Mario Kart races back to form in Wii U edition
There comes a time in every Mario Kart fan’s life when you have to make a choice of whether you still love the series or if you don’t. I assume this, of course, because I have no idea if anyone still plays Mario Kart or not. I assume they do, and I just don’t know it. The series hit that fabled peak of questionability for me when Mario Kart Wii was released. GI wasn’t using a rating scale when we reviewed it (editor’s note: This was reviewed in 3Q2008), but suffice to say it would not have received a good score. Mario Kart had a lot of work to redeem itself for me, a longtime lover of the series who started in 1992. The latest original entry, Mario Kart 8, has made significant effort to polish the series again.
Mario Kart, at its core, has always been about arcade racing. There’s nothing realistic about playing as various Mario and other general Nintendo characters while romping through various Mushroom Kingdom locales. It’s always been about the Mario charm expanded to fit within a palatable driving scheme that makes anyone a champion go-kart enthusiast. Mario Kart 8 does not shirk on this charm. If it’s a memorable Mario character, they’re probably in this game.
And, in a nod to the appeal of Nintendo crossover and nostalgia, there are new additions from outside the portly mustachioed plumber’s usual suspects: You can now play as Animal Crossing’s Isabelle and The Legend of Zelda’s Link. While they don’t necessarily contribute anything new to the series, their presence is enough to elicit excitement because it means Nintendo is finally opening Mario Kart up to the general roster. There is much to mine from, and if you’re questioning any of this, look at the lead Smash Bros. has taken in this field.
Mario Kart has always been the sort of series that takes its history seriously. Entries after Mario Kart: Double Dash have begun referencing the previous tracks of yore, sometimes with varied results. Mario Kart 8 manages to gather a lot of stellar new tracks and some old that aren’t favorites but will suffice as entries. A lot of the older tracks are from more recent entries but make no mistake — they are there for the purpose of drawing you in to remind you of the good times and then send you on your merry way to try the new tracks. Tugging at my heart strings with a modern SNES Rainbow Road remake will get you everywhere, though there are caveats to these remakes.
While the tracks are great graphically, the music is hit or miss. When I say I want a Rainbow Road throwback, I also want the original music to go with it. It doesn’t need a musical overhaul because the original music was brilliant. I’m not sure why Nintendo thought it needed to have the sound remade, but it wasn’t a particularly great decision. Other remastered stage choices, including Grumble Volcano and Music Park, are fine. And a lot of the new tracks are great; Dragon Driftway and Excitebike Arena are definite standouts.
Graphically, the game looks amazing. It’s the best-looking Mario Kart produced yet. All the characters look life-like, and the stages are incredibly detailed. Even the water particle effects look amazing. There are times when there’s a brief lull in action that I can soak up the surroundings, and I’m impressed by the Wii U’s understated capability. Mario Kart 8 shows what the system could potentially do. It’s a testament also to just how good Mario Kart looks in the modern era.
Now, here’s where we may have some issues. I’m not fond of the AI rubberbanding, and I haven’t been a fan of it since the Mario Kart 64 days. We are a quarter of a century grown up and past that, and we’re still having issues with last-minute victories by the AI. This is a known issue at this point, yet it rears its ugly head still. Also, while a lot of the new tracks are cool — Excitebike Arena among the best of the bunch — there are some that do absolutely nothing for me. Track selection is important, and this entry has dullards. Big Blue, for whatever reason, keeps showing up in modern catchall Nintendo games, and it’s here, too. I’m not impressed with the track at all, and they could have come up with something else.
Also, while I love the Animal Crossing track, it needs something else than the series’ cute motif and catchy music. It’s your basic, run of the mill drive around in a loop track, but it needs something else to give it some pop. Same thing goes for the Hyrule track. It’s basic, too. What makes this worse is that the tracks are part of the DLC bundle for the game. If you’re asking me to spend hard-earned money on extras, the extras need to be super special. I’m not getting that with those two tracks, specifically. Thankfully, there are other extras to be had that kind of make up for those.
Overall, this is a solid entry in the Mario Kart sphere of influence. This is the best entry in years, and it deserves some high praise for a lot of the things that it gets right. There’s always room for improvement, but the racing king continues to show why it’s the arcade racing champ and why it continues to rule the road of go-karting.