Mario Kart 8 Review

I debated calling this a “critique,” because a lot of this review is unnecessarily negative. I pretty much made this review to list every criticism I had with the game, no matter how small, so the overall tone is a downer. There’s a reason for that, though: Mario Kart 8 is so good — nay, so close to perfection — that I want to list everything wrong with it. We are so close to peak Mario Kart at this point that being even an inch away from the summit is infuriating. The handful of problems this game has are like small-cell carcinomas: they’re not much, but they’ll definitely kill you. The difference is that these problems should be pretty easy to remove.

And you thought I couldn't have hi-res pics.
And you thought I couldn’t manage hi-res pics.

Part 1: The Good

I ultimately decided to call this a “review” because I couldn’t bring myself to not include a gigantic section about how good the game is. I doubt you need me, specifically, to tell you this, but… it’s so good. If you haven’t bought it already, then you probably want it on account of the warehouses of praise this game has gotten online. And, for once, it’s actually deserved. Didn’t expect that this year, considering its more popular titles.

Ho-ho!
You have no idea how smug I am right now.

This is probably the best Mario Kart ever. I’m still partial to Double Dash!, but then again I did kind of play it constantly for ten of my sixteen years. There’s probably a ton of bias there, considering how dated Double Dash! is.

I should probably mention that I’ve only actually played about half of the Mario Kart games: Double Dash, DS, Wii, and 8. I never bothered with the first three games because… well… look at them.

These games are dated,
“These games are obsolete, dated, and objectively inferior to recent releases.” –Mario Kart: Double Dash! fanboy, 2015

I never bothered with 7 because by the time I caught up to it, 8 had already been released. Yes, I’m that pathetically far behind. So just so we’re clear, I’m going into this making the jump from Mario Kart Wii to 8. With that in mind… let’s talk about all the ways Wii sucked.

I’m actually one of the few people with half a brain that thought Wii held up against other Mario Kart games. It’s definitely not the worst game in the franchise. From the seven seconds I played Super Circuit for before throwing it onto a heaping pile of garbage and insulting my friend for allowing me to borrow it, I’d say I prefer Wii. The course designs weren’t just two dimensional bland surfaces, and you could utilize your spatial reasoning skills, both of which were nice bonuses. I liked a lot of the tracks, and I thought the graphics were pretty enough for the time. Plus, it added online functionality. This was the only online multiplayer that mattered on Wii, and I didn’t get a 360 until 2012.

You have no idea how many hours were wasted here.
You have no idea how many hours were wasted spent here.

That being said, I don’t think I’ll be going back to it much in the future. Mario Kart 8 is a step up on every conceivable level. There were some good courses, yes, but they’ve all been salvaged by the newest installment, save for Maple Treeway, Koopa Cape, and, if I’m feeling generous, Daisy Circuit. Two in 7 anyway. The graphics were satisfactory, but Mario Kart 8 is drop dead gorgeous. I’m serious. I can’t get up after seeing Nintendo make the jump to HD.  They killed me.

The multiplayer’s basically entirely intact, except with a few added features. You can actually play with friends with moderate ease, though that’s mostly because you can add friends with moderate ease thanks to Miiverse. And you know how letting you pick any stage meant that a “randomly selected course” really meant “playing on Rainbow Road”? They don’t do that anymore. You pick between one of three the game has chosen, so there’s a lot more variety. You can also abstain by picking an actually random course, so no one can complain.

What’s more: for every aspect 8 improved, it fixed a problem of Wii‘s. Wii had this bizarre emphasis on bikes. For whatever reason they let you pull off wheelies almost indefinitely, and pulling off wheelies meant a small but very significant speed boost. This meant that you had to use a bike if you wanted to actually do well against anyone else (particularly in time trials). Sorry, but, uh, shouldn’t there be a bit more of a focus on karts? I didn’t misread that box, did I? Mario Kart 8 did away with that. I still stick with a bike because I’ve gotten used to their handling, and because Road Rash 2 runs thick through my veins, but there’s nothing better about either type of vehicle. Bikes can’t wheelie anymore, but they can do a second-stage drift. Now it’s just an aesthetic choice which you prefer.

Tricks were pretty dumb in Wii . It’s a good idea to incentivize going off ramps, because too often, they require skill to get up, but take more time than driving normally. It’s smart to give the player a reason to demonstrate their ability to catch air. It’s not  a good idea to let the player take advantage of even the slightest hop by madly swinging the Wii remote like a Polaroid camera. Fortunately, in Wii, the system has been changed. It’s much harder to spam tricks to get an insane boost this time around. You have to press it the second you go off a ramp. It’s much more difficult that reminding Nintendo why they put on a wrist strap, and it’s even better because it adds a little bit of strategy to the game. Do you feel confident enough to risk going off a ramp that’ll slow you down if you don’t trick off it? Can you get a slight boost off a ramp by going out of your way, or isn’t it worth the extra hassle? It’s not much, but it adds a nice bit of risk-versus-reward to the game.

