Nintendo gets a lot of flak for continually revisiting its old series and not creating enough “new stuff”. Mario Kart is a prime example of this, but with Mario Kart 8 Nintendo proves that following the old formula does not make for a stale gaming experience. Just the opposite, in fact: this game is just so damn good! The tracks, the new items, the online; it is all great! However, there are some weaker aspects (most prominently the new character roster) that prevent this from being the perfect Mario Kart.
Let’s start off by talking about the tracks. I was very pleased when I realised that one of my all-time favourite Mario Kart courses, Tick-Tock Clock (originally from Mario Kart DS), had been brought back. There are also appearances from other old greats such as Moo Moo Meadows and Wario Stadium. What’s more is that you can really feel the effort that Nintendo put into updating these tracks for the new game; they exploit the new features like anti-gravity and allow us to see familiar tracks in stunning HD graphics, without diverging too much from the classic much-loved designs. The new tracks are fun but at times feel held back by the attempt to include too much. One of the features that has always made Mario Kart so appealing is its simplicity; everyone from your gran to your little brother could join in! At points in this game even I, a Mario Kart veteran, felt a bit overwhelmed by all the scenery details and changes in gravity – aspects which one almost felt were included just because with the increased power of the WiiU Nintendo felt obliged to include more stuff. But this is really just me nit-picking; overall there were a decent variety of tracks with a good spread of new ideas. Obviously some were better than others (Electrodrome and Sunshine Airport being my particular favourites) but the retro tracks especially did not disappoint.
As mentioned earlier, one thing I was disappointed with was the character selection, which I’d describe as shameful at best. It was fine including Metal Mario in Mario Kart 7, but come on, Pink Gold Peach?! And who in their right mind could get excited at the prospect of unlocking Lemmy and Larry, two almost indistinguishable Mohawk-sporting dinosaurs?! I know the character roster of the 3DS wasn’t great either, but there were so many alternatives that I thought they could have added in to make this game better. For example, they could have brought back Diddy Kong or introduced Professor Egad, so hopefully there will be some DLC with these drivers included as well as a few extra tracks. Steve Lycett of Sumo Digital, the creators of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, has commented that Mario Kart should be more like Super Smash Bros. and draw on a wider range of Nintendo characters and locations – after unlocking a new character to find out it’s just Baby Rosalina, it’s hard not to agree with him.
The gameplay of Mario Kart 8 is even better than its predecessors due to the new controller. I steer using the gamepad’s motion controls as it’s what I find the most fun; it makes me feel like I’m Mario cruising down the highway, which is a feeling like no other! The addition of the new gravity elements are very cool, but about 60% of the time you don’t really get the feeling of actually going upside down – it feels more like you’re just continuing along the track as normal. However, that’s just me being picky as it’s not like Nintendo can actually invert gravity for the player when the course changes; maybe in the future with Mario Kart 15!
I enjoyed the new items like the super horn, which stops green, red and blue shells from knocking you out of first place. Developments like this really change the dynamic of a race, and it’s great to see Nintendo switching things up so much. I was also happy about the fake item box being taken out as it was always particularly irritating in the previous instalments, though that’s just a matter of my personal preference. One thing that I didn’t like about the items is how you can’t tactically hold more than one item, like you could do in the other games. This means that even if you’re holding a banana behind you it will still take up your item slot, preventing you from collecting a new item box, which in my opinion makes the game more basic.
Despite my criticisms regarding the character roster and my other minor complaints (the kind that will always arise when a series as established as Mario Kart does anything differently), I really think Mario Kart 8 is a great game and it managed to exceed my expectations. The graphics are incredible, and the usual addictiveness of Mario Kart is present to ensure many unauthorised sick days from school and work!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Wii U code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.