Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 15.05.2014

Review for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U

If there's any game franchise that can ignite interest in a Nintendo console, it would have to be the ever-popular and ever-evolving Mario Kart. The speed thrills, the almost unpredictable nature and ease of getting into the driving seat have sealed the deal; Mario Kart takes the crown for family-friendly, multiplayer mayhem.

The Wii U has, until now, lacked that definitive and must-have racing experience. SEGA released Sonic All Star Racing Transformed and EA invited Wii U owners into a wide-open landscape in Need for Speed: Most Wanted U, but it's just not quite the same as blitzing an opponent with bananas or pummelling friends with green shells. Mario Kart 8 has finally arrived on the scene; a celebration of many years of constant refinement and change, wrapped up in a stunning HD experience. Welcome, Nintendo fans, to the latest racing outing from the Japanese game maker.

With Mario Kart now in its eighth instalment (excluding the arcade outings), does the Wii U release sustain the quality and fun that's been crafted together over the years?


Taking a trip back through time, the Mario Kart series harks back to the days where cartridges needed a good few blows in order to work and where developers tried to splatter the greatest number of pixels on age-old CRT television sets. After the success of Super Mario Bros., the team at Nintendo were seeking an idea that would allow two players to compete at the same time, and a split-screen racing prototype was born. It wasn't until months later that Mario and friends joined the race, and the rest is history. From the ground-breaking moment of Mode 7 graphics in the SNES debut, Super Mario Kart, to multi-terrain racing in Mario Kart 7, the series has flourished in over two decades.

The principle ideas have remained intact in each installment, with Nintendo characters zipping across a number of different environments - from fiendish castles to traditional racing circuits - using power-ups in a bid to reach first place and achieve crowning glory. With the new Wii U release, it's a case of bringing together the best aspects of the games into one cohesive package, taking on a manner of different perspectives.

Nintendo may have been later to the game than others when it came to stepping into HD territory, but is truly strutting its stuff when it comes to the sublime art style. There may have been concern that Mario Kart 8 would have been a simple upgrade of the now familiar aesthetic that's been played out since Mario Kart: Double Dash, but the Wii U release has come leaps and bounds in the presentation department. Intricate details become known across each lap, creating a far grander sense of scale. The design doesn't quite roam into gritty, realistic territory - it doesn't need to - maintaining the rich, vibrant charm that Nintendo is known for, but making progress in accentuating the experience of milling about fantasy racing circuits. Everything is less static, there's movement abound and it makes the whole package seem that bit more alive.

Particular graphical highlights include "Shy Guy Falls", where players will, quite literally, ascend a waterfall and cruise down at intense speed; made that bit more thrilling with the near-boundless draw distance below. "Thwomp Ruins" is littered with indoor caverns and tantalisingly warm outdoor sections, made even more convincing due to flutters of particles floating about, deep shadows and realistic, dynamic lighting. "Mount Wario" initially seems like a fairly generic snow path, but weaves in multiple sections, each built with strong attention to detail in each corner.

The retro selection, a further 16 courses, come as a pleasant surprise; each redone seemingly from the ground up, some so much so that they're barely recognisable, enriched with new background elements and sharper textures than the originals - even the set of courses from the 3DS version have been souped up to sit with the rest. "Royal Raceway", originally from Mario Kart 64, is a revitalised, elegant garden, with charming petals swaying in the wind and balloons sailing overhead. "Rainbow Road", also from Nintendo's 1997 racer, is a majestic thrill ride, painted with a glistening, glass-panelled floor, and pulsating detail around every corner.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U

The game may certainly look the part, but the most important aspect - especially with a racing game - is to ensure that it runs and animates without a hitch. Mario Kart 8 has yet to show any signs of stumbling, with every moment gliding along, letting players focus on the task at hand - trying to battle for first place and go for gold. When playing with one or two players, the game runs at a nifty 60frames per second - it's noticeable just how slick and just how refined the game appears when in this mode. Mario Kart Wii suffered when adding more than two players to the roster; the game would still be playable, but the framerate issues were difficult to ignore. Fortunately with Mario Kart 8, with more than two players it runs at a solid 30fps, letting those manic local multiplayer sessions go on without a hitch.