The most important change 8 made to Wii is the way it feels to play. It’s far better than every other game in the series. Games of Mario Kart are thought of as hectic affairs where anything can happen and tides can turn in an instant, but actual close races are rare. In previous installments, I often find myself pitted against people who are so out of my league that they start to lap me, or that are so far below me that I get to enjoy a cakewalk for the entire race. Someone always winds up miles ahead of everyone else, and no amount of blue shells ever seems to change that. In Mario Kart 8, I don’t feel like I’ve gotten more than a few yards behind or ahead of anybody. The game feels infinitely faster, and you’re so much more likely to get screwed if you so much as bump into a wall. That’s not to say the game is unforgiving, though, because others are just as likely to screw themselves over as you are. If you’re less prone to making mistakes, you have an advantage, but it never feels like simply racing faster isn’t the best advantage you can have. It’s so much more fun to play a race where everyone is neck-and-neck the entire time than it is to play one where nobody comes near you. You know how the best races are the ones that end in intense photo finishes? The kind where you have a small lead, get hit by a shell at the wrong moment, and desperately hope you have enough acceleration to beat your friends right before the finish line? Picture your sphincter tightening that much through the entire race.

Mario Kart 8 is a must-have for your Wii U. It shines when you’re playing local multiplayer, but online multiplayer and time trials should keep you busy for a few decades even if you don’t have anyone to play with.

But it isn’t perfect.

I just wanted to recreate those childhood nightmares for you by putting this in here.
I thought I’d recreate those childhood nightmares for you by putting this in here. Enjoy!

Part 2: The Courses

I figure the courses are what really make or break a Mario Kart game. People never really liked 64 , for example, because of the gameplay. It just had some really good courses. The only reason I’m even considering an argument that Double Dash is better than 8  is because I’m a horrible person and listen to my nostalgic influences it hardly has any bad courses. So what I’m going to do is painstakingly nitpick every course in this game and decide which are good and which are less good but still not bad.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the rehashed courses, since I’ve already had at least three years to look at them, and it’s not really fair to judge a game based on mistakes its precursors made. A lot of people complain that they’re even in the game, because they think that they’re getting less content, somehow. The fact of the matter is that you should technically only be getting four cups, not eight.

Reminder: everything Double Dash! did is, by divine will, free of error.
Reminder: everything Double Dash! did is, by divine will, free of error.

The fact that you’re getting any rehashed courses at all is kind of a steal. I’ll quickly discuss whether I agree with the choices for inclusion. 

Shell Cup

Check your shellf before you -- this joke is over.
Check your shellf before you — this joke is over.

Did anybody actually want Moo Moo Meadows to come back? Wasn’t it boring enough the first time? Whatever. Mario Circuit might be my favorite retro track of them all, because it’s the most earnest of a race. Normally, gimmicks tend to get in the way of the action. They certainly don’t here, especially if you decide to turn off items. It’s great to see Cheep Cheep Beach return, and Toad’s Turnpike provides the mandatory infuriating highway level. That’s actually a good thing, though. It means none of the new courses have to waste themselves being terrible. Thanks for taking the hit, Shell Cup.

 

Banana Cup

That is a look of pure contentedness.
That is a look of pure contentedness.

So, you had a myriad of great Double Dash courses to choose from, including the best Mario Kart track ever, Wario Colosseum… and you went with this?

Dry Dry Desert

It’s not like you didn’t have a desert level otherwise. Honestly, I’d rather just see you bring back DK Mountain for the second time. What an awful selection. You didn’t even stay faithful to the title.

"DRY." "DRY." DESERT. IT'S IN THERE TWICE.
“DRY.” “DRY.” DESERT. IT’S IN THERE TWICE.

Donut Plains 3 feels incredibly redundant. It was nifty when Wii had an SNES track revival… and then another one… nut now it’s starting to get sickening. The previous reincarnation of a 2D course was neat, but that had something outstanding about it. It’s bad enough that GBA and SNES courses feel exactly the same. Why bring in more than one SNES course per game? Couldn’t you at least limit yourselves to one flat track per game, Nintendo? And since the DK Jungle stage is new to me, I should probably mention that, as much as I love Donkey Kong Country, I’m not fond of overbearing references to it. It feels less like a Mario Kart track and more like a Smash Bros. level. The two don’t mix well.

 

Leaf Cup

The eyes say it all about a leaf. These two say "help me they keep bringing me back to appease the fangirls."
The eyes say it all about a person… or a leaf… these two say “help me they keep bringing me back to appease the fangirls.”

OH COME ON. You brought back Sherbert Land? The only course that was more frustrating than Dry Dry Desert?! You remember Daisy Cruiser, right? How about Mushroom Bridge? Do you remember how much fun Baby Park was? Are you against having fun, Nintendo? And why am I the only one who remembers Dino Parkway? It wasn’t that great, but it’s at least better than this. And what’s with this Music Park stage? Did somebody think a gimmicky music level would be a good idea? Is this a Sonic Advance game or something? Fortunately, Yoshi Valley is an excellent stage and a perfect selection for revival. How’s it feel having a better draw distance than Superman 64, Yoshi Valley? Now I have even less reason to play the N64 game.

 

Lightning Cup

LIghtning Cup
So when is XIII-4 coming out?

This is easily the best retro cup in the game. None of these courses are bad. Tick Tock Clock is still a wonderful stage with tons of interesting gimmicks based on one of the best platformer levels ever. Piranha Plant Slide isn’t quite as good as the others stages here, but it’s fun enough. Grumble Volcano is still one of my favorite stages ever. I don’t care what you say, that last turn always ends in greatness. Finally, this rendition of Rainbow Road takes a pretty tired version of the track and gives it a new life. This stage is positively gorgeous, and my only real gripe is that it’s a lap long for no reason. I’d be more peeved about this game having two Rainbow Roads if the revamped one wasn’t an improvement in every way.

