I have a rather sparse history with Mario Kart. I played the crap out of it back in the day on the SNES, and got pretty decently into Mario Kart 64. I never owned my own Mario Kart until the Wii, but I did dabble in Double Dash, a.k.a. How to Lose All of Your Friends and Hate Your Significant Other in Five Minutes or Less.
I really have no real recollection of my time playing this game on the Wii, and I keep forgetting it existed on the GBA or Nintendo DS. Every rare so often I’d get into Mario Kart because I never really cared about “real racing sims” like Gran Turismo and Midnight Club.
So, when I bought Mario Kart 8 it was pretty much just because I own a Wii U and wanted to own more than six games (Zombi U, Monster Hunter, Wonderful 101, Mario 3D World, Sonic). Imagine my surprise when this ended up being not only an amazingly well designed game, but one that also has gameplay chock full of depth, ardor and other adjectives!
Mario Kart 8 returns with series mainstays such as Grand Prix, Battle Mode, Time Trial and more. There are a crap ton of race tracks, thirty two in total, and each one feels drastically different than the last. The theme of this title is defying gravity, though the transformation aspects are definitely there in full force. There are thirty playable drivers who range from Light, Medium and Heavy classes, and unlike Mario Kart titles in the past, this is not a mostly cosmetic distinction.
We’ve got all the old expected favorites such as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Wario, Daisy, Bowser, and so on. We also have baby versions of our heroes in case you wanted to get down on some paradoxical action while racing. New heroes involve new fan favorite Rosalina (who mysteriously has legs now instead of the entirety of the cosmos beneath her dress), the koopalings (all 8 of them…), and one of my favorites, Pink Gold Peach.
Each driver handles quite differently than the last. Even though Pink Gold Peach and Metal Mario are both made of ore and are shiny and heavy weights, the difference between playing them is night and day.
With thirty playable characters, there’s definitely going to be someone for everyone. I only wish that Nintendo had taken this opportunity to expand their roster with some crossovers; I long for the day that Link, Ness and Samus can put Mario in his smarmy place on the track. Plus I’m sure Zelda and Peach have something to say to each other; playing Brawl I got the impression that Zelda looks at Peach as “adorable” in a “You’re so simple…so very, very simple…” sort of way while Peach looks at Zelda as “Refined” in a “you’re stuck up and boring” manner.
Or maybe I just want a Mean Girls: Nintendo Edition to happen…
As previously mentioned, there are thirty two tracks in this game. Sixteen are are new and sixteen are upgraded versions of retro tracks. The tracks all feature absolutely amazing music that was recorded in a live studio, which is a rather large departure from Nintendo’s general obsession with synthesizers.
In previous Mario Kart titles, despite there being a lot of different tracks they all kind of felt similar to me. This has drastically changed; every track has a classic Sonic the Hedgehog amount of depth in terms of the multiple approaches you can take to finishing them. Some unlock whole new areas that can only be reached on the second or third lap, while others are divided into “zones” during which you won’t repeat the same areas. Instead, you’ll race onward to new areas a la Speed Racer. One such example of this course design is Mount Wario where you’re essentially racing down a slalom to victory.
The graphics are amazing, and there’s lots of nice little touches that really make the courses pop. While racing through Cloudtop Cruise the music is a mellow, jazzy beat that suddenly becomes a heavy metal track as you find yourself hurled through a lightning storm thousands of feet in the air! As you break free from the storm, the music swells with your dramatic exit and kicks back into high gear as you land.
Over the years Nintendo has been marrying music to their games in very unique ways, and Mario Kart 8 takes that tradition to the next level.
I felt like this deserved its own section. Combat in Mario Kart 8 reaches a new level that crafts a surprisingly deep system that I’ve come to refer to as “Punishment and Revenge”.
The weapons in Mario Kart 8 are divided into tiers rather than “If you’re in such and such place you are a certain higher or lower percentage chance of getting ___ weapon.” The weapon tiers seem to be broken down as last place – eighth, seventh – fourth, third – second and first. Depending on which tier you’re in, you may find yourself getting only bananas and green shells, or you may get to play with boomerangs, piranha plants, fire flowers and the amazing new Crazy Eight.
Combat in Mario Kart 8 is as much a thinking man’s game as it is random mayhem. You can actually block and dodge red shells now, for example, so it behooves you to hold onto that banana peel to use as a shield when you’re in first. You may find it worth your time to drift and weave in and out of hazards to cause that red shell to get destroyed on its way to your face, and it may be worth while to hold onto that shell or bomb to set up combos with the traps scattered throughout the race course.
