Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 stands as one of few currently-announced tent pole releases for the underachieving Wii U. Though it’s sure to sell a few systems based purely on series recognition, is it truly a must-have version of the long-running battle racer?
In case you’ve completely missed coverage of the game MK8 is the first time the series has been presented in high definition, specifically 1080p. It moves and looks great especially in single and two player modes where it stays locked at a silky smooth frame rate of 60 (three and four person split screen runs at 30FPS but is still consistently solid). A lot a little details like engine lighting and hair (and indeed facial hair) blowing in the wind lends to an extremely high level of graphical polish.
Speaking of polish, Nintendo has been on a roll with its online play as of late and Mario Kart 8 continues the trend. Competing against others via the Nintendo Network appears to have zero noticeable lag no matter where your opponents are in the world. Considering you can face up to 11 other players per race and the hectic nature of the series that’s an impressive feat. The Wii U doesn’t support parties or cross-game chat on a system level so the surrounding experience isn’t up to the level of competing consoles but all the essential in-game options are there. The ability to have two people on one console go online together makes a very welcome return from Mario Kart Wii.
Other positive changes include a fundamental rebalancing of the core mechanics. High power weapons such as the notorious blue shell appear far less often, and bikes and karts have been refined so the latter is once again a viable option.
The new F-Zero-esque magnetic game play slots perfectly into the MK experience as if it had always been there. The ability to drive along walls and twisting tracks enables more creative course design, and combining this with the gliding and underwater play from Mario Kart 7 really gives MK8 a unique and spectacular look and feel.
Unfortunately not everything new is as well-implemented. Mario Kart TV is the game’s replay system that allows you to upload video clips to Miiverse and YouTube that had a lot of potential. Sadly the editing options are extremely limited as there isn’t any camera or playback speed control and by default the game chooses only a handful of moments that it deems to be noteworthy. For something that Nintendo seemed to be heavily pushing and presumably intended to rival similar features on Xbox One and Playstation 4 it falls flat.
Much more upsetting though is that the traditional Battle Mode has been completely ruined. For whatever reason you’re now forced to fight on standard race tracks instead of arenas specifically designed for battles. Say goodbye to the intense clashes of yesteryear and hello to spending most of your time simply trying to find each other on huge linear courses.
Another large problem – one I haven’t seen any review really dig into – is the poor and baffling use of the Wii U’s controller. For one thing, there’s no option for one person to play solely on the Gamepad screen. This means that not only will two players always be forced to put up with a split screen (there’s no option for a horizontal split either) but there’s also no way for five-person play with four on the TV and one on the Gamepad. When several key Wii U titles have provided these features – particularly karting rival Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed which had them at the system’s launch – it’s a huge let down to find them omitted here.
The Gamepad’s display can be set to mirror what’s happening on the big screen so it does at least let you indulge in some MK8 away from the TV. The only other use for the unique controller is either a touch screen horn or to display the mini map, the latter of which has for some reason been bumped off of the TV. This is a particularly head-scratching move as it means that those on the big screen have no view of the map or racer positions, leaving them at a disadvantage.
Less significant but still disappointing is the odd character roster which features an inordinate amount of baby versions of characters (five in total) and a metal versions of Peach and Mario. In terms up bizarre choices this ranks up there with the game’s awful take on Battle Mode.
Some vintage Mario Kart problems also persist especially in content-sparse single player. Not only is there little to do besides the standard cups and time trials but the notoriously cheaty A.I. is back in full force in 150CC difficulty. Mario Kart has always paled in comparison to its competitors in this department (again, the recent Sonic racing game did this better) but you expect more from Nintendo, especially in a genre that’s this limited in scope.
In Andrew Fitch’s review for EGM he points out that the game ‘is a rarity for Nintendo in that… it looks better than it plays’. This is a dead-on summation of why Mario Kart 8 has garnered top scores in so many reviews; that people are getting carried away by the presentation and (perhaps having not played a Mario Kart title recently) glossing over a lot of key issues in terms of game play and functionality. Strip away the graphical sheen and you’ll find the usual fun MK experience, just hampered by a smattering of odd design choices and omissions. As such, if you’re down for some high definition Mario Kart antics you’ll probably end up satisfied but it’s certainly not a must-have nor the definitive sequel that a lot of us were hoping for.