 

So that’s it for the retro cups. My favorite inclusions are Mario Circuit, Cheep Cheep Beach, Yoshi Valley, Grumble Volcano and Rainbow Road. My least favorites are Dry Dry Desert, Sherbert Land, Donut Plains and Toad’s Turnpike. Now, let’s discuss the new courses, one at a time. You’d best get comfortable, folks.


Mario Kart Stadium

Mario Kart Stadium

Every Mario Kart needs a simple introductory course, and this one might be the best. It’s very similar to the Luigi Circuits in Double Dash! and Wii, what with the turns where you can opt to go around on dash panels if you’re dumb. It’s a lot like the retro Mario Circuit, because it’s an entirely skill-based race. You’re just testing to see how you stack up against your friends, you know? This is the Battlefield of Mario Kart. It’s not the Final Destination, because that would imply it’s not fun and that only bad people liked it.

 

Water Park

fuck you wario

I’ve had a lot of people excitedly tell me about the Water Park board, but I’m not sure I get it. It’s just a carnival stage, you know? It hardly even qualifies as one, now that I think about it. Most of it’s more of a coral reef stage that’s too scared to commit. I still don’t understand what the theme here is supposed to be. I don’t get a very “waterpark” vibe from it at any section. I get a shopping district vibe sometimes and a car wash vibe at others and an underwater theme at others still. I really don’t like this one. Sorry.

 

Sweet Sweet Canyon

Sweet Sweet Canyon

Sonic Colors continues on strong past its opening level through a wonderfully… oh… wrong review. Continuing the tradition of making a course’s name an adjective twice and a place, Sweet Sweet Canyon is one of those game levels whose theme is just bizarre. It’s the same deal as Music Park. There’s something entirely wrong with driving through a dessert level. I know these games don’t go for realism, but can you at least go within the realm of believability? This one feels like a bad representation of a dream — the kind you’d expect to see in a kid’s show or something. Also: syrup, soda, or honey? Leave a comment  stating what you think the water in this level is supposed to be. I’ll be sure to not read it.

 

Thwomp Ruins

Thwomp Ruins

The Irate Gamer finally leaves his mark on Mario Kart in a fairly standard ruins level. This one frustrates me. It’s difficult to avoid the thwomps and rollers, especially considering how random it can be to get stuck underneath a thwomp at the wrong time.  There’s a great shortcut towards the end of this level that takes quite a bit of preparation to pull off correctly, but which feels very satisfying to manage. One thing that’s odd about Mario Kart 8 is that there are hardly any shortcuts that don’t require mushrooming through grass. I’m not sure I really like that. Shortcuts are one of the things that make Mario Kart that extra bit special. This stage introduces driving on vertical walls. It’s gimmicky and is essentially used the same way every time. It’s also usually slower than driving on the ground, so I stray away from it.

 

Mario Circuit

Mario Circuit  mk8

Has anyone else noticed how all the promotional materials for Mario Kart 8 — look at the thumbnail and the top of the review for examples –show Mario looking off into the distance? What’s he supposed to be looking at? Doesn’t that his neck? Even the picture for Mario Kart Stadium depicts him miles away. And is his mouth always like it is in the picture above? Is that a scream? Does Mario actually have any control over his actions when karting?

…Oh, right, the course. It’s forgettable.

Toad Harbor

Toad Harbor
Mario must be Harbor-ing a lot of anger against those princesses.

Toad Harbor is a wonderful recreation of that San Francisco atmosphere we all love.

The desolation of smog.
The desolation of smog.

Err… ambience, rather. You’ll feel like you’re playing through Crazy Taxi all over again in this borderline labyrinthine stage. There’s some Delfino Square-tier forks in the road from time to time. It’s a little harder to get the hang of than Square. The turns aren’t fairly equal, so going the wrong way can screw you over the first few times you play. Aside from that, though, this is a wonderful stage. All that’s missing is mediocre punk rock and cryptic license plate meanings. The setting is really what sells it here.

 

Twisted Mansion

shitty boo mansion 2

Can we please do away with ghost levels? It was O. K. when Mario World did it the first time (in a Mario game, that is), but when every video game has since taken it upon themselves to include a level where you meander through a puzzle house, I must raise my voice in discontent. The course itself plays like a worse version of Luigi’s Mansion from the DS game. I do quite like the bit where you glide from a sideways position, through. It’s a nice dose of discombobulation.

 

Shy Guy Falls

shy guy falls

It’s easy to compare this level to Koopa Cape, but I think it beats it by just a hair. The crystalline landmarks leave a stronger imperssion than Koopa Cape’s two shells, and, unlike Koopa Cape, Shy Guy Falls lacks a frustrating pipe section. I love the section where you’re going up a waterfall. The water doesn’t impede you quite a lot, but it’s enough to really encourage you to hit every speed boost perfectly. This is a very good stage.

 

Sunshine Airport

 Sunshine Airport 2

Say what you will about Coconut Mall, but it at least had charm to it. It didn’t feel like you were visiting a real mall with Mario skins plastered everywhere. Here, I might as well be going through Heathrow. This is one of my least favorite stages. The worst part is that, for as realistic a portrayal of an airport as this stage offers, it never really does anything with the theme. Wouldn’t it be cool to go through security or wait in line or have your flight delayed? As stupid as it would have been, it’d have been hilarious to stipulate on nonsense like that. Kind of like how, oh, Coconut Mall did with its parking lot and fountain sections? Instead you have the option to drive on a wing at one point. Ooh, how whimsical. Bite me.

