Let’s get it out of the way quick: Mario Kart 8 is great.
I bought a Wii U just for the game and never suffered any buyer’s remorse like I have with many new consoles. That’s not to say the game is perfect but it does a lot right. So in honour of the soon-to-be-released second DLC pack and 200cc mode, I thought I’d take a look back and share my detailed thoughts on the game.
The first thing you notice playing Mario Kart 8 is that it’s pretty. Super pretty. The colours are bright and pop, the locales are highly detailed and the motion is buttery smooth. It is such a gorgeous-looking game and I’m still in awe all these months after its release. It is also amazing seeing tracks like Donut Plains 3 (SNES) not only in 3D but high definition. Feels familiar but completely new.
One of my favourite touches is just how animated and expressive the drivers are. Their heads are on swivels, always surveying the track. They show excitement and disappointment as they pass or get passed. Drifting, tricking, boosting, hitting…..just about everything draws an emotion out of the characters which adds life to the game.
There are a few features that seem to be missing from Mario Kart 8 that don’t really make sense. The biggest omission to me is the lack of race timer. Unless you’re doing time trials, the game doesn’t display your lap times or final time. It bothers me that I don’t get to see how close photo finishes are. I like numbers!
I had thought the onscreen map was still missing but it turns out you need to hit the (–) button to display it. Took me long enough to figure that out! They probably could have explained stuff like that a little more clearly because I know I’m not the only one who had beaten multiple cups before realizing you can display your vehicle’s stats on the selection screen.
I’m not sure if the last couple Mario Karts have had it but I really liked the Mission Mode on the DS version. It gave single-player a bit more life. Would have also liked a bit more control over custom matches (I’m thinking Smash Bros level of control) since they’re kind of barebones.
Pretty graphics only gets you so far. Fortunately even all these months later, Mario Kart 8 feels incredible! The controls are responsive for a tight driving experience and fluid drifting. It almost feels more like you’re flowing along with a rushing river than driving at times. This might be my favourite Mario Kart for the feel alone. The sense of speed is also great with the game never feeling too sluggish. 200cc may be terrifying! Between mushrooms, tricking, drifting, drafting, and boost pads, you’re constantly moving forward quickly.
The control scheme is as simple as ever. Gas, drift/hop, item/horn. Only three buttons you need to remember. There’s also a brake if you’re planning on losing the race. I’m not a fan of motion-controlled steering but it is there if you want it. The Pro controller is perfect for the game and there’s nothing wrong with the Wiimote + nunchuk combo. Pretty comfortable actually. The gamepad feels a tad bulky but I really only use it if I’m playing splitscreen and need a controller or playing offscreen while watching TV in the background.
I was annoyed when I heard Mario Kart 7 would have “gliders”. Even more so when I read about the “anti-gravity sections” in Mario Kart 8. Why mess with what works!? Fortunately both mesh incredibly well with the core gameplay, including the underwater sections. Gliding gave the track designers more freedom with their track layouts, connecting to distant spots or acting as a giant pitfall for unlucky racers. The anti-gravity portions work even better in my opinion. It allows for tracks to invert or go along at odd angle, often with spectacular views. A cool mechanic along these sections is that bumping opponents causes both racers to get a speed boost. This can also backfire as an unexpected collision can cause you to rocket off the track if you weren’t prepared. Speaking of which, Lakitu quickly retrieves you when you fall off the course, getting you back into the action faster than past Mario Kart games which is much welcomed.
If you’ve ever read a Mario Kart article on the front page over the past year, chances are you’ve seen me complaining about battle mode. So honestly, what the fuck Nintendo!? Whether it was playing 1 vs 1 on the SNES, battling for YEARS on the N64, teaming up in 2 vs 2 on the GC or mixing it up with bots & human game-sharers for maximum chaos on the DS, battle mode has always been a staple of the series. It was a lock to provide some of the most fun and best gaming memories every console generation. Oh right, the problems….
First of all, there’s no battle arenas. Crazy, right? Instead you battle it out on the regular race tracks. The problem with this is that many of the tracks are massive and you can go significant time without seeing another player. Or you see them, miss with a shell, and they’re gone leaving you to search out someone again. Nintendo tried to pull the “Please understand” and “Give it a chance” bullshit but no. It is an embarrassment they pulled this off.
Another problem using tracks is there’s no verticality. You can’t drop down on someone from above and you’re basically moving in one of two directions. While there are some open areas or wider tracks, most are fairly narrow and slow you down too much trying to escape by going off-road.
The pop-up map would be much more useful if it was placed in the middle of the screen while playing splitscreen. As it is each person gets a super mini map and it’s difficult to quickly glance at it and make any sense of it. Having it in the middle wouldn’t eat too much real-estate from everyone’s screen and would allow it to be bigger.
