kart 64 as their first game in the karting series, I found my roots in the SNES’s Super Mario Kart. Whether I owned the systems or not, Mario Kart games remained a huge part of my life as the quintessential party game (only slightly behind Super Smash Bros. Melee). While every Mario Kart game has been undoubtedly fun, there were always games that revolutionized the series (Mario Kart: Double Dash!!) and ones that snaked it backwards (Mario Kart DS). After dumping nearly 100+ hours into Mario Kart 8, I can proudly say it belongs to the former.
It seems Nintendo finally understands how to R&D (research and develop) a multiplayer game! Mario Kart 8 is the first game in any Nintendo first-party multiplayer franchise that I would ever consider “balanced”. First and foremost, there are far less Blue Shells than have been in a Mario Kart title for the past five years — while Blue Shells may be as aggravating as ever, these devil shells will only show its spiked-face once every two or three rounds (as compared to three or four times a track –I’m looking at you, Mario Kart 7).
And speaking of the items, I couldn’t be happier with the selection. For the first time in Mario Kart history, every item has an answer. Blue Shell coming at you? Blast it out of the way with the Super Horn. Red Shell barreling towards you? Trail a Banana Peel. What about that Blooper ink? Easy: perform a boost to have it blow off the windshield. A few may argue that a Coin as the default item for first place holders is a cop out — I feel like it is the only thing keeping the first place driver vulnerable, allowing for the characteristic mass anxiety Mario Kart is so famous for.
Moving from items, the tracks (including the music and graphics, along with the gameplay features) are all masterfully made. I would be hard pressed to find a Mario Kart 8 stage that I DIDN’T enjoy! While I will love Moo Moo Meadows until the day I die, Cloudtop Cruise is making a fast approach from behind to win the “Louis’ Favorite Stage Cup”.
Accompanied by each awesome track is the awesome playback option. I don’t know what got me hooked to it: Was it the need to watch me boost Waluigi off the side? Was it the fact that I could slow-mo the banana snipe that I pulled off to win the race? Or was it the internet takeover by Luigi’s death stare? The answer, in case you were wondering, is all of them.
Some small notes to wrap it up: anti-gravity is one of my favorite features in any Mario Kart title. The strategy and complexity this brings to the title is readily apparent after your first two games. Additionally, the online modes work. When it comes to Nintendo, that is all I can really ever ask.
Not everything in Mario Kart 8 is Peachs and cream. First, there is the much discussed point of the lack of discussion. Why didn’t Nintendo put voice chat into online play? Okay, okay. After a race online, I quickly figured out why they wouldn’t allow it in anonymous groups — lets just say I was very friendly with many player’s mothers, especially the players who mastered Green Shell tossing. But the question still remains: why is there no voice chat for friends (beside the lobbies)? It may be easy enough to speculate that it was to allow for smoother performance, but is that really an excuse when nearly every other title on PlayStation or Xbox consoles can pull it off?
One of my largest gripes going into this game was the hit or miss quality of the playable characters — what is up with all the Koopalings? Not that they play bad, but there are many more obvious choices considering the past few Nintendo titles. Where is Cranky Kong? How about good-ol’ Nabbit? We couldn’t even get a Captain Toad? Instead, we are left to settle with Pink Gold Peach and baby characters. It doesn’t take away from the game, but this should have been an easy addition on the developer’s part.
Another thing that should be fine-tuned a little more is the difficulty scale between 50, 100, and 150cc. The picture below sums it up perfectly:
Last but not least, give us some better options to edit these replay clips! No need to get rid of the auto-edit, but allow those of us with no life (read as Lou) to change the camera angle and pick where to cut the clips!
Mario Kart 8 is not by any means “perfect” — there are some major changes that Nintendo needs to make with the next installment.
First — no more course-jousting Battle Modes. I’m not sure who gave the thumbs up to this in lieu of Block Fort, but that person needs to take a serious look at their life (or not, I’m just a critic after all).
Second — we should be done with the 32 tracks-per-game standard. I get that balancing a level is hard. However, you have from now until the next game to give us more tracks than were on the Nintendo DS version. Get on it.
These are the only really grievous harms in my book. Also, I’m willing to bet the shirt on my back (I’m not wearing a shirt while typing this) that these problems will be fixed by the end of E3 in the form of DLC packages. After all, what game developer/producer would ever consider leaving that much money on the table?
The Verdict: 9.1 out of 10
Mario Kart 8 is clearly a refinement of all the best things of Mario Kart. If you own a Wii U and are part of the 67% that hasn’t picked it up, go change your mind. If you don’t own a Wii U, also consider changing your mind. While the game isn’t perfect by any means, it is the gold standard of party games (online and on the couch) and should not be missed by anyone that is a fan of video games.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Lou Contaldi is MONG’s Nintendo Specialist and senior editor. You can follow his incoherent ramblings at Twitter.
This review is based on a game that was independently purchased at full retail price. The reviewer has played nearly 120 hours within the past week.