Review by theotherpromise

Reviewed: 06/06/14

It's Quiet... Too Quiet

Introduction: I played SNES Mario Kart when I was young but didn’t get back into Mario Kart until the DS version. Since then I have played each Mario Kart that has come out. Mario Kart is also the only racing game that I have played extensively. As such this review will most benefit those who want to know how this entry compares to other recent Mario Karts.

Gameplay: Mario Kart 8 plays like other recent Mario Kart Games. You race around a track, drift around corners and trick off jumps for a temporary speed boost, and use items to stun opponents and give yourself temporary speed boosts. Mario Kart 8 continues what was introduced in Mario Kart 7, gliding and underwater sections. This time it also introduces antigravity sections. Like gliding and going underwater, antigravity doesn’t drastically change how races play out. The big difference between being on antigravity sections and not, is that while in antigravity bumping into other racers or certain objects on the track will give you a slight speed boost.

Modes: In Mario Kart 8 you can play single-player, local multiplayer (with up to 4 players), and online multiplayer (where you can also bring one other local player with you). Single-player modes include: Grand Prix, Vs. Mode, Time Trial, and Battle Mode. Local Multiplayer has the same minus Time Trial. Online you can chose to do races, battles, or custom races (which allow you to alter the rules). You can also join or create Tournaments.

Grand Prix is much the same as it has been in recent Mario Kart games. There are eight cups with four tracks each. Four of these cups feature tracks from previous Mario Kart games that have been reimagined, and the other four are new. There are also four different classes: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror mode. These translate to difficulty with 50cc being the easiest and Mirror being the hardest (Mirror having the added difficulty of flipping the tracks into mirror images of the original). The point of Grand Prix is to get gold medals and up to three stars (with the stars indicating how well you did in each race, for example if you get first in all four races you get all three stars).

In regards to Grand Prix, Mario Kart 8 tries something different from previous entries. In earlier games you would have to get gold on all classes separately, but in Mario Kart 8 the medals and stars work retroactively. Thus if you start with 150cc all of your progress will also be translated to both 50cc and 100cc. Due to this, you only need to play 150cc and Mirror mode to get everything you can out of Grand Prix. This reduces the amount of content available within single player, especially since Grand Prix can also be played in local multiplayer.

Vs. Mode seems designed for local multiplayer, though luckily can be played in single player as well. In this mode you can alter certain things about the race, like which items will show up and how hard the CPUs are as well as how many races constitute a session. This is a nice mode for when you don’t want to commit to four races, or when you want to choose only tracks you like.

Time Trial is a mode that is unique to single player. In this mode you pick one track and then try to get the best possible time on it. For comparison you are allowed to race against a ghost of a different player. You start with one ghost per track, but can download more. Sadly you can only have up to 16 additional ghosts downloaded at one time (at most four for one track) and your only options are the ghosts which have the top ten fastest times or those close to your own uploaded time. This is very limited in comparison to Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS, where you could get several ghosts through spotpass for each track; as well as race against 7 ghosts at one time which really increased how fun time trial was. I had quite a bit of fun with Mario Kart 7’s time trials, so this game’s version was a big letdown in comparison.

As big of a letdown as Time Trials are, it has nothing on the Battle Mode of Mario Kart 8. I played Battle Mode in both Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7 and so that is what I have to compare to Mario Kart 8’s. Both of those had two different modes for battle mode: Balloon Battles and Coin Runners (called Shine Runners in DS but the concept was the same). Mario Kart 8 only has Balloon Battles. Like Mario Kart Ds in 8, if you lose all of you balloons you are eliminated. I preferred 7’s method where you would respawn but you’d lose points. This allowed you to keep playing but still punished you for being reckless. Mario Kart 8 does let you keep playing while in Multiplayer (online and off) as a ghost. As a ghost you can still hit other players, causing them to lose balloons, but you can’t gain points. The person with the most points wins, regardless of whether they are a ghost or not.

If this was the only change to Battle Mode it could be pretty fun, but Mario Kart 8 changed one more thing. In previous games Battle Mode had its own tracks, which like races featured both new and retro ones. These tracks or better called arenas tended to be circular contained areas where it was never too difficult to find other contestants. In Mario Kart 8, it takes tracks from the standard races and has the battles occur on them. While some of these work okay, like Yoshi’s Valley which maintains the feel of older arenas (assuming everyone stays in the first half), most are too large. This means that to find anyone you will rely on the map on the gamepad; which also means anyone not playing with the gamepad is at a disadvantage. Sadly as more and more people get eliminated it becomes even harder to find anyone. Thus the last 30 seconds of a match tends to consist of just trying to find the remaining contestants and watching the timer tick down. If you are playing Multiplayer you will also be trying to avoid the green shells and bananas that will come out of nowhere, thrown by ghosts you can’t see.