Battle mode is also severely lacking in modes. There’s a balloon-type mode….and that’s it. No shine-thief, shine-runner, coin-runner or Bob-omb blast. While I’ve never had any problem with just balloon-popping, in a game already lacking battle content it makes it feel even more like an after-thought than anything.
Nintendo, I will pay money, more money into something I already bought, for at least ONE(!) true battle course. Please, I’m begging at this point.
As far as I can tell, Mario Kart 8 is fairly balanced. It continues the tradition from the past few games of allowing you to customize your kart along with stats, but nothing feels too dominate. I never played Mario Kart Wii but I heard that the motorbikes were over-powered and weapon-spamming was a problem. While they’re generally still faster than karts, there’s no more wheelie-boosts and it’s much harder to generate drift-boosts with them.
Snaking that ruined Mario Kart DS’ online mode is also still gone. No more need to wiggle the stick to generate sparks. Just hold the drift button and lean into the corner. The sharper the drift, the faster the stronger boost is reached.
Weapon-spamming also seems to be gone (was it ever really that bad?). One of the things that took me aback the first time I played was that priming/holding your weapon no longer allows you to pick up a second item. I felt a little exposed. I quickly appreciated this though as it means races are determined more by your actual driving skills than luck. In past games being in first was almost like a death kiss, you were going to get messed up and it was going to cost you dearly. In Mario Kart 8 though, it might just be the safest position. Positions 2 to 4 aren’t getting anything much more dangerous than green shells and no one is launching anything back from in front of you. Can’t worry about the odd blue shell since it’ll take out anyone behind you and catch anyone unlucky enough to be in the blast radius. Plus there’s a shockwave weapon that you can even use to repel it. The poor racers in the middle and back of the pack are in thunderdome though. They all get heavy fire power and they’re mostly using it on each other, shooting it both forwards and backwards. Get up and in front as quickly as you can and laugh all the way to the finish line.
Incoming #FirstWorldProblem: while Mario Kart 8 has the largest roster of characters in the series so far, I’m disappointed with some of the inclusions and replacements. I like the Koopa Kids. They all feel like their own characters and fit in nicely. I’m not that crazy about all the baby characters but I get that this is a family game and kids might like to play as them. Adults too I guess. Now there’s something called a Pink Gold Peach? Sure, okay. What I don’t understand is why characters like Bowser Jr, Diddy, Boo, Birdo and Petey were axed. Those seem like weird omissions.
There were some weapons that I was sad to see go too. The fake weapon box is the big one. It was always such an asshole-item but that’s what made it awesome. The rage it produced was palatable. The lack of the Boo item is also unfortunate. No more turning invisible and stealing an item from someone else. I’m not a fan of the boomerang but Crazy 8 at least lives up to its name.
One of the biggest surprises about Mario Kart 8 was the fact that there would be DLC. It just seemed like something Nintendo would never do for one of their main franchises. Even more surprising was that it added a ton of content at a fair price. We gamers aren’t used to not getting gouged these days. The first pack that dropped brought three new characters, new vehicles & parts, and two new cups (8 tracks in total). That will double with the second pack, along with the new Yoshi & Shy Guy colours if you preordered both packs.
The Mercedes karts are a little jarring. Seeing realistic-looking vehicles in a cartoony game feels a little out of place but at least it was free. Can’t complain about that!
It’s almost a given that when you buy a Nintendo product, you’re getting a ton of heart and soul poured into it (battle mode aside). That wasn’t more evident than with the addition of Link to the cast alongside his motorbike inspired by Epona. The Hyrule course is impressive for how faithfully they kept to the Zelda universe, from collecting rupees instead of coins to the classic chest-opening jingle when collecting items. Same thing with the Mute City track from F-Zero.
On the immediate horizon is the second DLC pack that will add Animal Crossing characters and tracks. It looks to be keeping faith to both it and the Mario Kart series. Along with it will be the free upgrade with the fastest Mario Kart mode ever: 200cc. Buckle up kids!
Sometimes I forget I’m playing actual people online.
It is incredibly simple to play online. You log on, join a race and you’re in a match. Very easy to play a handful of races or go all afternoon. The weirdest thing is that since there’s only minimal communication that is performed via Miis, it makes each online experience feel cheerful and supportive. It’s the antithesis of local multiplayer. I know a lot of people complain about Nintendo’s lack of voice chat in their games but I’m starting to think they’re on to something here. It’s nice hoping on for a quick race and not having to mentally prepare for verbal abuse. Makes me less worried about a game like Splatoon. If you create a custom game you can use voice chat with friends though. It wasn’t completely banished.
Also nice is that it’s one of the few online games that runs relatively smoothly for me. Living way out in a rural area using satellite internet, lag is such a common issue that I’ve more or less stopped online gaming. It’s probably been years since I’ve consistently participated in Friday Night Fights! Somehow though, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t give me that many problems. There’s the occasional race where I finish in front of someone only to be pushed back a spot or two (why I mostly want the race timer) but it’s never enough to ruin my night.