 

Dolphin Shoals

DOLPHIN SHOALS I LOVE YOU MMMMUH

This is my favorite stage in this game. It’s the only stage to really utilize its underwater section well — which is to say, using them for different mechanics in the first place. It makes use of their differing physics and puts you through a few unique sections. There’s a bit where you can trick off an eel, which is really fun. You can hang in the air for a few seconds at a time, so you need to time your jumps perfectly to get the most boost. There’s another great bit where you go over some pipes that act as vents. You glide over them — not with your literal hang glider, mind you. You just… glaze across them. It’s a very freeing section that can be approached in a few different ways. That part really highlight how much fun floaty underwater physics can be in games when they’re done well. (So rarely are they, of course.) The highlight of the entire game, hands-down, has to be the little section where you resurface. Almost all of the course is at or below sea level, but there’s one segment toward the end where you’re on dry land. It’s absolutely gorgeous seeing the lens bloom, the refracting water droplets, and the gorgeously detailed textures as you come back up into the misty air. The change in music perfectly reflects the liberating experience: you go from navigating claustrophobic underwater caverns to an open-air experience. Accordingly, the music switches from being dominated by a fairly simplistic xylophone loop to a jazzy alto saxophone. That one small part gets me every time. Fantastic showing, Nintendo.

 

Electrodome

Electrodome

Aesthetically, this stage is a joy to play. The sleezy night club lighting and particle effects indulge your senses in the best ways. Gameplay-wise, there’s really nothing special about this stage. It’s not even simple in a good way, like Wario Colosseum or Mario Kart Stadium. It’s just a forgettable stage to play. There’s nothing distinct about it. I’ll give it this, though: as a music level, it’s themed so much better than Music Park.

 

Mount Wario

O. K., look at that. This game is so beautiful.

The fan favorite, deservedly so. Mount Wario is one lap, like the N64 Rainbow Road, except you actually have a reason to stay at the bottom of the course at the end. It’s as long as a typical race, too, meaning that each leg of this board is essentially as good as a standard course you drive around on three times. You’re really getting three courses for the price of one here. It’s themed beautifully around skiing down a mountain. Every gimmick DK Summit tried to pull is done here, just a dozen times better. Yet unlike Sunshine Airport, the level isn’t an awkwardly-realistic-yet-totally-uncharming portrayal of the real deal. This still feels like a Mario Kart course. It’s full of terrific sections. My personal favorite has to be where you have the option to try jumping on the rocks above the rushing water. It’s a wonderful little bit. The ending turns are phenomenal as well. Each is carefully-tailored to be intense and challenging, yet satisfying to cut huge chunks off. If you’re neck-and-neck with a few others as you come down the mountain, get ready for one hell of a finale. The only bit I’m not fond of is the forested bit. It’s too much of a crap shoot. I still haven’t worked out the fastest path through it. It functions as a buffer zone that randomly resets the exact standings of the racers, depending on how well they know how to get through it, and to me, that’s harmful to a clean race. Aside from that gripe, the stage is wonderful overall.

 

Cloudtop Cruise

Cloudtop Cruise

OK, Nintendo, we get it, you composed a great song for Galaxy. Everyone has it on their iPods already anyway. Just… leave it be, alright? We don’t need another remix.

This course is in a position similar to Water Park. Every one of its components are modal. As a larger picture, they don’t flow well into each other. At least this stage has the Mario canon to rely upon, so driving on a flying boat isn’t entirely unexpected. What is unexpected is how restrictive and tight the ship section is. It’s not a fun part to drive through at all. The rest of the course is par for the… erm… course. There’s a lightning-bolty-dodge-the-thingies section, an obligatory glider section, and that’s about the gist. Everyone tells me that this is one of the best stages in the game, but outside of the music, I can’t reason any explanation why anyone would think that. The music isn’t even that great. It’s a “look! we played a song you like on an unusual instrument!” song. It adds nothing to the track. Not the most decisive race, for sure. It’s nothing but a tolerable circuit.

Bone-Dry Dunes

Bone Dry Desert

I’m impressed. They actually managed a non-sucky desert level. The stage looks awesome, for one thing. The harsh orange is put to great effect. It’s all the fun of being in a desert without any of the dying. The desert gimmicks don’t change the gameplay much, either, so the concept for the level is non-invasive. It’s nice not having the notion completely ruining the way the race plays.

Dry Dry Desert

That’s odd, a picture of Dry Dry Desert got in there somehow.

Unfortunately, I can’t give the level anything closer to praise. Due to untoward circumstances surrounding the DLC to Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies, I am no longer at the liberty to see pirates in a positive light. If it weren’t for that unforgivable transgression there’s be a decent stage in here.

 

Bowser’s Castle

Daddy Koopa's Petticoats

Oh, please. Did we need an eighth Bowser’s Castle? Does anybody even like these tracks? They’re unnecessarily difficult and unfun to play, but not in a hilarious way like Grumble Volcano. This one’s especially heinous. It goes far overboard with the gravity mechanics, leaving you with a constant feeling that this place exists in some Escher-tier twelve-dimensional space. The music can die in a fiery pit as well. Yes, we get it, you can play a guitar to make it sound like Tim Taylor. That’s not music, that’s the tone of an instrument. Actually compose something, please thank you.

