Another console, another Mario Kart. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but one that we have come to expect. There are some improvements to the overall experience in terms of visuals and balance, but Mario Kart 8 does take a couple of steps back as well.
In Mario Kart (just like all Mario titles) the gameplay and tightness of the controls matter the most. Luckily the eighth installment truly delivers the most engaging and fun racing experience I have had in awhile. Karts handle differently from the bikes, different wheels and gliders will affect your the handling of your vehicle and the items are back and better than ever. Much like its 3DS counterpart, any character can choose between a number of karts, wheels and gliders that affect five key statistics: Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling and Traction. There is no perfect combination that will win you every race, but you can truly find a combination that suits your playstyle. Do you want to powerslide around every corner as tightly as possibly? You might want to try a lighter character and a cart with better traction and handling. Or are you a bully that takes awhile to hit your max speed but bumping people off Rainbow Road is your thing? Heavy character and heavy carts for you (this is my playstyle). The customizable aspect to the game is very solid. Not only that, but racing in Mario Kart 8 feels fantastic.
The items have also seen some great additions. There are four new items in total: the Boomerang Flower, Pirahna Plant, Super Horn and Crazy Eight. The Boomerang Flower can be used three times and can hit other racers whether it is going forward or returning back to you. The Pirahna Plant will chomp at any coins or racers that you come close to while the Crazy Eight creates eight items for the player to use (Star, Blooper, Green Shell, Red Shell, Coin, Bob-omb, Banana and Mushroom). Lastly, Nintendo has heard the pleas of its fans. The Super Horn negates the infamous Blue Shell. It can also be used as an area of effect attack as well.
All of these items can be used across the 32 tracks in game, 16 new and 16 classic. While Nintendo has done a good job at making the classic tracks look great, the new tracks are visually stunning. The high definition graphics that have eluded Nintendo’s consoles are in full effect here from the neon colors of the Electrodrome to the colorful Water Park, this game is a joy to look at. Even mustaches and hair blow blow in the wind. Oh those glorious ‘staches.
Lastly, Mario Kart 8’s soundtrack is a home run as well. It is incredibly diverse from the energetic horn blaring in the Cloudtop Cruise track, the techno vibe in the Electrodrome or the spooky and ominous tone from the Twisted Mansion, this is a soundtrack that I might start driving to myself.
Unfortunately this is where most of the positives taper off. Sure the online for up to 12 players works great but, at this point, this is an expectation (in one race I was competing against players from Belgium, Germany, Canada and Japan with no lag). Character selection is very lackluster. While the initial number of 30 characters sounds large, it is filled with fluff. Five of them are the baby counterparts of the main characters, seven are Koopa Kids and, rounding out the uselessness, is Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach. Yep, you read that correctly, Pink Gold Peach (a.k.a. Metal Peach). Oh also one is your Mii that you can play as. There are much better options that have been in past games like Birdo, Dry Bones or R.O.B. to name a few.
Not only that but one of my favorite things about Mario Kart is the Balloon Battle mode with friends. In this installment, Nintendo decided that Battle Mode was not a priority. No longer are there specific arenas for this such as Skyscraper or the eternally amazing Block Fort. Now these battles take place on regular race tracks resulting in a lot of time going to find an item block then driving around the track to find your opponent. Also Balloon Battle is the only battle mode in the game.
There are the Time Trials and Versus modes as well as being able to take you and a friend in the same room into online matches, but for modes that is about it along with the classic Grand Prix mode to unlock characters and kart parts. Mario Kart Television allows you to watch recent races but nothing beyond that.
However, with all this said, let us avoid any confusion. Mario Kart 8, while racing, is one of the purest fun experiences to be had with a video game this year. The game is gorgeous, the controls are tight, the music is addicting and the balance is better than it has ever been. Unfortunately it is the package around it that drags this down from being the complete experience that it could have been.