Review by Foolish_Banana2

Reviewed: 06/16/14 | Updated: 08/15/14

Mario Kart 8 is similar to the crazy eight item: a mixed bag of good and bad

May 30th, 2014. A day that most Mario Kart fans will never forget. It marked the official release of the eighth installment in the series. That’s not counting the arcade games. Mario Kart 8 is a game every Mario Kart fan was looking forward to. Based on the trailers and screenshots, the game looked outstanding. Now that it’s out to the public, is it truly the great game that we were all expecting? The answer is yes, and no. While the game looks very polished, the same can’t exactly be said about the gameplay, which is what matters the most in a video game. There are certain elements that are either missing or just don’t make much sense. It makes you wonder if the game was rushed. Before we delve into the bad, let’s cover the good.

-Graphics-

Mario Kart 8 is gorgeous! Really, this has to be the prettiest game the Wii U has seen thus far. While it isn’t exactly 60 frames per second everywhere you go and despite some jagged edges here and there, this is hands down one of the best looking games of all time. It’s a definite improvement over Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7, which is to be expected. There is an enormous amount of detail sprinkled about on each course and there are a lot of neat little “cool bits” as well. The best example of this is Sunshine Airport, which displays the names of tracks inside the airport terminal. It also gives mention to the feather item from previous Mario games just before leaving the main building and there are a lot of other references on the posters and planes. It also shows off N64 Koopa Beach in the background. On tracks like Twisted Mansion and Bowser’s Castle just before the start, the door to each track opens up, indicating it’s time for another heated race! My favorite has to be Mount Wario. As you’re watching the preview of this track, at the end you see a helicopter that opens up with all twelve racers inside. That’s very cool. The details in this game are insane. This is easily the most detailed Mario Kart game of all time.

-Music/SFX-

Another shining highlight in Mario Kart 8 is the music and sound effects. A good amount of the music you hear in this game is orchestrated. I can’t get enough of the violin on tracks like Moo Moo Meadows and Yoshi Valley. Dolphin Shoals makes great use of the saxophone. My personal favorite is Cloudtop Cruise. How can you go wrong with a great remix of Super Mario Galaxy’s Gusty Garden theme? It’s hard to top that. Not every track has orchestrated music, but tracks like Electrodrome don’t even need it because almost every track has great sounding music and first place beats. That’s one thing that makes a return from Mario Kart 7. The extra musical beats you hear while in 1st place adds depth to the music. It gets your heart pumping with excitement and encourages you to keep it going the entire way. The only track that can’t say that is Donut Plains 3. That’s the only hiccup in regard to music and beats, but overall, the music is outstanding. Same goes for the sound effects. The characters sound really good with a few exceptions (Mario and Baby Luigi instantly come to mind; it sounds like they inhaled too much helium before every race). I can’t get enough of the horn for each racer. Wario’s horn is my favorite because it produces a hilarious farting sound. Rosalina’s musical horn is a close second. The sound each item and horn makes is solid. The sound in this game is all around good.

-Controls-

The controls are excellent. Almost everything feels natural. The only miss in the controls is when you hit a wall. Doing this results in bad ricochet factor. Other than that, the vehicles handle very well. You can choose from many different control schemes. This includes the gamepad, Wii remote/Wii Wheel, Wii remote plus Classic Controller Pro, Wii remote plus Nunchuk, and the Wii U Pro Controller. Even though I haven’t gotten a chance to test out that last controller, the others feel natural for a kart racer. The only bad thing I can say about these controllers for Mario Kart 8 is that when using the Wii Wheel, it can be very difficult to hold an item and look back with the rear-view mirror. That can be a bit tricky. Again, the controls are superb and anyone can jump right in without much of a problem.

