With the arrival of Mario Kart 8, it seems like the Wii U will finally get some much needed attention and more people will pick up Nintendo’s struggling system. However, is Mario Kart 8 worth taking out on the track or should it stay in the pit lane?

Mario Kart is ‘the’ kart racer, it defined the genre back in the early 90s, established its dominance with Mario Kart 64 and has gone from strength to strength on the handheld, with Mario Kart 7 adding interesting features like gliding and kart customisation. Mario Kart 8 tries to carry on this tradition, with its main addition of anti-gravity, allowing racers to stick to walls, drive upside down or drive straight up a waterfall whilst dodging Green Shells and bananas.

This new mechanic gives the track designers great scope to create courses like which we have never seen in Mario Kart history, with some courses leaving you amazed how they thought of these designs. However, anti-gravity doesn’t really do much else to change up the core racing. While you can bounce off racers and special gravity nodes for a short speed boost, it doesn’t add a whole load of complexity to the racing as say slipstreaming, seeming like wasted potential for what is a cool mechanic.

As for the core racing, it is the best it has been since Mario Kart DS. All the vehicles handle well, with the karts and bikes being balanced in this one with no one vehicle type being the optimum set up and there is a really satisfying sense of speed at 150cc, which some games in the series have been lacking.

mk8 antigravity

Get used to pinballing off opponents in anti-gravity for those precious spin boosts.

However, one main quibble I have with this game is the kart customisation. While it is a nice idea to have the ability to change car parts and so on before a race, it only really works in Time Trial where you can actually change your kart’s layout between every course unlike in a Grand Prix or tournament. It’s good in theory, as it allows savvy racers the edge on certain courses due to their kart’s being built to deal with the icy track for example, when you are in a Grand Prix with 4 courses with vastly different surface types and variance between underwater and anti-gravity sections and you can only have one vehicle for the whole thing, the preplanning for races goes out the window really.

Personally, I would make customisation purely aesthetic and have stats based more heavily on which racer you pick and whether you pick a bike or kart, rather than having the player puzzle over whether to choose slick tires or wooden tires. Another fact is that the game doesn’t out right tell you which tires and chassis are better underwater, in anti-gravity and on regular land, making it either down to guess work or an online guide to determine if your set up is the best one for the track.

I can’t go so long into a review on Mario Kart 8 without discussing the visuals and music in the game. They are just phenomenal. The soundtrack is so damn jazzy, with the main theme and Dolphin Shoals being particular highlights while the remixes of old themes sound great. I don’t know how Nintendo did it but the Wii U looks on par with the PS4 and Xbox One when you are running this game. Little details like your tires going yellow over time when you are racing on a sandy track or Mario’s moustache flapping in the wind as you glide through a section all really add to the game’s stellar presentation. Credit must go to Nintendo for the art direction on this game and for making it run at 60 fps at all times and the detail put in to make it look and sound so good.

As for the tracks in game, they are a bit hit and miss to be honest. Some new courses like Dolphin Shoals and Cloudtop Cruise will no doubt become classics and some revamped retro tracks like Toad’s Turnpike and Wario Stadium utilise new mechanics like Mario Kart 7’s gliding and anti-gravity really well. Other tracks are absolute stinkers. The new Rainbow Road is quite frankly an insult to the title while some retro courses like DK Jungle and Melody Motorway have hardly been changed for Mario Kart 8. One thing that really irritated me was the fact that the updated N64 Rainbow Road is only one lap, with it being split up into smaller sections. I understand this for a stage like Mount Wario, which is just a straight run down a mountain but Rainbow Road is one, a full circuit and two, should be more than one lap. I understand it is a big course and would accept it being 2 laps, like Wario Colosseum in Double Dash!! but one lap is too short.

mk8 rainbow road

I appreciate they tried something different with this Rainbow Road, but it really didn’t work.

As for new items, the Boomerang, Piranha Plant and Super Horn are welcome additions, adding some interesting defensive options as well as new ways to knock other racers out of your way. However, one unwelcome change is the fact you can only have one item active at a time. In old Mario Karts, you could have one item in use, say a Green Shell being dragged behind you as a shield whilst also having a Banana in reserve as a backup, to lessen the damage if say a player behind you had a Triple Red Shell. The change to the item system gives players in first place less defensive options, making a Triple Red Shell as dangerous as a Blue Shell.

Furthermore, even with the Super Horn which can now destroy an incoming Blue Shell, I still believe the much maligned item should be reverted to its state in Mario Kart 64, as a Red Shell which would go through everyone in front of you, allowing players at the back of the pack to get back into the race. Also, I still believe Coins are a useless addition to the series, just added to pad out the slog of collecting all the kart parts and giving you something else to collect during a race. They also take up a valuable item slot in races (which could have been given to the Boo item which I really want back) and only frustrate first place players by giving them a useless item which cannot help them defend their position.

Another faux pas made by Nintendo is the change they made to Battle Mode. Instead of you fighting it out in specially made arenas built for multiple projectiles flying around, battles now take place on racing stages. The courses are just not built for battling and some will require the last few players to tediously drive round the map, desperately looking for the other player in order to end the game. It is a stupid change which makes the Battle Mode not worth playing for more than one session.

block fort mk64

The lack of a proper Battle Mode and a Block Fort remake makes me sad.

As for the online component, the netcode seems stable with races rarely suffering from lag and there being a nice spectator function for players waiting to get into a game. The game’s tournaments seem a good replacement for Mario Kart 7’s Communities, allowing players to set up long events for players to drop in and out of with certain rules like only karts allowed or limiting items. However, Mario Kart TV is too simplistic for players to make anything really cool with their replays and with the recent announcement of Nintendo’s planned Affiliate system on Youtube, just seems like a way for them to squeeze extra cash out of players uploading highlight reels of tournaments or streams.