It’s hard to believe there have been only eight main entries in the 22-year-old Mario Kart series. But considering Nintendo focuses its efforts on releasing one new title per system, it’s easy to see why the long-running kart-racing franchise still stands strong today.
Upon playing Mario Kart 8 for the first time, one of your immediate reactions will be spurred by how everything runs smoothly. The game boasts a solid frame rate, top-notch resolution, clean interface and fluid animations. Even by today’s standards and compared to more powerful hardware, the Wii U exclusive looks and plays great. With beautifully crafted tracks and detailed character designs, it will always be one of the prettiest and most colorful titles on Wii U.
Up to four players can take part in the series’ flagship mode, Grand Prix. This is definitely a refreshing inclusion, but the game’s performance is noticeably lowered as more players enter the racetrack. A mission mode, however, is nowhere to be seen. Mario Kart DS may very well be my favorite title in the series – primarily because of its mission mode, which presented a significant bonus to the core racing experience.
Mario Kart 8 also contains fewer battle modes than previous installments. Although it wasn’t an entirely original concept, the Coin Runners battle mode in Mario Kart 7 is inexplicably absent and was at least a welcome addition to the Nintendo 3DS entry. While still pretty fun, its only battle mode – the series standard Balloon Battle – takes place on lengthy courses that often make you feel like you’re racing for the finish line. You’ll also find yourself unintentionally playing hide-and-seek with the other battling characters due to the scope of its arenas.
The game brings back most of the items from its direct predecessor and adds a few new ones, such as the handy-dandy Super Horn, which finally gives players a way to fend off those menacing Blue Shells. It also introduces the nifty Piranha Plant, providing minor boosts to the holder while chomping on everything in its way, attacking rivals, grabbing coins and swallowing projectiles. A questionable omission is the inability to simultaneously carry two items. Unlike previous titles, the game doesn’t allow you to nab another item until you release the one you’re holding. You can no longer stock another item, which takes some time getting used to for series aficionados.
The game supports multiple controller options, including support for the Wii U GamePad, Wii Remote and Wii U Pro Controller. Unfortunately, the GamePad’s features aren’t used to their full potential. For example, rather than reserving its display for its holder, the GamePad’s 6.2-inch touch screen renders whatever’s on the TV screen – whether one, two or three others are playing with you.
It does feature a large character list, containing multiple fan favorites and a number of newcomers, but due to the lack of racer-specific items (à la the risk-taking Mario Kart: Double Dash), the disparity between each one is minute and all are essentially the same with a different coat of paint. Heck, several characters are even voiced by the same actor.
Through Mario Kart TV, the game allows players to share highlight reels on YouTube and Miiverse. The highlights, which are attributed to a selection of editing options, are brief clips that are automatically accumulated once a race is complete. They also allow you to view in-game footage in slow motion, showcasing the Wii U title’s impressive visuals with flair.
Its online multiplayer segment is basically a revamped version of previous online modes, combining the best online elements from Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7. Up to 12 players can engage in races and battles with others from around the world via the Internet. They can also partake in tournaments, which boast robust configuration settings, allowing players to choose whether they want to race with select items or opt for none at all. It also supports voice chat, which is a first for the series but only limited to friends.
With addictive gameplay, gorgeous graphics, exceptional tracks and a strong online component, Mario Kart 8 is one of the best titles Wii U has to offer. Although it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the kart-racing genre, the game undoubtedly solidifies the Mario Kart series.