-Online-

Online mode makes a triumphant return. This is where the most fun can be had, especially when racing with the right group of people (and when the items work for you, but I’ll get to that later). Being able to play against people from around the world is one of the best things ever. Not only can you play in worldwide and regional races, but you can also compete in tournaments. Playing in tournaments set up by someone most people know (like the GameXplain community) is a great addition to online. You can also set up your own rules in tournaments and friend rooms. You can choose options like what CC class to race in, what items are allowed, and you can even put in CPU racers when there aren’t enough human players in the room. My favorite new addition to online is that you are now given three randomly selected tracks to choose from in a worldwide or regional session, with random thrown into the mix as well (this random can be any track in the game, not just the three that are offered). This is great because it discourages track spamming every race. Don’t want to race on Rainbow Road ten times in a row? Well now you no longer have to worry about it. Track spam has been reduced dramatically and it’s for the best. This is one of the most voluminous online modes in Mario Kart.

-Variety with vehicles-

One of the best things about this game is the variety for the vehicles. There are a ton of different vehicles (from karts to inside drift bikes; from outside drift bikes to ATVs) and parts (from wheels to gliders) to choose from. The possibilities are almost endless. Mixing and matching adds a new element of fun in this game. Even though there are a few combinations that feel a bit overpowered, there are so many ways to form the vehicle of your dreams while keeping up with the pack. Remember inside-drifting bikes from Mario Kart Wii? Well they’re back, but thankfully they’ve been nerfed. Even though they can also get yellow super mini-turbos, they no longer have the ability to do manual wheelies to gain speed. It’s cosmetic and it only happens when using a speed item or going over a boost pad. Also, their drift starts late. Add in the fact that you can no longer do a stand-still mini-turbo like in Wii, this make inside-drift bikes like the Sport Bike very difficult to get used to.

-New items-

Mario Kart is famous for having wacky items. You have your usual items like the green Koopa shell, banana, and the dreaded blue shell. However, this game brings forth three new items into play. Technically, four if you count the Crazy Eight, which is essentially a slightly modified version of Mario Kart 7’s Lucky Seven item. Only this time it adds a coin item to the mix. The three brand new items are all very unique. First is the boomerang. It can be thrown three times and it can hit racers on the return. One cool thing about the boomerang is that if you’re not on your final throw, you can throw it before a set of item boxes and get a new item in return. There are many ways to have fun with this item, although it does feel a bit too powerful. You just better hope that no one spams you with it. Next is the super horn, which generates a short range shock wave when used. It can flip over other racers, it can disturb track hazards, and most importantly, it can break items. This includes that pesky blue shell. My favorite new item has to be the piranha plant. I love this one the most because it’s so versatile. It’s basically a piranha plant that can chomp and attack opponents and track hazards. It can also nab coins. All while getting a speed boost with every bite. It can be used automatically or manually, although letting it chomp automatically lets the plant attack racers and all that other cool stuff. This is such a fun item to use. The only problem is that it can’t attack from behind. Still, it’s a very solid and versatile item. All three of these items are fantastic.

-Anti-gravity-

It seems that with every new Mario Kart game, there’s a gimmick (excluding items, of course). With Double Dash, you teamed up with another player and you rode in the same kart to crush the competition. In Mario Kart Wii, bikes and motorcycles were introduced. Here, the gimmick is anti-gravity. With it, your vehicle’s wheels flip horizontal and stick to the track, producing a hovering vehicle to ride walls and go upside-down. For the most part, it works really well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re upside-down, but it all works great. The camera keeps up with your character with almost no problem whatsoever. It can be a little disorienting, but other than that, it’s a nice addition. Another neat and important detail with anti-gravity is that if you bump into another racer or hit a speed bumper while in anti-gravity, you get a speed boost. If done correctly, you and the player you're bumping into can catch up to the player in front or you can pull away from the pack. This can be dangerous in a corner with no rails like on Rainbow Road, so be careful doing this. Driving underwater and gliding in the air also makes a return from Mario Kart 7. This game has a lot of fun gimmicks that adds a good amount of replayability into the mix.

