In the next gen console race, the Wii U is like me playing Mario Kart – constantly hit with the blue shell and lagging in last place. It’s not surprising when you consider Nintendo’s lacklustre selection of games. Many have decided against buying a Wii U and others have given theirs up after only a few months. Were they right? Nintendo have a habit of rolling out the same franchises time and again and sceptics will roll their eyes with disdain. But why fix something if it’s not broke? With Mario Kart 8 you will experience everything you’ve experienced before; and I’m willing to bet that’s exactly why you bought the game.
If you’re not familiar with Mario Kart then shame on you! The premise is simple – you pick a Nintendo character and race against other Nintendo characters in championship cups and multiplayer. It’s the way this simple idea is executed that makes this game so much fun. There are eight Grand Prix cups with four races in each. Half of these are newly designed tracks and half are retro, based on tracks from previous Mario Kart games. Nintendo means nostalgia to a lot of people so you can see the thinking here; it would be silly to roll out 32 new tracks each game.
After all, I’ve already heard complaints about missing characters. The roster of 30 racers seems impressive but when you see the baby and “metal” characters, you realise some of these are almost duplicates. It doesn’t help that fan favourites such as Dry Bones, Diddy Kong and King Boo have been left out in favour of the Koopalings, an almost identical set of characters from the most recent Mario games.
But this will probably be the last thing on your mind as you power slide around a corner and fire a well-timed red shell into the back of a sneaky opponent. Or as you nearly run off the track while admiring the jaw-dropping beauty of the dynamic racecourses. Or as you watch the highlight reel and slow it down to marvel at the level of detail in each frame and giggle at the funny faces your character is pulling.
You see, when Nintendo get it right, they really get it right. Mario Kart has never felt so polished or run so smoothly. You won’t be able to blame your dodgy driving skills on wonky controls. And, glitches? What are they? Something in The Matrix, I think. There is virtually no stress involved here, except that caused by other racers. Even the online multiplayer runs without a hitch.
So much has been put into perfecting the gameplay and making the game look amazing that the minor faults of not everyone’s favourite character being present can be overlooked.
Single player includes the Grand Prix mode and there is plenty here to keep you occupied. Unlocking characters, customisable parts for your vehicle (which include cars, bikes and quad bikes) and getting those gold cups in each championship in each class (50cc, 100cc and 150cc, ranging from easy to difficult respectively) takes a good amount of time. It’s a game to dip into when you need some light relief but it is equally a game to get your teeth into and challenge yourself. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the Time Trial mode where you can race against the ghosts of other players from around the world.
Multiplayer includes the local co-op mode where you share a split screen with up to three other players. I have to admit I’m disappointed in Nintendo here; the gamepad isn’t utilised very well at all. It could have been used as an extra screen but serves as little more than a controller. The map showing the real-time position of the racers is on the gamepad while you play but to look down means taking your eyes off the road, a risky choice on a chaotic racecourse. It is possible to play Off TV but only in single player. (I did enjoy being able to beep the horn though, which makes a different sound for each character. Yes, I am mentally five years old.)
For all that, playing multiplayer is still a delight with no hiccups technically and the amount of fun to be had playing against other real people is something to be experienced, though the AI make a good job creating a hectic racing experience. Online play is something Nintendo still seem to be perfecting but it comes pretty close. You can play with up to 11 other people from all over the world, play tournaments and races with strangers and friends and the lag time is nil. However if you want to arrange online races with friends you have to do it offline beforehand. The options to communicate with others while online are very limited, with only pre-set text being available.
There are a few other changes to the game though thankfully they are all for the better. In addition to the usual items you can pick up on the track, the banana, red and green shells, mushrooms, etc., there are some new items. These include the Boomerang Flower which gives you three chances to knock out opponents, the Piranha Plant which gobbles nearby racers and the horn which finally gives some defence against those infamous blue shells. I should mention that blue shells and lightning bolts are rarer in this game, and you can only carry one item at a time which pulls a bit more strategy into what could otherwise be a very chaotic colourful mess (which it is at times anyway).
The tracks themselves have all been spruced up. I don’t know if I mentioned this but the game looks lovely. It’s bright and colourful while being clean and easy on the eyes. There’s a wonderful sense of freedom to be had from driving under water and up walls; antigravity adds a new dimension to racing even though it does feel as though you’ve lost some control over how you race. Some of the tracks feel a bit dumbed down as a result, particularly Rainbow Road, though it still presents a formidable challenge (never has a family friendly game induced so much cursing). However you can still bump into other racers during the anti-gravity sections, giving your character a boost. A well-timed knock could result in a winning race so there is some strategy required here as well.
And, for the first time in a Mario Kart game, the music is fully orchestrated and it really fits the environment. It brings everything to life and immerses you in the game. The sound effects are comical and entertaining; each character is realised beautifully.
Perhaps it’s because the game is so good, so well thought out and so beautiful that the faults are so obvious because in other games they would be minor. But here they stand out and it drops this near perfect family game in points because of it. Saying that, I enjoyed every minute of my time with Mario Kart 8. It is a joy to look at and to play. If you’re sitting on the fence about buying a Wii U and are waiting for that one special game to make it worthwhile, look no further. I present to you Mario Kart 8. Go forth and race.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: Wii U Release Date: 30/05/2014
Disclosure: Sarah purchased a copy of Mario Kart 8 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of three weeks on a Wii U. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.