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June 10, 2014 / Jett

Mario Kart 8 Review

Maintaining pole position in the kart racing genre isn’t as easy as it used to be for Mario and friends. Mario Kart 7 was a lackadaisical cruise around the block, while Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed ate its lunch through the use of dynamically-changing tracks that required your vehicle to transform between a go-kart, jet plane and hovercraft. Sure, it’s framerate could have used some work and it doesn’t fully execute on all of the ideas it brings to the table, but it was built with a level of passion and innovation that Nintendo’s 3DS kart racer sorely lacked. Mario Kart 8 may not pack enough fresh ideas to completely close the gap, but it makes up for it with great track design, quality online play and a level of polish that makes this game sparkle.

As far as setup goes, Mario Kart 8 is largely par for the course. This features 16 new tracks and 16 retro tracks that have been updated. While Mario Kart 7‘s tracks were a snoozefest, the new tracks here are really fun. Part of this comes from tracks that allow for drivers defy gravity by driving along walls and ceilings. Also, the overall course design is really strong, which makes for exciting races every time. Some of the best new tracks include Mount Wario, which forgoes a traditional track loop for one long trek down a mountain and Cloudtop Cruise, which takes a lot of cues from Mario Galaxy. Even the retro tracks have been upgraded with under water, gliding and anti-gravity elements to bring them up-to-code with everything else.

All of this topsy-turvy racing comes to life through great art direction and a rock-solid framerate. The game looks gorgeous, and in one player or two-player split-screen modes, it never drops below 60 frames per second. Kudos to Nintendo for putting together a stellar looking game that runs exceptionally well. I did not get to play it in 4-player split-screen, though I hear it still runs at a consistent 3o frames per second.

Playing this game alone probably won’t tide you over for long. Just like other Mario Kart games, you can play through all of the courses at different difficulty levels and that’s about it. Where you’ll get the most mileage out of this is through online play. Once connected, you can play race or battle against players around the world, or just in your region. I found that regional matches are the way to go, as the worldwide option lead to a high percentage of disconnects. Otherwise, the online experience is great. Online matches are a lot of fun and highly competitive, so you better bring your A game. Also, I was surprised at how easy it was to jump into a friend’s game. Nintendo is far from having a full-blown party system in place, but it lets you do what you need to do in order to play with your friends.

The game does a lot of things very well, but it royally botched battle mode. A staple of the franchise since its inception, Mario Kart 8 forgoes custom maps in exchange for battling on the racing courses. While it may have saved Nintendo some money not have to produce more maps, the racing tracks don’t work at all for battle mode. Without levels that are designed to generate conflict, you’re mostly just circling around the track in hopes of finding someone to hit eventually. It’s rather disingenuous for Nintendo to try and pass this off as the battle mode of yesteryear, and I’d almost rather they cut this out completely if they don’t want to put in the time to do it properly.

Mario Kart 8 isn’t going to redefine the kart racing genre, and it’s debatable whether it surpasses Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed, but this is easily one of the best Mario Kart games in years. Great course design, quality online play and a level of polish that permeates through Nintendo’s best works. I immediately ditched Mario Kart 7 after only a few hours, but I imagine this staying in my rotation for quite some time.

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