Ah, Mario Kart, a franchise any gamer who grew up with a Nintendo console (which is most of us) holds near to their heart. We remember all of the times blue shells brought us from first to worst and the times a star propelled us to victory with a symphony of cool tunes and a streak of sparkles. Its music conforms to the fast-paced catastrophe that is the Mario Kart race, and the aesthetics make us feel like we’re in a rainbow dream. It seems impossible being able to emulate the feeling we get from this game for so many generations, but somehow the big N always finds a way, and with Mario Kart 8 Nintendo has once again brought us into the crazy world of carting in spectacular fashion.
For starters, is Mario Kart 8’s music the top-notch symphony we’re always captivated by? See for yourself. Not that the melodies haven’t changed. It seems this time Mario Kart has become a bit more refined. Songs seem to be more soulful, yet still frantic – a touch complimented quite nicely by the fully orchestrated soundtrack the game boasts. As usual, each course has its own personality created by its look, but the music for each track only adds layers to that personality and really rounds out racers’ full sensory pleasure. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering Nintendo always does a great job with its games’ soundtracks, but it’s nice to see their standard haven’t changed after all these years.
While the soundtrack did a great job maintaining the quality previous games were known for, the graphics of Mario Kart 8 far exceeded any expectations fans of the series could have hoped for. Although Nintendo may not be known for its attention to detail as far as HD graphics go, they sure set the bar high this time around. Donkey Kong’s fur ruffles in the wind, wheels become coated with gritty sand when they streak through deserts and a shell’s individual ridges are discernable through the detailed use of shading. This is such a big step because from Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube to Mario Kart Wii, the difference in graphics seemed minimal at best and racers have come to expect that from the series. But even though sub-par graphics might not be a deal breaker for most Nintendo fans, there’s really nobody who can complain now.
Another aspect greatly improved upon was the online capabilities of MK8. Although Mario Kart Wii had an online feature better than most of the other Wii games, that didn’t really say much considering the mediocre online sported by most Wii titles. *cough* Brawl *cough* And this was a point of contention among gamers in a time where online capabilities were fairly new and exciting to people who had become used to playing alone for years. Mario Kart 8 completely knocks it out of the park and offers players quick entry into 12-man races, customizable tournaments, the ability to race against some of the best track records in the world and even turning racers into spectators as they can choose to watch and not play. The only complaint is that sometimes items can be slightly laggy, but most games will run into those small-scale problems.
The controls are just as easy as they’ve always been and allow racers to steer in a myriad of ways ranging from tilt controls on the game pad to the good old control stick maneuverability most of us have become familiar with. The only difference in the gameplay/control category that is worth a mention is the anti-gravity racing Mario Kart 8 has become stylized by. While it doesn’t make a huge difference in the speed of the race, it throws a fresh new feel to older courses and allows players more than one route to traverse tracks with. Also, the coin collecting feature of Mario Kart on the SNES is back and gives players a miniature boost when coins are grabbed. Racers are also given an overall speed bonus depending on how many coins (from 0 to 10) are saved up. This can make the difference of a race, but isn’t so much of an advantage where it feels like diligent coin grabbing is the only way to become victorious. The only part of the coins that truly becomes tiresome is when you’re in first and you constantly receive coins from the item boxes as they offer no protection from enemies’ weapons.
Speaking of items; the boomerang, fireball, piranha plant, mega horn and 8-weapon items make their first console appearance in the series. All of these items have offensive and defensive purposes, but none more crucial than the mega horn because it allows first place racers to destroy blue shells before they’re able to ruin lives. We’ve all come to hate blue shells and their ability to crush dreams, so now there is a reliable answer to this terror. While it doesn’t always present itself, it does give a satisfying feeling when you manage to blow up such a hated enemy.
My last points and complaints come from the roster of racers and battle mode. First off, where the heck is Diddy Kong? I mean, the cheerful chimp used to have his own racing game. The least you could do is keep him in for all the people who loved him in Diddy Kong Racing. Remember that game? As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nintendo decided to add in Bowser’s doofy siblings. They’re not bad characters per se, but it seems wasteful to take up seven racing slots when the characters in question seem extremely similar, especially when the rest of the cast is so diverse. This problem is taken a step further in the form of metal Mario and pink gold Peach. These characters are essentially Mario and Peach given a metallic shine and warped voice. They’re boring to say the least.
The biggest setback to the game is its lack luster battle mode. Instead of having courses designed specifically for the battle mode, tracks in the grand prix portion of the game are reused with nothing changed. This leaves racers spending most of their time searching for players to engage and takes away the sense of urgency mixed with caution the game mode was once known for. It’s an upsetting change, but one that can be looked past as the rest of the game delivers on multiple levels.
As with its predecessors, Mario Kart 8 brings a few new aspects to the established franchise and builds upon the strengths the beloved title has become famous for. As far as the racing goes, this might just be the most enjoyable yet. And even though the battle mode might be flawed, it is a facet of the game that can be tinkered to the players’ liking. The music is fresh and keeps racers bobbing their heads to a jazzy chorus. The gameplay is solid as usual, the controls continue to keep races simple and quick, the online is addictive and the graphics far exceed previous titles and challenge players to keep their eyes on the road. The few, minor downfalls this game does have are far outweighed by the resounding positives. So grab a few friends, gear up and get ready for speed, friendly rivalry and the occasional shell that came out of nowhere. Mario Kart is back, and it’s just like you remembered, but even better! Have fun blowing up those pesky blue shells!