Nintendo have opted to keep things simple with Mario Kart 8, and just as Super Mario 3D World was a HD version of Super Mario 3D Land (and much more, obviously), that same pattern applies here. It would have been daft to change how Mario Kart plays, after such incredible sales of the 3DS version, and so you’ll be able to pick up and play instantly, which is part of why it is so phenomenally playable.
Focussing instead on getting the online right is a smart move, as that’s a thing Nintendo are rightly criticised for doing poorly. Here, you can create tournaments, selecting from a multitude of options to truly make the rules apply to your friend group. Moreover, you can make these tournaments run weekly, set the time they start and finish, and even name the opposing teams. Share the created code and you will be playing regularly before you know it. Although I was only able to test the online modes a few times, it did seem very stable, and brutally competitive. At the time of writing, I’ve just finished eight in three consecutive races against people from all around Europe. If you fancy a more quickly accessible approach to online multiplayer, there are options to do it in both solo and two-player mode.
Offline, however, it’s a shame that you can’t have one player on the TV screen, and another on the GamePad. For four player action, sure, it makes sense to throw everyone into their own on-screen quadrant, but in two-player it would be excellent to have one player use the TV while the other used the gamepad. It’s not a terrible omission, but given the fact that the fourth part of the screen shows the person in the lead even in three-player offline play, it is definitely a weird one.
One major issue, however, arises if you choose to use a Wii remote. By default, every single time you start a Grand Prix, it will be set to use motion controls. What this means is that if you want to use the Wiimote as a standard controller, you’ll have to (without fail) pause the game right after the race starts, and switch it from motion to standard, which is hugely annoying.
As usual, the Grand Prix mode is made up of eight cups, of which four contain new tracks, and the other four host remakes of old tracks. Thankfully, the older offerings have had attention lavished upon them. For example, the N64 Toad’s Turnpike (the one that has moving traffic throughout) now allows you to get onto the walls and avoid oncoming cars, thanks to the new gravity wheels, and so on. It’s nice to see a track and think “I know this one!” only to have it turned ever so slightly on it’s head, making it new again.
The new tracks obviously focus on that mechanic, too, and are enjoyable. Some will disorientate you ever so slightly, but only the first time. Going from being upside down to suddenly driving through the water, then back out again shows the Nintendo creativity we’ve come to love over the years. There are specific highlights, of course, including a downhill ski-slope track that, despite having three laps, is in fact one long course that culminates in a rush downhill to the finish line. Rainbow road is represented well, too, with a superb new track and the N64 version, too. Eventually all tracks are available in mirror mode, which adds a tiny bit of life, but you’ll quickly find your favourites and race on them.
Sadly, battle mode doesn’t have unique tracks designed for it; instead you’ll be using the courses you play in GP. It’s slightly lazy, in truth, but the focus is very clearly on the online GP modes and tournaments, and Nintendo really have gotten that aspect spot on.
In the power-up department, the horrific blue shell returns. Some may like it, but I’m not a fan at all, as it removes the importance of skill. Younger players will love it, but racing well doesn’t matter if someone can hit you with that blue shell, before another three players ram you with a multitude of other items, putting you back to fifth after holding a lead for two full laps. That said, at least this time it goes along the ground and punishes others if they are in the way. New to MK8 is the horn which appears to be a way to stop the blue shell, though the opportunities to do so are fairly rare, and require everything to align just right. Also new is the particularly useful piranha plant, which automatically chomps at coins, enemies, and obstacles. The boomerang is another decent new power-up, as you can throw it three times and it can hit multiple opponents, and you may need every one of the power-ups, because 150cc is harder than ever before.
Every fifty coins you collect unlock a new vehicle customisation, and although there are plenty to play around with, you’ll find what works for you pretty swiftly (I’m a four wheels kind of guy; you can keep your motorbikes). If you’re half-decent at Mario Kart, you’ll have revealed all of the unlockable characters before you even start 150cc, too, because you get one for winning each Grand Prix. They are exactly who you’d expect them to be, with metallic versions thrown in to bolster the roster.
But it’s the visuals that mark the biggest jump in the series; because they look incredible. Nintendo’s first party titles always look good, and thanks to Super Mario 3D World (and many others) we’ve already seen how good they look in HD, but it’s the design that stands out. Honestly, only seeing it in person does it justice, and the single player frame-rate adds to that feeling you’re seeing something visually spectacular. There’s always an undercurrent of “when it’s ready” with Nintendo games, and it’s hard to be angry about that when you see how bug-free and well designed they are.
When it comes to the audio, you can probably predict what you’ll get. Chirpy tunes full of brass and lead guitar dictate the stellar soundtrack, with the usual blurted catchphrases litter Mario Kart 8, and you can now use a large button in the middle of the GamePad to sound your horn. Speaking of the GamePad, I quickly hit the button that shows the overhead view of the race, but you can (of course) play the entire game off-screen, if you fancy getting a few games in on the quiet while the TV is otherwise engaged.
Mario Kart TV (MKTV) is one of the largest new additions, and allows you to watch a race after finishing and edit the clip with a view to showing it off, thanks to a YouTube upload option. You can change the replay’s focus, be it on the items, boosts, or even specific racers. You can watch your friend’s clips, too, or just check out the best (or most recent) clips worldwide. It’s a nice idea and works well, with the option to “star” up to six completed races to mark them a favourite, but (and I know this is a minor quibble) when you finish a race, the first option highlighted is the replay, whereas most will, after a while, just want to continue onwards, and will have to move down and hit a different option.
VERDICT: The most important thing is that Mario Kart 8 is just a whole lot of fun. Whether you’re on your own, or playing with any number of friends, you’re assured of a good time. The happiness on my childrens’ faces while playing was a joy, and then, suddenly, you notice you are smiling too.
It may not be revolutionary, but it adds just enough to pique interests while keeping the core experience we’ve all grown up with, regardless of age. Mario Kart is one of those timeless franchises that every age group can enjoy, and sometimes, that’s enough to celebrate.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.
Review code provided by publisher.