Welcome to my first official review of the Mario Kart gaming franchise, and my first game review for the Nintendo Wii U system – Mario Kart 8! What a fun game!
I am familiar with racing games and have enjoyed many, including a few of the Mario racing games. I am most familiar with the Mario Kart Wii game, and one thing I have to say is the gameplay of Mario Kart 8 is very similar.
The good: Fun, fun, fun! Daddy’ll take the WiiMote away…
The bad: The split-screen in two-player. This game is Nintendo’s lost opportunity in the tablet controller gameplay.
In this game you have 16 characters to choose from initially, and 14 that can be unlocked. All the familiar ones are there – Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Peach, etc. You then have your choice of vehicle, tires and parachute; all of what you choose here has a ranking such as speed, acceleration and weight. Each character you choose also has a ranking according to weight class. Toad is considered lightweight while Donkey Kong is heavy, for example. You have a starting line, and at ‘go’ you race against 11 other characters (the Wii’s AI). Along the way you pick up tools you can throw at other opponents to slow them down so you can gain an advantage, like shells, while they can do the same to you. You dodge things left on the track, like banana peels and mushrooms, and try to get to the finish line first. After the race is over, you have the option of watching a video of highlights from your race. You can couch co-op up to four players.
Where this game excels is the tracks themselves, which are grouped into Cups. Mario Kart 8 has gotten creative, naming them Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Star Cup, and Special Cup (LOL). In each are four different tracks. Where they have failed creatively in uniquely named racing Cups, they’ve more than made up for it in tracks. And wow, I would love to spend the day in some of these locales! Beautiful graphics! Everything just looks so gorgeous!
The track through Sweet Sweet Canyon, for example, has you driving through a sweet tooth’s paradise, including sliding on icing on the track and driving in an underwater syrup wonderland.
My personal favourite track is Bowser’s Castle, which takes a heavy metal turn, and has you veritably drive through Ozzy Osbourne’s living room on persian rugs and a metal track. The soundtrack also gives you a taste of rock. Very cool! \m/
Gamers interested in racing on tracks from older Mario Kart franchises are in for a welcome surprise as racing Cups consisting of tracks from older Mario Kart games will be found here too.
Before I proceed, allow me to explain to those not familiar with the devices used with the Wii U. You have the console, Wiimotes and classic controllers, just like Ye Olde Whyte Wii, but you also have a Wii GamePad tablet controller, an innovation in gaming that allows for a different gaming experience. The tablet has analog sticks, D-pad and buttons normally seen on a Nintendo controller, except it has a touch-screen that can be used with finger or stylus. The touch-screen is also another way in which to view a game. Depending on whether the game has this functionality, you could play it on the Wii GamePad tablet controller sans TV, called Off-TV Play (the hubs does this all the time). Also, in two-player, instead of playing split-screen on the TV – which is often the case in racing games and two-player first-person shooters – some Wii U games allow you to have access to the whole TV while your opponent can play the game using the GamePad tablet. It can be a pretty cool gaming dynamic, and kudos to Nintendo for thinking out of the multiplayer box by adding the tablet.
But, this is where I have a complaint about Mario Kart 8. The hubs and I played this game together; he using the GamePad tablet controller, and I with a Wii classic gaming controller. We hoped that with the GamePad, he would be racing right on the touch-screen, and I would have the TV to myself. That did not happen, unfortunately, as the hubs and I had to play Mario Kart 8 in split-screen on the TV. He used the GamePad to navigate his character on TV, but there was no typical visualization of the race on the tablet’s screen, other than a large horn icon and analytics like what the track looks like and ranking of the characters in the race. What he could see in analytics of the race was missing from the TV, I guess, to save valuable TV screen real estate.
This brings me to the second problem of Mario Kart 8 – the split-screen! Depending on the racing track, if you round a corner, sometimes you cannot see what is coming up ahead of you because of the split-screen! Some might not think that’s important, but I do because next thing you know I am crashing into a baracade because I couldn’t see what was coming up ahead.
Now, I am sure there is a perfectly good reason why Nintendo under-utilised the Tablet Controller with Mario Kart 8. Please don’t tell me they didn’t think or try to port the game on the Tablet controller. If not, there is indeed a missed opportunity utilising the tablet controller in racing games. My techy mind is thinking too that the reason it wasn’t done that way is there might be too much of a difference of frame-rate between what one sees on the TV and what one sees on the GamePad Tablet controller screen that it would make for a shitty racing experience. Perhaps one day?
That said, Mario Kart 8 is too much fun to pass up, despite minor complaints. It’s great fun that spans all ages.