Mario Kart 8 has been one of the most highly anticipated games for the Wii U since its announcement. Mario Kart Wii was massively popular on that console thanks to its online capabilities, and Nintendo has been counting on the popularity of Mario Kart to drive sales for the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 is a great kart racer and one of the better games in the series, but is it enough to buy a Wii U?
Not necessarily by itself, but now is a great time to own a Wii U, especially in a post-E3 2014 world where we now know of a multitude of high quality Wii U exclusives on the way. Mario Kart 8 will keep you busy for a while as you wait for all of those awesome, perhaps much better games, but Mario Kart 8 can still stand on its own and will greatly satisfy fans of the Mario Kart series.
First, I must talk about the visuals. The game is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning, and it even looks better than virtually every game I have played on PS4 or Xbox One yet. The Wii U’s capabilities are underrated or Nintendo is able to do brilliant things with limited hardware. Mario Kart 8 is easily the best looking game in the series and one of the best looking racers ever, as it utilizes its art style to great effect. The animation for the racers is particularly impressive and very subtle. Luigi’s angry reactions when other racers pass him are hilarious and have blown up into its very own Internet meme.
In past, we’ve been used to tracks from older games being recreated for newer entries. It’s a Mario Kart tradition, but Mario Kart 8 takes it to the next level. Not only are classic tracks reborn in Mario Kart 8, but they have been given significant overhauls. They maintain the core features and elements that made them popular in the first place, but they also include new features to take advantage of Mario Kart 8′s new gameplay mechanics. They have also been significantly upgraded in the visuals department. It’s wonderful seeing classic Mario Kart tracks in glorious HD, with highly detailed, living tracks that are just pure eye candy.
The racers are all fantastic looking as well. They’re highly detailed, well animated, colorful, and just plain look great. Nintendo knows how to make good looking games, and they definitely accomplished that with Mario Kart 8. The karts are well varied and highly customizable, with players able to mix and match different frames, tires, and gliders. The karts are all visually distinct because of this, and it’s easy to cobble together a kart that has the stats to enhance your strengths and cover up your weaknesses.
Unlocking content in Mario Kart 8 is fast and furious. Every 50 coins, a new kart part is unlocked. Unfortunately, you have to constantly back out and then return to the character selection screen in order to officially unlock this content, which was a strange move by Nintendo to say the least. The karts themselves are pretty great and make nods to all things Nintendo. Bikes and ATVs make a triumphant return, too.
The roster of racers is a little disappointing. Nintendo has more or less completely exhausted their options in this department, to the point where they’re relying on Koopalings and “baby” versions of the characters to fill out the roster of racers. There are some cool new additions, such as Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach, but I think it’s time to start incorporating other Nintendo franchise characters into Mario Kart. Unlocking characters is very easy and is done simply by completing cups in Grand Prix mode, but the order that you unlock them is random so if you want to unlock a specific character, you’re just going to have to repeatedly go through the cups over and over again.
The new items added to the game make the game even more entertaining. There’s now a speaker item that can be used to knock the dreaded blue shell out of the sky and render it useless. There’s a piranha plant that eats items when they come near you as well as provides a nice speed boost. My favorite new item is the “8″, which gives you eight items to use at once.
I don’t think there’s really a single track that I outright dislike in this game. I enjoy playing on all of the tracks in the variety of different game modes. It’s awesome that Grand Prix can be played with four players, and it’s awesome that you can play the game in split-screen online mode. The online has some connectivity issues in the early days, but they are easily resolved and getting into a game is a lightning fast process.
Mario Kart 8 retains the core gameplay that has made the series last this long. It’s a high quality kart racer, and Mario Kart 8 is still the king of the kart racing scene, no doubt. The game is gorgeous, features excellent sound design, and is just pure entertainment. However, I do have a complaint regarding battle mode.
In past games, battle mode was an arena style deathmatch mode in which the goal was to knock the other players out of contention by hitting them with items to rob them of balloons. This mode is completely ruined and rendered basically pointless now because instead of dedicated arenas that are designed for the game mode, the battles take place on the tracks. This makes for a cumbersome and far less entertaining experience. It’s okay for a little bit, but I can see this portion of the online experience becoming very dead within a few months.
I wish Nintendo had achievements. Achievements are awesome, and the fact that Nintendo hasn’t embraced them yet is disappointing. There are some Nintendo games that utilize achievements or an achievement like system to great effect, namely Super Smash Bros. and the Wii Sports titles. Mario Kart 8 is another game that would take great advantage of an achievement like system to boost replayability. Otherwise, playing by yourself becomes pretty boring after a while.
Mario Kart 8 is still a great game to add to your Wii U collection. Should you go out and buy a Wii U right now? Yes, but pick something else up with your copy of Mario Kart 8. Actually, Nintendo is doing a promotion at the time of this writing where if you buy Mario Kart 8 by a certain date and register it with Club Nintendo, you can pick between Wind Waker HD, Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros. U, or Wii Party U as a free digital game. So yes, buy Mario Kart 8. Do it now.
Tested on Wii U. Final Score: 8.25/10