 

Rainbow Road

Rainbow Road

In Mario Kart 8, the traiditional Rainbow Road course is presented with a twist: weirdly-realistic space colonization! I appreciate trying something different here, but you’re outclassed, Rainbow Road. The space station look just doesn’t work, and the only memorable segment of track was already done better in Toad Factory, and I hate Toad Factory. This stage isn’t even that hard. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen off on this stage, which just isn’t cool for a Road most Rainbowy. You managed to have a stage that was less frustrating than the Wii one, and yet somehow this course manages to be worse by a sheer disinteresting setup. It’s bland.


So, that’s it. Writing the comments above, I was surprised to realize just how few of these courses I actually really love. My favorites, of course, are Dolphin Shoals, Mount Wario, and… um… Shy Guy Falls? Are there only that few stages that totally blow every other stage out of the water? I mean, I like Shy Guy Falls, but it’s not the kind of stage I’d show someone if they were playing 8 for the first time. I don’t particularly hate any stage in this lot, except for Twisted Mansion and Sunshine Airport, so I guess everything kind of falls in the middle of the road.

Pun very much intended.
Pun very much intended.

The gameplay is solid enough that no course is especially unenjoyable to play, but if this was the course selection in Mario Kart Wii, I think people would’ve liked that game even less. And I do mean that: Mario Kart Wii actually has more amazing stages that 8 does. Wii had Maple Treeway, Grumble Volcano, DK Mountain [GCN], Delfino Square [DS], Mario Circuit [SNES], Bowser’s Castle [N64], Bowser’s Castle [GBA], Yoshi Falls [DS], and… oh. I guess maybe Wii didn’t have that many incredible stages itself. But DS and Double Dash had phenomenal rosters of courses. 8 has a lackluster one. They’re much shorter than they tended to be in previous games, probably due to the game’s faster speed. The number of gimmick sections and shortcuts is cut down, and I’m honestly not sure I like that. Shortcuts gave the game a bit of diversity and some strategy. They typically required skill to use. The only problem with them was that they sometimes took longer than the regular routes, but there’s no reason 8 couldn’t have fixed that. Gimmick sections are what these games are all about. The joy of Mario Kart is driving through interesting bits that change the way the course is played. 8‘s courses made poor use of these. Stages like Sweet Sweet Canyon and Bone-Dry Desert have hardly any sections that change the way the course is actually played. It’s a shame that we’re simply ignoring these sorts of bits in favor of a more serious approach to course design. I don’t want a serious approach, I want memorable course design. I could tell you every section of Wario Colosseum or DK Jungle. They’re the best. It’s because their every component is creative and enjoyable to play. In Mario Kart 8, this type of moment-to-moment creativity that makes other games’ courses entertaining is absent.

On the same token, some courses are great because they don’t have much going on, like Mario Kart Stadium, but that’s sort of another beast entirely. It’s the difference between playing on Baby Park or Peach Beach. Neither have any particularly interesting sections, but Baby Park is so hectic that it’s unforgettable, while Peach Beach is really bland. 8 has a lot more Peach Beaches than it does Baby Parks. To put it another way: describe a course from DS . I’ll use Peach Gardens since it’s a fairly stock course, but you can use any course you choose. In Peach Gardens, you first navigate a roundabout avoiding a Chain Chomp. Next, you have to make a few sharp turns which can be easily avoided if you’re lucky enough to have a mushroom.  Then, you have to navigate a maze with Chain Chomps. (You can tell it’s more intense because I italicized the plurality.) Then, you navigate a few more sharp turns; then, you have to avoid moles.

Now do the same with Mario Circuit. Uh… well, you start off… turning. Lot of that in this course. There’s a bit where you’re head feels like it’s millimeters from a bridge above you. That part’s kind of visually interesting, I guess…

I know that’s kind of an especially boring case, but this problem seems to pervade 8. Look at Mario Circuit in Double Dash!: sharp turns-Chain Chomp-tunnel-piranha plants-moguls-ramp to the finish line. It’s not the greatest course ever, but it definitely has memorable elements. You’d think nothing happens in Mario Circuit from 8. The handful of really incredible courses are my favorites because they either nail simplicity or have plenty of gimmicks that keep things interesting. It could be worse — it could be a game full of Sunshine Airports — but it’s very lukewarm getting a game with too many Cloudtop Cruises. I could go on all day with examples like this, but I’ll spare you, so let me just say this:  I’m not saying you can’t make simple turns and ramps interesting. Wario Colosseum did that. I’m saying that failed to make interesting, and that leaves the course list disappointing.


Intermission

Right, so that must’ve been unpleasant. I just felt the need to be thorough in that regard, seeing as no Mario Kart really innovates enough in any other regard.

Our current checklist of things we need to improve for the next Mario Kart installment stands as this:

OFFICIAL LIST

(I know it might seem patronizing to make an ordered list of things to improve, but I feel better doing it this way. Nintendo constantly neglects  making necessary improvements to their games. Half the time, even if they do, they forget to bring it back for the installment after that. I’m still waiting for them to bring back the character-exclusive items Double Dash! had. This probably stems from the fact that they’ve seen themselves as untouchable since 1983, which gives them the confidence that nothing they’re doing can actually be wrong. They’re stubborn. So, seeing as Nintendo famously stated that their biggest influences are nobody bloggers with no regard for business, I think this’ll come in handy for them.)


Part 3: The Selling Points

It’s a little unfair to say that Mario Kart 8 doesn’t incorporate enough memorable sections, because it tries to. The problem is that it relies on the same three kinds of sections too much. Mario Kart 8 adds in gravity-defying sections that the box and advertising all sell as simply the wackiest bit of kartage you ever did see. Also, seeing as I’ve never played Mario Kart 7, the gliding and underwater sections are completely new to me as well. The problem is that, while these do try to fulfill the “memorable gimmick” quota for the game’s scorecard, they aren’t different enough to be memorable.

