Mario Kart 8

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Mario Kart 8 almost needs no introduction. Is it great? Yes.

What You Need to Know

Nintendo has somehow given Mario Kart another boost, like it’s running on permanent mushrooms. It feels faster, bigger and more grandiose than ever, and yet it has the charm and simplicity that shocked me when I first played the series on the GameCube.

Are you a master racer that revels in time attacks and tight controls? Mario Kart 8 is astoundingly tight and deep (although I feel like I’m still in the shallow waters there.) Are you a casual gamer who likes to have fun with friends? Mario Kart 8 will entertain you whether you’re watching or joining in a four-player split-screen battle.


The core mechanics are the same as always: Choose a Mario-world character and race a set of four courses in three-lap races, collecting and using power-ups to hinder your opponents along the way. Press ‘A’ to go, steer with the analog stick or with motion controls, use the right trigger to hop and drift and the left trigger to use a power up. That’s it. The fun is designed to emerge chaotically and differently each time.

What’s New?

Sixteen new courses, plus sixteen old courses remixed slightly with the newer underwater racing mechanics and the brand new anti-gravity racing mechanic. Speaking of anti-gravity, it’s a fantastic new idea because it allows for far crazier track layouts and reminds me of F-Zero GX.

While in anti-gravity mode (triggered at a certain point in some tracks) your kart hovers above the surface of the track, changing the grip and handling, and in that mode if you hit another player you get a boost of speed. I love this – anything to encourage players colliding in Mario Kart can’t be a bad idea.


After a race you can watch a generated highlights package and even save the ones you want to as favourites, or upload them to Mario Kart TV for others to see. You can customise your highlights package in terms of length, what characters to focus on and what type of action you want to see, too.

It is, frankly, a fantastically innovative feature because it creates a cool-down period in between races where you and your fellow racers and see what happened to each other in the race and relive classic moments.

A new power-up appears in the form of the Super Horn, which can be used to stop a Spiny Shell, but it hardly ever shows up. Nevertheless the frequency that I have been hit by the blue shell seems to be lower in Mario Kart 8 than in previous games (although I have not tested this scientifically.)

What’s the Same?

All your Mario Kart charm is there, if not enhanced in high definition, full speed (60 frames per second) glory. The energy strangely missing from Mario Kart Wii is back with a vengeance, so is exciting local four-player split-screen multiplayer and the brilliance of Mario Kart that allows players of varying skill levels to enjoy racing together.

Motion controls are still in play, so you can reuse your Wii Remotes or use the GamePad (or nunchuks or Pro Controllers). Bikes return from Mario Kart Wii, too. Basically, take all the good ideas from previous games, take out the poor ones, add some creatively and artistically top quality courses, a few double-dashes of excitement and you get Mario Kart 8.

You’ll Enjoy Mario Kart 8 If You Liked…

… Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed. That was a great kart racing game that everyone should try, but if you liked it then Mario Kart 8 should be your next karting fix.

… Mario Kart 7. The quality of the 3DS game has been carried to this Wii U project, and then some.


What I Liked

5.) The music, performed by live bands, is full of dynamism and energy, perfect for a game so packed with punch.

4.) Four-player split-screen is still there! After so many games seemed to have dropped even two-player split-screen, I was glad to see Nintendo had not forgotten about local multi-player. I should have had more faith.

3.) Loads of choice between characters and between kart options.

2.) The controls feel so right, from driving to biking to flying to floating in anti-grav mode – everything is crisp and responsive.

1.) The courses, like Mount Wario which features no laps but one long course down a mountain, or Bowser’s Castle, featuring a giant fire Bowser that hammers the course and causes shockwaves along it, or Shy Guy Falls in which you race up and down a waterfall in anti-gravity mode. Even the Retro courses are remixed and spruced up with anti-gravity, underwater bits and extra detail. In every course the attention to detail is incredible.

Favourite Moment

As I watched someone play Mount Wario on 50cc (the easiest setting – they were new to Mario Kart) I was drawn into the excitement of how the race unfolded, dropping from first to sixth, then back to first, then being hit by a red shell and falling into fourth place only to pick up a mushroom and boost to first place in the final home stretch.

Twelve racers full of character, a detailed expansive backdrop, a variety of surfaces and a sense of pace can create some epic experiences, even if you’re just watching.


What I Didn’t Like

2.) Battle Mode courses are just race courses, so it’s almost impossible to find anyone unless you have all twelve people and then it just devolves into racing around playing chicken with oncoming players. I’ve never been a Battle Mode fan, I prefer racing, so this is no big deal for me, but for others it might be an issue.

1.) A few courses feel a little too wide which reduces the tension and contact with other players. This is mostly only true of older courses like Dry Dry Desert from the GameCube or Toad’s Turnpike from the Nintendo 64. Fortunately, this only affects a tiny minority of courses – most are tight and exciting.

Least Favourite Moment

None that I can think of. I am only on around twelve hours of play but I have not had a moment of boredom, whether watching, playing with others or playing alone.

Mario Kart 8 Review – Launch Trailer

What’s Extra?

Time Attack mode and Battle Mode are in. So is a Versus mode in which you can set up your own rules for local multiplayer. Obviously there is a big online component, and Nintendo have incorporated the ability to view other players’ highlight reels and post your own on Mario Kart TV. I wasn’t able to find a game during this period, but I expect the lobbies will be fill come release date.

The Bottom Line

It’s taken eight iterations to realise the vision of Mario Kart. Feel it, it is here.

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