Mario Kart 8 is without a doubt the best racing game I’ve ever played. There is a ridiculous amount of polish, balance, and fluid brilliance that coats this latest installment in the Mario Kart series. Let’s talk about some of the things that make this game so utterly fantastic.
Right out of the gate, Mario Kart 8 stuns you with it’s graphical prowess. The HD visuals captivate you and take you into the Mushroom Kingdom more than I think any Nintendo game previous. Characters gesture at each other, coins sparkle, and water flows with a playful realism that perfectly suits the world. The game also runs at a bogglingly glorious 60 frames per second for one or two players, including when playing online (30 frames per second for when playing 3-4 players, which is a bit jarring, but still totally enjoyable).
The next thing I noticed is how polished the gameplay feels. The coupling of HD and 60 fps makes controlling your kart flow in a seamless fashion. The fluid motion feels so real it’s unreal and magically epic.
As I completed more races I noticed something else, a level of fairness and balance that the other Mario Kart games have never come close to. Never does the game feel it’s working against you or you lost a victory unfairly thanks to a nasty blue shell. This is partially due to the new items (such as the super horn — more on it in a moment) and the apparent cut down on the number of blue shells per race. Other things, such as not being able to hold two items at once (like you could in some cases in other Mario Karts) and giving coins as items to players in the top slots really take out a lot of the luck based faults and replace them with learned skill.
This learned skill continues all the way through other elements of the game too, such as kart design. The grand variety of options makes it so you can fine tune your playing style, even much more than Mario Kart 7 which boasted kart design as well. I find myself consistently changing vehicles and getting entirely new racing experiences.
The widely touted addition to Mario Kart 8 is the addition of anti-gravity. Races can now take place on walls and ceilings, go into complex loopty loops, or simply add totally odd shortcuts. Anti-gravity combines with gliders and underwater racing to create an unrivaled racing experience. 32 smashing tracks, 16 of which are classic tracks changed drastically to make use of these new effects, fill out the game and allow for awesomely unique courses.
It should be noted that Nintendo messed up quite a bit on the battle mode. Instead of having tracks designed for battle, fights now take place on the racetracks. This greatly cheapens the experience, as the tracks are all simply too large to battle on.
Still, that one bummer can be brushed aside for many of the other things Mario Kart 8 perfected. Online play is smoother than ever and crazy fun. Skill levels are matched well, and as good at the computer racers are, nothing compares to rubbing tires with real folks.
Another new feature of Mario Kart 8 is Mario Kart TV, which collects and displays race highlights for all players and allows editing and direct upload to YouTube. You can watch one of mine here. It’s a pretty sweet feature.
The playable character roster includes 30 characters (seven of which are Bowser’s Koopalings, an odd choice, but I still find myself frequently playing as them), nine of which are girls (and there are a few that are genderless), which I think is the best ratio in the Mario Kart series. Among these ladies are two entries to the Mario universe as a whole: Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach, both of which have been frequently played by my sister.
To go into more detail on the items, Mario Kart 8 tweaks a number of existing items and adds four new ones: Super Horn, Piranha Plant, Boomerang Flower, and Crazy 8. The Super Horn is arguably the best addition, an item that eliminates any attackers items (including blue shells) and knocks nearby opponents. It adds an unique level of defense and can also be given to the player while in the front of the pack.
The Boomerang Flower can be thrown three times and comes back to you twice, with the possibility of hitting many racers. The Piranha Plant bites nearby players and items for a set amount of time, giving a small speed boost whenever it bites down. Finally, the Crazy Eight gives the player eight items to use all at once. Tweaks include having Triple Bananas and Mushrooms orbit you like Triple Shells have in previous games. The Mushrooms can also be used by opponents who ram into you.
All of these changes and tweaks come together to make the definitive Mario Kart experience and what I consider to be the definitive racing game experience. As if all of these things weren’t enough on their own, a Nintendo promotion allows you to get an eShop download code for one of four free games when you register Mario Kart 8. So I am now also enjoying The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD on Nintendo’s dime (other options include New Super Mario Bros. U, Pikmin 3, and Wii Party U). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, as many mistakes as Nintendo has made recently, I love my Wii U. And now with this promotion I recommend it more than ever.
Mario Kart 8 is an absolute must play for all. Whether you are a master racer or have very little experience with gaming, Mario Kart 8 is the bomb. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a race to finish.
*This Mario Kart 8 review was original published on Cooper McHatton’s Cooperdiem site. Follow Cooper on Twitter.