How can a series, after eight entries, continue to innovate and dazzle? Well, Mario Kart 8 takes its place at the starting line very confidently and shows off its stuff as one of the best racers in the franchise.
First off, let’s point out the obvious: the game looks gorgeous. It’s amazing how detailed the levels are. They are full of color and personality, and the effects from the sun sparkle in puddles on the ground and add that little touch that makes you appreciate how much time and effort were put into making this game. It makes you want to just stop your kart and look around, but clearly in the race for first that is not an option. But seriously, well done Nintendo.
While each track is kind of brief, the whole less is more tactic works here, as each race leaves you wanting additional minutes racing. 3 laps are over before you know it. The brand new hover conversion is spectacular and will not trip up any familiar player: you’ll go upside down, race up waterfalls, down waterfalls, drive pieces of tracks floating in the sky, and much more. Each level makes you feel like you are on a theme park ride without any line to tackle. Honestly, the past Mario Kart games had one to three levels that stuck out as my favorites. Here I would say the majority of the original tracks are extremely memorable and had me grinning when I raced through.
And the retro tracks (16 old to add to the 16 new) take on elements of the current game. There will be hover pieces of levels that will be raced on in familiar territory. Remember Toad’s Turnpike from the Nintendo 64 Mario Kart? Where you are driving through traffic and would want to break your controller because you kept driving straight into milk trucks, taxi cabs, or whatever else? Well, hey, just find a hover conversion strip on the course and drive on the walls for a bit! There are also cars on the road that you can launch off of, an option not available all the way back on the N64. Having new game play mechanics in old school tracks is a wonderful addition. It gives those courses new life and makes the players so familiar with them check their pride at the door a bit.
There are new power ups to boot! The boomerang is self explanatory-just throw and smack a driver in front of you. Three tosses and then it goes away. The piranha plant is also wonderful, as it chomps down on players, banana peels, coins, abandoned shells, and whatever else in the road. The plant snaps at things automatically or you can do it manually. There is also the super horn, which only can be used once. The horn can send out a shockwave that moves all racers out of your way. It can also remove bananas from your path, or disintegrate green, red, AND blue turtle shells. Finally, that nagging blue shell can meet its maker!
Coins can be collected in the tracks to unlock new kart pieces and racers. You have several choices for kart elements, including body, wheels, and gliders. When you go to select your kart you can access stats by pressing the plus button. However, they really don’t help you much. You are left to choose a proper kart on your own through trial and error.
This leads me to discuss more of the games problems. It’s more of an aesthetic issue then a technical but c’mon Nintendo, where is the podium ceremony at the end of a Grand Prix race? Sure, seeing racing highlights is cool, but getting to see your character get its due on a first, second, or third place stoop was always a fun sight. Instead we just get a listing and a trophy. It’s lame.
There is also no track of racers and their placing on the screen if you use the Wii U tablet. You can see the placements on the tablet screen if you use it, but I don’t know if they’ll appear on the screen if you just use regular controllers. I preferred having the racers show up on the main screen, but I guess to clear up room to focus on racing, it makes sense.
Recovery time on a course is a bit slower but I didn’t really have a big problem with it. However when you fall off the track, you get picked up by Lakitu and placed back way faster. It’s a fair trade honestly.
The only other problem is power up delegation. For example, in older games, when you have three turtle shells, normally your power up box would go empty to make room for the next upgrade. However, in Mario Kart 8, you are left to get rid of all your shells before you can get a new item. Many old school fans will have a problem with this, as the given strategy has been a big component in staying ahead of everyone else.
Despite the minor gripes, Mario Kart 8 is beautiful, memorable, and a ton of fun. Each competition will bring a grin to your face, although that smile will fade quick as you are being pelted with power ups. Honestly though, this is probably my favorite entry overall since Mario Kart 64. That’s huge news for this game and even better news for Wii U owners. I recommend that you race to get it as soon as possible. Just watch out for banana peels. And red lights.
Logan J. Fowler is a senior writer and video game editor on Po-Break.com. He contributes his thoughts every week for Trailer Tuesday and has his own column called “A Link to the Past.” Logan’s “kid at heart” nature has led to his discussion about pop culture that many geeks love to talk about, including superheroes, Super Mario Bros., Pixar, and Muppets, amongst other things. In addition, one of his first pieces for the site, “Top Ten Comic Book Movies,” was picked as a “Freshly Pressed” piece by WordPress and remains one of the site’s most well-read articles. Currently, Logan works as a Special Education Instructional Assistant at Roosevelt School in Manville NJ. At the present moment, he is enrolled in Rutgers Online courses, pursuing a Teacher of Student with Disabilities certification. He graduated from Wagner College in 2005 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and in 2007 with a Master of Science in Education Degree in Birth-6th Grade Literacy. Also many of Logan’s friends have said that he moonlights as Spider-Man but this is so not true. Wait, are those police sirens I’m hearing?! Gotta go! -thwipp-