Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mario Kart 8 Review

If you've noticed. it's been over two weeks since Mario Kart 8 has come out. Now you may be asking yourself why this review is coming in so late, and the answer is simple. Not only was I busy taking care of E3 news and I couldn't get it out in time, but I wanted to be sure that I had fully completed the game. Over the course of two weeks, I have gotten gold on every single Mirror course AND completed a 32 course circuit in the game. There's a lot of content to this game, and I loved every second of it.

Everyone knows how a Mario Kart game works and how they play, so I'm not going to go into the basic mechanics of the game. If you want, you can check up on my Mario Kart Retrospective to see how each game works, but if you've played one Mario Kart game, you've played them all in a sense. Yes there may be some new mechanics that look different, but for all intents and purposes, this game is more Mario Kart, just on new hardware. Now with all that said, wow this game is a ton of fun! If there's one thing that I've learned as a critic is that it's very hard to get across how much you enjoy something while staying as bias as possible, but I just can't help it with Mario Kart 8. I loved every second that I played this game, for better and worse.

Let me just get the negatives right out of the way so we can talk about the new additions and features. Battle Mode has been severely reduced to the point of irrelevance. Before, Battle Mode was a mode where players would try to kill each other on specially designed courses. Courses like Block Fort and Pipe Plaza were designed for Battle Mode and for people beating the crap out of each other in small, limited spaces. In Mario Kart 8, the smaller specifically designed courses were thrown out in favor of using courses from the actual game, which leads to long periods of time where nothing happens. It nerfs the mode and makes it boring at the same time.

Look at all the babies!
The other negative about this game, and one that can be debated, is the fact that the CPUs are the hardest they've ever been. They are relentlessly tough, knocking you off courses, making sure you suffer and lose all hope at getting 1st place. This is the main reason why it took me so long to fully beat this game; some circuits were designed so that the CPUs would have an advantage, or at least it felt like it. It's hard to say if this is the definitive hardest game in the series, but it sure feels like it.

With all of that out of the way and all of the things that I wasn't a fan of, everything else was absolutely phenomenal. I never had this much of a good time playing Mario Kart in both single player and multiplayer. This is probably the most balanced and customizable entry in the series, with a staggering amount of characters present. There are over 25 characters to choose from and seven different weight classes that affect stats. Would you like to go for a baby character, who has little speed but and insane amount of acceleration, or would you like to have a heavy character that may have low acceleration, but they can't be knocked off the road easily? You can choose to race however you want, and vehicle customization is brought back from Mario Kart 7.

This time, you can choose to customize three different kinds of vehicles. You have karts, bikes, and now ATVs. Karts and bikes play the same as before, with bikes having better handling but karts being generally faster, while ATVs are heavier and have great off road handling. They hardly lose any speed if you get off the course, which is the polar opposite of the bike, so strategy is key for choosing what parts you want on your vehicle.

But who cares about the little technical aspects of the game? How is the main course? How are the new courses, the new items, the anti-gravity mechanics, and every other little thing that you actually care about? Well the courses, as always, are a bit of a mixed bag. You'll find courses that you love and you'll find courses that you hate. I actually liked a lot of the courses this time around, with my personal favorites being Mount Wario, a giant mountain where it's a mad dash to the bottom, and the Electrodome, which is a dancing inspired stage that shows off the anti gravity mechanic very well. The retro courses are alright as well, but nothing to really write home about. Some are good and some are bad. I personally loved the retro Rainbow Road due to its inspirations from Mario Kart 64, yet I don't like the new Rainbow Road because of the constant turns and how easy it is to fall off and die repeatedly. Again, mixed bag.

And people say the Wii U is under powered
The first thing that you'll notice when you boot the game up is just how crisp and beautiful everything looks. Characters are defined, the courses are bursting with color, and everything just looks amazing. Some courses look absolutely stunning in in the right light. One course in particular, Cloudtop Cruise, shows off exactly what I mean. It starts off in a nice cloudy area with beanstalks and airships to a symphonic version of the Super Mario Galaxy theme, only for the course to turn dark with thunder clouds and lighting striking the course when the music becomes much more guitar and rock focused. It's truly a sight to behold.

Speaking of all of that, how is the anti-gravity mechanic, the main new feature of the game? It serves its purpose of being a new twist to the game, but it doesn't really add much. To go into anti-gravity mode, you need to hit special blue pads that can be found on the courses, and when you do hit them they allow you to ride of the walls, ceilings, or any other object that you could potentially ride on. The camera will shift to right behind you, so your controls won't be inverted. All that it'll do is make driving look a bit weird for a while. When you're in anti gravity mode though, if you collide with opponents or special bumpers, you'll get a significant speed boost, almost like a mushroom. It's a minor twist to the formula, but you have no idea how satisfying it is to hit a bunch of opponents in anti-gravity mode, sending them shooting off the course while you get a nice speed boost, easily taking their place.

While on the subject of knocking people off the course, the game has a much faster pace and is more forgiving if you get hit or fall off the course. Recovery time is heavily reduced, so if you fall off the course it'll take only a second or two to get right back on and start racing. It doesn't kill the momentum nor let you wait around until you can start racing again. Nope. You fall off, you'll get right back on. You'll lose some coins (which are becoming a staple again in the series) and you'll probably lose a position or two, but falling off is no longer a death sentence like it was in previous games.

Comprehending this race course is a mental nightmare
Four new items have been added into the game with various results. The first item is the boomerang flower, which will have you throw a boomerang three times that will, well, act like a boomerang. You throw it, it'll go far then come back to you. Personally I didn't like the item since it seemed to have a mind of its own and never hit anything I wanted it to, but that may just be because I suck at using it. The Piranha Plant is one of my new favorite items for how useful it is! It essentially functions as a mini turbo item, giving you periodic boosts every second or so. The catch is that when you get close to items or players, it'll eat them up and give you a bigger boost. It's the best offense and defense and is great to have to get you to bump up a few places. The Crazy 8 gives you eight items at once. You'll get a green shell, red shell, coin, banana peel, bomb-omb, blooper, lightning, and a star, so you better be careful when that item comes into play. By far, the best item is the Super Horn, which acts as a defensive explosion around you that will stun any nearby opponents and destroy any incoming items. It can even destroy blue shells. That's all that you really need to know about why that weapon is awesome. It can destroy blue shells.

People have been saying that the Wii U has been struggling to find its "Killer App" since its launch. That one title that everyone wants to get and is a system seller. A game that brings a console to live and makes people glad they bought the console. While it's too soon to tell if Mario Kart 8 will be the Wii U's "Killer App", it's showing strong signs of it. In the three days since it's release, it sold 1.2 million units. And keep in mind, that's just for May 30th to June 1st. We'll see later how this game helped the struggling Wii U, but there's no denying that people are buying and playing Mario Kart 8.

The reason why I did the Mario Kart Retrospective was because I wanted to experience how the franchise has grown since it's humble beginnings 22 years ago and see just where the series is now. I wanted to see the growth of a franchise and all of the features that were added, removed, experimented with, and see what made the series what it is today. The best way to understand where we're going is through our past, and Mario Kart has had a very eclectic past. It's had its ups, its downs, and overall it was well worth it to get this installment. While Mario Kart DS might be the game I have the most emotion and feelings towards, Mario Kart 8 is the best entry in the franchise and has exceeded all expectations for it. Mario Kart 8 gets a 5 out of 5 stars.


Now I'm just going to wait three months until the next Wii U game comes out...

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