The Ocho!! My review is coming around that last bend at a blistering 50cc speed, but like a former athlete way past their prime, I keep repeating to myself “slow and steady wins the race.”
I, like most gamers in my generation, have grown up go-karting with Mario and his newly diagnosed sociopathic sibling. The last go ’round with the Mario clan I really didn’t see eye-to-eye with them but I am ecstatic to announce that we have worked out our differences. That is not to say I didn’t like the Wii version but it was by far the one I dumped the least amount of time into. It, like every other game made for the Wii, had a terrible case of motion-control-itis. Don’t get me wrong, like millions of others I bit on the motion control fad hook line and sinker, but at the end of the day it really led me to realize I 100% prefer to sit stationery on my couch, controller in hand with thumbs ablazing. To get to the point, Mario Kart 8 offers one of the best features to come to the series in the last decade – the option to choose tilt or analog controls. Before I heard Nintendo’s announcement that this option would exist, I was only mildly excited about the upcoming installment; however, once I heard the news, my pre-order was a go.
Enough build up, lets kick it up a gear to 100cc. To me this installment is so close to being the quintessential Mario Kart game that it almost hurts. Nintendo absolutely nailed the circuit mode, it is nearly flawless. They meticulously created 16 brand new tracks as well as brought back 16 favorites from generations past to craft the 8 different cups to compete for. First I will start with the past favorites that are returning. They have been lovingly re-invigorated to bring them that luscious HD shine they deserve. From what I can tell, they appear identical to how they were first presented in their respective titles, but the coat of HD paint gives them that new Kart smell all over again. Now onto the real stars of the Ocho, the 16 brand new tracks. One would be hard pressed to argue that Nintendo doesn’t know what they are doing when it comes to level design whether it be a romp thru the Mushroom Kingdom or slaloming down the snow covered Mount Wario. Each and every level was created with the meticulous detail and passion that Nintendo is known for.
To spice things up they added an anti-gravity element to the new tracks. I do have to make a quick public service announcement for those of you with weaker stomachs, It can lead to motion sickness. I didn’t have any troubles myself but a few people I played with got a little queezy when the carts were suddenly driving on the walls and ceilings. By no means is this a complaint of mine cause I loved it, the only thing that could eclipse the Luigi death stare would be Luigi asking his fellow racer to “smile for the birdie” while he was doing an inverted overhead pass. However, I did feel it was my duty to warn gamers they may want to take a Dramamine before hopping in a Kart this time. And for those of you unfamiliar with the Luigi death stare, just head to the Google, and you’ll see the greatest meme to happen to Nintendo ever!
I believe Mario and company have more than proved who the king of Kart is but that isn’t to say there aren’t flaws with this package. For starters in the multiplayer mode there is no map of the track on-screen. I don’t know how many times during my multiple 4-player couch sessions I was asked, “Where is the map?” or “How do I know where I am and how close everyone else is?” This isn’t really an issue for the player that has the gamepad, but it did seem to bother those that were playing on-screen. I don’t believe this would be too difficult to resolve so hopefully there will be a patch to rectify this in the future. It is not a game changer but it would be really nice to have. As a side note, the second most revisited comment of the sessions was, “Man, it is really disorienting to play while everyone is staring at the screen and you are staring at the gamepad.” (to the player playing off-screen).
Playing off-screen on the gamepad is another feature I cannot praise enough. It is so nice to be able to plow through circuits while my better half is watching House Hunters or whatever the reality show de jour happens to be on any given night. Speaking of the gamepad, I was pleasantly surprised by how it is utilized in this iteration of Mario Kart. For those of you that have listened to our podcasts you have heard me on more than one occasion mention how Nintendo needs to find ways to utilize their expensive anchor of a peripheral and I think this game is a decent offering. The gamepad not only allows you to play off-screen, but it also gives you an option to see a complete breakdown of the race as it’s happening. It shows the leaderboard on one side with a mini map of the track with live traffic on the other, and in typical Nintendo fashion has a cute little horn in the middle for those inevitable spouts of road rage. The racer is also able to switch to a full screen version of the map with live traffic if they prefer that, and all changes can be made on the fly, just don’t forget to keep your eyes on the road.
Another feature that is sorely missing from this version of the franchise is the battle arenas. This one really stings for me since battle mode is one of my favorite parts of the series, with the battle arenas largely to thank for that. I don’t know how many hours I have lost to battle arena tournaments. The battle mode is still alive and kicking, but in my opinion is in critical condition having had it’s heart and soul ripped out. This time around players are given the choice of 8 tracks to pick from and 12 combatants are randomly dropped into starting positions around the track. The tracks are modified versions of their circuit racing brethren so they do feature the same passion and detail, but they are a little on the big side even with 12 participants. More often than not I found myself spending more time hunting for my prey instead of engaged in mortal kartbat. I felt like the arenas of old kept the quarters tight and made the flow of battle a bit more intense and that is sadly missing from this iteration of battle mode. That isn’t to say this battle mode is all bad – it’s still fun, it’s just missing the greatness it once had.
Time for top gear 150cc to finish strong. All in all, the 8th time around the track for the series is quite possibly the best since Mario first took to the track on the Super Nintendo. I am really excited about how a fresh coat of HD paint has completely refreshed the series. Not to mention the excellent execution of the anti-gravity mode to give it that nice boost coming out of turn 8. If you are a life-long fan such as myself, or never heard of Mario Kart, I would highly recommend checking out this version. You won’t be disappointed.
*Review based on Wii U version