-Tracks-

The tracks are a blast to race on. Like I said before, the graphics are amazing and the tracks look absolutely beautiful. Most of them are a thrill to race on, anti-gravity or not. The track design for most of these courses is beyond impressive. Mount Wario is the perfect example of this. There is so much sprinkled in throughout this track and it never gets old. From the snowy mountain to the dam section with the boost pads. From the woods to the snowboarding section, it’s all very bliss. The retro tracks are a blast as well. Most of them have been updated to be just as good as the game they were previously in. It’s hard to decide which is better: new tracks or retro ones. They’re both equally great. You can tell a lot of creative minds were behind designing these courses. I can't think of one bad thing to say here. These tracks are the main reason why I keep coming back to this game.

-The bad-

So to make up for all the good, Nintendo has made it their duty to make some of the most head-scratching decisions I’ve ever seen in any of their games and it outweighs the good.

The first glaring problem is the character roster. It has 30 playable characters, which is the most Mario Kart has ever had. Having all of these characters to choose from is nice. However, just because there are all of these characters, that doesn’t make it good. For the first time ever, the Koopalings (like Lemmy and Ludwig) are playable. I love the Koopalings and I’m happy to see them in this game. However, there’s one problem here. They take up seven spots. It’s because of them and stupid filler characters like Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach that certain loveable characters like Bowser Jr, Birdo, and Diddy Kong are missing. In a big game like this, you can’t have the Koopalings without Bowser Jr. You can’t have Yoshi without Birdo. You can’t have Donkey Kong without Diddy Kong. It makes no sense. It’s because of this that I consider Mario Kart 8’s roster of characters to be the worst roster in Mario Kart history. Too much of one species (Koopas) taking up spots and too much filler (like the babies and metal clones). Quality over quantity. This roster has quantity, but lacks quality.

Another thing in this game that got butchered is the battle mode. Everyone is talking about how bad it is, and for good reasons. One big problem with it is that there’s only one game for battle: balloon battle. Where’s Bob-omb Blast? Shine Thief? Games like that? Instead, we just have Balloon Battle. Here, if you lose all three of your balloons, you’re eliminated and you turn into a ghost. That latter part is another big problem. When you’re a ghost, no one can see you on the track or the map, so they can get a good shot in on you without even expecting it. Having a match end like this really isn’t the fairest thing in the world. It’s very annoying. I’d rather have the bomb car from Mario Kart 64 make a return. However, the biggest problem with battle is that there are zero battle arenas to play on. Instead, you battle on eight race tracks. Some of which weren’t meant for battle. I say that because some tracks like Toad Harbour and GCN Dry Dry Desert are too big. The combatants are too spread out, especially when it gets down to less players. It becomes a boring game of finding the other player on big tracks. With some of these tracks, it’s too difficult to find anyone to hit. Not to mention, it can be quite hard to turn around in narrow areas if you don’t know the quick turn method. Even then, it can still be hard to turn around. I will give this battle mode credit for being elimination based and the item selection for battle isn’t that bad. You no longer have to play on teams, which was a huge flaw with Mario Kart Wii’s battle mode. Mario Kart 8’s battle mode is slightly better than Wii’s, but not by much.

One of the things I like most about Mario Kart is seeing where the competition is in relation to where I’m running. With a map on screen, I can do that. I can also see who’s speeding up by looking at the icons. It’s a good way to see if someone has a lightning dodging item. Here, the map is tied to the gamepad. This is a huge flaw because you have no option to display the map on your TV. Instead, you have to move your head in a certain direction in order to see the map. Not only does this cause neck pain, but it also causes you to take your focus off the screen for a second. That one second could be the reason why you make a mistake on the track. All because the map has no way of being shown on the TV. It’s mind-boggling. I shouldn’t have to place the gamepad in a location that would be best for me just to see the map. That’s very inconvenient and annoying. Next to the map on the gamepad, you can see what items your competition is holding. This is nice, but it takes away the unpredictability factor that Mario Kart has been known for. The gamepad really wasn’t utilized very well.

