Mario Kart 8 Review

Mario Kart 8 was highly anticipated for many reasons: it looked gorgeous in screen shots, Nintendo marketed the game very well, and people – whether you agree or not – were interested to see if it would help salvage sales for the Wii U. Now that it’s been out for a week, maybe you’re contemplating picking up the awesome Mario Kart bundle that’s available. Should you get this game, and take the dive into buying a Wii U? Let’s find out…

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Visuals – 10/10
Nintendo’s latest console has been thrashed with bad press since it was first announced. When the specs for the system were “released” – more like discovered – Nintendo took even more flak that the system was so underpowered compared to the technical beast the PS4 and Xbox One are. The system is no slouch, but when compared to the other next-gen consoles, it appears very weak on paper. It wasn’t until Super Mario 3D World that the Wii U started to show off its true capabilities. There are other games that run very smoothly and look incredible on the system (ie – Rayman Legends), but SM3DW really turned heads. This, however, didn’t change many minds from hating on the Wii U. Next came DKC: Tropical Freeze, which boasted very robust visuals and great level design to truly show off the Wii U graphical capabilities. Yet again, many minds weren’t changed, even with the stellar visuals. Now Mario Kart 8 is out, and I have one word to describe it: gorgeous. If you own a Wii U, this is a game to show off. If you don’t own one, now is the time to get the bundle and soak in these amazing visuals. The game runs natively at 720p (a decent feat), but what is more impressive is that in 1- or 2-player mode the game runs at a solid 59 FPS (you honestly won’t notice that one missing frame). I cannot emphasize how good this game looks, and you have to see it on an actual screen. Screen shots and videos do not do it justice. In fact, there have been various times where I would sit and watch my wife play just so I could look all around the screen, marveling at the details incorporated into each track, character, and vehicle. Mario Kart 8 proves that the Wii U is much more powerful than last-gen systems, and is even arguably the most visually next-gen game than what can be found on the PS4 and Xbox One. I couldn’t find anything wrong with the visuals, and all the added touches, both major and minor – like characters holding items they have – are done with superb artistry. Nintendo really went all out visually with this game.

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Audio – 10/10
Music and audio are very crucial to the feel of a game, affecting the player’s mindset and overall experience, usually without the player even knowing. When most gamers hear that there is another Mario Kart game, music is not at the forefront of their mind. However, I have to say that, again, Nintendo went above and beyond. From the moment you hear the karts racing by in the transition screen, flawlessly moving to the menu screen music, it’s apparent their was a lot of thought and effort put into the audio in this game. Nintendo decided to continue the trend of using [now] industry standard live musical composition. Check out this awesome promo Nintendo released:

Each track has it’s own unique music, so that is 32 separate tracks; a combination of new music and renditions of classic music. The music fits all throughout the game as well: the menu screen utilizes very high energy, Saturday Night Live-esque music; each menu you progress through to get to a Grand Prix or Time Trials gradually adds onto the core rhythm of the music; when viewing standings in-between races, the music almost starts to fade into the background. Every musical composition is well done and adds to the game.

The general audio of the game is superb as well. Of course there are the slew of character grunts, yells, and my all-time favorite, “WaLuigi number one!” – can you tell which is my favorite character? – but there is more than just the character voicing. There are many subtle additions throughout the game, all of which add to the atmosphere and pull the player into this imaginary world. The sound of the karts sitting in idle as you wait for Lakitu to start the race, the motors of passing cars you’re avoiding in stages like “Toad’s Turnpike,” the sound of your kart transforming into a hover-kart…the audio is well placed and doesn’t stick out too much, and instead, adds to the experience. As with the visuals, I couldn’t find any faults within the music.

Gameplay – 9.5/10
With any Mario Kart game, gameplay is the biggest factor, whether it be single player, local multiplayer, or online multiplayer. There are 3 modes to be played: Grand Prix, Time Trials, and Battle Mode. All of these modes are common staples for the Mario Kart franchise, but how do they hold up in the latest iteration? You will easily be able to invest 10-15 hours of gaming into the single player modes, and countless more hours into online racing via tournaments or the general online mode.

