”Given how nice Mario Kart 8 looks in motion, the inclusion of video tools marks another smart decision on Nintendo’s part. On top of this there’s local play for up to four people, online play for up to two racers and a fresh take on the SNES racer’s classic battle mode.”
There are 16 tracks in total spread across four cups, as well as another 16 classic tracks that have been revamped to include anti-gravity and other new tricks, so they’re not just simple re-treads by any measure. There’s also plenty of kart customisation options from the start along with unlockable chassis, wheels and gliders that care earned after hitting certain coin tallies. The inclusion of bikes adds another layer of stategic play into the mix.
While two-wheeled vehicles are faster than karts, they over steer around drifts, making them more unwieldy during high speed 150cc events. The fact that bikes suffer in the handling department is further evidence that producer and director team Hideki Konno and Kosuke Yabuki have strived to keep gameplay on an even keel. The same cannot be said for the accursed blue shell, which still continues to infuriate, except in my experience it has become a genuine problem that needs addressed.
For those unfamiliar with the blue shell weapon, it’s a projectile that seeks out the race leader and slams into them, bringing their kart to a stop for a moment. It’s long been viewed as a heavy-handed form of rubber-banding that punishes players for getting too far ahead of the pack, but during my time with Mario Kart 8 at home I found myself struck by it, only to be over-taken by the racer in second and even third place almost instantly. That’s simply not fair. It should only be used when the gap is significant, not while I have other racers nipping at my heels.
Perhaps these occurrences were mere anomalies but I’ve dropped several places and only barely clawed it back because of the blue shell. It might get patched by Nintendo post-launch, but right now I think it needs a deal of tweaking. Mario kart 8’s new horn weapon can be used to blow the shell away if you’re lucky enough to have one, but you need to get the timing right or it’ll fail. I like the inclusion of this new counter-defence item, and it fits snugly alongside all of boomerang plant, red shell and other returning power-ups.
Another new addition is Mario Kart TV – or MKTV for short – a replay feature that condenses all of your best moments in a race into a quick highlight reel at the end of each event. It’s also possible to publish footage of entire races on YouTube and MiiVerse complete with slow-mo effects for all to see. The highlight tool does a good job of framing up your best weapon strikes or overtakes to make them look cinematic, but it can also be tweaked with filters to focus on a particular driver or type of event, such as high impact collisions.
Given how nice Mario Kart 8 looks in motion, the inclusion of video tools marks another smart decision on Nintendo’s part. On top of this there’s local play for up to four people, online play for up to two racers and a fresh take on the SNES racer’s classic battle mode, in which players attempt to pop each of the three balloons tethered to their opponent’s kart.
Mario Kart 8 is more than Wii U’s visual benchmark; it is further proof that Nintendo’s focus on control and fun comes from a good place. I’m a firm believer that a game rammed full of polygons, high-quality textures and graphical trickery amounts to very little unless it handles effectively. The company has its control method honed to a point that this racer feels wonderful in your hands.
That’s hard to convey through words or imagery, but once you hit the tarmac and let rip with those drifts and jumps, you’ll be thankful that Nintendo didn’t try to reinvent the wheel with this one. What this stability has done however, is allow the studio space to show that it can produce visually-arresting titles that sit comfortably among the new-gen pack. In these regards, Mario Kart 8 is up there with the rest of the new-gen pack.
Disclosure: to assist in writing this piece, Nintendo sent Dave a Mario Kart 8 download code on Wii U.