Jan 282016
 

Status: Gold in every Grand Prix through 150cc

Most Intriguing Idea: This far in, there’s not much intrigue left.

Best Design Decision: Changes to the blue shell

Worst Design Decision: Character select screen

Summary:

Mario Kart 8 isn’t a game I would be likely to buy, but it came with my WiiU so I played it anyway. And look, at this point Mario Kart is pretty much a known quantity. It’s a kart racer that’s built on two main principles:

A) People who are good at Mario Kart will do well.

B) People who are not good at Mario Kart will still do well, because the game will help them.

With these principles in mind one could pick out all sorts of flaws: some powerups aren’t very helpful (most notably the bob-omb, squid, and boomerang), stats are highly dependent on character selection but can’t be seen on the character select screen, vehicles steer terribly at low speeds so running into a wall is fatal, the coin system magnifies the negative effect of adverse events, etc. In general, despite the coins, 8 seems worse at pulling players forward from the back of the pack than previous entries I’ve played, but slightly less punishing for front-runners.

One thing I like (and it may have been introduced in 7, which I did not play) is a change to the blue shell. Previously the shell was a tool for attacking the race leader, and as such it was inconsistent with both of the above principles. It punished players who were doing well already (A), but because it only affected a single other racer (and could only be obtained while rather far back in the pack) it didn’t much help players who weren’t doing well (B). Now, it slides along the track and will spin out any other racer it strikes while it seeks out the leader. As long as it hits a fair few, it’s less punishing for the leader (as spinning out other drivers reduces the chance they’ll catch him), while offering a little more aid to the back-of-the-pack driver (since it makes more racers vulnerable).

Broadly I think this is a fairly weak entry for the series. It has too many different items, of which too few are really useful or interesting, and its manipulations of gravity and transitions between driving, flying, and underwater racing are mostly noise rather than compelling new experiences. I got the feeling flash was prioritized over fun, which is a depressing direction for Nintendo to be going.

Verdict: Cautiously Recommended

  2 Responses to “Mario Kart 8”

  1. Thanks Sparky. I Feel mostly the same.

    Did you feel that the weapon items for when you’re in first or second place was so limited and repetitive ( and since we’re at number 8, so archaic and now interesting ) that The use of weapons did not add to the game much ? I found after the start that third placed almost always got a red shell, second – green shell and first got a banana. That pattern was set up to almost every beginning of the race where you race to get the weapon cubes. It happened so much often that I’m strongly suspicious that humans didn’t make this game but robots did.

    Also, Nintendo also rigged it pretty badly so that mostly only 1-3 characters were competing with the player out front at any one time. Roughly Groups of 4 to 8 were in the middle, and the rest were way out the back not much affecting anything about the race except for the occasional rare blue shell, and less so other weapons.
    Sure the weapon chaos of too many players in one tight group is awful to experience, but this is overbalanced way too far in the other direction. For an above average skill level player like for myself, there were a lot of lonely races in the first or second place.
    More karts on screen could’ve been a chance to focus on racing instead of weapons.

    I regardless found that this game the most ( moderately ) enjoyable single player experience of Mario kart by quite a distance ever since I started on the N64.
    Some decent tracks, nice visuals, chirpy music, competence required and Mario Karts most polished game yet.
    Also found the controls to be quite superb using Nintendos pro controller. The camera positioning was quite excellent too.

    It’s a shame that this game was made with precision and accessibility but not with soul, skill or dynamism in the gameplay.
    And the incremental improvements are no way near enough to overcome the formulaic repetition. And that gap gets wider every release, with most of Nintendos games , year after year As per Nintendos MO.

  2. I agree that the weapons are seriously repetitive in high positions, though I experienced a little more variety than you did. I feel like this has actually gotten worse over the years. I seem to recall getting mushrooms and other interesting things in high places before, but in this game if I was out front it was consistently coin > banana >> green shell > red shell > power horn, despite the fact that tools like the boomerang and bob-omb would have been appropriate for leaders (imo).

    I also agree with your point about the structure. I found that the top 4 tended to be doing real racing, and then anything further back from there was just a chaotic mess except on the linear tracks. I also felt like the RNG wasn’t as helpful in the back-of-the-pack in this game as in previous ones, in part because the overwhelming number of options kept the best tools from rising to the top when they were really needed. I don’t think I’ve yet received the lightning bolt, for instance.

    I should add to this review that I found the DLC tracks overall, and especially the Animal Crossing pack, to be superior to the base game. YMMV of course, but I thought the design and music in those circuits was head and shoulders above the vanilla release.

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