Fri. Mar 31st, 2023
Mario Kart 8 review: One step forward, one step back

It’s too easy to Mario Kart series as a throwback to the past that holds Nintendo back, a family-friendly nostalgia feast that becomes more of a pale echo of the company’s golden era with each passing year. Instead, I’d say Nintendo has done a great job of keeping the franchise fresh over the years, adding enough new ideas and tweaks to the solid core with each release to make Mario Kart a must-play rite of passage for any new piece of Nintendo hardware. Sure, some games in the series were more revolutionary than others, but Mario Kart games are far from the incoming, more-of-the-same, semi-annual sequels they could be.

mario kart 8 keeps this cartridge going for the eighth time, offering a deceptively solid racer beneath its candy-colored exterior. The changes may be relatively minor this time around, and some of the changes have made things mind-bogglingly worse, but all in all, this is still the kind of game that keeps people buying Nintendo consoles.

Move in HD

Honestly, the most notable improvement this time around might be the HD graphics. That might seem odd to highlight as an essential new feature for a series in 2014, but when you first load up the game it’s easy to wonder how the series managed to last so long without the increased resolution.

It’s a credit to Nintendo’s visual design that surpasses games like the one from 2008 Mario KartWii didn’t look completely terrible for the time with only 480 lines of vertical resolution. Without that restriction, however, the designers have really been able to go to town this time. mario kart 8 fills every lane with a cavalcade of rich color and crisp incidental detail and outputs everything at a silky-smooth frame rate, even during split-screen matches. Some of the courses look a little too busy visually, but overall this is the kind of fantastical wonderland you might have dreamed of diving into when playing the original. Super Mario Kart oh so long ago.

Gameplay-wise, the main new twist this time around is the addition of ‘hover-kart’ racing sections that allow most courses to twist into corkscrews, dive into dramatic ups and downs arcs, or spin into dramatic sharp corners without much thought. . Your ride automatically changes into a special hover mode when the track demands it, though the actual mechanics of racing change very little whether you’re riding on firm tarmac or racing past a brick wall. Oddly enough, hover karts go into a short, weird spinning dash when they crash into each other or into special poles scattered around the track. It’s a confusing new feature that comes with an annoying lack of control.

The hover mode allows for some crazy course extensions into the third dimension, though for the most part it’s hard to fully appreciate these crazy twists during the race itself. With the camera remaining firmly welded behind your kart the entire time (and tilted only slightly from normal flat racing), driving your kart at an odd angle to gravity feels very much like driving the wheels facing the original “ground” properly. “

You'd be forgiven for not realizing that this hover-kart section is at a 90-degree angle to the main track.
Enlarge / You’d be forgiven for not realizing that this hover-kart section is at a 90-degree angle to the main track.

The developers go to great lengths to make these sections a little more exciting, for example forcing players to ride up a waterfall or loop around a track so that what used to be a retaining wall becomes an orthogonal racetrack later in the round, but for for the most part it feels a bit forced. The main exception is when the hover mechanism is used to enable optional shortcuts, allowing racers to dodge walls to avoid hazards and find speed boosts and items.

New items, new balance

Aside from the hover gimmickry, the 16 new jobs in the game follow the series’ reputation for quality. Each has plenty of unique twists that make each course feel fresh and packed in plenty of well-hidden shortcuts and secrets.

The new Bowser’s Castle is a particular highlight, with a giant stone statue raining fiery blows on different parts of the track, but pretty much every track has a grinning piece of incidental design. Whether it’s riding past dolphins in a clear blue sea, descending stairs that light up and make noise as you progress, jump over a zipline with a well-timed jump, land on the wing of an airplane and power-slide through the vast cab, or an extra-long one-lap race down an ever-changing snowy mountain track, there isn’t a single new track that isn’t memorable in some way.

Almost every item you can name from previous Mario Kart games is here, from offensive staples like shells to the screen-blackout squid ink introduced in Mario Kart DS (oddly enough, the explosive fake item block was first introduced in Mario Kart 64 is now absent). Perhaps the most important returning item is the coins lying on the track, which were mostly absent from the home console Mario Kart games since the original. Rolling up to ten of these coins grants you incremental top speed boosts, while getting hit sends a few of those collected coins spewing down the track to be picked up later. Effective coin management can be a critical difference in a close race, and being forced to aim for the coins lying on the track adds crucial positioning strategy to laps that would otherwise feel a bit repetitive.

The handful of new items is a mixed bag; my favorite is the boomerang, which can hit unsuspecting opponents if it returns to you or allows a retry after a miss. The giant piranha plant item can automatically shoot at opponents and coins as you tear past, giving you a small boost with every lunge. I was less interested in a new speaker box item that creates a shock wave in the immediate vicinity of your kart, but it’s notable for being the only item that can actually nullify an incoming blue shell when you’re in first place.

Luigi's year is really over.
Enlarge / Luigi’s year is really over.

Speaking of the blue shell, now is a good time to talk about that scourge of the skilled and the novice’s great white hope: rubber bands. Like every previous one Mario Kart game, MK8 does give an edge to players lagging behind in the leaderboard, mainly by giving trailing racers much better items that give them a chance to catch up (previous games have also given computer opponents an incremental speed boost if they are behind, but this effect seems less pronounced this time).

There is nothing more frustrating for it Mario Kart players then to cruise along with a solid lead, only to be hit by a shrinking lightning bolt, immediately followed by a red or blue grenade, followed by a starman-equipped competitor knocking them off track with no chance to recover . These situations still occur mario kart 8but they certainly felt less frequent than they were Mario KartWiiwhich was perhaps the height of rubber band ridiculousness.

I don’t have any hard stats on this or anything, but anecdotally I managed to run many more laps in first place (and sometimes entire races) without being waylaid by a blue shell in mario kart 8. Red shells are also easier to escape this time around; a fast power slide dash or zigzag pattern is often enough to lose their slow moving homing signal when it appears on your tail.

That’s not to say the game is forgiving. Well, it is forgiving on the 50cc difficulty setting – so forgiving that even racing game novices can stay competitive without ever letting go of the throttle. The 100cc mode is a little more competitive, but will pose little challenge to anyone experienced in racing games and cornering power-sliding to get those boost-inducing blue and red sparks.

It’s the 150cc mode that remains absolutely merciless. The slightest mistake on a turn here is usually enough to drop you back at least one position (and often more) when opponents with items unleash their charges at you. If you don’t take every shortcut and grab every boost, it’s hard to finish first. But even if you fail in this mode, more often than not it’s your own fault that opened you up to the retaliation, not simply the luck of your opponents’ item draw.

By akfire1

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