Like many, Nintendo’s E3 showing seduced me into buying a Wii U. And, like many, I’m sure you were very disturbed by my word choice in the previous sentence. This was one of the first games I played on my new Wii U this year, and it remains one of my favorites on the console. The primary elements of Mario Kart 8 remain largely the same as the primary elements of any Mario Kart game, but there are a few additions that make it stand out as probably the best entry in the series to date.
MK8 adds, first and foremost, a new element to each track: zero-G sections. Basically, at given points in each track (well, almost all of them) the track will become completely vertical, corkscrew, or go a myriad of other mind-screwing directions. This is pulled off surprisingly well, as the camera angles always adjust themselves accordingly to allow you to see where the hell you’re going, which is important, and it also changes the gameplay in more ways than you’d expect. Perhaps most significantly, when driving in zero-G sections, colliding with another player won’t halt either of you or cause you to spin out, but it actually gives both of you a speed boost. This can be used not only for your benefit, but, if timed properly, can be used to send another player off the edge of the track.
That leads me to the other area of improvement, which is the overall speed of the game. Even when playing on 50cc, the slowest and arguably easiest mode, MK8 always feels fast and tight. When you fall off, Lakitu brings you back much more quickly than in any other game, and often places you in such a way that you can still continue without losing too much ground. Load times are fast, and even with four players there’s not any slowdown noticeable. It also runs at 60FPS even with two players, and with more than two it drops to 30, which is still pretty damn good. MK8, being the first series entry on the Wii U, looks amazingly good, and there’s a surprising amount of detail in the models and environments that make it really easy to see everything that’s going on at a glance.
Really, there’s nothing that MK8 does wrong except the online, which, without any sort of chat mechanism or other method of communication, feels sort of empty. Even when playing alone, it’s preferable to play alone with computer opponents over online opponents, if only because you have to wait less. There’s just not really anything beneficial about playing with real players who may as well not be real players. However; that’s really the only area in which MK8 falls short. That and the character roster, which is stuffed with more fluff than Winnie-the-Pooh’s backside. Seriously, every single one of the Koopalings? Baby versions of 5 different characters? What the hell’s a Pink Gold Peach? That said, most of the characters are still playable, and I guess they tried to add some variety, but a Super Smash Bros. roster this is not. That said, there are a lot of different tracks, and a lot of kart customization to unlock, so the content’s not too much of an issue. The couch multiplayer is great, the game looks and sounds spectacular, and, really, it’s a Mario Kart game. It’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be, and it was one of my favorite games of 2014.