It’s no secret that the Wii U has been struggling pretty severely ever since it launched a couple years ago, which is largely due to the fact that the system simply had no great games to push the system. Nintendo desperately needed a game like Mario Kart 8 to come along and help get the system off of the shelves and into gamers homes, and now that game is finally here. So, is Mario Kart 8 the game that will turn everything around for the Wii U? It will definitely be a game that a lot of people will flock to, but there are a few simple issues that keep this game back from being the home run it could have been.
First up, the gameplay is fantastic. The racing has never been tighter or more fun, and all of the gameplay elements that have been gradually added to the series over the years all feel great. However, the big addition to the gameplay is the anti-gravity sections, which have you driving sideways, upside-down and all over the place. These sections are always incredibly fun, because there is always a sense of awe when you see a huge vertical wall coming up and knowing that you will soon be racing across it. As an added twist, when you bump into people while in anti-gravity it gives you a speed boost, giving you more incentive to race a little more aggressively.
Like with any Mario Kart game the tracks are what determine how much or little fun the game can be, and Mario Kart 8 brings a fresh set of great tracks while also bringing back some classic ones. You have the option to pick from 16 new tracks or 16 classic tracks like in previous installments in the series, but they are all mostly very well designed and look gorgeous. I was particularly impressed with how phenomenal the classic tracks look, as Nintendo really went all out to make them look brand new while also retaining the charm they had on their respective systems.
Of course, as you’re zooming down the game’s 32 tracks you will come across a bunch of items that you will be able to use against your enemies, and this time you’ll have four new items to use. These new items are the Boomerang Flower that can be tossed up to 3 times and hit your enemy coming and going, the Piranha Plant that chomps nearby enemies while also giving you speed boosts, the Super Horn that sends out a shockwave that knocks over nearby enemies and destroys all incoming items (even the Blue Shell!) and the Crazy Eight that generates eight items for the player to use. These are all great items, and I especially love the fact that you can finally do something against that damn Blue Shell!
Like in recent Mario Kart games you have the option to drive a Kart and a Motorcycle, but the new addition to this game is the option to drive ATVs. ATVs have a similar feel to Karts, with the main difference being that you pack more weight that lets you knock around other drivers more easily. Each vehicle has their strengths and weaknesses, so it all comes down to player preference on what type of vehicle will be best for you. They all control quite easily, as well, which is mostly due to the fact that you can utilize the Wii U’s gamepad, which is a huge step-up from the lackluster Wii remote.
You also unlock new vehicles, tires and gliders as you complete more races and collect coins contained on each track, which adds a lot of customization to the game. You can play around with things like overall speed and control, but I mostly ended up just picking the combinations that looked the coolest and still found success. No matter what combination you pick you will have a solid shot at winning the race, so you don’t have to stress out too much on which combinations go best together.
There are 30 playable characters in Mario Kart 8, with the game starting you off with 16 of them and having you unlock the other 14 through successful tournament completions. All of the usual cast of characters are here, though the biggest addition this time is the 7 members of the Koopaling Clan. The addition of these characters is a little disappointing, honestly, as they are all basically the same and aren’t characters that are all that memorable. I would have much rather Nintendo gone into the archives and dug out some classic characters that we don’t see as much, but what can you do. My favorite unlockable character is Metal Mario, simply because… well… he’s Metal Mario! Mario in metal form!
Another cool little addition to Mario Kart 8 is MKTV, which allows the player to go back to the previous race and view it in a variety of different ways and upload the footage directly to YouTube. This is kind of cool, as watching some of the biggest moments of the previous race in a montage of sorts is always funny, but I do wish that they had let you go a little deeper with the actual editing. It would have been sweet if you had the option to edit together several clips of footage to show off a string of specific moments in a row (say, a montage of just Piranha Plant chomping?), but this new feature is still fun to play around with, regardless.
Other game modes outside of the Grand Prix in Mario Kart 8 are Time Trial, VS Race, Battle and Online. Unfortunately, this is where Mario Kart 8 really drops the ball, as there is a shocking lack of depth and polish to them. Time Trial and VS are pretty standard modes that have been in the series for a while and are decent diversions, but the biggest bust is the game’s Battle Mode. In previous installments in the series you battled against other players in unique arena-style courses that were separate from the game’s main race tracks. In this game, however, Nintendo took the lazy route and just throw you into a handful of regular race tracks found in the main game. Not only is this incredibly lazy on Nintendo’s part, but it makes the Battle Mode very dull and frustrating. The point is to be able to drive around and attack other people, but when you are on a narrow and linear track that is much bigger it becomes much more of a hassle to keep a fluid battle going.
Fortunately, the online mode of Mario Kart 8 is very solid, as the connection remains solid and playing with others around the world is as fun as ever. The Mario Kart experience is meant to be played with others, so obviously the online portion of the game is the one that will get the most use, and rightly so. You have the option to do regular races or start a tournament, which is a cool way to compete in something a little more intense than a one-off race. You can do battle mode online, as well, but who the hell wants to do that?
Mario Kart 8 is another very solid entry in the series, bringing back all of the great features the series is known for while also throwing in a few twists to spice up the formula. The HD graphics are absolutely beautiful and the new anti-gravity mechanics are a lot of fun on any course. If Nintendo had just delivered the Battle Mode that everyone loves and brought more depth to other modes then this would have easily been the Mario Kart game to beat. Still, this is another game in the series that will, regardless of shortcomings, provide many hours of entertainment for anyone who owns a Wii U.