Nintys Kart racer turns 8
F£@k you Blue Shells- and all who throw you. That’s the modern response to Nintys now ageing racer. Ask any teenager today and they’ll probably proudly boast that they remember playing the first Mario Kart on the DS. If they do, you have every right to slap them firmly across the mouth for they know nothing of pain. The pain that came before… Mario Kart on SNES. I’m not entirely sure nintendo knew what they had when they first sat their impractically dressed plumber in a go kart and set him free in all his mode 7 glory. What they had was a franchise that would span generations and arguably grow in quality with every sequel. But Mario Kart went on a wavy path for a little while; relying on gimmicks more than actually enhancing the racer. So is this a glorious return to form? Yep. But everyones being far too positive, so allow me to pick some holes where needed.
The options are simple enough-
Want to play on your own? (Single player)
Want to play with mates? (Multiplayer)
Want to have the chance to race a stranger? (Online multiplayer)
Want to take a mate online and both be confused together? (Online two player)
Take your pick and you’re in. Picking up traits from recent entries in the series you now get the option to customise the body, wheels and glider. Each has their bonuses and disadvantages but it gives you the opportunity to tune the car to your liking- weather you enjoy the exhilaration and complete lack of steering with a motorbike or fancy taking the equivalent of a robin reliant around for a slow sight-seeing tour of Mario circuit, there’s plenty of choice. Of course there are plenty of unlockables; mind you, saying there are plenty of unlockables in a game today is like saying china are “a bit edgy” about their security protocols. How do you pay for these unlockables? Well Coins my friend! Making their return from the SNES original coins now litter the racetrack as if Richard Branson sprung a leak. Lakitu returns to pick your ass up and put you black on the track- although in some mind bending paralax he is also available as a driver this time around! Are we really expecting logic though from a game where it’s totally accepted that a gorilla and a mushroom with a face would be racing side by side through an international airport? Probably not.
Lets get the basics out of the way- the ones that everyone already knows. This MK is all about Anti-Gravity. This adds an interesting dynamic where the karts wheels will rotate and you’ll find yourself going up vertical walls. It’s all done rather smoothly though and thanks to some lovely camera dynamics its not jarring and won’t detract you from your hard core racing of children’s dolls too much. Also you can kill the Blue shell now. I use the term kill because thats what it deservers. Thanks to the new super horn item you can blast it out of the way when it comes near. Perfect.
The graphic presentation has a had a bit of attention. It looks, not to put it mildly, fecking stunning. That’s due not only to the fact this is the first time we’ve seen mario kart in HD but the art direction too. Everything had that sort of painted quality about it- blending styles together from mario sunshine, 3D world and Mario kart 64. Just gorgeous. Until you venture into 4 way split screen that is. Then the frame rate drops by half and you really have to focus all power of Buddha to only see your portion of the screen- otherwise the sheer amount of stuff happening on screen may induce reactions similar to if you had just taken ketamine.
The familiar mix of old and new tracks return with the mushroom, flower, star and special cups housing some lovingly crafted new courses and shell, leaf, vacuum cleaner and Keith Chegwin cups (some names may be made up…who can say) housing modernised versions of tracks from previous titles. The new tracks are largely winners with the standouts being Bowsers airship, the airport and bowsers castle. The interior designers of Bowsers castle certainly had a “vision” when they decorated. The majority of us would settle for something simple and clean, where as Bowser has gone for a thirty five foot moving statue of himself made out of fire and rocks. Niche taste there but if you can imagine it- you can probably order it from eBay.
The old tracks, dragged kicking and screaming into HD, are a mixed bag. There are a few too many DS and Wii tracks for my liking- would have preferred a few more classic than that. The original donut planes 2 makes a return and works very nicely. The likes of toads turnpike from Mario Kart 64 and Mario circuit from Super Circuit have had anti gravity sections crowbarred in and for the most part work fine. Rainbow road (from the N64),however, is a sham. Rainbow road n64 edition is still my favourite iteration of the neon, health and safety defying nightmare; and seeing what they’ve done to it in Mario kart 8 is a little upsetting. Ok, first off, it looks pretty I’ll give them that- but it just doesn’t have the feel of it’s N64 brethren. The track colours are more muted and it just seems smaller. Oh wait, hang on- it IS smaller. In fact in a play through test you can complete all three laps of MK8’s rainbow road before you even get to lap two in the N64 version. Where’s the rest of the track gone boys? Sold off for development? The idea is to make things bigger and better, not cut their legs off.
As far as gameplay is concerned- it’s Mario Kart. Better than that- it’s a good Mario Kart. Drifting and the double boost drift are back in play and for me personally meant that I played this much more like Mario Kart N64 than Mario Kart Wii- boosting abound every corner to try and get ahead of the finest racing dinosaurs on the planet. At least they’ve evened the playing field this time around. You now have to be a good racer to win the 150cc cups- not (as in previous titles) wait in last place for the bullet bill item and then hope you weren’t pelted with every red and green shell known to man before crossing the line. If you get in the lead in MK8, if you’re skilful with your boosts, you can stay there! Thats quite an improvement!
I didn’t get a chance to play the online multiplayer- because i’ve been without internet for a while but I hear its fine. Nothing amazing, just fine. Probably just like Mario Kart Wii’s I imagine. Ninety needs to integrate its online services a bit more into the console though and not keep them locked to one game- Like give you an alert and let you join your friends in a game of Mario Kartings even if you’re not in the same game…you know- like the xbox has been doing since 2005.
There’s a new social feature that lets you share your re-plays in a funky little edited video. This is Mario kart TV and I give it 67 months before we never hear of it again. You can upload the clips to youtube too, which is a nice feature, but they limit the time on them. In game- you can show the full length of the race, but you can only upload to You Tube about a minute of highlights.
Overall is Mario Kart 8 good? Yes. It’s an excellent Mario Kart, looking stunning with great new track designs, tight controls and a grand challenge. I’m only knocking a point off a perfect 9 because of Rainbow road. Foreshame.
Check out Luigi’s mean ass death stare in this clip from Mario Kart TV passed onto me by Ed Poulson