Mario Kart 8 rewards you for punishing other players that don’t hold onto items or don’t plan their jumps, drifts and stunts wisely. A well placed weapon can take someone out of first post haste as your green shell knocks them into a giant fist that spins them into a giant plume of lava that leaves them flying off of the course. But, with Punishment comes Revenge!
Because, almost as soon as you’ve been punished you’re knocked into a different weapon tier and have a chance to score some sweet delicious vengeance on the player that knocked you out of place!
Another new feature is the “Spin Boost”, in which during any of the games gravity defying sequences if you crash into another player you’ll spin around one another like in the Wachowski’s Speed Racer reboot (that should have been way more popular because it was bloody amazing). You can engage in your limited Car Fu (not my term, The Wachowski’s) by crashing and drifting around one another gaining more and more speed until you break free, fly through the air on your hang glider, and then shoot them with a bullet bill because it’s fun to be a jerk in Mario Kart.
There are 26 bodies in total; fourteen karts, nine bikes and three atvs. In addition, to this, there are eighteen different tire types and eleven different gliders. These parts and bodies all add to or take away from five different stats, which are speed, traction, handling, weight and acceleration. You unlock new parts for every fifty coins you obtain until you have on thousand coins. From there you have to get a hundred for new parts.
Some friendly advice: take the time to learn which parts and which vehicles suit your play style the best. Unlike past titles this game has a real physics engine with real slipstreaming and other fancy racing words. What this means is that you can’t just pick random parts and be like “Cool, that looks good”. You will lose and you will feel annoyed. Take the time to figure out how you like to play. Me, I like to drift a lot and I love speed, so I tend to lean towards parts that are high in traction and acceleration. Plus, I’m willing to lose some off of my top speed if it means I get to accelerate to that speed faster than you when you hit me and I get revenge on you.
Graphics and Sound
It still really weirds me out to see Mario in high definition. Nintendo has never cared about graphics before, always opting to be the under powered machine that has more games with heart and soul than its big budget rivals. With that said, with the Wii U Nintendo does care, and man does it ever show! This game is gorgeous. It is just…so freaking…beautiful…
I had something in my eye, sorry.
Anyways yeah the game looks great. Everything from the high res character models to the weather effects with thunder and lightning and rainstorms to lava to sandstorms, it’s just…this is a freaking resplendent piece of polygon, let me tell ya.
The soundtrack as previously mentioned is just as amazing. Nintendo has really struck gold with this one; you might not remember the tunes well enough to be humming them later, but while you’re racing you really feel the track and the battles, ya know? This is more than the standard goofy doo-wap you may have come to expect from Mario games in recent offerings.
This is a game that knows what it’s about: speed, combat and just plain fun!
Do you own a Wii U? Do you like fun? Is there even a sliver of sunshine in your heart? THEN WHY DON’T YOU HAVE THIS GAME YET?! Even if you don’t get down on multiplayer as often as you’d like to, there’s enough single player content and a finally competent online mode to make it well worth the price of admission. And, if your friend is over and you feel like taking on the world together this game offers split screen online mode like some sort of majestic next gen beast that the other systems keep forgetting they are.
A few fun tips to leave you with before you go:
1) Don’t be afraid to hang out on 50ccs for a little while; this will give you time to mess around and learn the new physics engine as well as figure out the fun gimmicks and split paths the courses have to offer.
2) Customize the crap out of your ride; you won’t know the perfect setup for you until you try.
3) Anytime you don’t have all four…or…two…wheels on the ground you should be doing stunts! Not only do they look cool, they give you a speed boost and you can chain multiple jumps and stunts into your aerial transformation into a spin boost into a mushroom and LEAVE THE LESSER DRIVERS IN YOUR DUST!!!
4) Pick Luigi and honk the horn on his bike. Not only is it funny because you can be all rude and honk at people with random racers and make them jump and look back at you like “THE CRAP IS YOUR PROBLEM?!”, but Luigi’s horn sounds like Pinkie Pie’s party favors, which is amazing!
Don’t…don’t ask me why I know what Pinkie Pie’s party favors sound like…
This should go without saying, but Mario Kart 8 is exclusive to the Nintendo Wii U system. You can get it at retail or online for $60, and if you act before the end of July you can get a free game for registering it, so, ya know…get on that.
And now I desperately need someone to draw me a psycho Rosalina picture now…