ESRB – E for Everyone
Reviewed on Wii U
Is it too early to start talking about my game of the year?
I’m sure that I will need to keep myself calm for a few more months, but Mario Kart 8 is such a joyful experience that it is hard to contain myself.
High quality experiences are nothing new in Mario Kart. In fact, the games in the franchise have been so good over its history that it has supplanted almost all other Nintendo franchises as the “biggest” in their lineup based on sales numbers. Put simply, the release of a Mario Kart game for a Nintendo console is an EVENT.
The release of Mario Kart 8 has been wild so far. Sales have been through the roof and they have helped boost sales of the flailing Wii U. It hasn’t hurt that players who purchase the game and register the title on their Club Nintendo accounts before July 30th will be able to get a free download code for another Nintendo title. But, the game should continue to have success.
Mario Kart 8 delivers and is the first true “killer app” for the Wii U.
MK8 follows the same formula as earlier games in the series with little variation. Players can choose to race in four course Grand Prix circuits, battle it out in a multiplayer battle mode, or take their skills online. There are other options like the ability to race against the clock in time trials, but the real meat of the game will be played in those first three options.
One would think that leaving the basic game play modes the same would be boring, but it is just the opposite. The layout of Mario Kart 8 is comfortable; like putting on a favorite pair of running shoes. This limits the distractions and lets players truly enjoy the few things that are truly “new.”
The biggest change to game play itself is the addition of the anti-gravity mode. Racing over a blue strip will automatically turns your wheels sideways and allows racers to drive along walls and even upside down. I was concerned that the camera movement would be nauseating, but instead it simply rotates casually behind the kart as it loops upside down and up on walls. Truth be told, some of the animations we so smooth I didn’t realize just how upside-down I was until I watched the race over again afterwards using the replay feature.
Another significant change that was regarded with less than a passing thought before release was the improved visuals. We knew they were coming. We knew that the graphical power of the Wii U would bring improvements. But, I don’t think anyone expected what we got. To say it is stunning is an understatement. Mario Kart 8 is easily the best looking game released on a Nintendo console. Every kart, character model, and race track are loaded with fine details that take full advantage of our new high definition world. Mario’s mustache rustles as wind races past him. Wario’s gut jiggles as he goes over bumps in the road. Luigi shifts his angry gaze towards any racer that he passes. There small details were all but impossible in previous generations and they add to the authenticity of the experience. (Not to mention the fact that Luigi’s death stare is hilarious when paired with music.)
Nintendo is a company that is focused on making games for children for decades. As a result, they have been hesitant to leap into the online gaming space. Their hesitance is admirable. They are trying to protect an audience that they built from predatory behavior in the wilds of the internet. Mario Kart 8 does a good job of taking players on a light safari into those wilds. The online play in MK8 allows players to participate in ranked online matches in either the Grand Prix mode or Battle mode. Players cannot use voice chat in the lobby unless they are already friends, but they can choose from a pre-selected batch of words and phrases like “Welcome,” Good luck!” and “I’ll get you next time!” This may not be the full on multiplayer experience that adults have been looking for (voice chat during races would have been nice!) but it is a step in the right direction. Online play is intended to give games a longer lifespan and it is good enough in Mario Kart 8 to keep things going for a very long time.
(Side note: Mario Kart 8 allows players to host tournaments at scheduled times. Engaged Family Gaming will be scheduling weekly Mario Kart 8 tournaments in the coming months. Keep your eye out on our Twitter feed and Facebook page for scheduling and rules!)
Family Gaming Assessment:
There is nothing to be concerned about here. These are cartoon racers racing on fantasy racetracks and battling each other with turtle shells. Your kids are good to go!
Mario Kart 8 isn’t a racing simulator like Gran Turismo 6 or Forza Motorsports 5, but that does not mean that it is simple. The cartoon visuals and bright colors do a great job of concealing a very deep experience. There is no avoiding the fact that there is a lot to learn for players who are new to the series.
There is very little reading involved in the basic game play. The different karts, wheels, and gliders have different stats, but casual players don’t need to pay a huge amount of attention to them. The game is designed with balance in mind so casual players can choose whichever character they like and a kart based purely on the look without worrying too much about performance.
The experience scales very well based on difficulty level. Even novice racers will be able to compete, if not win, 50cc races once they get used to the tracks. They can then move on to 100cc and 150cc difficulties that will ramp up the challenge (and the number of purely competitive racers in each Grand Prix.
This is a must own for the Wii U. In fact, what are you doing still reading this? Go get it!