Mario Kart 8: In-Depth Review
If there is any game that I could say has truly raised me, it is Mario Kart. It was one of the first games I ever owned and, in the years since, I have never stopped playing. In that time, I have owned and spent hundreds — or thousands, depending on the game — of hours in every installment in the series, both console and handheld.
As you can imagine, this had made me extremely critical of each new Mario Kart game. As soon as a new one is releasing, it has been so many years since the last that I am just waiting for the new one to blow my mind in ways I can't even imagine. Mario Kart 8 treated me the same as pretty much any other Mario Kart game when it first releases, it succeeded... kind of.
Let's be honest, the anti-gravity is what really matters here. Once you put aside graphics and other small improvements, each Mario Kart game is more similar to its predecessor than it is different; however, each game has to bring it's own big element. Something that makes Nintendo feel like they have done more than sell a $60 texture/map pack. Just over 10 years ago we had two-person karts, then we had bikes, now we have the anti-gravity.
So, does the anti-gravity deliver? I was pretty skeptical about this, this seems like something they could easily take too far and lead to dizziness, or just no fun; however, Nintendo is not somebody who tends to make those kinds of mistakes and, yes, the anti-gravity delivered.
Whether it be the short angled section in the Game Boy's Mario Circuit, or the intense twists and turns in the new Twisted Mansion, the anti-gravity is subtle enough to provide an adrenaline rush without a huge impact to the gameplay. In the end, it hardly does anything for the actual gameplay, but that doesn't mean it isn't a big deal. HD graphics didn't do anything for the gameplay, but that is one of the greatest improvements to games in the last 10 years.
New Items and Tracks
Mario Kart 8 has seen the introduction of 5 new items — or 4, depending how you look at it. The Boomerang, Piranha Plant, Super Horn, and Crazy Eight all appear for the first time in the series and the coin returns for the first time since Super Mario Kart on the SNES. Here is a look at what each item does:
- Boomerang Flower: Thrown forwards or backwards, this item damages any racers it hits and returns the first two times it is thrown, leading to a total of three throws. If an item block is hit while the boomerang is out of the user's hand, a new item from the block will be picked up and the boomerang will not return to the user's possession.
- Potted Piranha Plant: Repeatedly bites forwards on a timed cycle. Each time the piranha bites the users gets a short speed boost. If any other racers are in the proximity in front of the plant, it will bite them. Most closely resembles the Chain Chomp from Double Dash, but you have to control the kart when it is active.
- Super Horn: Creates a short shockwave in a medium radius around the racer. This shockwave will hit any racers and destroy any items, including the blue shell.
- Crazy Eight: Similar to the lucky seven in Mario Kart 7, eight items rotate around the kart for the racer to use. When the user uses an item, the one closest to the front of the kart is used. The eight items include the ones from the lucky seven, the bob-omb, mushroom, star, blooper, green shell, red shell, and banana, with the addition of the coin.
- Coin: The coin simply awards two coins to the racer when consumed.
The new items were really hit and miss for me. I think that the super horn is one of the greatest things that they have done for a while. It is a such a simple item that isn't too powerful but adds the perfect element to the game, an item that can repel the blue shell. While this may seem overpowered, it is rare to get the item when you are up front and it balanced fairly well; however, when you get that rare opportunity where you are at the front of the race and holding a super horn, it is one of the greatest feelings ever. You can sit there are hold on to that thing as the perfect defence, truly feeling like the Mario Kart god at that moment.
The piranha plant is another nice addition. There is nothing that causes a huge reaction from it, and that is a good thing. It is a very well balanced item. It provides a good extra boost when you are in the lower places without being too powerful. The crazy eight is the exact same way. While having eight items at once may seem like an instant victory, those people who played Mario Kart 7 know that the items you get are the crappy ones always given to the first placer. You do get a star though, which is nice. When you have 12 racers it is fair to give the people who frequent the bottom 4 a boost like this occasionally.
On the other hand, the boomerang and the coin were complete duds for me. The idea of throwing the boomerang three times is a good one and one that I think could have worked really well, but the throws just have no excitement.
Being a series that was always aimed at party play, I have always gotten an adrenaline rush from every item hit. When its something like lightning, or even a red shell, you get a rush right away. When you get a red shell you know right away you will probably hit somebody, and that's exciting. When you get an item like a green shell, you get a rush from picking somebody off with it. If you can throw that shell at the guy way up the straightaway ahead of you, or anticipate the leader's drift and nail him on the corner, you get the same feeling as you do when you pull off a moving snipe across the map in Battlefield.
