Mario Kart 8 – The Review

Unleash the Angry Luigi!  Here is our review of Mario Kart 8.

We’re in tough spot… We’re about to tell you that Mario Kart 8 isn’t a great game contrary to its overwhelmingly strong scores.  See, we’ve had the luxury of time to think about this one.  We were early adopters buying this at the start of the summer, before the Steam Summer sale, before Super Time Force, before Shovel Knight, before Destiny, etc. And while we completely enjoyed taking a trip down Nintendo-nostalgia lane reliving the SNES and N64 Mario Kart incarnations (formative games for those consoles) while we played through Mario Kart 8, we’re left feeling like this game is really only passable, which is a shame for the Wii U.  

For those who aren’t familiar with Mario Kart, how the hell did you end up here?  You play as one of the 30 (yes, 30) Mario universe characters, racing across 32 Mario-themed courses, in a Cannonball Run-like experience battling head to head with your competitors trying to capture first place.  The roster of characters is quite large this time however it is artificially inflated with baby versions of characters and the entire Koopa clan which no one ever requested, ever. (We thoroughly enjoyed AV Club’s write up on all of these characters you can read here.)  The courses themselves are original visions of Mario locales like Bowser’s castle or Wario Mountain (our personal favorite) or are lifted from previous Mario Kart games with mixed results – we loved the N64 game but Yoshi’s Valley is arguably one of the strangest tracks with multiple pathways and the giant pendulum egg in the final lap so to see it remastered is an odd choice.

For fans of the series however, Nintendo nails the small things.  Controls are thankfully responsive and intuitive.  You’ll be powersliding and drafting in no time to stay in first.  There is an option to avoid the dreaded blue turtle shell finally with the help of the otherwise innocuous horn weapon.  Graphically it’s a treat to experience as the game features impressive silky smooth HD.  This is the best looking Mario game to date -- if that means anything.  Many critics have highlighted the disappointing watered down battle mode that simply excludes any arenas this time forcing you to duel on one of the existing race tracks.  It’s a bizarre move for Nintendo, but not much of a loss in our eyes.  Character customizations are available to trick out your bike or kart in multiple ways but the differences in performance are negligible.  Online play is available and reportedly works as well as you can expect.

So why did we begin this review with a dour note?  Well, put simply, the game is just good.  Thankfully the game maintains Nintendo’s high level of quality for 1st party developed titles.  But that’s clearly not enough now for Nintendo.  They need a hail mary to get them out of the slump of bad news.

If everyone already owned a Wii U (like they did the original Wii) then Mario Kart 8 would be just the next title everyone has to buy.  If you don’t have a Wii U in your home right now, this game alone isn’t a reason to purchase one.  It doesn’t raise the bar in any significant way say like a Mario Galaxy did or a Mario 64 did before that.  In fact as we wrapped up the 32nd track, unlocked all of the Koopa characters or glider powerup, we couldn’t help but ask out loud, “that’s it?”  

Nintendo delivers yet another satisfactory performance with this one as the gaming community instead chooses to reward new franchise (e.g. Destiny) or innovative experiences (e.g. DOTA 2).  The Wii U maintains tons of potential for us and after E3 we’re stoked about the promise of a new Zelda, but 2015 must seem farther and farther away for Nintendo shareholders. 

Here’s the score:

GRAPHICS: 90

The game is simply the best looking Mario game available.  It's hard not to be distracted by the visuals when you kart sprouts neon lit magnetic engines to grip the track as you go inverted over a busy freeway.  We found ourselves watching the replays after the levels just because they looked so good.

GAMEPLAY: 80

It's the Mario Kart you want it to be and absolutely no more.  There's no innovation, gameplay twist, deep character customization, or really anything.  It's just a good Mario Kart experience.

REPLAYABILITY: 75

Mileage may vary but after we knocked out gold in every cup and challenge level, we only venture back for groups that haven't had a chance to try the game.

Overall: 82

It's a great looking and comfortable Mario Kart game.  It's not the hero the Wii U needs, but perhaps the one it deserves.  If you have a Wii U, this is the best game to play on it for now.

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