Mario Kart 8
Since 1992’s Super Mario Kart, the core gameplay of Nintendo’s spin-off racing series has been developed, refined and overhauled with each iteration whilst remaining resolutely the same game at a surface level. This eighth entry into the franchise doesn’t buck the trend and is still Mario Kart to the core; an easy access into the racing genre that combines skill and patience with blind luck and measured chance. And once again, whilst the bodywork of Mario Kart 8 may be reassuringly familiar, the chassis underneath is a somewhat different beast.
Firstly though, saying this entry is visually comparable to previous entries is certainly doing things a disservice. As the first Mario Kart to enter the HD era, it’s of little surprise to see that this is the most incredible looking game of the series. From the effervescent glow of lava spurts, to the wet fur of Donkey Kong, to the huge expansive draw distances of the gravity-defying tracks, Mario Kart 8 zings like few other games of this new generation. The familiarity of The Mushroom Kingdom is brought into sharp focus here, akin to learning you’ve been in need of glasses for the past twenty years, only now seeing the world as it really is.
It doesn’t end there either. In single or two player mode, things zip along at a Koopa shell-smooth 60 frames per second. Not once did The Skinny witness any frame drop or reduction in resolution, even during full-on, hectic twelve player online battles. As the big boys Sony and Microsoft duke it out in the playground graphical arms race, it’s the small quiet kid who is actually delivering the goods without resorting to mud-slinging or willy-waving. Read any of Nintendo’s press blurb and the fun of Mario Kart is front and centre, not whether it’s running at 720 or 1080p.
Of course, the main issue with Mario Kart games over the years has been that of balance. The original may have nailed things resolutely enough to make the series the success it is, but since then Nintendo have constantly tinkered with the moustachioed one’s engine in order to hone the chasm between the skill of advanced play and the fun of a casual pick up. Done right and Mario Kart is the reason you probably got into games in the first place but even when the balance is a little lopsided, as with the family-friendly 2008 Wii version, it’s still a lot of fun.
Thankfully, Mario Kart 8 has subtly tweaked the inherent chaos and tendency of favouring casual racers that somewhat dogged the Wii version. A slightly higher top speed for stragglers (or ‘rubber-banding’) is still in effect but the nefarious blue Koopa shell is a much rarer sight whilst new power-ups, such as the boomerang, provide a more skilful choice of weapon. With the casual audience Nintendo snared via the Wii now all but gone, it’s a wise decision to cater to the more seasoned gamer this time around and, whilst still plenty of fun for all skill levels, Mario Kart 8 is certainly a fairer game in terms of rewarding skill and tactics.
With the Wii U struggling sales-wise, and in danger of becoming a footnote of this current generation, a new Mario Kart is exactly the game Nintendo needed, and the fact it’s perhaps the best iteration since the original doesn’t hurt either. Whether it’s enough to revive the veteran company’s fortunes to any notable degree remains to be seen. However, in the ever-increasing race towards sludgy grey, ultra real gaming fare, the ridiculously riotous rainbow of fun that is Mario Kart 8 certainly takes pole position and is a much-needed reminder of the pure joy that videogames can still elicit.