Simply stated, Mario Kart 8 is the best reason to own a Wii U right now.
The latest entry in Nintendo’s storied racing franchise, Mario Kart 8 adds just enough wrinkles to the familiar formula to draw in both new and nostalgic gamers alike. Even if you’ve never experienced a previous iteration in the last 22 years, Mario Kart’s accessibility and seemingly endless replay value makes it a game whose legacy will live on long after this console cycle is over.
Offering 16 new courses, 16 remakes from previous games, and 30 drivers to choose from, there’s plenty to do and see (in HD!) in Mario Kart 8. Whereas Double Dash!! had two drivers per kart and Mario Kart Wii emphasized the use of the Wiimote, the gimmick this time around is the transformation of rides into anti-gravity vehicles capable of scaling surfaces you never dreamed of zipping across. The transformation process itself is as easy as running over a luminescent panel on the ground, and in no time you’ll be tilting your head less and less in an effort to orient yourself. Everyone does it at first, so don’t worry about looking ridiculous when racing next to friends.
In addition to the new anti-grav mechanic, the ability to glide when jumping off select ramps and drive underwater make a return to Mario Kart 8. These dynamics open up new routes that require alterations to the way you make your way through courses, especially if they want to find shortcuts to keep them at the front of the pack. You can also gain speed boosts by power-sliding, drafting behind other racers, performing tricks off of ramps, and ramming into other drivers while in anti-grav mode. As fun as it is to muscle others off the road, it’s even more satisfying to do so when your incentive is more than just living out your aggressive driving fantasies.
Speaking of which, Mario Kart 8 is no slouch when it comes to destructive, friendship-destroying mayhem. You’ve got classic weapons like shells, bombs, stars, and lightning bolts at your disposal, and powerups like banana peels and Bullet Bills to stop others in their tracks. New to the mix is the Boomerang Flower, which strikes drivers on its initial throw and returning flight, the Piranha Plant, which snaps at nearby drivers and coins, and the Crazy Eight, a slightly altered version of Mario Kart 7’s Lucky Seven that grants players eight items at once. My absolute favorite new weapon though is the Super Horn, which creates an area of effect that blasts away nearby obstacles including other drivers and even the mythical blue Spiny Shell. No longer is the power to alter the ending of a race solely in the hands of whoever is trailing near last place.
The game supports single player and both local and online multiplayer modes. You can create online tournaments with custom rules and schedules, so up to 12 people can battle their way to first place. Adding more depth to the online experience is the ability to race against downloaded ghost data from other drivers, and Mario Kart TV, which lets you upload and view highlight videos created in-game that can be uploaded to YouTube in a few simple button presses. It only took a few home console cycles, but Nintendo is finally moving forward in the online gaming landscape.
Racing purists might poke at Mario Kart 8’s limited customizing in comparison to, say the Forza series, but that’s comparing apples to mushrooms. There are various carts, wheels, and gliders that can be unlocked by collecting coins during each race, which can be combined to create rides ideal for any style course or driver. Casual and hardcore gamers are sure to find value in this release, as the most skilled runs through the game’s versions of San Francisco and a techno nightclub can be knocked off course with a single wayward green shell.
Anyone holding out on purchasing a Wii U should seriously consider doing so with Mario Kart 8 out and Super Smash Bros. on the horizon. This console-exclusive release has already sold over a million copies in its first weekend on the market, and will likely become more popular as the install base grows and previous owners dust off consoles they’ve not turned on in a while. Sure Nintendo might not always have the best third-party support from publishers, but solid first-party releases like Mario Kart 8 are why generations of gamers will always keep coming back for more.
Mario Kart 8 is now available on Wii U.
Mario Kar 8 Trailer