With the brand new anti-gravity feature, Mario Kart 8 refines the classic racing franchise to dizzying heights with super slick graphics. But occasional blind spots deter the game from reaching its true potential, leaving fans a little adrift.
With its visually stunning graphics and thrill-a-minute gameplay, there’s no denying that Mario Kart 8 is the best entry to the racing series since 2003’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Nintendo GameCube. But it’s not just the pull of the anti-gravity feature that leaves us wanting more, there are also the wonderfully designed new and retro tracks – each with luminous boost pads, secrets and catchy musical beats – along with a heavenly drift mode that captures both the look and feel of alpine skiing while at the helm of a steering wheel on Mount Wario. Yet through its crisp character features and robust vehicle customisation, the exclusion of an on-screen map is just as confusing as obtaining a Golden Mushroom on Rainbow Road; completely wasteful.
While the Wii U GamePad’s motion controls are utilised exquisitely in Mario Kart 8, its secondary use as a map screen is entirely redundant. Serving as a distraction rather than part of strategic play, looking down at the GamePad’s map will likely cause a substantial collision – and not the spin-boost kind. Knowing where your rivals are, who’s got the dreaded Spiny Shell, or even just using the on-screen map as reassurance of your lead is often crucial to cinching your victory.
Though it’s merely an inconvenience in normal play, there’s an air of underlying and unnecessary discomfort when playing in off-TV mode with the GamePad, where the map can only be accessed via touch screen mode, relegating your race to a small section in the top corner. It’s a small but unfortunate misstep from Nintendo.
An excellent curveball thrown into the racing game, which may unnerve veteran Kart players somewhat, is the ability to hold only one item at a time. It’s a cruel albeit amusing lesson for those banana stackers out there, many who love to protect their victory from all angles by keeping an extra handy for the “just in case” moments. Though Donkey Kong might have had an extra say in the matter, it nevertheless creates an interesting shake-up within the game’s format.
On a similar path, Mario Kart 8’s four new items boost fun and invigorate competitive play with the Piranha Plant, Super Horn, Boomerang Flower and Crazy Eight. Instantly ravenous, the Piranha Plant can knock over rivals, as well as gobble up banana peels and coins – it’s a real hit on the track when in use, giving boosts occasionally and offered favourably to players in middle positions.
Given the notoriety of the Spiny Shell, the Super Horn is, on paper at the very least, the best item in the game. Whether it’s a coincidence or just sheer CPU hatred, the Super Horn mocks players by turning up when least needed, instead item boxes feed players with an excess of coins when in first position. But when the opportunity comes knocking, its desired effect is fantastic, leaving players with an urge to recreate a maniacal, villainous laugh, or just a smug look (for the modest) as their rival is bested.
Mario Kart’s multiplayer action is usually only served in versus mode, but in the eighth instalment players can race against friends and family in Grand Prix mode. Although the graphics become diluted in split-screen, it’s an instant time-saver making victory that much sweeter.
However, battle mode poses a problem, limiting players’ choice down to eight race tracks seen in the main game. Since there are no unique battle stages, balloon pop mode feels lost in the title’s loop de loops, where players can simply hide on larger tracks such as Toad’s Harbour and Yoshi Valley rather than rage in a heated frenzy over red and green shells. But Nintendo has integrated online play seamlessly with custom rules for tournaments and an in-game chat feature for friends in the lobby area, keeping players glued to the track even after the main game is complete.
Though Mario Kart 8 encounters the odd kink or two, it’s still as fun, fast and furiously addictive as its predecessors, particularly with anti-gravity features thrown into the mix. Rev up your Wii U engines as this is a staple game no Nintendo fan will want to miss.