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Mario Kart 8 Review


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On 05/30/2014 at 09:00 AM by Nick DiMola

When Nintendo does HD, my god do they do it right.
RECOMMENDATION:

If you have a Wii U and you're not experiencing series fatigue, this is a must-buy. If you're on the fence about buying a Wii U, this is a good reason to jump in (especially with the accompanying free game offer).

If you’ve played any recent edition of Mario Kart, you pretty much know what to expect from Mario Kart 8. Nintendo has added a few new wrinkles to give the racing more depth and, of course, a set of 16 new tracks (and 16 remastered ones), but the vast majority of the experience has carried over from Mario Kart 7. There’s no question that Nintendo is justified in not fixing what ain’t broke, but it would’ve been nice to see them not only polish the gameplay and graphics to a sheen, but shake-up the single player formula, offering a product that’s a bit more robust than its 3DS counterpart.

Don’t take this as a knock against the game – the stuff that’s here is absolutely top notch. The racing is the tightest it’s been since the DS version and the tracks are both inventive and visually stunning. When you factor in the anti-gravity segments, the divergent paths of the track designs, and the new horn item that thwarts the blue shell, Mario Kart 8 has some incredible depth.

If you play at a more competitive level, you’ll still need to employ all your skills from Mario Kart 7. Whether it’s plotting out the best path through each course, hitting the most bumps in order to pull off tricks for speed, or gliding just right to land and catch the perfect powerslide, every nuance has carried over. This time around, you’ll also be able to use your enemies to your advantage during anti-grav segments to gain a small boost. Knocking into other racers or a bumper will also produce a small speed increase that will help you shave even more time off each lap if executed properly.

Unfortunately, many of the same problems continue to plague the series. Rubberbanding AI is still the most egregious in the tournament mode. Opponents have an unbelievable ability to keep pace with you no matter how far ahead of them you seem to get, and as always, you’re constantly being bombarded with lightning and shells of all varieties if you’re cruising in first. The blue shell is still infuriating, as it always seems to hit at the most inopportune time. And though the red horn was added to counteract it, you’ll rarely have one on hand when the dreaded blue shell comes-a-knockin’. If you did have one, you probably lost it when you were nailed by lightning, or you were never lucky enough to get one to begin with. And now with the ability to only hold one item at a time, you don’t even have the opportunity to stash one away.

This problem is compounded by both the design of the tournament mode and the requirements for earning a three-star ranking. If you’re anal like me and constantly strive for the best times and all first place finishes, a poorly-timed blue shell can ruin your chances of scoring three-stars in one fell swoop. If the stars align just right (and they always seem to at some point), you’ll get hit near the finish line and someone will blaze by dropping you into second thus eliminating your shot at the highest ranking. It’s frustrating and infuriating and forces a repeat of the cup. Of course, if you play more casually, this isn’t likely a huge problem for you.

Frustrating stolen victories aside, a greater issue is the bland presentation of the Tournament mode that has remained stagnant for far too many iterations at this point. Plenty of other racers have done some incredible single player modes that not only have an open world, but lots of interesting challenges and the core tournament races as well. Nintendo had an opportunity to really differentiate Mario Kart 8 from 7 in this regard, but opted for what amounts to being nearly a carbon copy, with the exception of the new tracks and the shiny HD graphics running at 60 FPS (which are unquestionably gorgeous). I don’t think this formula can carry the series forward and I hope they really try to do something more interesting in the future.

The only true differentiator that Mario Kart 8 can boast is the Mario Kart TV function, which didn’t do much for me. It provides the ability to check out highlight reels from races and upload them to Miiverse and the internet, and via the menu option you can also see some of the most popular reels. While it’s commendable that Nintendo is embracing the modern advantages of the web, this particular feature doesn’t seem to have much worth or longevity.

The online multiplayer is also a bit of a letdown. There’s no doubt that it’s well-implemented from a technical perspective – races load quickly and there’s little lag – but having twelve humans racing concurrently turns into utter chaos. If you’re unlucky and manage to get hit with an item early in the race, it becomes nearly impossible to establish rank again. And because you’re constantly being bombarded with items it’s also extremely hard to apply any sort of technique. I suppose that’s the nature of the game, but it’s not particularly tailored for such a high number of racers. During my play sessions, the most enjoyable ones featured between four and eight players.

Despite my gripes, Mario Kart 8 is definitely one of the most polished and refined entries in the series. It stands head and shoulders above the Wii edition and is in close competition with my personal favorite, Mario Kart DS. Going forward Nintendo is going to need to improve on some of the longstanding issues with the series to keep fans engaged because yet another basic iteration like 8 just isn’t going to cut it.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Matt Snee Staff Writer

05/30/2014 at 10:04 PM

sounds awesome, Nick!  Gonna pick it up in a few days!  Hope to see u on the track! 

Nick DiMola Director

06/02/2014 at 12:16 AM

Sweet! We'll have to get a community night going and do a few rounds.

Cary Woodham

05/31/2014 at 09:01 PM

It may not be the best Mario Kart game, but it has the best graphics of any Nintendo game I've seen.

Nick DiMola Director

06/02/2014 at 12:15 AM

Absolutely. It's a gorgeous game. I've had my Wii U hooked up to an older Plasma TV in my room and it's looked great, but the other night I had it running on my newer LED TV and man does it shine. Hoping that we see some other Nintendo properties that really flex the Wii U's power. It might not have the horsepower that the PS4/X1 have, but used properly it does pretty well.

Super Step Contributing Writer

06/01/2014 at 11:47 PM

I played it today and it was fun, but like you said, it doesn't exactly break any new ground. I asked the guy whose Wii U it was if it was running at 60fps and he said for split-screen multiplayer like what we were doing, it actually runs at 30fps. Still looks good though. 

Nick DiMola Director

06/02/2014 at 12:13 AM

Yeah, the split-screen multiplayer mode does run at 30 instead of 60. All of the other modes at the game are at 60 though, which is nice. It's a solid game, but Nintendo definitely needs to step it up when they make 9.

Nate Hascup Staff Alumnus

07/13/2014 at 08:00 PM

I really think they need to fuse some Diddy Kong Racing inspired mechanics into the single player. I enjoyed the silver coin challenges and the whole "Super Mario 64 in a Kart" idea.

Nick DiMola Director

07/14/2014 at 09:30 AM

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. I sure hope they eventually open up Mario Kart to the entire Nintendo roster and do something really awesome with that crossover potential like they do with Smash Bros.

As of right now, Mario Kart is on the edge. Each iteration is better than the last, but only slightly. Thankfully a new Nintendo system isn't on the horizon, so it's going to be a good long while before we get a new one, but hopefully they use this time to start thinking up something more original than what they've been doing in the past.

Nate Hascup Staff Alumnus

07/17/2014 at 06:16 PM

Nintendo is at it's best when it is cornered and hopefully the lagging sales of the Wii U is enough to get them pushed into a "Renaissance" era with their games. At the very least we should be getting some DLC for Mario Kart and yet that has not been announced yet other than that Mercedes car that has not released yet.

Hopefully we hear more about DLC when that hits later this Summer.

Nick DiMola Director

08/27/2014 at 07:25 AM

Would you look at that - crossovers coming to Mario Kart via DLC! Hard not to get excited for that DLC, especially with the likes of Zelda and F-Zero in there. Hopefully Mario Kart 8 is the last iteration in the series exclusively dedicated to the Mario franchise and this opens up the series to the whole Nintendo roster.

All I can say is, it's about damn time!

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