This game is also bare-bones in single player. It doesn’t have much to do. You have your typical modes such as grand prix mode, time trial, battle, and even VS mode makes a nice return. However, that’s really it. No new modes. This game also lacks customizable options and menus for miscellaneous stuff like personal best records. This game is more fun with other people, so single player is almost pointless. It feels like more focus was put on the graphics and Mario Kart TV. The latter acts as this game’s replay system. You can edit the replay of a race and share it to YouTube for other people to see. This is nice, but you can only upload a maximum of 60 seconds to YouTube. Even though there’s a full race option, it’s restricted to a 60 second upload. You’re better off buying a Dazzle or El Gato capturing device. I also don’t like how you can’t fixate the camera behind a racer when replaying a race. That’s a small inconvenience, but it’s still an inconvenience nonetheless.

If you remember correctly, I stated earlier that online is fun. However, it does have a few problems. One of which kind of ruins the fun, but I’ll get to that in the next paragraph. First off, when in a friend room and you want to change your vehicle setup, you must leave the room in order to do that. That’s a big inconvenience because what if I want to change my kart and someone steals my spot with no way of getting back into the room? It’s obvious that Nintendo didn’t think this one through. For the first time ever, voice chat makes an appearance in Mario Kart. It’s nice to be able to talk to other people. It’s not nice that it’s only restricted to friend rooms before a race starts. You can’t talk to people in the middle of a race. It’s cool to have something like this in the game, but it’s lacking. You’re better off using Skype or something like that. You also can’t go backwards online. If you do so, Lakitu will stop you and if you keep doing it, you’ll quickly be dropped from the race. This is understandable, but it effectively eliminates troll cups, which was one of my favorite things to do in Mario Kart Wii friend rooms. The second biggest issue with the online in Mario Kart 8 is with the servers. Lag is still there. In fact, it feels more noticeable here than it did in Wii and 7. People will continue to get hit on your screen, but not on theirs. Disconnections and communication errors have also been very common in the first couple of weeks. It was so bad at the start that it made online almost unplayable for most of us. With time, this problem should resolve itself. It’s still a problem though and hopefully it will continue to be fixed.

Now for the biggest problem with the game. I can look past the previous problems and let them slide. I can look past the lame roster. I can let the mediocre battle mode slide. I can look past the lack of a helpful map. I can let all of that slide. What I can’t look past is how awful and laughably bad the item distribution system is in Mario Kart 8. The way the items work in this game is a joke. It doesn't matter if you play with normal or frantic items. It's terrible. Mario Kart is known for being a crazy racing series because of the items. The items in this game are good, but when they’re given out to players in an inconsistent manner, then the items become a problem. Some people like it this way, but I personally hate it.

So when you’re in first, the item you get the most is the coin. This adds speed and maxes out at ten. However, you get the coin even when you have ten coins, making the item completely pointless. It’s an item you can’t block shells with, which is a problem because the guy in second place is bound to get a red shell that homes in on you. When that shell inevitably hits you, you better be prepared to get hit some more and there’s no invincibility frames to protect you from additional hits. This effectively makes the coin the worst item in the game and maybe even the worst item in Mario Kart history. It’s almost worse than Wii’s Thundercloud item, it’s that terrible. It feels like the coin item appears 80% of the time you’re in 1st. You can also get the coin in low spots too. To be given a useless coin item when I’m very far behind in 12th/last on lap 3 (which has happened to me before) is one of the worst feelings ever.

