Mario Kart 8 Review (Wii U)

Mario Kart 8 Wii U Review

For the first time in HD, Nintendo’s Mario Kart franchise comes to the Wii U console, introducing new racing circuit designs and anti-gravity karts that will have players driving upside down and along walls. Players will also enjoy a variety of series-favorite features, including the return of 12-player online competitive play, hang gliders, underwater racing and motorbikes.

Ever since Super Mario Kart first made its way to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, hardcore and casual gamers alike have been trying to reach the finish line first for years. Although some entries in the series may have suffered from serious flaws (snaking techniques, clunky accessories for multiplayer mode, etc.), Mario Kart has managed to build a reputation for being one of the best racing franchises out there. It’s fair to say that each new installment in the Mario Kart franchise has brought something new and unique to the table, improving upon its predecessor, and Mario Kart 8 is no different!

Mario Kart 8 Mario Circuit

Enter the world of Mario Kart…

When Mario Kart players start up the game, they’ll be greeted by a screen that contains multiple options: Single Player mode, Multiplayer mode, Online – One Player, Online – Two Players, and Mario Kart TV, all of which flesh out the game making it a more enjoyable experience. In the Single Player section of the game, the first event I decided to try out was the Grand Prix. In the Grand Prix, you have three degrees of speed that you can choose from: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc all increasing in difficulty as you go along. After selecting your difficulty, you’ll arrive at the character selection where a small range of characters will be available for you to choose with more characters being unlocked after completing each cup in the Grand Prix. One thing that I was quite upset about was the fact that the Mii character wasn’t among the list of default characters, and was instead an unlockable.

Something that I really had fun with was the vehicle customization screen. Your character and vehicle combination affects every aspect of your racing experience (weight, acceleration, etc.), adding an additional level of depth. There are three parts of the vehicle that you can customize. These three parts include your vehicle body (Kart or Motorcycle), wheels and Glider. Although the amount of unlockable vehicle parts seems to have expanded in this iteration of Mario Kart, I would’ve liked to see a feature where you could add your personal touch to things (change colors, add stickers, sponsor labels, etc.). When starting races, the first thing that grabbed my attention was the drifting mechanic. Although awkward at first, the tighter controls affected the gameplay for the better, allowing you to have more control over your vehicle when steering.

Mario Kart 8 onlookers may not have realized this, but when driving on courses using the new anti-gravity mechanic introduced in the game, your drifting is also affected. Now, when drifting on the anti-gravity sections of courses, bumping into other racers will give you each a slight speed boost, a technique that can greatly affect the outcome of the race. Speaking of the anti-gravity game mechanic, it felt a bit gimmicky to be honest. The map flips upside-down but the camera changes so that the character remains right-side-up and no adjustments are made to the controls making it feel as if no changes took place.

The adjustments to the item system really balanced out Mario Kart 8’s gameplay. The petrifying Blue Shell that auto-targets the person in first place has now become a rarity and will only appear if you find yourself in the lower-half of each 12-player race. There are four new items in Mario Kart 8. The Boomerang, Pirahna Plant, Super Horn and Coin. I often found myself missing with the Boomerang due to the way that it was used, but once I got the hang of it, I was able to hit multiple competing karters with one shot. The Pirahna Plant is a fairly useful weapon that grants the wielder small speed boosts while knocking out any obstacles (and racers) in its path. The other new item is the Sound Horn. Much like the Blue Shell, this powerful item is a rare pickup. Famous for being the only item that can destroy the dreadful Blue Shell, this item can knock your enemies off of roads as well.

Mario Kart 8 Boomerang

Here’s a look at the Boomerang item…

There was mention of a fourth new item, but to be honest, it doesn’t have much of a function. When picked up as an item, the coin grants the user an imperceptible speed boost. To make it worse, this is the most common item that you’ll come across when in first, second or third place. After a while, the Coin became more of an annoyance rather than something helpful.

In Mario Kart 8, the gamepad had many unique functions, but I found the layout of these functions quite baffling. The Horn, a rather useless function took up most space on the Wii U Gamepad while the other, more important functions (map, standings, etc.) were tucked into the corner. Each of them could be tapped and made larger, but the default organization was a poor design choice.

Wii U Gamepad Bottom Screen

This is a view of the bottom screen and its odd layout.

An important feature in Mario Kart 8 is Mario Kart TV (MKTV for short). It has its issues here and there, but for the most part its functionality was pretty solid. Mario Kart TV is basically the recap that you see at the end of each race with one change: you can now edit your game snippets and upload your footage to YouTube. When uploading with MKTV, you can make multiple changes to your footage before sending it off to YouTube. Some of these changes include choosing to only show action-filled moments, item uses, or even drifting specifically in your videos. In addition, you can choose to focus on up to four players just to show your friends how you stack up against your competition. You can see a sample of the Mario Kart TV upload functionality below:

If you come across a popular YouTuber (as I did in the video above), you can even save replays to your favorites menu for the world to adore. In fact, you can save up to 6 of your favorite replays if you wish to do so.

Before I move on to talking about online multiplayer, I’d like to take a moment to say do not use tilt controls while using the Wii U Gamepad. When steering with tilt controls on the Wii U Gamepad, I switched back immediately due to the fact that it was awkward affecting my races in a negative way. You’ll want to steer clear of this option (haha, see what I did there? Pun pun pun).

Mario Kart 8 supports 12-player online races. I can’t really say anything negative about this section of the game. There are a few improvements that I’d like to see made to it, but it achieves its sole purpose. In online races, I was able to race up to 11 other players without any noticeable connectivity issues, lag or frame rate drops. My only complaint is that there’s no option for voice chat unless you’re in a special lobby. Come on Nintendo, it’s 2014!

Mario Kart 8 Wii U Review

Battle Modes now take place on Race Tracks…

Finally, I’d like to talk about Battle Mode. I have no idea what Nintendo was thinking when they decided to replace Battle Arenas with actual race tracks. The whole battle experience felt broken. When playing battle tracks with two players, I got lost more often than not and wasn’t able to find my opponent. However, this is the first time that the map functionality has actually been useful in the Mario Kart franchise. Another issue that I stumbled upon was the fact that you could hit people as ghosts (when you lose all three of your balloons, you turn into one). Although it was fun being a ghost, I sometimes found myself being hit by shells that came out of thin air.

Overall, Mario Kart 8 is a fun game (the best installment in the series to date) but is hindered by a small issues that could’ve easily been avoided. If Nintendo could add voice chat to online lobbies and add Battle Arenas with DLC, this game would get a 10, but for now, it’ll have to settle with a 9.5/10.

Mario Kart 8 Review (Wii U)
Overall, Mario Kart 8 is a fun game (the best installment in the series to date) but is hindered by a small issues that could've easily been avoided. If Nintendo could add voice chat to online lobbies and add Battle Arenas with DLC, this game would get a 10, but for now, it'll have to settle with a 9.5/10.
Graphics10
Creativity9
Battle Mode5
Online Multiplayer9.5
Pros
  • Amazing Graphics
  • Tight Controls
  • New and innovative features
Cons
  • Battle Mode is completely ruined
  • No voice chat in regular lobbies
9.5Overall Score
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Lives and breathes competitive Smash. Show me ya moves!