Games Reviews Wii U

No H8 for Mario Kart 8

Being that I haven’t really spent much time in any MK title since Mario Kart 64, which technically would be the SECOND game in the series, a personal refresher on a love/hate relationship with shells and bananas was WAY overdue.


So much for being over those Blue Shell nightmares

Speaking of overdue (this article is pretty goddamn overdue! -ed), the Wii U was out HOW LONG w/o a MK title?  Given that MK7 for the 3DS was released about a year prior to the Wii U’s launch, there’s probably something to be said for other heavyweights like Mario Galaxy and Skyward Sword that needed to come early in the pipeline.  But I’ve had this same argument with friends before about Blizzard’s slow-moving behemoth of a studio regarding some much-needed updates to World of Warcraft that seemed to have dragged on forever; You’re Nintendo.  You can throw $$ and bodies at it and get it done, especially when there’s an obviously seething, loyal fan base waiting not-that-patiently for your current-gen entry of flagship series *cough cough* SMASH BROS (soon, soon).  The counterargument, of course, is again, a Blizzard-ism of ‘it’ll be done when it’s done’, which is about as forthcoming as the U.S. Homeland Security’s early 2000’s attempt at informing the public of terrorist activity, which was pretty much always at yellow anyway.


But is it more of a Romero or W.S. Anderson kind of a day?

Ultimately, I don’t know anyone personally who works at Blizzard OR Nintendo, so I really have exactly zero legit knowledge on whether or not those three-ish years between MK 7 and 8 were truly needed for development to product a superior, stable, bestselling product, or focusing time and energy suing the poor SMBC team who put their heart and soul into, ultimately, a pretty superior crossover title, in their basements with no budget? No, seriously, this is something you need to try at LEAST as much as Abobo’s Big Adventure.

The latter scenario being a WHOLE OTHER article in and of itself, I digress; It would actually appear that indeed, those three-ish years resulted in a pretty good job of refining and polishing the moving parts of MK7 into what turns out to be a pretty solid Mario Kart title, arguably one of the best in the series for its time.

The Tracks


We’re talking about a racing game, so one key element, of course, is the quality and quantity of tracks you can play. MK8 has a total of 32 tracks in the base game, divided up into a total of eight 4-track cup sets.  16 total tracks are brand new, and the other 16 are remodels of tracks from previous Mario Kart titles, which is an EXCELLENT balance of new content mixed with classic MK experiences, retooled for all you older gamers out there to tearfully open up those old wounds again.  If you’re still bitter about constantly falling off Rainbow Road, well, at least there are now TWO versions now (and ANOTHER in the DLC), so you can split your depression across THRICE as much failure 😛


Yeah?  Remember Thrice?

BUT don’t fret, because the track listing was divided up as intuitively as a mix pack of holiday craft brews between what may be the best half-and-half balance of content in any Mario Kart title, attracting both younger and older players with brand-new content as well as updated blasts from the past, with 16 unique courses and 16 from yesteryear in the vanilla game, with another 16 total tracks (also about 1/2 and 1/2 brand new and remade) in the two DLC packs released in Nov 2014, and April 2015.  If you were smart a fanboy and bought them early for $12, you ended up saving a few bucks for that extra Latte.  Or bought a bazillion games thanks to the Humble Bundle people.


 Remember, it’s FOR THE CHILDREN

Ultimately though, you end up with some pretty awesome-looking, well thought-out tracks, all of which have secrets and hidden shortcuts to find in order to get that edge over other players once you’ve mastered jumps, item locations, environment hazards, etc.  Each track has its own personality, complete with unique music and systems, some building on Mario Kart 7’s introduction of gravity-defying track design to really add the third dimension to gameplay.


All your favorite systems are in place from previous Mario Kart titles (EXCEPT the 2-player-per-cart mechanic from Double Dash) that add subtle levels of mastery.  Of course, the familiar items are present and still do the same things as before, BUT now you can also utilize the new Boomerang that can be thrown three times, particularly useful if you have a straight shot at a cluster or line of players.

Of course, everything starts at FINDING THE LINE, meaning the best overall route through each course, taking inside corners, hitting jumps and speed boosts.  Anyone can blow a triple red shell at an opponent with a grin of psychopathic malice (who hasn’t?), but the TRUE Mario Kart lifer knows that the ability to recover and regain your route is critical.  Especially on faster 100 and 150cc speeds (dare I mention 200cc mode!??), drifting (which has pretty much been an essential MK skill verbatim) is the only way you’re going to place.  Other minor skills like knowing when to hit the gas off the start for a mini-boost and when to hold a banana or a shell behind your cart to protect you from a roving Red Shell can help your game, as well as more advanced tactics such as saving the Horn in 1st place to thwart a Blue Shell.

TRUE Heroes can even use a mushroom to dodge it.

In the end, Mario Kart is as much (more?) about items than about tenets of racing, but the key formula is that BOTH kinds of skills are needed to really break into the higher ranks on faster tracks.  Knowing when to use or NOT to use items, knowing the track layouts and shortcuts, knowing your cart / racer combination, and of course your caffeine / twitch level will help keep you ahead of the pack AND allow you to recover quickly when misfortune inevitably comes your way.

Where MK8 loses some luster is in local multiplayer; You expect splitscreen to be tougher on the basis of having less ability to see everything, but especially beyond 2 players on a single Wii U, the FPS cap moves from 60FPS to 30FPS, along with a drop in individual resolution (which is to be expected, the Wii U hardware being the generation it is); still very much playable, but can feel jerky and less responsive, especially if you’re used to 1 or 2 player multiplayer online.

Is It Worth It?

Hell, I’d say it’s worth it even if you own every other game in the series.  I’ve actually considered getting a second Wii U just so more people in the house can play online together. Whether you play with friends or with random folks online, the netcode has always been pretty solid; our group rarely experienced issues or lag even being across a couple of state lines.  Being able to get 12 human players in the same lobby and in the same kind of dynamic you’re-up-you’re-down race that Mario Kart is gives you a pretty whopping replay value.  You can race for the gold in each of the tracks in solo or local multiplayer mode, and also unlock more modes / carts / characters as you play, in addition to the extra chunks of game you can opt for in the DLC.


And maybe a little product placement

The well-designed tracks, both new and from classic MK games help bring both casual and hardcore players together, with a lot of skills to master, and a lot of chances for comebacks and random luck to keep each race interesting and unpredictable.  It’s hard to make a racing game where you can be just as satisfied coming in any place, knowing you’ve practiced at another technique and are ready to up your game.

First-party Nintendo titles tend to hold their value very well, so you can still expect to pay $50 for a game that’s been out nearly a year, but there’s a reason for that; MK8 is engaging with enough content variety and unlockables to keep you going quite awhile, especially so if you have at least a couple friends to regularly race with.

Luckily, I’ve had exactly that advantage of competing on a weekly basis with a few friends who started out being WAY better, but over time I was able to get good enough to often place and sometimes win; As with any multiplayer title, it’s never fun to consistently lose or some in last place, but since Mario Kart 8 (much like the Mario Party series) allows for lots of chances to catch up and take the leaders down a peg, with a little determination you can eventually win that brass ring.

Ultimately, Mario Kart 8 is a highly accessible title, graphically on the cuter side that can appeal to any skill level and any amount of dedication, but has many layers to chew on, and will provide you with hours of enjoyment multiplied manifold the more people you can play with. With the wealth of random players online, you’ll also find lots of variation of different playstyles and rivalries to overcome.  Just remember, try not to be a baby or a sore loser.


There are already plenty of them out there