The gliding sections come almost as quickly as they go. Not one lasts more than ten seconds. That’s probably because the best strategy for these sections is landing as soon as possible and ignoring them. You go about as quickly as you do on the ground when you’re in the air, and you lose the ability to trick or drift, so it’s mildly disadvantageous staying airborne if you’re, say, doing time trials. The worst part, though, is that you’re completely vulnerable through these. If you’re tailed by a shell, you’re going to get hit even if you’re carrying something behind you, since shells can hit you from above or below. I thought these sections were supposed to make me release my earthly worries?

Every one of these sections is the same. They just allow for a five-second redesign of a course that the marketing team can slap on the back of the box. You barely even need to do anything. In almost every case, you simply have to glide down to reconnect with the course. You can get through them by letting go of the controller. There is only one part in the game where you need to glide upwards. There is only one part in the game where it is beneficial to glide from side to side. The only time it’s in your best interest to try at these bits at the end of Mount Wario, where there are rings that give you a speed boost passing through them. I guess you can try to get a few extra coins in a few stages, but you have any reason to ever want coins. The coins are only there to make the gliding sections seem a little less tedious. They do little to quash the boredom.

Have I mentioned how beautiful this game is?
Have I mentioned how beautiful this game is?

You know what’s even funnier? Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, which completely ripped off Mario Kart 7, made by a company the Internet loves to shit on, actually managed better aerial sections than the critical darling that is 8. The controls are stiff, but they aren’t as bad as they are in Mario Kart. You actually have to move left and right to move through boost panels when you’re in these sections. And you have to go through them, unless there’s a shortcut or something that lets you bypass it. They are as much a part of the course as the terrestrial ones.

THIS beat you.
THIS beat you.

Underwater sections have physics that are a little slower and a little more sluggish, but, for the most part, feel exactly the same to play as those in the open air. Only a handful of levels incorporate any mechanics at all that feel distinct from a regular race (Dolphin Shoals I love you). And the saddest part is, that’s about what I expected these sections to be. There are parts where I have a moment of realization that I’ve gone underwater. The change is that minor. They’re nothing special to play. Except for Dolphin Shoals, of course.

LOOK EVEN IGGY POP LIKES IT.
LOOK EVEN IGGY POP LIKES IT.

Those aren’t the “big deal,” though. The real advertising Hail Mary this time are the anti-gravity sections. These do nothing. Literally. I thought the underwater sections were bad, but these literally change nothing about your control. Eighty percent of the time, I don’t even realize I’m supposed to be upside-down until I notice my wheels changed. The only change these actually make is to the way these courses look in their introductory videos.

asldkfjlaksjdf

Gravity-defying sections are cool in most games, but not in racing games. You know why? Because you’re on a road, and when you’re on a straight line with the camera half a foot behind you, you can’t tell that the course is doing a loop-de-loop. The only change these make to the rules of the game is that, if you collide with another person or those weird spinning things that are everywhere, you get a small boost. I don’t understand why this happens, and I don’t like it. Call me a “purist,” but ISN’T THE ENTIRE POINT OF A KART RACER TO NOT HIT THINGS? This also totally kills the meta of character selection. The benefit of using heavier characters was that they could pummel almost everyone else in the game at the cost of going faster. Now, if they try to do that, they’re actually giving them a helping hand.

It might seem like doubletalk to say that I want more gimmicks in stages and complain when I actually get them, but the problem is that every stage has the same few gimmicks that don’t actually play that differently. I think it’s safe to update our checklist to include the following:

OFFICIAL LIST PT 2


Part 4: The Nitpicky Extra Stuff

So, because I’m still terrible at organization, I wound up having a lot of oddball problems in this review, too. Please enjoy the following messy diatribe.

I hate how the online is an absolute whore for Internet connection. You’re so close to perfect Mario Kart online, Nintendo. Just fix your netcode. I can hardly stay in a game.

The superhorn would be the best item in the game if it were easier to get. I know the point of the item is that it’s rare and has to be used well, which puts on lots of pressure, but wouldn’t the strategy of this game be more interesting if you had a chance to get the thing? Imagine debating getting rid of one of your items when you’re in first place. You could get a coin, or you could get a superhorn. It’s unlikely you’ll get the latter, but they’re just likely enough in this NEW Mario Kart installment for you to hope for one. I think fine-tuning the item drop likelihoods could make for some seriously interesting situations like that. As it stands, there’s next to no chance to get the superhorn. You’d have to be a fool to sacrifice what you have for a horn.

Why haven’t character-exclusive items come back yet? That added an actual reason to play as different characters. It was fantastic to give your selection a little more thought than “Paratroopa is the baddest of the bad under 60 kilograms.”

I don't know what he's looking at, but it's about to be fucked up.
I don’t know what he’s looking at, but it’s about to be fucked up.

It also gave the game a lot more personality. Compare the Chain Chomp item with the Bullet Bill. The Chomp is unpredictable and makes different music. It’s so stupidly overpowered that everyone’s bound to get a laugh out of it the first time they see it. It’s insanely useful, too. The Bullet Bill is a free teleport for people who suck at video games. It might as well teleport you ahead of the pack. It’s soulless, and it isn’t your signature. I played as Baby Mario and Luigi for two years. The Chain Chomp was MY thing. It was a signature. Now, anyone can use the Bullet Bill. I want my fucking Chomp back, Nintendo. The other power-ups were awesome, too. I can’t imagine why they didn’t bring these back. Could they not think of specials for every character? I doubt it. If they were struggling, they could’ve told Takashi Tezuka to go on a coffee run. By the time he came back he’d have enough ideas for the next thirty years.

