Kart racers have been commonplace for years. Yes, there are some good ones every now and then but only one series can be called consistently great. Mario and his pals have been karting for twenty one years now and each and every time it proves to be the best kart racer and the perfect multiplayer party game.
It seems in recent years Nintendo have been putting huge emphasis on same-screen multiplayer, adding it most notably to the latest console Mario platformer. People playing together in the same room is something of a rarity now with the rise and rise of online play. It could well be because their approach to the online world has been ridiculously cautious, but Nintendo have done well to champion multiplayer in its purest, most social form.
Mario Kart rarely changes that much. Double Dash on the Gamecube was the biggest diversion from the tested road, and was vilified, rightly or wrongly for it. Mario Kart 8’s biggest change is something far more crowd-friendly and fanboy-pleasing: anti-grav tracks.
The introduction of world-warping twists and turns is maybe the final nail in the coffin of the F-Zero franchise, but for Mario Kart it represents a more natural step to take than has been taken in recent sequels.
With tracks falling into the expected categories (figure of 8, haunted castle, seaside resort) there’s little imagination on offer save in the tiniest of nods and winks to other franchises. When the world turns upside and your kart’s wheels turn into anti-grav devices, however, it can be hard work figuring it what is where and where to go.
It’s a refreshing feeling in such familiar, but beautiful surroundings. Racing games are always the best at showing off new hardware, so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that Mario Kart appears to the Wii U’s best looking game. Nintendo’s iconic character models look like figurines and the environments look every bit as good as gamers dreamed high definition Nintendo would.
There are issues of control however. Using the steering wheel peripheral or the Gamepad in the same way has never felt right – and still doesn’t. It works, barely, but feels loose and imprecise. Of course, you don’t have to use this method but even the alternative has its issues.
Using the Gamepad’s left stick ended up being my preferred method, though the Wiimote on its own works too, but the D-Pad is never a preferred racing game method. It’s also difficult to drift this way.
Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS was the best in the series for a while because it didn’t suffer from a multitude of control techniques, each with their own failings. It stuck with one method and it worked. On the Wii and Wii U Mario Kart is committed to using motion control and that commitment is what holds it back from becoming an all-time great entry in the series.
That said it’s still fun in the way we’re accustomed to, and it looks fantastic on a console in need of some triple-A quality looks. It’s a Mario Kart game, but just like we know it.