Mario Kart 8 is the eighth installment in the combat racing series by Nintendo for the Wii U. This review will be based on the Wii U version as well as its downloadable content, but will not be drawing comparisons to the remake, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, on the Nintendo Switch. Also, as this is the eighth installment, I’m going to assume you’ve seen my previous reviews or are at least somewhat familiar with the series basics by now. I think that’s all the preface we need so let’s put the pedal to the floor and get going!
At this point you know the drill with the basic gameplay of racing around, picking up item boxes, and using those items to your advantage. There are still green, red, and blue shells here. Banana peels are still aplenty. The mushrooms, lightning bolt, and star return. You even get the Blooper, Bullet Bill, Bob-omb, and fire flower to play with. The coins return here as well, which can sometimes pop up as a usable item but usually they are spread out across the tracks. Collecting them gives you a slight speed boost and every one up to a max of 10 will slightly increase your top speed. You lose a few every time you are disrupted during the race, be it falling off of the track or being smashed by an item. There are also a few new items for this game. One, called the Crazy 8, is similar to the item from Mario Kart 7 except that you get a ring of 8 items around you to use instead of 7. There’s a Piranha Plant item that gives you mild boosts as it chomps around ahead of you, usually auto-targeting other racers and coins as they come into proximity. There’s the boomerang flower that you may recognize from Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World. It is thrown a decent distance, hitting all in its path, before returning to the user for a few throws unless it is destroyed or its slot is replaced by picking up another item. And lastly there’s another item from the games mentioned… the super horn. Though unlike in 3D Land/World here it simply emits a short-range shockwave that disrupts all nearby enemies and items. This is most notable for its ability to even counter the almighty blue spiny shell. This game also only allows you to carry one item at a time, so if you’re holding an item in the inventory or out in the open, it doesn’t count as being used until you actually let it go… or until you get hit and you drop it somewhere for others to run over, be that good or bad for them.
And speaking of new additions, not only does this installment allow you to glide through the air and drive underwater like Mario Kart 7, it also now allows you to drive upside down with the anti-gravity sections. In these sections you have slightly different handling than normal and hitting other racers or boosters gives you and the opponent a boost of speed. Most of the returning and redone tracks from previous games have been altered to include anti-gravity sections. There are four cups, each containing four tracks, that consist of all-new tracks for this game. There are also four more cups that contain tracks from previous Mario Kart games. You have a wide variety of racers to choose from, each with their own base stats. Using different vehicles, wheels, and gliders in the customization menu you can alter your acceleration, speed, handling, traction, and weight. As you beat the cups you will slowly unlock more characters and as you collect coins you’ll slowly unlock custom parts. You can race alone or with multiple people locally, race or battle with up to two players locally online, and of course any solo mode you can pretty much do online. You can play on the usual 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and mirror engine classes that get faster and more difficult as they raise, but now you can also play on the new 200cc engine class. It’s even faster and harder, just like you’d expect. There are time trials where you can compete with staff ghosts to try and win Miiverse stamps, which also can be obtained by winning races as each of the available racers in the grand prix. You can also do a vs race which allows you to customize the rules of the race such as how many races, teams or no teams, item selection, and vehicle types. The battle mode is strictly balloon battles done on a few of the game’s tracks and can be done free-for-all or in teams. You can customize some of the options, but generally the battle is always a survival match on a time limit. You have three balloons and lose them as you are hit. Hitting an opponent will net you a point and getting hit will subtract a point. The round ends after no enemies are left standing or the timer runs out and the totals of points at the end of each round decides the match. In team mode you will disappear and no longer be able to score points, but you will still be able to drive around and use items to try and eliminate the remaining players until a victory condition is met.
The DLC comes in two packs. Each pack contains two cups, three racers, and four vehicles. A few of these things are based on the Mario universe but there are also appearances from other Nintendo franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, and F-Zero. None of these count towards getting stamps but will still be counted towards other statistics and can be filtered out of online play if so desired. Owning both packs of DLC also gives you bonus color choices for Yoshi and Shy Guy. There’s a free Mercedes-Benz giving you a few vehicles and tires based on real life models.