For online the Tournaments are good in theory, but most of the times I try to join one I find one, maybe two other players in the same lobby. Sadly a race between three people is extremely boring, as there aren’t enough people to change up the dynamic. To determine which track you race on each person can vote between three tracks or pick random (which chooses from all tracks, not just those three). This helps prevent people from continuously voting for the same track, which is nice. I have played quite a bit of online, and while I have had a few connection errors I haven’t had as many problems as I did with MK 7’s online.

Items: Most of the fun of Mario Kart comes from the items you can use to either increase your own speed or stun your opponents. These items cause Mario Kart to be more luck based than solely skill based. Due to that even players who aren’t the best have a chance of winning if they get lucky. This is what I love about Mario Kart since it makes each race interesting. Sadly in Mario Kart 8 the items seem weaker than ever, though that might not be the best way to say it. In previous games the items were set up to best help people in the lower places; giving great items to those near the end and weaker items to those in the lead. Mario Kart 8 seems to do the opposite, benefiting first place more so than twelfth. The one item that was introduced to keep first place in check, the blue shell, now has an item designed to destroy it easily, the horn. Though considering how rarely the blue shell appears the horn’s addition is almost unnecessary, though it will still destroy anything nearby. The other new items: Piranha Plant, Coin, Boomerang, and Crazy Eight don’t seem to change the dynamic of the races to the same extent as the Horn.

Not only does the horn benefit first more than anyone else the distribution of these items seem to benefit the lead places more. In previous games you would only have the chance to get simple items while in the lead, like green shells and bananas. If you were lucky you might get a mushroom. Now I have gotten a Crazy Eight (which gives you several items at once) while in second place multiple times. Meanwhile last place, which used to get great items like the bullet and lightning bolt, now seems more likely to get single mushrooms and single green shells. What this means is that once you fall behind you will have a terrible time trying to get back up to first. Another side effect of how the items are managed is that if you get in first place, it is easy to create a large lead on second. This makes the races boring since there is almost no threat to your position most of the time.

Characters and Karts: There are a total of 30 characters to choose from in Mario Kart 8 though only 16 are unlocked at the beginning. The roster in this game feels less diverse than previous games due to the inclusion of baby versions of five of the characters, metal versions of two characters, and 7 Koopalings which have similar designs. While I personally love that Koopalings made it in this game, I don’t think they should have when there is only 30 characters total. Combine all those groups and almost half the roster feels like clones.

The characters fit into different weight classes which change what their stats are like. The stats that you can check are Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling, and Traction, though it seems like this game has hidden stats that require exterior sources to figure out. Speed refers to top speed, acceleration is how quickly you can reach that speed, weight determines how much you can be bumped around, handling determines how fast you can change direction (useful for turns), and traction determines how much you slid around on certain terrain.

This game features customizable karts so you can choose your kart’s body, wheels and glider separately. This allows you more freedom to tweak your stats and find a kart that works for you. This also means that if you are only picking based off of the appearance of your choices you will likely end up with a kart that is simply not as good as someone who is paying attention to the stats. This can make it even harder for newcomers/casuals to do well in this game. Luckily you can do a bit of both since there are several parts which have the exact same stats and only differ in terms of appearance. If there were lots to choose from that wouldn’t be a problem, but there are only 26 bodies, 18 wheels, and 12 gliders. Having almost every part be identical to at least one other part decreases how much customization there really is. From the sources I’ve found there are only 12 unique stats for bodies, 7 unique stats for wheels, and 2 unique stats for gliders. In comparison each part (except gliders) in MK 7 was unique, leading to 17 unique bodies, 10 unique wheels, and 3 unique gliders. It just feels lazy for MK 8 to not have every part unique as well.

Graphics: The game looks good but can be a bit simple at times. It seems to me that more attention was paid to the characters and karts than to the actual tracks which can cause the tracks to be underwhelming. But overall it is a very pretty game and has no large faults in terms of graphics.

Sound: The sound effects and voices all seem fine. The themes for the tracks are nice with Twisted Mansion being my personal favorite. Overall though, I tend not to notice the music a whole lot. Though with this type of game, I’d hardly expect much more than what is offered.

Recommendations: If you like the series and already own a Wii U then Mario Kart 8 is a solid buy, though you might want to wait for a sale. It might not be as great as previous games but it can still be fun. Of course the exception is that if you only like Mario Kart for Battle Mode you should be very leery, due to the changes this one introduced. If you haven’t been interested in the series in the past, there is nothing about this one that will change your mind.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Mario Kart 8 (US, 05/30/14)

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