By Anni Simpson on June 4, 2014 at 6:00pm
I was terrible at racing games when I was younger, and “Mario Kart” was no exception. I often made rookie mistakes like driving the wrong direction, falling off cliffs, and swinging wide directly into match-destroying bananas, so much so that my drive to master the genre increased tenfold. More than others. But the promise of new tracks and older, loved tracks called to me for the eighth time, and it was impossible to resist.
You can choose between 16 drivers when you first open the game, with 14 more to unlock as you play the game. Just as with previous iterations of the series, each character falls into one of three weight classes (heavy, medium, light) which affects how they handle during races. Nine of these drivers are new to the franchise: Pink Gold Peach, Ludwig, Larry, Lemmy, Roy, and others.
Even though there aren’t huge differences between the characters you can choose from, the longstanding lore behind these characters makes them a blast to race with – and to beat on the road if they gave you trouble in other games.
I personally prefer light, and stuck to “Shy Guy” (with a brief exception for “Toad”) the vast majority of my time playing. Given my love for “Super Mario 2” growing up, this wasn’t surprising.
“Mario Kart 8” reintroduces revamps of old tracks, displaying them in stunning HD for the very first time. In particular, “Toad’s Turnpike” (N64) and “Donut Plains 3” (SNES) stood quite a bit to gain from the revamp. Nintendo also incorporated new tracks and knocked these out of the park. They also ranged wildly in difficulty with “Toad’s Turnpike” kicking my ass and “Moo Moo Meadows” generating heavy yawns.
“Water Park” was beautiful and soothing, even as you tried to shove your enemies off the track and into the water, and the adrenaline rush from racing up the side of the tunnel in “Toad’s Turnpike” was unbeatable. It felt like Shy Guy had been transported into a world “Mad Max” would be comfortable in, and obliterating enemies by dropping bananas or shells in front of 18-wheelers was a blast.
However, “Rainbow Road,” a favorite for a lot of players, could have been improved more than it was. It’s not the first time “Rainbow Road” has made an appearance from previous versions of the racing favorite, but this was the first time its addition has been dull and lackluster. The track was a huge disappointment after loving it for years in other iterations.
You can use the Wii remote, Wii remote with nunchuck, Wii remote with steering wheel, classic controller, pro controller, or the Wii U gamepad in order to steer. A word of advice: don’t use any of the motion controls. In theory, they seem fun, but in practice, you just don't feel like you have enough control over your kart. Despite the shortcomings of the motion controls, all of the other joystick-oriented choices work incredibly well.
After using all of the controllers, my recommendation is to use the classic controller. After years of using controllers with that shape and button composition, it was the most intuitive to use. My hands are unusually small, so while the Wii U gamepad may have been comfortable for others, it wasn’t for me. I felt like I had to move it the same way you tilt the wheel, and it wasn’t fun.
“Mario Kart” supports several types of play modes: single player, local multiplayer, online play, and a cross between local/online play. The combination mode allows two people on a single Wii U unit to play online against others.
The online play works incredibly well. Adding support for a second person on a single Wii U console was a great move, especially considering the multiplayer nature of the genre. I was initially concerned that households with one Wii U wouldn’t be able to play together and against others at the same time. However, Nintendo’s flexibility on online play has made the experience more enjoyable and fun, as well as competitive.
Nintendo really lived up to the hype generated around its newest version of “Mario Kart.” With one or two small disappointments, the rest of the game nailed it when it comes to offering players a fluid, competitive, awesome experience. Even instances where you’d think it might not be a lot of fun – namely, unlocking extra content – it is. Each race is a different experience without seeming grindy.