Mario Kart 8 review

June 3, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Posted in Game Review, Wii U Review | Leave a comment
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So here we are. In our hands lies Nintendo’s latest instalment in the insanely awesome karting series that has defined the whole genre, and lead the pack since its inception on the SNES in 1992. Each game has been a massive system seller, and never have Nintendo needed that to be more true than with the Wii U version, cunningly titled Mario Kart 8. The jump to HD may have taken longer than anyone, Nintendo included, had expected or hoped, but the result is one of the best games in the entire series.

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Title: Mario Kart 8

Format: Wii U

Developed by: Nintendo

Published by: Nintendo

Genre: Racing

MK 8 takes the best new features from the last two games (bikes, solid online from MK Wii; transforming karts and customisable parts from MK 7) and throws in its own brilliant additions. Taking a cue from Mario Galaxy, MK 8 introduces track sections that have their own gravitational fields, and it’s this feature that really ups the ante(gravity). Track designs are no longer confined to flat surfaces and simple jumps; walls and ceilings can now provide alternative routes and shortcuts. Nintendo’s team of designers have let their imaginations run riot, with the resulting tracks looping and swooping in all directions.

 

It’s not just anti-gravity that has helped propel MK 8 beyond anything that’s gone before, the new High-Definition power the Wii U offers has been used to dazzling effect. Whether in motion or in static shots, the game looks gorgeous, and comfortably sits alongside anything produced on the 360 or PS3. Trackside detail has been ramped up to extraordinary levels, as have the little touches on the karts and characters themselves. Mario’s moustache twitches in the wind, his engine pistons pump away rhythmically, and resting birds scatter from the track as he whizzes past.

 

These are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments. Thankfully, Nintendo have been busy preparing a fairly well-tooled editing suite to create and share replays with the world. After each race, MK TV picks out a quick 30-second highlight reel of some of the action. This can be tinkered with and shared on Miiverse, and, in a stroke of marketing genius, YouTube. The slow-motion function alone makes this an amazing addition to the series; slowing clips to a snail’s pace shows off all the amazing little touches Nintendo have packed into every aspect of the game. It’s strangely captivating, and we can’t help but wonder if the reason behind the game’s delay was simply that the development team spent so much of their time watching replays.

 

Unfortunately, clips can’t be directly spliced and pasted at will, but can still be customised via menu selections to follow up to four individual racers, and home in on particular actions, like drifts or successful hits. It feels a bit ‘My First Editing Suite’ but it is intuitive enough for anyone to compile great looking videos.

 

Besides purely aesthetical updates, Nintendo have also worked hard to fine-tune the kart handling mechanics. The customisable kart parts seem to have a much greater effect than in MK 7, so fans of the tight handling of the SNES original or those that preferred the slippy-slidey steering of MK 64 will soon find a combination of racer and kart that satisfies their personal tastes. The issue of item balance has also been taken very seriously this time around. Item hoarders may feel aggrieved to find they can no longer hold on to a banana or shell while picking up another. Also, many of the unnecessary filler items have been scrapped, while the new additions feel right at home next to the classic items (especially the multi-throw boomerang). Even the dreaded Blue Shell – destroyer of racers dreams for over a decade – has had its wings clipped. It doesn’t appear half as regularly as before, and can now be stopped in its tracks with a well-timed Super Horn.

 

Since Double Dash on the GameCube, past tracks have been revisited and included to flesh out the track quota. MK 8 is no different, but unlike previous retro selections, these hardly feel like filler material. The same level of spit and polish that make the new tracks sparkle has been applied to the older ones too. They’ve also been redesigned to accommodate the central anti-gravity mechanic. The result is amazing. Some levels, such as MK DS’ Tick Tock Clock, the SNES Donut Plains 3, and Mk 64’s Toad’s Turnpike, Royal Raceway and Rainbow Road look and feel completely new. We can’t help but hope Nintendo will offer DLC in the future and give some of our old favourites (GC Baby Park, SNES Ghost Valley 1, GBA Sunset Wilds) another run out.

mk 8 tt

Time trials are back, but minus leaderboards

 

The Wii U’s great hope isn’t totally without its flaws. While vastly improved over MK Wii and MK 7, the online options in MK 8 are still way behind the competition’s offerings. There’s no option for in-game voice chat (limited to lobbies only), no party invitations, or time trial leader boards. It’s also a shame to see that MK DS’s excellent mission mode, something the Sega All-Stars Racing series has included to great effect, still hasn’t made a return. But perhaps the biggest travesty is the change to the classic Balloon Battle formula; players now have to fight along actual tracks instead of self-enclosed arenas. Battles can quickly get boring when down to two combatants, or if everyone happens to be racing in the same direction. Maybe arenas based on elements of existing tracks would have been a better idea (the terminal in Sunshine Airport, or the winding paths of Yoshi Valley for instance), but hopefully this can be rectified with DLC.

 

Overall, for newcomers and veterans alike, MK 8 is the pinnacle of the series , the karting genre, and one of the finest racing games ever made. Whether it can be the saviour Nintendo needs to reinvigorate the Wii U’s chances is unclear, but judged on quality alone, it stands as the best reason to pick up the console.

 

9/10

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