When it comes to positions 2nd through 12th, pretty much any item is possible. There is absolutely no consistency with the items in those positions, no matter how far ahead first place is. I’ve been keeping a close eye on what items can be acquired in every position and I can easily confirm that it’s completely random on what items can be grabbed, with the exception of 1st place. Besides getting the coin, 1st can get one green shell, one banana, the super horn, and one mushroom, with the occasional red shell thrown into the mix. That’s fine, with the exception of how frequent the coin item is of course. What’s not fine is how much of a blind draw it is when getting an item in 2nd through 12th. There is no reason why 2nd place should get a crazy eight, bullet bill, star, or lightning while 12th place gets one green, one banana, one mushroom, a blooper, or the dreaded coin. I can understand getting triple mushrooms in last, but there’s no reason why last should have a dump taken on them like this while 2nd is essentially given a free pass to 1st. It’s embarrassing and it’s not rare to see something like this happen. At least with Wii, you knew what items to expect in certain spots. You could usually depend on that game’s item system to help you out when things got rough in the pack. With Mario Kart 8, there’s no such luxury. You can’t rely on items as much as before. Now some players are okay with this. They don’t mind that driving skills play a bigger role than ever before. That’s okay. However, if I wanted to play a game where excellent racing lines were crucial, I’d go play Gran Turismo or Forza, not Mario Kart. The beauty of Mario Kart lies in the items. With Mario Kart 8, the beauty has been stripped away and it makes online play less fun in a big way. Don’t get me wrong, online is still fun to play, but the item distribution reduces the fun factor heavily. This is without a doubt the worst item system in the history of Mario Kart.

While I’m on the topic of items, I really hate how some items were buffed and some were nerfed. I’m okay with the blooper being given a secondary effect with reducing traction. What’s not okay is the fact that bananas are now stronger than blue shells. You read that right. You can recover faster from a blue shell hit compared to running into a banana. The getting hit animation from a banana is slower than getting hit by a blue. There’s no reason why something that’s slippery should be stronger than a shell that explodes. It makes no sense and it kind of makes the blue shell (a necessary evil) pointless, especially since it can be destroyed by the super horn and a mushroom can still be used to dodge it. The green shell is very brutal this time around. It feels like they have homing capabilities when they bounce off walls. Having this happen a lot gets very aggravating after about the third green shell hit. Triple red shells are stronger than ever before. They can follow you in the air like in Mario Kart 7 and they have better homing capabilities than in previous games. It appears too much online, especially in 2nd place. It feels like this game punishes 1st place more than ever before. You also lose a held item if you dodge lightning while in a star. I don’t get why it’s like that. It makes sandbagging almost completely useless, which is a tactic I really enjoyed in Wii. Not only is good racing skill rewarded in that game, but so is good item management. One last thing about this item system that really annoys me is that you can no longer hold two items. If you’re dragging a green shell and hit an item box, you don’t get another item. You’re stuck with just that one green shell until you let it go. I can understand making players defenseless, but with this item system, it feels like I’m too defenseless. One hit from a random green or super horn at the start can instantly ruin your race. Bottom line, this game’s item system screws with you more than it helps you, and that’s just wrong for Mario Kart.

-Final verdict-

It’s no secret that Mario Kart 8 is a mixed bag of pros and cons. Unfortunately with Mario Kart 8, the negatives really bring down the overall experience. Mario Kart is all about having fun. Sadly, the game feels more lackluster and bare-bones than anything else. It’s unremarkable and heavily flawed. Don’t get me wrong, it can still be fun to play, but it’s missing that oomph that puts it over the top. Of the five Mario Kart games I’ve played (not counting arcade games, SNES, N64, and GBA), this is unfortunately my least favorite game of the bunch. The one key element that brings the score down for me is how the items work in this game. It kills the overall experience. Some fun can still be had with this one, but I recommend playing this in small doses. If you’re a fan of Mario Kart and don’t care too much about the competitive scene, then you’ll definitely have fun with Mario Kart 8. If you’re a player that’s into this sort of thing, then Mario Kart 8 most likely won’t hold your interest for too long. Mario Kart 8 feels like a rushed product and I just hope the upcoming patches will improve the overall experience. Approach this game with caution. Additionally, you might want to approach this game from a non-competitive viewpoint. It's worth a try, but just be warned that it's not as good as most professional reviewers make it out to be.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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

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