Mario Kart 8 is the newest (and 8th if you couldn’t guess, minus the Arcade versions) installment of the Mario Kart series. It brings quite a bit of new stuff while still retaining many old features. While the courses are fun to race on, I feel that’s the main thing the game has going for it. The game sadly brings back several things I’m not too fond of which kind of ruins the enjoyment, despite the creativity of most of the tracks. I will start by saying if you’re expecting to hear tons of good things about the game, this may not be the review for you as I’ll be offering a bit of a different point of view. That said, if you enjoy the Mario Kart Series, you should still enjoy this one and the graphics are lovely, if you care about that kind of stuff.
Gameplay, Courses, Graphics, and Music
Mario Kart 8 pretty much features all the same gameplay with a special new mechanic: Anti-Gravity. While it’s more or less a gimmick, it’s actually pretty fun. The fact that you can go and bump into people and various obstacles for speed boosts is pretty nice as well. I kind of wish there were more of those special obstacles though as I feel there are only a few littered throughout the game that work for it.
The courses are beautifully done with all the music having been done by actual people versus being computer generated. Moo Moo Meadows and Shy Guy Falls have my favorite music tracks. I would say the only course I felt disappointed with is Music Park. It feels very copy and pasted from the previous game and I feel they could’ve done a lot more with it if they tried–especially with the Anti-Gravity feature (which wasn’t in the course at all). I’m not saying all tracks need it (Moo Moo Meadow didn’t have it as an example), but the music course felt kind of flat in comparison to the Electrodrome.
Unfortunately, I think Mario Kart 8’s Rainbow Road is one of the more disappointing ones. While it does try something neat with the Space Shuttle, the entire course is more or less Drift City–a mechanic that has become more and more common in it’s new installment and one I’m not personally fond of. I think it’s overdone at this point and I kind of miss when you didn’t HAVE to be able to drift in order to finish courses and/or get enough speed/a boost to win.
As for the remade Rainbow Road, I think it’s nicely done–but I wish they did a translucent rainbow versus the disco rainbow panels they used instead. The view below the course and the surroundings are all beautiful. While I’m not a big graphic person, I think all the little details they put in the various courses are pretty awesome–it’s too bad it’s a racing game so you don’t really get much time to just go and look at them. Going back to Rainbow Road though, I’m sad they didn’t make it actual laps though like the original. I’m actually not fond of the one continuous track method that has been happening since Mario Kart 7. I like going back to the top and doing it again even if it’s a long journey. I always had fond memories of Rainbow Road despite it’s length so I was sad to see it changed.
Unlockables, Customization, and Replayability
The game features 14 Unlockable characters–each one unlocked randomly for completing any of the Grand Prixs on any difficulty. Each time you complete one, you randomly get a character (though, the 8th will always be the ability to use a Mii). While there have been many complaints on Pink Gold Peach and Baby Rosalina due to not being in the universe at all, Baby Peach and Baby Daisy were also in Mario Kart before actually being featured in anything. That said, I think they should’ve kept a lot of the cast from Mario Kart 7 and/or previous games versus replacing so many with such a new cast. While the Koopalings are pretty cool, it feels like a lot was taken out just to make room for them and then to go with them, it’s mostly two other characters that seem to be pulled out of nowhere when there were many others that had been in the game to pick. That said, there is always a chance Pink Gold Peach (who I’ve actually enjoyed playing as to my surprise) and Baby Rosalina could be featured in a game sometime in the future.
Speaking of Miis though, I have to admit I was incredibly disappointed with their attire in the game. Their outfit involves a helmet and a suit that is so poofy, it resembles the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. While this is probably close to what someone may wear for safety, considering this is also a game with an Anti-Gravity feature and driving under water, I don’t think realism is something that is always kept in mind. No other character dresses like this and while I’ve heard people go on about “safety reasons” for kids… I don’t see our Miis suddenly having a scuba mask and tank when we go underwater so.
Considering customization is a thing in this game, I wish there were a few outfits for Miis too. I’d love if I could wear Princess Peach’s Dress + Crown (note that this doesn’t ALSO INCLUDE HER HAIR/a wig–that happens way too much :( ) with the Racing Suit just being one option of several. There doesn’t have to be tons–I think Dresses, a racing suit, a shell suit, and a set of overalls would cover most of the outfit types and make you feel a bit more… in the Mario-verse.
Going onto the main customization, there’s a total of 14 Karts, 9 Bikes, 3 ATVs, 18 Tires, and 12 Gliders to choose from. They are all unlocked randomly–one every 50 coins up to 1,000. Then it’s every 100 coins. If you unlock multiple ones at once (due to earning lots of coins online for example), you will need to go back and forth into Character Creation mode to see what you unlocked as for whatever reason, it can’t do multiples all at once.
For whatever reason, many of the parts from Mario Kart 7 do not make a return–I’m not entirely sure why (I would’ve expected all of Mario Kart 7 plus more), but I feel bad for anyone who may have really liked a specific look. That said, customization is sadly stat based–something that Nintendo seems to continue doing whenever they bring Customization in a game.
