I wonder how many friendships have been broken up thanks to blue shells over the years.  Ever since it’s humble beginnings on the SNES, the Mario Kart franchise has been a staple of Nintendo gaming systems.  I’ve played my fair share of the SNES, N64, Wii, and 3DS versions, so when I saw a sale on the Wii U bundle with Mario Kart 8, I had to pull the trigger.

So, how does the new installment hold up?  It’s pretty fantastic.

Burning rubber has never been so much fun.
Burning rubber has never been so much fun.

  • TL;DR: The definitive kart racer continues to set the bar higher.
  • Platform: Wii U
  • Hours Played: 12
  • What I Played: Each course on multiple difficulties, both local and online multiplayer
  • Should You Play It?: 100% without a doubt, yes.

Right here is usually the part of the article where I give a brief synopsis of a game’s story.  But, since this is Mario Kart, there obviously isn’t one.  Everyone knows what Mario Kart is — a cutthroat racing game disguised by cute Nintendo characters and shiny, happy environments.

The character roster in Mario Kart 8 is a mix of old standbys like Mario, Peach, and Bowser and new characters like Bowser’s children (Lemmy, Iggy, Wendy, etc.), Shy Guy, and Lakitu.  If you ask me, Roy is the best.  I could do without the five baby characters and would have liked to see Diddy Kong and Dry Bones make it over from the Wii version, but oh well.

Items are a huge part of the Mario Kart experience and Mario Kart 8 has a few new ones up it’s sleeve.  The fire flower shoots multiple fireballs in quick succession, the super horn hits everything in a circle around you (pro tip: this includes inbound blue shells), and Petey Piranha acts like Chain Chomp from prior games in that he brings you forward while snapping at passing enemies and coins.  Coins in Mario Kart 8 raise your top speed, 10 being the most you can hold at a time.  Getting hit is a loss of three coins.  Unfortunately, unlocks are also tied to the amount of coins you’ve picked up making everything really easy to unlock.  I liked Mario Kart Wii’s unlock path where you had to beat certain courses with certain characters or under certain times.

Gotta get that paper... well, that metal.
Gotta get that paper… er, that metal.

Karts have stats like speed, acceleration, and weight which can be seen by pressing the plus button.  You can change your stats by picking different karts, wheels, and gliders, all of which are unlocked by coins.  It also seems like the characters themselves influence a kart’s stats, as different racers in the same car have different stats, but it doesn’t seem to be as simple as the three weight classes from Mario Kart Wii.  Mixing and matching to find the right combination that fits your playstyle would be key to top-level play, but it’s also fun to just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

I’ve mentioned Mario Kart Wii a lot in this article as that is the version of Mario Kart I’ve played the most recently.  It might be easier to just list out a few additions:

  • Each kart is equipped with a glider to help control pitch and steer while flying through the air.
  • Most, if not all, courses have vertical sections where your kart’s wheels will turn into hover pads.  You can still drift during these sections, physics be damned.
  • When driving underwater, your kart springs a little propeller in the back.
  • You can honk your horn!
  • After each cup, you can watch a little highlight reel of your races.
  • Lakitu brings you back to the stage a lot quicker than in Mario Kart Wii.  He also brings you forward a bit, allowing you to skip the section that caused you to fall off in the first place.
  • A new difficulty mode, 200cc, has been added.  It’s really fast.  Braking and drifting are absolutely key.  I love it.
My new favorite character, Roy, on one of my favorite new courses, Electrodrome.
My new favorite character, Roy, on one of my favorite new courses, Electrodrome.

As with recent Mario Kart entries, Mario Kart 8 has a mix of new courses (in glorious 1080p, no less) along with HD versions of older courses.  My favorite new course is definitely Electrodrome, pictured above, which is a dance club/acid trip of a race.  It’s really cool to see old courses like the SNES version of Rainbow Road in full HD, too.  These old courses aren’t simply ports, but redone to a very nice degree.

The Wii U gamepad works really well in Mario Kart 8.  If you’re playing on the TV, you can use it with normal or motion controls while the screen shows a leaderboard, minimap, and which item each racer has.  Streaming gameplay to the gamepad works like a charm.  I don’t recommend using motion controls while doing so, though.

What's Mario Kart without some good, old fashioned multiplayer?
What’s Mario Kart without some good, old fashioned multiplayer?

Local multiplayer is, as expected, a joy with Mario Kart 8.  Up to four players can play at once and the game never struggles to keep up.  Online multiplayer is also very smooth.  You can join random lobbies and race, voting between three courses prior to each race, or join tournaments.  These tournaments have preset rules like the difficulty, which item/vehicle types are allowed, etc.  You start life with a rating of 1000 and gain/lose rating depending on where you finish each race.  Races load really quickly and you automatically requeue with the same group after each race.  I’m surprised that a Nintendo game has such a smooth, well done multiplayer experience, but I’m certainly happy to see it.

My Wii U bundle came with both DLC packs, both of which are nice additions.  Overall, they include six new characters, a slew of color swaps for Yoshi and Shy Guy, and sixteen courses across four new cups.  The new cups mix together both old and new courses, some of which are the best in the game.  Excitebike Arena pays fantastic homage to the classic game, Hyrule Circuit has great music and replaces coins with rupees, and Mute City is blindingly fast like an F-Zero stage should be.

Racing in Excitebike Arena with a motorcycle just feels right.
Racing in Excitebike Arena with a motorcycle just feels right.

Mario Kart 8 is one of, if not the, best Mario Kart games to date.  The new courses are well done, as are the remakes of old favorites.  It’s certainly nice to look at in full 1080p, with glares from street lights and rain drops streaking down the camera making everything feel alive.  Online play is smooth as silk, as is streaming to the gamepad.  All in all, Mario Kart 8 is a must own for any Wii U owner.

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