Mario Kart 8 is definitely a very polished Mario Kart experience. It is visually very colorful and appealing, especially with the dynamic visual designs of tracks that can go upside down now to create even more spectacle. The music is also an interesting blend of jazzy renditions and rock and roll guitar. The atmosphere is energetic and thrilling throughout, which only adds to the crazy rollercoaster ride that is a Mario Kart game. The difficulty is pretty good in this one. Even at 50cc you’ll still have to do some racing to win. It’s not a runaway victory every time there, which I appreciate. The control is a bit heavier, more akin to Super Mario Kart or Double Dash, but that does put emphasis on racing well rather than just getting good with items. And the ability to counter blue shells, along with the one item slot to prevent item hoarding, are both very much appreciated to keep the game feeling balanced. You can’t squat on something good in the lead or try to hold onto a backup item the whole time here, so actually USING items and using them wisely is encouraged as a result. Not to mention squatting on an item might bite you in the ass if you get hit and lose it. I think there’s a good amount of content in the base game and I do like the split between new tracks and remade tracks using the new mechanics. Between stamps, parts, and characters you have a lot of things to unlock as you play so it gives you an excuse to keep playing more and more. The anti-gravity mechanic seems like a visual gimmick at first, but actually after thinking about it I realized that it changes your priorities from the normal sections. Normally you don’t want to get near anyone else because they might clock you with and item, right? So you want a safe distance. But in these sections you WANT to get up close and personal so that you can get that boost, but you also give them a boost AND you risk them clocking you with an item if you’re not careful. Then again, YOU could clock THEM with an item during or after the boost and use it to your advantage, so it offers a really interesting change of priorities in these sections. After playing around a bit with the different options for VS race I actually found that to be pretty fun. You can have lots of fun item sets on certain tracks, design your own sequence of races for these, and even have AI on engine classes they don’t normally appear like having easy computers on 200cc or hard ones on 50cc. Online play and local multiplayer are both fun as they are just like the main game just with other people. Plus, online it gives you points to help keep you motivated to win while trying to match you with other players of similar skill. The battle mode isn’t too bad either. Being in it as a ghost even though you’ve been taken out but still contributing is a great way to keep players in the action all the way until the end, and it’s at least interesting how you do these all on the standard tracks you race on.
The battle mode, of course, is also a great place to start the complaints about Mario Kart 8. It doesn’t have an specific battle arenas, nor does it necessarily have the best selection for existing tracks to battle on. A lot of the time in these matches is spent turning around to try and catch up to opponents, especially near the end when only a few racers remain. It’s also pretty lame that you ONLY get balloon battle and nothing else. It definitely feels like the battle mode was rushed or they just ran out of space to fit it on the disc, but it could’ve been a free update to the game once it WAS finished or even part of the paid DLC. Speaking of which, that DLC is reasonably priced but still annoying separate from the main game. The whole thing could’ve maybe been delayed and finished up rather than waiting for the remake to release all that content as a complete game. The time trials are pretty dull unless you really care about getting your best times or want to practice tracks without the distractions of other racers. Getting the stamps for that or winning grand prix is also pretty pointless now that the Miiverse has been shut down. You can’t even view the stamps in the game anywhere so it’s frustrating that you can still get them and never look at them at all. Why not just patch them out of the game entirely now? The customization is pretty lame too. It’s nice for making any racer play more to your liking, but it also means no one really feels special. Everyone is interchangeable which means you just have lots of barely distinct skins. It also makes unlocking the different parts pretty boring too as many are just the same thing with a different look. I kind of wish they could just simplify that all into a few categories based on stats and then let you pick from the different looks from there. That, or make it so everything is unique so there IS a difference. The game just feels kind of bloated in that sense. This also adds to coins being underwhelming too. The slight boosts are interesting, but it’s not that hard to hit 10 coins and then a lot of the time you’re either going out of your way for the mild coin boost or just going for items instead anyway. They don’t feel as dynamic as perhaps they could be, but they certainly aren’t terrible.. just underwhelming. Also, while I appreciate the addition of motion controls for the novelty… did we really need it? Probably not.
Mario Kart 8 on Wii U is a great Mario Kart game. It does a good job balancing the amazing spectacle of the series’ combat racing and crazy course quirks with actual skilled racing and item usage. It manages to bridge the gap of newcomers and veterans with all the options available while never feeling like a joke or a troll in the process. It might just be, generally speaking, the best Mario Kart game out there! It’ll have plenty to nitpick and nuances to appreciate. As far as recommendations go, I’d say that most Wii U owners should definitely consider it for even 30 to 40 bucks. It’s the kind of game you’ll eventually get your money’s worth from if you enjoy it. Especially if you’re already a Mario Kart fan. The DLC isn’t necessarily worth the asking price unless you’re already pretty sold on the base game. The only thing I do have to say is that if you have or are planning to get a Switch… just get the Deluxe version and save yourself the trouble. You’ll pay base game price for all the DLC here plus extras on that version and a larger player base. Still, while it may not be my favorite of the series, I definitely think Mario Kart 8 is a great entry and a fine game. Now let’s just hope they keep the series moving forward instead of opening the door to MORE remakes. Am I right?