Despite some questionable changes to the Mario Kart formula Mario Kart 8 has reached a new creative high, just where does it go from here?
Yes its shamelessly derivative, yes it recycles content still Mario Kart 8 has broken Wii U records and shows the perpetual reworkings of Nintendo’s handful of first-party hits will always make the best of their consoles.
With each successive Mario Kart running up to 8 there’s always been little tweaks added to the steadfast Mario Kart formula to brighten it up, smooth it out and slowly drip-feed in new features. But the core experiences that make Mario Kart 8 a skillful and sometimes hugely unfair racer underpin the glitz.
And those familiar features are all still there with Mario Kart 8, the drifting action, the frenetic, flowing pace, the simple yet responsive controls, the unforgiving AI that seeks to strip your lead and the frenzied multiplayer matches with everyone stitching each other up. On the whole this action runs silky smooth Two player races run at 60 frames per second in 720p, equally smooth 4 player races still haven't been perfected though.
A really interesting new feature in Mario Kart 8 are the antigravity sections, hitting a blue bar on the track flips up your wheels and you can traverse some mindbogglingly weird angles that sometimes stretch your skill to hold the track. The antigravity sections can also be used to find shortcuts but spotting them isn’t easy and you’re not likely to blunder into a shortcut by accident. As you gain better knowledge of the tracks the antigravity stretches soon become a fun part of the race and you’re left wanting to see more of them.
As with some previous Mario Kart versions Mario Kart 8 plays the nostalgia card, recycling 16 old Mario Kart tracks and bringing in 16 new ones. Nothing really stands out as that different except the Mount Wario track, a skiing-style downhill race without laps. With Rainbow Road, Bowser’s Castle, and Mario Circuit all included in the WII Us new race selection the theme of reworked existing Mario Kart content continues.
For anyone who’s played previous versions of Mario Kart there will be some moments when you reach into the memory banks for the race line, The N64 Yoshi Valley did this for me though I’m sure there was a lot more opportunity to fall off the track with the old version.
That’s not to say that the gameplay has got any easier however Nintendo have put in tweaks to speed things up here and there but you still need to be able to call on your best race skills. There is a new item the Super Horn which can be used to repel attacks from the dreaded 1st place destroying Blue Shell but to get one and have it on you when this doomed event occurs is rare, I liked this, the potential to stop Blue Shell attacks more readily would just make them redundant.
Mario Kart 8 has done away with the on screen map though, making access to the map a reserve for those using a Wii U Gamepad. This makes things a little unfair if you don’t have one. The new Battle Mode that’s been brought in really suffers from having no map especially as now the battles, rather than being in a designated arena are fought out on tracks. You can speed about for a large portion of a battle not seeing any opponents even with 12 racers, a map on screen would be invaluable here.
Finding out the benefits of different racers and kart customisation items you unlock will require you to look things up out of the game and many of the items you can select for your racer have the same stats but look different. whilst you get loads of items and 30 characters to play around with you’d think there’d be much deeper customisation options but there’s only a few ways things can go.
Online functionality whilst it has improved on the Wii version can still throw up some long waiting times and players will drop out of races as a result, back in the day Mario Kart was all about the local multiplayer and it’s a little saddening to see the Wii U still struggling a little to bring this to online play.
This all said, this is the first version of Mario Kart that's really stuck out for me since the N64 version and it is quite a nostalgic experience. Playing it with my kids, who've started with Mario Kart on the Wii highlights the fact that Nintendo are able to benefit from Mario Kart's joint appeal to the youth market and the veteran Mario Karters. The punishingly snide local multiplayer is still just as good as it ever was and now it looks a whole lot more jazzed up and shiny. The game is flawlessly presented and Mario Kart is still one of the best competitive racers around.
With the community surrounding Mario Kart 8, from the Fire Hoppers to the Luigi Death Stare video posters, (a by product of the race highlight reels) you can sense that popularity for Mario Kart isn’t on the wane. Beyond the gripes about the map and the Battle Mode I just can’t help thinking how such a captive audience would benefit from track building options. In my humble opinion Modnation Racers was the last decent kart racing game around and back in 2010 that game was giving us the ability to create and share custom tracks. Could you imagine just how insane building your own Mario Kart tracks could be? It would certainly give the next potential Mario Kart a whole new spin.
The old adage that if it aint broke, don’t fix it all too easily comes to mind with Mario Kart 8 and it begs the question just what it is Nintendo will do if they bring a new Mario Kart game, which if they’re still making consoles they are always surely bound to do. Nintendo have reached a high point with Mario Kart 8 even with a game that has some glaringly disagreeable aspects, will the next one be the perfect Mario Kart or a sorry departure from it’s glimmering peak on Wii U? One thing is certain, Nintnedo, as ever, will be doing it their way.