With the boomerang, you don't get that feeling. It should act like the green shell, but when you throw the boomerang it curves with the course. This prevents you from being able to pull off any nice trick shots, and it doesn't guarantee anything like a red shell does.
Finally, the coin is just a joke. The item block has always been like a slot machine for all ages. When you get a blue shell, you hit the jackpot. In the past, when you got a banana, you lost your quarter; however, when somebody happens to hit your banana you get all excited because you feel like you managed to make something out of nothing. With the coin, not only does it feel like you lost your quarter, but it feels like the slot machine fell on top of you, too. You might as well have gotten an empty box because you get virtually nothing, there are enough coins on the track outside of the box.
Overall, Mario Kart 8 did almost perfectly when it comes to the big things. This comes mostly due to a perfected gameplay design that has been built on since SNES, but even the big new things are really well done. When you get to the small little things that they have added, however, there a lot of little annoyances. While most of these things are very insignificant and have minor impacts on the game, it is hard to imagine why anybody would think any of these were the right choice.
I am going to start this off with something that shouldn't be a big deal, but absolutely drives me insane. When you finish a race, the classic little menu comes up with three options, highlight reel, next race, and quit. It's hard to imagine how they could screw this up; however, the option that is always selected by default is the hightlight reel.
A lot of you are probably confused and can't see how that is a big deal, but it is. Mashing A is one of those things that everybody does but most people act like they don't. When you finish a race and you're having fun, you wanna do another. So, you sit there and mash A until the screen shows the next race. Well, now that gets you a one-way ticket to the highlight reel.
The default selected option on a menu should always be the one for the person in a rush or the option that is going to be selected the majority of the time. People who want to watch the highlight reel are planning to stop, take a break, and watch. They the convenience of that option being selected by default. As far as being the majority, I can't imagine that they thought people would go to the highlight reel between races over 50% of the time. My guess is that they made the highlight reel as a horrible attempt to draw attention to the highlight reel feature.
Well, now that you have dealt with my little rant, the highlight reel feature itself is actually pretty nice, if you are there on purpose and not from mashing A. It is basically a simple video player with playback, fast forward, rewind, and slow-mo of an automatically compiled highlight reel.
As far as the new characters go, the selection is good, but having all of the bosses from New Super Mario Bros. just kind of clogged the selection. Basically, there are a bunch of unique characters and then 7 really similar characters.
The biggest thing that separated the Wii U from the Wii was the gamepad and they have done a pretty much brutish job of using the gamepad for this game. The gamepad has 3 different screens that it can display, the first screen is basically a hub that displays snippets of everything. Along the left side you have a list of all the racers, in order of their place, and which item they are currently holding. The majority of this screen is just a big button that honks the horn. Along the right side is a button that toggles between stick and tilt steering for the person using the gamepad, as well as previews of the other two available screens, which expand when selected.
The second screen displays a mirror of what is on the TV. This is something that was expected as a feature of the gamepad, but is poorly executed. When you are playing with two people, both the TV and the gamepad will show a split-screen view. This could be good, because you might both be looking at the TV or both looking at the gamepad. In most situations, though, this is bad. There is no option present for you to separate the screens and give the gamepad user their whole screen, and give the other player(s) the television.
The final screen is a display of the map with the locations of the racers. This is something that is nice to have, but why isn't it on the TV? This map has always existed in Mario Kart, but on the TV, displayed nicely for everybody to quickly see how far ahead, or behind, they are. Now, they have taken that map and stuffed it on the gamepad, for nobody else to see. Plus, it's a pain in the ass even for the gamepad user, who has to look away from the TV, focus on the map, and then look back to see they have driven off the course. You cannot display the map and screen side-by-side on the gamepad. There is no solution where this map becomes ideal, except for a spectator looking over the gamepad user's shoulder that has time to look back and forth between screens.
There are several other little miscellaneous features and nuisances I could discuss here, but I feel like even an in-depth review needs its limits, being at over 2000 words now.
Would I recommend Mario Kart 8 to anybody? Absolutely. And I mean anybody, if I stopped a random guy on the street and told him he should get it I would feel like I made his day better. Nintendo has continued their streak of every single installment in the series being a great game. Being such a proven and established gameplay system, the dominant factor for the quality of Mario Kart 8 is the anti-gravity, which was executed beautifully.
There are lots of little annoyances that can be frustrating, but when you take a break from that frustration to look at the bigger picture, you realize just how much fun you are having. While it may not be the best installment in the series, it is safe to say that it is one of the better ones.