While I haven’t taken part in many tournaments, the cool thing about them is that it many races can be held at once with the points being compared against everyone. You can even set it so that every couple of races the matchups will be shuffled to make it fairer.
Ok, maybe the main online portion can be a little too simple.
One problem is that once you select a character and kart, you can’t change without exiting the server you’re in. So in a way, this kind of prevents you from experimenting with a combination of karts and parts since you’ll stick with what works for you. Not a big deal.
More of an issue is that you can’t access your home screen while online. Even worse, there’s no system or menu in place that lets you see if any of your friends have launched the game either. From the other end, if you go online and see someone is racing, you can easily join their match. They won’t know you’ve joined unless they recognize your Mii so I’ve chased a few friends from match to match trying to get a few matches in against them. This. Is. Annoying!
One of the coolest features in the game is the replay, mostly because it’s incredibly simple to use. You can save an entire match or just snippets (30/45/60seconds) and make it focus on certain aspects like hits, drifting or everything. You can also follow up to 4 players to get a varied look. Not only does it give you a chance to admire your awesome driving skills, it lets you see stuff you would have normally overlooked during a race. Also the camera does a great job of making the action look epic. You can also upload your replays to YouTube or the Miiverse with a click of the share button.
The Wii U will store the replays of your last handful of races so you don’t need to be on top of them all the time if there’s something you want to save. Hitting the – button after a race will allow you to quickly save the current one though.
Mario Kart TV is the portal that lets you view the videos of other racers. For the most part I don’t care what the general public posts but hidden towards the back, there’s a folder for your friends’ videos. Those are the ones I want! There’s also another folder for videos from tournaments you’ve joined.
What is exciting about this entry in the racing franchise is that Nintendo has shown they’re willing to expand on the base product. The new characters, karts and courses were all greatly appreciated. 200cc was completely unexpected. So maybe, hopefully, Nintendo will have more surprises in store for Mario Kart 8 throughout the year. E3 is still months away but it’s never too early to start coming up with a wish list.
This is a must. They have to. There is literally no issue in gaming bigger to me than correcting this hellish mistake. Maybe they needed the game out ASAP to help sell Wii Us. Maybe they thought people didn’t care. Now is the time to fix it! I would be more than happy with the four courses from Mario Kart 64 and nothing else. Throw in another mode or two and I’d be over the moon. Just do something, Nintendo. Anything! Please!
Double Dash Mode
When Nintendo revealed that Smash Bros would have an 8-player mode, my mind could only think of one thing: DOUBLE DASH!! Mario Kart Double Dash was an underplayed but far from underappreciated game on the GameCube. It may not have been what we wanted from a new Mario Kart when it was released but man was it good! It was a bold experiment that they actually pulled off successfully. As the name vaguely suggests, the game involves racing karts piloted by two characters. One person drives, the other throws weapons and helps to drift. The coolest thing was that if you had a LAN adapter for your GC, you could theoretically play with up to 16 players. Eight teams of two. While I’ve never experienced this true vision of the game, I can only imagine how fun it would be. I weep for my ignorance.
The biggest hurdle for this idea is that 1) Nintendo would have to actually make the GameCube controller adapter for Wii U available to more than just scalpers, and 2) would have to set aside resources to actually make the game. It just might be too much work for DLC. Framing it as an expansion or companion game might make more sense, similar to Super Luigi U.
And I mean, c’mon! Mario Kart 8….8-player mode…it speaks for itself! Having 4 teams of 2 could easily be pulled off on the Wii U. This will be the biggest missed opportunity of the generation if it doesn’t happen. I’ll complain about it for years!
In a different spectrum of extreme multiplayer ideas, something I recently realized the game really needs is a true “Party Mode”. I had family over for Easter and of course Mario Kart was played since everyone can play it (not that everyone does). There were about ten of us huddled around the TV and we play the two winners go on, the two losers swap out. The first problem is that people like playing as different characters with different karts and playing styles. Another problem is keeping track of whose turn it is (we’re all adults but we’re still the assholes we were a decade or two ago). Having a mode where you pick your Mii then select your character and kart, letting the game decides who races who (maybe only one person gets swapped out, maybe everyone does, maybe the two people who stayed on have to switch screens/controllers) would help to keep things moving. This way a scoring system could also be constructed to include everyone instead of just having it be mostly ignored. Sort of similar to the online tournaments I guess. Even more extreme, having this party mode include both racing and battle mode (once it’s fixed) for a multi-event competition.
Sit down and listen to this. The most extreme of the extreme is taking that idea, combining it with the double dash mode along with constantly swapping partners, and living with the fact that the absolute perfect party game has now been made. Imagine the money, Nintendo. Imagine it all!
Alright, thanks for reading my thoughts! It’s been a few years since I’ve done this whole blogging thing. If anyone still has yet to add me on the Wii U, my NNID is CelicaCrazed.