I have been playing Nintendo’s Mario Kart for most of my life. Mario Kart 64 was (and continues to be) a big deal in my home, and it played an important role in fostering my early love of games. I could rip through Sherbet Land or Choco Canyon at hyper speed, feeling like a pro despite my young age. It gave me the confidence to keep on trying games like Ocarina of Time, even if I couldn’t get past the first dungeon without help.
That said, I never really got into any of the other Mario Kart installments. Until now.
I cannot stop playing Mario Kart 8.
Mario Kart 8 for Wii U (rated E for Everyone) is the kind of game that just keeps on giving. First-time racers can catch onto the basic mechanics quickly enough, and advanced players can experiment with complex vehicle customizations and alternate course routes. Everything about it feels incredibly clean. Every button tap and every finger twitch creates a smooth and instant reaction in the game, creating an incredibly polished experience. Whether you’re racing with friends, on your own, or on the internet, you’re going to have fun.
One notable change in this installment of Mario Kart is the antigravity racing. Parts of every race course have blue strips that, when driven over, allow you to go up walls, on ceilings, across the faces of waterfalls—wherever. Often I would be so focused on the course that I didn’t even notice I had gone sideways, until suddenly I was racing face-first into a body of water. Overall this new use of space creates incredibly dynamic and interesting courses. Plus, when your vehicle is in antigravity mode, you can bump into glowing blue bumpers (or other antigravity racers) to get an extra speed boost.
Little speed boosts like these are essential for the harder races. You can also get boosts by drifting around turns (which throws up cool sparks) or by performing tricks on jumps. An individual boost usually won’t make a big difference, but together they add up. It’s just the kind of thing an advanced racer will have fun practicing, but it isn’t necessary in order to have fun. In other words, gamers of various skill levels can play together and both get something great out of their experience.
Mario Kart 8 also introduces the Highlight Reel function, which lets you re-watch sections of your game in slow motion, double speed, or backwards. From here, you can upload your highlight reels directly to YouTube. This feature has already given us such gems as the now viral Death Stare Luigi.
Highlight Reels are a ton of fun and have already been the source of many a giggle between my roommates and me.
With Mario Kart 8’s online functionality, I was also able to easily play a few matches with my friend in Montréal. There was no video chat (the Wii U’s gamepad has a built-in camera), but between races we could talk to each other with the gamepad’s microphone. I could easily toggle off the mic with the press of a button, and online accessibility can be restricted through the Wii U’s parental control settings. It was very nice to get to game with my friend again, since we don’t see each other much these days. I can see this function being a great option for playing with family members who live far away.
Mario Kart 8’s biggest weakness is its Battle Mode. In Battle Mode, instead of racing, players collect items and attack each other. If you get three hits, you’re out. Previous Mario Kart games have provided special arenas for these battles. This time around, however, Nintendo simply adapted a few of its regular racetracks. My attempts at battling were unpleasant and chaotic, and the absence of a dedicated space for fighting definitely contributed to that feeling.
All in all Mario Kart 8 is a good investment. Its super-strong course design, its minute attention to detail, and its excellent customizations come together to create a seriously solid gaming experience that will round out any family game night.
If you don’t have a Wii U but have been thinking about taking the plunge, Nintendo is currently offering a great bundle deal. The best part—if you buy the game before July 31st, you can register your copy online to get a second game for free.
Have you uploaded any of your own highlight reels to YouTube? Link them in the comments below!