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Mario Kart is some hot bullshit. If you play this game, you’re going to be shelled, shoved off the stage, blown away by a horn, and otherwise destroyed by CPU and friend alike. But after every race, you’ll look back on that cluster of events, those aggravating struggles you and your compatriots went through…and you’ll laugh. Mario Kart 8 is just as hair-raising and swear-inducing as every other game in the series, but it’s also just as fun, if not moreso.
If you’ve played Mario Kart before, you know what you’re getting into. Nintendo is the master of taking something you know and improving on it juuuust enough to stay good. However, Mario Kart 8 goes beyond Nintendo’s usual shine and polish. 8 is without a doubt Nintendo’s prettiest game yet. Driving up and down the roadways and courses is a delight to the eyes as well as the ears, with remixed tracks and orchestrated pieces for background music. Each course is a welcome addition, and the classic stages are all remade with care, and some of them even look better than the new stages! Without a doubt, Mario Kart 8 is a delight to every sense (except for smell, don’t worry, I didn’t forget).
A big problem I’ve had with past Mario Kart entries was floatiness. Floaty Mario Kart games are the worst entries in the series, such as Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart Wii. Recent handheld entries have had tight controls with easy drifting and a variety of karts. Mario Kart 8 breaks the console-mold and plays much like a handheld Mario Kart. You’d expect the game’s new anti-grav courses to be the exact opposite of this, but that’s not the case. Turns are taken with finesse, speed is easy to gauge, and the variety of characters, karts, bikes, and now ATVs allows you to fine tune exactly how you’re going to kick your friends to the curb. The anti-grav is a huge factor into the game, and allowing more breathing room in a few of the tracks. With more room on each stage, characters will have more space for tricks, boosting, and drifting. Plus, it just looks cool.
The roster is a disappointment, but not for lack of trying. Thirty characters to choose from is a blessing, but having almost a third of them be Koopalings makes the character select screen seem smaller. I don’t agree with the complaints levied at Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach, but I do agree that Baby characters are a cop-out. The fact that series mainstay Diddy Kong was passed over, but we get another baby is upsetting, but if you’re in any way serious about Mario Kart, there are still lots of characters from each weight class to pick from. If you expect to be hit a lot, choose a small racer. If you’re going to take the lead and know you can keep it, large characters should be your go-to.
You can’t talk Mario Kart without mentioning items, and 8 has the best arsenal yet. For example, I was in second place during an online match, but there was a huge gap between myself and the leader. Now, in most Mario Karts, the items you receive are given to you based on your placement in the race, but MK8 gave me Stars and Bullet Bills in order to catch up to my foe. The item algorithm is spot on, and makes the frantic races feel a lot more fair. New items such as the blue shell defeating super horn and the weapon devouring potted piranha plant give you more defensive options than offensive, which is something Mario Kart has needed for some time now.
Mario Kart 8’s online is the best multiplayer I’ve experienced in a Nintendo release. It’s easy to join matches with friends, start a room, or hop online with a buddy and race together or against each other. Two player local multiplayer that carries over to two player online is a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of other games that give you one or the other. I have heard complaints about connectivity issues in non-friend online rooms, but I myself have not run into these issues. For now, I’d say to expect some technical difficulties, but in the future, I wouldn’t worry much. In addition to improved online, the Mario Kart TV website allows you to upload and share replays from your races. Slo-mo options and the incredibly hammy roster have already caught the world of reaction images by storm. I hope Smash Bros has a similar feature set.
There are a few oversights in MK8, however. The lack of an on-screen map is upsetting, even though there’s a tiny one on the gamepad that gives you no information besides where you are. The gamepad is instead regulated to being a giant horn button, which depresses me and gives more fuel to the people yelling at Nintendo to get rid of the gamepad. Off screen play works fine, but I don’t understand why the gamepad screen shows split-screen when only the person USING the pad would have to look down onto it.
Small complaints aside, Mario Kart 8 is easily the best Mario Kart game — and currently, the best game on the Wii U. I feel like I need to end every Wii U game review with a “should you buy one” and the answer is a resounding “YES”. Nintendo has shown that they can still make great games for their consoles, and if you’re not too worried about third party titles or already have a PS4/Xbox One, Mario Kart 8 tips the scale in Nintendo’s favor drastically.