There are, when really grinding things to a halt and observing, some duff texture work in places, with noticeable low resolution assets scattered along the ground and in some of the background environments, but these are hardly anything to detract from the experience given just how smoothly and rapidly everything runs.

The quality in presentation also reverberates into the sound direction, with the vibrancy and richness from the live instrumentation helping highlight just how much work has gone into the production. Not all tracks come will live music, but it's certainly a much-needed step up from the dated midi range in past Mario Kart titles. Trumpets blaring in the background, intense guitar solos and intricate drum work do sit well with the game and, for the most part, don't detract from all the action on screen.

The usual selection of faces from past titles return, including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Daisy, the babies, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Wario, Waluigi, the Koopalings and many more. Bowser's family do seem like remixed versions of the core selection of racers, though, but do each come with their own personality and stats. However, it is a shame that Nintendo may have been playing it safe, with no true surprises in the selection of racers.

Mario Kart 8 also heralds the return of the two wheelers from Mario Kart Wii; motorbikes. Given their absence from Mario Kart 7, some fans had remained sceptical that Nintendo would revisit the popular vehicle type; but given the popularity of the Wii game, it does make sense to re-include bikes in the new release. There were numerous complains in the previous game that those who did use bikes had an unfair advantage, given the ease of gaining speed and tighter turns with specific models. Having used various different karts and bikes, the balance is far more contained this time round, with the wheelie having been scrapped and tighter bike turning tweaked to be that little bit fairer. Instead of dipping into corners straight away, bikes learn towards the outside, before swooping into a turn. Karts also, for the most part, perform better in courses that aren't riddled with tricky turns, benefiting from the added speed when going along a straight part of a track.

Also making a return are the use of gilders and the ability to dive into water from Mario Kart 7, and these both play nicely into the level design, without detracting from the main ground races - except for certain courses that have larger chunks of water to conquer. Keeping with tradition in introducing a piece of innovation or a dramatic change, Mario Kart 8 goes even further with the use of anti-gravity portions to literally have racers clinging onto ceilings or power-sliding along walls in a ghost filled banquet. The concept sounds odd, and potentially disorientating, however thanks to the camera remaining in a fixed position, the race continues unhindered by the shift in perspective - i.e. the world appears to rotate, rather than the player. The sections are used wherever relevant, and these don't appear to be thrown in unnecessarily - at times players might not even notice that gravity has been drained; with the only indicator being that the wheels have suddenly shifted into a horizontal position. Whilst in these sections, players can even harness mini speed boosts by simply colliding with other racers - again a concept alien to the series so far, but does create an interesting contrast to normally having to avoid others to get by.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U

Mario Kart would be fairly dull without a generous heap of items, and Mario Kart 8 aims to provide a more balanced set for seasoned players, and those who perhaps need a little bit more help whilst lagging behind the pack. The usual items return - including shells, mushrooms, invincibility, lightening and those pesky bananas, with the Bullet Bill, Blooper, Fire Flower, Coin Block and Bomb Omb from recent entries. Newcomers include the nifty boomerang, which allows up to three throws, a power-up starved Piranha Plant, plus the Super Horn, which can deflect nearby racers and even the Spiny/Blue Shell if timed correctly. Gone is the rather pointless Tanooki Tail and pesky Thundercloud, in favour if items that are actually useful.

The items do tend to feel fairly balanced, perhaps even weighted slightly more towards those out in front, rather than coming in from behind. Still, the Blue Shell wreaks its havoc a number of items per race, but is fortunately avoidable though the Super Horn or a well-placed mushroom boost. Coins also return, last seen in Mario Kart 7, granting a great deal of speed if 10 are collected, and micro boosts for each additional coin gobbled up during the race. Like the games that came before it, the use of coins adds an extra layer during a race; where it can make the difference in the final stretch.

In terms of controls and controllers, those familiar with the Wii, 3DS and GameCube versions will take to the wheel like Mario to a warp-pipe - instantly familiar and accessible to those who are giving Mario Kart a go for the very first time. Like the Wii release, the standard remote and/or wheel are supported, and encouraged, but those wanting a more traditional feel can opt for the Wii Controller Pro or grasp onto the GamePad for either motion or analogue (in a similar way to the 3DS). The button configurations are generally the same: tap the shoulder or waggle the remote on a jump to perform tricks and hold the shoulder buttons (or trigger) to perform a power-slide in the "modern" way. It feels tighter and perhaps slightly more weighted compared to previous releases, more in-line with Mario Kart 7 than the Mario Kart Wii in some ways.