Why can I choose my own glider? I’m not complaining that you’re increasing the customizability of the karts, I’m just saying that this isn’t the way to do it. There’s nothing different about any of these gliders, so it’s a purely cosmetic change to make. It feels to me like you’re just trying to add false depth to a game that doesn’t really benefit from it. You’re just allowing for the changes because having three things to tweak on your vehicle looks better than two, even if one of those is entirely nonsensical. It’s almost condescending that the game thinks players can’t see through such a tactic. Now that I think about it, having gliders with different stats might actually encourage Nintendo to make glider courses with a little more diversity. How hard would it have been to have pointier ones go faster and flatter ones with more control?

The music is very hit-or-miss. Sometimes it’s incredible, and other times it’s incredibly easy to forget or, worse, irritating. My biggest complaint is that I’m sick of orchestrated music in video games. Games need to stop relying on slapping “…with a REAL orchestra!” on the back of a box to get their music praised. Orchestral music can suck too, people. Just look at Bowser’s Castle. I guess it isn’t really Mario Kart’s fault for convincing everyone to go for orchestrated music, but it is Nintendo’s, so I think it’s a half-fair criticism. Next time, try composing songs people will praise for reasons other than “it’s played on real instruments.”

These weren't made by real instruments, lads.
These weren’t made by real instruments, lads.

This suffers from a lot of the typical Wii U problems. Loading screens are horrendous at times, especially upon startup. It takes my computer less time to boot up than this (and that’s without an SSD, techies). The Wii U Gamepad hardly has anything to do, either. This time, it’s been delegated to simply showing everyone’s pole position, a teensy display of other racers on the map, and a GIGANTIC HORN BUTTON for those white-knuckle civilian casualties. None of these features add anything to the game.

Except the horn. Please bring that back next time. It's imperative.
Except the horn. Please bring that back next time. It’s imperative.

You can play using a Wii remote and nunchuk, Gamepad, pro controller, or garbage tilt controls that nobody likes. Personally, I stick with the nunchuk combo or Gamepad. The pro controller isn’t good enough to warrant a thirty dollar purchase, by the way, unless you or your friends really hate the Wii remote and nunchuk and refuse to play with you unless you get one.

Do you remember when you had to earn the fourth cup in the games? That’s not the case here. Unlocking every course in the game is as easy as playing six Grand Prix cups. It’s also dumb unlocking vehicle modifiers. Coins are used to unlock new vehicle mods. It’s almost impossible to play a Grand Prix without getting fifty coins, and so it’s almost impossible to not get the necessary number of coins with ease. It makes earning new mods feel unceremonious. The characters you unlock are easy to get as well. Nintendo, if I can beat the computer on the hardest difficulty, I can sure as shoeshine beat them on the easiest one. Do I really need to play the lesser difficulties to unlock all the characters?

The choices of characters in the roster this time are kind of baffling. 2014 was certainly the Year of the Koopaling, since all the squirts once again make a resplendent return that nobody actually wanted. Half the character roster is Koopa blood in this one, I swear to god. Four out of twenty was bad enough in Double Dash!. You can dial it back. And who thought Pink Gold Peach was a good idea?

Which Horseman of the Apocalypse is this again?
Which Horseman of the Apocalypse is this supposed to be?

OFFICIAL LIST PT 3

So that’s it then, I suppose. Those are the fifteen changes I’d make to the next Mario Kart game that bugged me with this one. I don’t think most of these changes are realistically going to get made, but it’d be nice to see at least a few of them in the next installment. Like I said, we’re so close to perfection and I really hope we get even closer next time. No game is perfect, but it never hurts to shoot ever higher.

…What’s that? That isn’t everything, you say?


Part 5: DLC Packs

I rarely buy DLC for games, but I made an exception this time because everybody I knew refused to shut up about good it was. This DLC pack contains several new karts,  characters, and, most importantly, courses. There’s a second pack coming with the same thing, and it’ll contain the same sorts of content. You can pre-order both for a discounted price and get eight color swaps for Yoshi and Shy Guy. Christmas came early in 2015, I suppose. I’d pay twelve dollars for a purple Yoshi alone.

You can taste the value.
You can taste the value.

The only glaring omission from the DLC is an option to totally eliminate any record of Pink Gold Peach from the game and humanity’s collective consciousness. Maybe if you preorder the third pack they’ll throw that in. We can only pray.

help

I don’t care about getting to play as Tanooki Mario or Cat Peach, but getting to play as Link kind of irks me. This is a Mario game, right? Why are you making this a Nintendo crossover? Isn’t there already a series for that? Ah well. As long as it doesn’t progress to having F-Zero and Excitebike stages and Kirby character outfits

unexciting bike

f-zero

lo;;

are you serious. Well, we can at least take solace in the fact that we don’t have to worry about in-game advertising

this is real

please be joking.

