It is safe to say that things haven’t gone well for the Wii U so far in its life. Despite being released a year before Microsoft and Sony’s next gen consoles it is down in third place in the sales lists. There are many reasons for this: form poor marketing, low power and lack of third party support being the main three. But there is always one aspect that Nintendo can rely on to keep one of their consoles and that is their excellent array of first party titles, many of which have been around since the NES and, in the case of the Mario Kart series, the SNES.
There is a reason why Nintendo are able to keep releasing games such as Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong and that reason is that they are always beautifully made and such incredible fun to play. So seemingly with the fate of the Wii U in its hands, is the hugely anticipated eighth iteration of the Mario Kart Series still fun to play and is it good enough to give this struggling console the boost in sales it so desperately needs?
First things first and when you first load up the game you are greeted to the usual title screens, there are the usual single player options found in most other Mario Kart titles. The most popular is the Grand Prix mode where you race in four different races against 11 other characters from the Mario universe. Do well enough and collect enough coins and you will unlock new characters and differing parts for your kart or if you choose bike. The selection of characters has been increased but it has to be said that this seems to be very lazy, there are just too many baby versions of the characters already in the list. You can use your mii as a character though which is a nice touch.
A new addition to the game from previous versions is the anti gravity function of your kart. On paper this sounds really good as you can now traverse the course running up the sides of the course or even upside down looking down on the normal track, but in reality on most anti gravity sections you don’t realise that you aren’t on a flat piece of track, the camera follows you from the usual over the shoulder angle and because of this you don’t really notice when you’re on your side or upside down. That being said it does make the tracks more interesting and can give a few more optional shortcuts and helps freshen up some of the classic courses. The parachute addition is much better implemented and there have been many times when I have tried to land early and not made the track, my only gripe with the new modes is that they happen automatically, I would have liked a mode to turn it onto manual where by you press a button to activate your anti-gravity or parachute.
The tracks on Mario Kart 8 are superb, in total there are 32 split into 16 brand new tracks and 16 ‘retro’ tracks from older versions of the game. I have played many many hours of Mario Kart so far and there is not one track that I haven’t enjoyed racing round, there is a great variety in the tracks and they all feel very different, not many racers I have played have been able to achieve this with the courses so I have to applaud the designers for this feat. The variety in the tracks is matched by the variety of the various parts you can use to customise your kart. Different chassis, wheels and parachutes can all be selected to create a kart that suits your driving style perfectly, even the size of your character affects the overall weight and in turn the speed and handling characteristics.
Unlike previous versions of the game this is the first presented in high definition and it really does look incredible, it runs so smoothly on the Wii U, no frame rate drops or any screen tears at all in my time spent with the game. Everything in game looks crisp and the colours are brilliantly displayed. The Wii U may be underpowered compared to its two main rivals but you wouldn’t not think so looking at this game, it is incredible and even on the Gamepad the quality doesn’t drop at all. Using a TV the game pad can either show the standings or the mini map of the circuit. I would like the option to place the map on the main TV as it is so frantic racing around that I don’t dare take my eyes off the screen and look at the pad. Playing solely on the Gamepad works brilliantly, there is no lag at all and I have often found myself picking it up for a quick ten minute blast whilst the TV is in use or waiting for the latest game in the World Cup to kick off… after all no one wants to listen to Adrian Chiles do they?
The online gameplay is well worked, I have played with friends in a group and there were no problems, the usual options are there and I have noticed no issues with the online service, either with friends or random other players from around the globe. I would like more options to chat to other players in game but this is an area that Nintendo as a whole needs to improve on. One mode that I have to be very critical of is the battle mode, somehow it has been completely ruined. Where it used to be great fun trying to pop other characters balloons in a custom made arena it is now confined to tracks and it quite simply doesn’t work as you just race as normal, I hope Nintendo can fix this later on with some new Battle mode only tracks.
Overall this is one of the most entertaining games I have played this year, no matter how long I play it for I just don’t grow tired of it, the classic Mario Kart formula has been refined with new HD visuals and online capabilities and Nintendo have delivered when the Wii U needed it most. In the time this game has been out sales of the console have rocketed and I can see why, it is near endless fun for players of all ages and it may have prolonged the life of the Wii U long enough for Nintendo to create some more great first party titles. If you are thinking of buying this then I recommend you do, the incentive of a free game from the Nintendo store makes this a must buy if you own a Wii U.
Reviewed on Wii U