Grand Prix and Time Trials meet the franchise standards, but where Mario Kart 8 really shines is the track designs. You WANT to race these tracks over and over again because they are so well thought out. Of course, there are some tracks that outshine others, such as Wario Mountain or the N64 version of Rainbow Road, but every track is fantastic in its own right. Grand Prix has you chasing first place and earning 3 stars for each cup, while Time Trials pits you against ghosts on each track that hold the best finish time. Both of these versions are very strong and will not disappoint. However, where Mario Kart 8 fumbles a little is with Battle Mode. Is it terrible? No. But it isn’t very good either. Instead of leaving Battle Mode alone and creating separate arenas that push players towards each other to duke it out, they use the same tracks found in Grand Prix mode. Some of the tracks actually work for Battle Mode, but most of them do not. The tracks that don’t work drag the flow of the gameplay down and are fairly boring. I can’t say this is a minor issue as it is an entire game mode, but it definitely does not take away the rest of the gaming experience.

Controls are well done and cater to any type of player. Want to use the Wii remote? You’ve got it. How about the GamePad, but you want to use tilt steering? Check. Maybe you love your Pro Controller? Why don’t you use it. Controls are tight and there are different options on how to play the game and what controller to use. The best update with this iteration of the franchise (and when I say the best, I mean THE BEST) lies within the balance of items and skill. I can play with my wife, who isn’t an avid gamer, and have very fun, tense races. I can also jump online and play against the best of the best and not feel like I got smoked – sometimes I even won! The key thing here is that you don’t feel cheated when you lose, and you feel accomplishment when you get in the top 3. Mario Kart Wii was terrible with this, as items felt completely unbalanced and would cause rage more often than not (not the good, friendly competition type of rage). Mario Kart 8 uses a perfect blend of skill and items to create a very solid, entertaining core of the gameplay. One final thing I want to mention is the anti-gravity introduced in this game. I was a little skeptical about it, and thought it would be more gimmick than game changer, but I have to admit that I was wrong. The anti-gravity utilized is quite fantastic, and reminded me of the first time I played Super Mario Galaxy. You have to think about how you’re driving, and adjust your perception, but it doesn’t go overboard and cause frustration. It adds quite a bit, and these anti-gravity segments (especially in the new tracks) really add to the difficulty, as well as the charm, to each race. My only complaint here is that I wish they used a little more of the anti-gravity in the retro tracks, but that’s a very minor complaint. The gameplay in Mario Kart is tight, well done, and a nice blend of skill and item usage.

Entertainment Factor – 8.5/10
There are 3 things I want to focus on in this section: Miiverse/media incorporation, the GamePad, and Online mode. Firstly, the usage of Miiverse is the standard I’ve come to expect from Nintendo games: it’s a great community that is a fun place to post your thoughts about the game or share your experiences with the game. The addition of Mario Kart TV is a very welcome addition. Though I wish I could edit more, the options available are sufficient, and the playback runs flawlessly. You can upload videos to YouTube, share to Miiverse, and post to Facebook or Twitter. You can watch other player’s video highlights online as well, via the MKTV web app, or watch within the game itself. I truly hope Nintendo uses this as a foundation and improves upon it for games like Smash Bros. I found this to be a very strong aspect of the game, especially considering I didn’t think it would add much.

The GamePad, however, is a huge disappointment. There are two things that are unacceptable about Mario Kart 8, and I’m not giving Nintendo a pass on them either: the lack of ingenuity incorporating the GamePad, and the lack of online group gaming/voice chat. You can use the GamePad for off TV play, but if you’re playing with multiple people, your screen reflects what is on huge TV, so that split screen starts to make things pretty small. The GamePad is barely used, thus, taking away it’s value. In addition to poor GamePad usage, the fact that I can’t join up in a lobby with friends, then jump into an online game together is unacceptable. This is a common online function and should be incorporated. The actual online play is much better than Nintendo WiFi, though, and jumping into games with strangers is flawless. I didn’t have any server issues, or lack of players, and the game kept a nice, quick pace in-between races. Aside from those two glaring flaws, I’ve had tons of fun with Mario Kart 8, and it’s good fun for everyone.

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I highly recommend Mario Kart 8, and you most assuredly will find enjoyment playing solo, or with a group of friends. Of course, playing with buds in the same room is the preferred way to play, but there’s plenty of fun to be had with Mario and company even if you’re playing by yourself. Do yourself a favor and go pick up this game!

Overall – 9.5/10

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