Actually, I kind of like the inclusion of the Benz. It’s so absurd that it ends up being pretty funny. I’m also fine with the DLC shoutouts to other franchises for now, but any more will  dilute the Mario experience. The DLC tracks aren’t unreasonably priced, I’d say. If you figure that maybe half the cost of a Mario Kart game is all the new tracks you get to play, thirty dollars is devoted to sixteen tracks. That comes out to a little less than two dollars per track. Since you’re getting eight new tracks for the price of four with this deal, it’s actually not that bad. I’m still not fond of the idea that I’m paying for more a game that I already paid for, but I like that there’s now going to be a much less finite number of courses. Assuming I throw even more money at the Nintendo machine, of course.

The first course is… Yoshi Circuit? Hang on… I thought these were new courses? You mean to tell me that I’m actually paying for retro rehashes? And for another mediocre Double Dash course? Yes, it’s true, sadly. Three of the eight tracks are just ones you’ve played before. Yoshi Circuit, Wario Gold Mine, and SNES Rainbow Road all make their returns. Yoshi Circuit, as stated, is an unusual inclusion on account of it not being that good of a course. I don’t even think people were clamoring for this particular course to come back. Why include it here? Wario Gold Mine was never one of my favorite courses in Wii, but they’ve given it quite a reimagining. The race isn’t a death trap anymore, at least. The turns are actually manageable and you won’t get thrown off with a wanton breeze, and the bats aren’t unavoidable hellspawn this time. It looks fantastic as well. Unfortunately, SNES Rainbow Road is yet another flat course based off a 2D game. We’ve had how many of these by now? Is anyone in their right mind willing to pay money for this? It’s just not worth the purchase price.

The first of the new courses is one based on Excitebike. It’s a little simple, as the course essentially feels like a series of straightaways where you do nothing but hit the trick button, but I like it all the same. It’s the closest I’m getting to Baby Park this decade, that’s for sure. What’s neat about this course is that it changes every time you play. It never feels all that different, but it’s a fun touch. It’s a small detail I’m glad was added. Next is Dragon Driftway. It’s fairly simple and has some pretty fun tricking sections. The only bummer is that I thought I was about to get through this review without another Chinatown level.

The Egg cup ends with a stage based on Mute City from F-Zero, and it’s fantastic. It’s minimalistic, but incredibly effective. The stage is fast and relies mostly on its dash panels. It almost feels like a stage from All-Stars Transformed, actually.

WHY WON'T THIS GAME PISS OFF.
WHY WON’T THIS GAME PISS OFF.

I love F-Zero, and they did a terrific job of making a stage that blends the best parts of both games. It’s got as many corkscrews and as high a speed as something from GX, but the gameplay, of course, is still just like a Mario Kart course. It’s a brilliant homage and the best course in this pack, and as an added plus, the music that’s almost as good as the course itself is.

Next is Ice Ice Outpost —

Dry Dry Desert
Carrying the torch, I see.

— which is my second favorite of the new courses. The entire course diverges, so there’s a lot of interesting switch-ups you can pull off. It leads to a lot of strategy about which way will get you further ahead, but the two halves never feel separated. Picking one route doesn’t leave you isolated from everyone who picked the other for the rest of the lap. It’s unpredictable and dynamic, and it has a lovely shortcut midway through. The only thing I have to ask is, why didn’t this course take advantage of the gravity mechanics? You could’ve had the tracks converge and diverge and spin and twist around one another right in front of you. It’s a perfect contender to demonstrate what that gimmick is actually capable of!

Finally, Hyrule Circuit is a piece of The Legend of Zelda fanservice similar to the F-Zero and Excitebike ones. The difference, of course, is that Zelda actually has fans. As someone who’s never been terribly fond of the series, I’m not terribly thrilled with the generic fantasy look the level has, but I assume that Zelda fans should find something they enjoy here. Having the coins replaced with rupees is a nice detail, and it has a lovely shortcut midway through, too.

The DLC is all in all adequate. It’s not full of knockout tracks, but none of the new ones are especially bad. If you like Zelda, then there won’t be a disappointing new track on here. Three retro revivals feels like a cop-out, so hopefully we won’t see those in the next pack. (Who am I kidding, though. They’re so easy to make, I’d be surprised if we didn’t just see eight revival courses next time.) If you have Mario Kart 8, I suggest you get the DLC. Only buy the first pack for now, though. Unless your Yoshi simply has to be orange, I think it’s safer to wait to see whether the new tracks are any good before you wind up buying 8 variations of Dry Dry Desert. *shudder*

…So is that it, then? Well, not really. We still have one more confirmed DLC pack, and, in truth, I’ll never be fully satisfied with this review until we can see how it stacks up to the next game in the series. I expect that, when New 3DS takes advantage of its heightened processing power and inevitably ushers in the next generation of handhelds far too quickly with a new kart racer, this review will look unnecessary in hindsight. So I’ll look forward to that, though I doubt it’ll look as pretty as this one does. The cynical part of me expects a minor step back, due to worse graphics, but if Nintendo decides to take enough steps forward, we might be able to make the definitively best Mario Kart sometime soon. Until then… Mario Kart 8 is the definitively best Mario Kart. I figured I’d enjoy this game, but it’s so much better than any other game in the franchise that I’m awestruck. If you haven’t bought a Wii U yet, this game is worth buying the console for (ignoring, of course, its other excellent titles). Go spend an exorbitant amount of your money on it now. It’s the second-best multiplayer game on the system.


FINAL SCORE: 9/10

This game Mario Kart ate away my life.

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3 Comments

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  1. Its almost perfect.

    Almost…

    Like

  2. smug

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Someone definitely loved Cheep Cheeps Beach, it is by far one of the most visually impressive retro tracks, it looks so damn NICE.

    Like

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