Mario Kart is one of Nintendo’s most loved franchises, and it’s a testament to the strength of its core gameplay how little it has changed since its inception. While the latest entry might not bring much new to the table, its fast-paced, re-tuned gameplay is the most fun we've had with the series for a long time.
When you power up Mario Kart 8, you’ll quickly notice just how good it looks. First party efforts always look good on Nintendo systems, but never more so than with Mario Kart 8. Level design is detailed, bright and glossy, and the characters look better than we’ve ever seen them before. The game runs at a locked 60 fps for single player and two player split-screen, and 30 fps with three or four-players racing at once.
Luckily, the game’s karting mechanics are every bit as slick as the visuals. Playing on the more difficult 150 cc mode, gameplay is fast paced, smooth and challenging. The title packs 32 great tracks, half of which are remakes from older franchise entries.
The newer additions are built from the ground up to make use of the anti-gravity kart mechanic (wherein the karts stick to walls and ceilings, allowing for more imaginative track design, and players can also get a small boost by knocking into another player from just the right angle), while older offerings provide some serious nostalgia to veterans. Overall, there are almost no weak links when it comes to track design, though some of the older tracks such as Toad's Turnpike are starting to show their age..
If you've never warmed to the series’ trademark drifting, boosting and power-ups, then you’re unlikely to love Mario Kart 8. The title doesn't bring anything drastically new to the franchise, but instead offers up a significant re-tuning of past experiences. The most noticeable adjustment is that certain power-ups are now less potent.
While series stalwarts like red shells remain as effective as ever, other items such as the group-affecting Lightning have been dialed back. This puts the focus back on the racing itself, with players being more tangibly rewarded for a skillful performance. Oh, and there’s even a new "Super Horn" item that acts as an antidote to the dreaded leader-seeking and disabling blue shell.
In terms of longevity, the title presents almost exactly the same package as past installments, with one big exception. Though all the tracks and three speed/difficulty modes are just as great as ever, the franchise’s long running Battle mode has taken a big hit.
These matches, which place the player in direct, item-based conflict with the competition, usually take place in specifically designed arenas, something that’s been dropped from the latest entry. Instead, the conflicts take place on selected tracks from the game’s standard race mode. It’s a negative move, and makes the mode difficult to recommend.
On the plus side, the game’s online component is solid, offering pain-free access to online matches and tournaments, of which the latter can be set up by the player with their own preferences. We've played a few dozen online races with the karting sim and haven’t encountered a single instance of lag or a dropped connection.
We could go on and on about Nintendo’s latest, lauding its limited, but often hilarious replay feature, bemoaning its half-baked gamepad functionality or simply hoping that Nintendo has significant DLC plans in mind, but in truth, you've probably already made up your mind whether or not to pull the trigger on Mario Kart 8.
The title is easy to recommend, and combined with a now solid software lineup, makes as good a case as any for picking up a Wii U.