It’s been a while since I’ve played Mario Kart, and I think having some distance from the series post-Wii has done my disposition towards the franchise a world of good. Not that I didn’t care for Mario Kart Wii, but I was certainly suffering from a bit of series burnout at the time. I only dabbled in Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, and didn’t devote nearly the amount of time to it that I’ve already spent on Mario Kart 8 for Wii U.
Mario Kart 8 has easily become one of my favorite entries in the long-running series. You’ve got 16 brand new tracks to uncover, all of which look absolutely gorgeous here. There are wildly different designs between all of them, great track layouts, lots of terrain and gravity changes, and without any technical hiccups to speak of. On top of that there’s the 16 remake tracks, featuring fan favorites across every Mario Kart that’s made it to home consoles. Granted, the single player side of Mario Kart is rarely the main draw, but you’ll still have a blast playing through all 32 tracks featured, across 8 different cups.
There’s also a hefty number of characters, with your typical set at the start consisting of Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Peach, Wario and others. But there’s also a number of unlockables, including some newcomers to the series. There’s a few alternate designs for existing characters that pad out the roster a little, but for the most part the cast is pretty unique. You can also unlock and customize your vehicle, with options for body types ranging between standard carts, cars, ATV’s, bikes, and so on. You can also switch out wheels, and floating devices like parachutes or plane wings. There’s a lot of stuff to see that’s not available on the surface, promoting multiple playthroughs here without feeling too inconvenient or cumbersome.
The biggest draw, however, is the online mode and the addition of Mario Kart TV. Online play, from my weeklong experience thus far, has been great. I do wish voice chat was an option outside of just playing with friends, but that’s really my only complaint here. I’ve had no trouble finding folks to play with, I like that I can choose between Regional and Worldwide settings, and I’ve never seen an ounce of lag or been dropped from a race thus far. Playing a full race with strangers or friends is certainly the best way to experience the game, as most familiar with the franchise already know. Thankfully the online component here bolsters the multiplayer fun you can have with the game, and works without a hitch.
The Mario Kart TV feature, new to the series with this entry, is a surprising amount of fun. It’s not unheard of for racers to have some sort of video clip editing suite, but I doubt you’ve seen one illicit as much comedy as Mario Kart TV has. If you haven’t stumbled across the multitude of “Luigi Death Stare” videos on the internet yet, I’d certainly suggest heading over to your internet video site of choice and putting that exact phrase into the search box. If anything will sell you on Mario Kart 8, those videos are likely going to be it. But really, the editing options are simple and fun to use. Plus, you can upload clips directly to YouTube via your Google account, which only takes a matter of minutes. You can easily share these through MiiVerse, which is well implemented here with the stamp feature from Super Mario 3D World returning.
My only real disappointment with Mario Kart 8 comes from the lackluster Battle Mode. Generally Battle Mode is never a big selling point, but this iteration just felt lazy to me. There’s no specialized tracks to compete on. Instead you’ll be able to pick from the existing tracks and just race around under a timer, attempting to stay alive as long as possible. It’s just a really bland use of the mode that eliminates the race portion of the game while keeping everything else the same. I expected a bit more out of it, and honestly can’t find much fun in it online or off.
But the core Mario Kart experience is still fantastic here. This is the best looking Mario Kart to date, and shows off just how great the Wii U hardware is at rendering Nintendo’s unique characters and art. The soundtrack is a lot of fun, if not instantly memorable, with a catchy theme that’ll get stuck in your head quickly. The roster size is a welcome improvement, and I found myself genuinely enjoying all of the tracks available, both new and returning. Even if you’re not a Mario Kart fanatic, I think you’ll still have a ton of fun with this entry. This is a Mario Kart that will be well-remember for years to come.