The GamePad is surprisingly lacking when it comes to its use or real purpose - it houses the map, current standings, horn and optional off-TV support - functional, but lacking. It's a shame Nintendo didn't incorporate a rear-view camera or even support for five player local races. For the most part, players would likely use the Wii Pro Controller or Wii Remote/nunchuck and perhaps house the GamePad on a stand to one side.

Like the Wii and 3DS releases, the game includes 16 brand new courses, plus an additional 16 retro circuits that have seen significant remake treatment. From the delicious candy filled delights of "Sweet Sweet Canyon" to the intense, foreboding "Bowser's Castle", there are plenty of returning themes, and a sprinkling of new ideas. One moment players will dash across a spooky banquet in "Twisted Mansion", whilst quite literally swimming with undersea critters in "Dolphin Shoals" - there's certainly enough variety in the new course designs to hold interest; with shortcuts and alternate paths to make it all less linear.

Playing on nostalgia, the retro selection are equally thrilling to race across, a majority introducing new design elements, slight anti-gravity sections, flight paths and generally are feast for both eyes and wheels. "Toad's Turnpike" bolts on anti-gravity walls and ramps, with "Yoshi Valley" taking the multiple route approach even further. Some of these flourish so much so that they become almost new circuits in their own right.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U

The meat of the game aside, the standard assortment of modes makes a return, most being fairly self-explanatory. Both single and multiplayer options include the usual Grand Prix selection, versus races, balloon battles, time trials and online play - but is a shame that the solo mode is again limited to races, time trials and battles, with little extra to shake up proceedings. It's fairly limited compared to the mission mode seen in Mario Kart DS or the much-requested adventure feature from Diddy Kong Racing. Despite this, the Grand Prix, CPU battles and online play would certainly provide a satisfying meal alone.

Battles are a case of one step forward, and, in some ways a few steps back. The much requested single balloon battles make a return, where players are eliminated from the main scoring portion of the competition once their balloons (lives) have been cut to nothing. However, the arenas themselves are now modified versions of regular courses, rather than designed for battles in mind. Some of these do work fairly well, including "Yoshi's Valley" and "Donut Plains 3", but circuits like "Moo Moo Meadows" and "Mario Circuit" are too spaced out to prove useful. To counteract the designs somewhat, there is the option to perform a sharp U-turn in battle mode during a turn which does counteract the feeling of continually going around and around and around. Whilst it is a fresh take on the classic battles, in terms of stage design, it doesn't quite hit the mark compared to stages in Mario Kart Wii or Mario Kart 64, for example. "Coin Runners" is also absent from this release.

Online play returns to ignite competition around the globe, and takes a leaf out of the Mario Kart 7 book by adding more flexibility and options compared to Mario Kart Wii, and like those titles, online remains consistent and streamline, of course depending on the connection of the other players in the race. The added flexibility, though still note quite up to the item-switch options in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, does make for more variety in friend matches, with optional tournaments also helping intensify competition and keeping things organised within the game itself.

Once races have come to a close, why not grab and customise highlight reels? Mario Kart TV includes a tool to slow down footage, change camera angles and produce short films to pick out the best (or worst) bits from races. This in itself becomes a rewarding element to the game, and surprisingly versatile given its inclusion as an extra mode. Managed to avoid a Blue Shell at the last minute, whilst hurtling over the finish line? These moments can be saved and transferred onto the likes of YouTube to watch time and time again.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Without question, Mario Kart 8 comes highly recommend for those with a Wii U already, or those considering buying Nintendo's home console. After two decades of racing, the Mushroom Kingdom crew have come together in a package that ticks a lot of positive boxes - tight controls, exceptional course designs, brilliant music and plenty of scope for high-octane online/local races and battles. Quite simply, Mario Kart 8 is absolutely sublime and the best overall instalment in the series so far.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (5 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop


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