I’ll be blunt–I have a very specific style so there’s something incredibly frustrating when I have to have a certain Kart set-up either because it has the best stats or better fits my play style when it just might not be something I like and thus, do not enjoy playing as. So I get to choose to either do incredibly poor when playing with people who are all STATS STATS STATS which gets boring/frustrating after a while or just be frustrated with a set-up and not really have any fun in the first place. I wish they had a point system that you could put into stats separate from the customization you could choose.
Similarly, coin earning is a huge pain. Besides the fact that coins are not added up as they are earned and only as what you have when you cross the finish line, you can’t tell how many you have, and there’s something super discouraging about finally getting enough only to get something you don’t care for. Characters are at least simple enough to unlock, but the kart parts require a lot of grinding and luck. If there was a shop to buy the parts at (with each part going up as you buy one or even the prices being a bit more expensive), it’d feel somewhat more rewarding in a sense.
Not to mention if coins didn’t have an actual gameplay feature (something I had been glad to see gone and wasn’t happy to see it return in 7), the whole “only what you have at the finish line” wouldn’t be applied and a lot of the frustration would be removed. Plus how many people get annoyed with getting a coin out of the box. I rarely end up getting a use out of them plus they don’t get added to my total so when I’m at 10 coins and in a safe position and end up not using this coin because I already have 10 and it won’t go anywhere, it can be frustrating not to get anything else.
Going back to unlocks, Mario Kart 8 also brings back Stamps. You unlock a Character Stamp for completing any Grand Prix with a character which isn’t too bad, but unfortunately the Course Stamps require defeating the Staff Time Trials to unlock them. I’ll be honest–this is the first time I’ve ever completed it and I’ve only completed one. I’d love some of the course stamps, but I’m not very good at it due to my troubles with drifting and the fact that I’d rather use specific things versus whatever may be best for the course (I did make an exception for Moo Moo Meadows because Cows are awesome…Plus I still haven’t managed to unlock the two parts I want :/). I kind of wish that getting 1st place on a course or just doing a Time Trial in general would’ve unlocked it versus having to beat a Staff Ghost time.
Which brings me to the final unlock: Mirror Mode. Mirror Mode is unlocked by getting a Gold Trophy on every 150CC Grand Prix. If you have issues with drifting like I do or just don’t care for the mode, this kind of stinks. I find Mirror Mode pretty fun, but I have not been able to unlock it for ages because I’m just not good enough at what I need to do in order to do so. If it was unlocked just by getting a gold trophy on any CC in each Grand Prix, I’d be good–I have them all in 50CC and 100CC, but only about half in 150CC.
And that’s sadly an issue–Mario Kart leans too much to only one side of “hardcore” and if you lean more to the Completionist side of things, in the sense of unlocking and collecting things and not doing everything as hard and fast as you can, it can be frustrating and not a very fun experience.
As for Replayability, unless you find yourself playing online a lot or REALLY love these courses, once you unlock everything (if you even care to), there isn’t much to do sadly. In fact, Replayability gets a bit of a slap to the face as this game features one of the worst Battle Modes of any game in the series.
Mario Kart 64 has always had my favorite battle arenas, but I still enjoyed ones in later iterations. Sadly, Mario Kart 8 just features smaller versions of the courses which is… boring and a bit lazy. I tried playing a bit and both just ended when time ran out because it’s so easy to avoid and kind of predictable where they could come from. It’d be different if it was used in a way where you can essentially drive in places of the course you can’t normally and go along the backroads while maybe seeing the actual track and racers going by as scenery (though, I prefer things more like the Block Fort) versus a race with balloons and your choice of direction.
Controls & Layout
While I didn’t have too much of an issue with controls (besides my right index finger in agony due to my continued failure at drifting), my fiancé felt incredibly frustrated with the controls wishing the trigger could be the acceleration instead. For reference, I stuck to the GamePad while he had the Pro Controller most of the time.
One thing we found odd is that you could only play in Split Screen considering the GamePad has a screen. Regardless, even the GamePad only had split screen.
I also felt the Vertical split was a bit awkward as a lot of the courses really needed you to see more of your sides rather than up and down. Just a really odd choice to me.
Finally, I missed having the map on the screen! While it was on the Gamepad (if not having the screen at full), I rarely would look down at it and was also disappointed it didn’t show all players on it–just your character unless you maximize it (which kind of ruins the point of all the information).
As I said at the start, if you enjoy Mario Kart, you will still enjoy the game. The courses are fun, the music is great, and it has a lot of neat features. In fact, the only reason I’d say you wouldn’t enjoy it is if you mostly played for Battle Mode versus racing as Battle Mode takes a huge leap in the wrong direction.
I just hope maybe Mario Kart will eventually become again a game where I enjoy more of the new features versus not. It’s essentially on a small list of games (For example, Pokemon with its Battle Frontier) where it seems the features I dislike tend to return and be even more prominent while the ones I enjoy go away or are changed quite a bit. That said, I definitely don’t regret picking up the game and will still continue to play it.
As always, you can also find this review on Zero Reviews.