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
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