Mario Kart 8 is bedlam. Sheer chaos constantly barraging from every angle and it’s absolute bliss.
There’s no better feeling than zipping around a race track with a bunch of plumbers, princesses, babies and Koopas. Mushrooms being fed into karts for speed boosts to cross you over the finish line in dramatic fashion and someone taking the form of a Bullet Bill to knock everyone out the way.
Mario Kart 8 follows on from the 3DS’ 7, building on the new ways to race through the air by adding in gravity based sections, where the tracks will twist and turn in mind bending ways. It’s beautiful, watching your character blast off a ramp and then after a short period in the air, the kart wheels move upwards as you enter a gravity based zone. It’s seamless, there’s absolutely nothing slowing down the races anymore.
In the past, when the edge of a map would see you falling into the nothingness below, it’d black out and Lakitu would strip you of your items, placing you back on the track in a very slow manner. Now? You fall, you get back on and go. Sure, you’re punished with maybe losing your position in the race and being held up by Lakitu’s speed, but if for instance, you had a shell beforehand, you’ll retain it to use to get yourself back in the race.
I felt like this time, the game is after the chaos even more, as the blue shell seems to crop up in races at that certain moment I was about to win; more often than not. Luckily, there’s a new item to get rid of the shells, The Super Horn. It produces a shockwave that ensures your safety. But, as with most items in Mario Kart, there’s always a second function not really intended. I found that I was using it to swat away competition from around me, just to over take.
The GamePad is actually used sparingly, mostly to give you a look at the map, honk your kart’s horn or play off screen. I like that Nintendo don’t load their games with gimmicks surrounding the pad, but use it as a secondary function. Sure, you’ll rarely look at it because of the focus on the race, but it’s just nice to have around. Offscreen play also worked as expected and the game looks as good as it does on the little screen, than as it did on the big.
You can also use motion controls, whether through the GamePad or Wii Remotes. It’s always a nice touch, even if I think it’s useless if you ever want to be good at the game itself. But I guess if children are hopping in, they might as well make those turning motions they do with their hands useful to them.
The karts in Mario Kart have always handled superbly, but for some reason, Mario Kart 8 just feels superior in every regard. I still can’t get a feel for the bikes that were introduced in the Wii version, but I see people regularly winning races on them, so I assume they work fine and it’s just my hamfisted nature of driving that’s causing me not to understand the finesse needed.
That’s the thing with Mario Kart 8, is that it’s open to just about everyone. Sure, online you might not do so hot if you don’t understand the series’ staple of drifting and using the course to your advantage, but it’s just so sublime to jump in with friends and just about anyone.
The thing with Mario Kart 8 is that it’s unbridled fun, regardless of who you are and your skill level. No one racer is better than another. They might act differently, but a heavier Wario is going to beat out the nimbler Mario if that player gets the edge with speed. It’s excitement in five minute bites and it’s incredibly moreish.
Something Nintendo have been working on for a while through all their games is online. They sort of nailed it on the Wii version and expanded outwards on the 3DS game, but Mario Kart 8 again, just feels in every way, a better experience. Lag is non-existent in global matches and while you might have to sit and spectate a race, you’re almost certain to get in remarkably quickly. A downside seems to be with Nintendo’s habit of missing out on user friendly options. Instead of the option to change racers or karts between races, you’re forced to back out all the way and reselect from the start. It’s not too much a hassle, but if a particular character and kart isn’t doing it for me at the time, I found it started to pile on the longer I spent online.
I don’t know where Nintendo were hiding this type of power, but Mario Kart 8 might be the best looking game not only on the Wii U, but at this moment in time. Brilliantly bright graphics, masses of animations and just this fluid, unhindered look to it. They absolutely nailed bringing the Mushroom Kingdom to the HD era, even if it’s in their kart racer. Birds fly out the way as the bright blue sky is accompanied by cheery clouds and enveloped in this rich lighting. Or you might be in a futuristic environment, where neon lights are amped up to this glorious effect as you whiz by.
Mario Kart 8 isn’t anything new, it’s still the same great kart racer we’ve seen for the last few years. But it’s so wonderful to play, so gorgeous and marvellous to be in, it’s the right step for Nintendo as a whole. It proves that within all the complications they’re currently facing as a company, they still have that magic where it counts: their games. Getting in that last red shell to cross the line first, instead of second, is still a moment that is hardly recreated anywhere else.
When a game makes losing as fun as winning, makes you want even more from it and it ushers you into getting that more ever so quickly, I find all the small faults with the game – like the battle mode, which is no longer in themed arenas, but the whole course or the cookie cutter roster – are forgotten because I’m just having a blast regardless.