Mario Kart 8 Review:The First Must-Have Wii U Game

Category: Technology / May 15, 2014 7:27AM EDT

Mario Kart 8 is the first home console release in the Mario Kart series since 2008, when Mario Kart Wii was released. That version is the best selling racing game of all time - so the new boy has a lot to live up to.

Mario Kart in HD is something we’ve wanted even before Mario Kart Wii came out six years ago. I’m delighted to report that Nintendo has done this properly - even on a supposedly underpowered system like the Wii U, the game looks fantastic. Colors are vibrant, tracks are illuminated like professional sports stadiums, and the characters look better than they ever have. It’s a welcome change from the greys and brown scales often found in modern gaming.

A big part of Mario Kart 8’s gameplay is the vehicle shifts - karts and bikes go from traditional wheel and tire setups to hovercrafts and hang gliders all on the same track, with zero interruptions. It’s all quite seamless - you’ll never even notice that technically, you’re upside down.

The vehicles themselves are decently customizable, carrying over the Mario Kart 7 tradition. There’s a good selection of parts to swap out, and they do make a noticeable difference, as do the characters themselves - so your friend does have a point when they claim that Yoshi accelerates more quickly than Bowser. Happily, there’s a large assortment of said characters to pick from, so you’ll never want for choice. Personally, I use Daisy with the slim tires on the standard kart. Daisy's my jam.

Any great Mario Kart game has an equally great selection of tracks - and again, Mario Kart 8 does well. Following recent tradition, the lineup is a mixture of brand-new courses and remixed tracks from previous games. Some old tracks have been delightfully updated, like Yoshi Valley from Nintendo 64, and the 16 new tracks are fantastic; I can only really count 1 out of 16 that I don’t enjoy - Sweet Sweet Canyon. Boring course. I do have a favorite, though.

Mount Wario. Unlike the other 31 tracks, Mount Wario doesn’t use the traditional “3 lap race” formula. It has you jump out of a cargo plane like a winter olympian and careen down a mountain finishing at a single point like a rally race. I just wish they had implemented it on more than one track.

The controls themselves are what you expect: Wiimote & Nunchuk, Wii Pro controller, and Wii U tablet, and the first two play just as well as you expect. Surprisingly, I enjoyed using the tablet the most.

The Wii U tablet is versatile, and (mostly) useful. You can hold it and use analog controls while the tablet screen takes most of the ancillary race information off the TV, drastically decluttering the race interface. The Wii U tablet can be used as a steering wheel of sorts, using tilt motions. It sounds hokey - and admittedly it’s probably not the way you’ll play competitively, but it’s a good bit of fun to get into the motions.

You can also play the entire game on the tablet’s screen, which is always a good feature for Wii U titles. Unfortunately, you can’t turn the tablet off, even if you’re using a Wii U Pro controller or Wiimote to race. Strange.

But let’s be honest, the biggest draw to this game is the multiplayer, that’s what you’re here for. And Mario Kart 8 delivers. Even races with two human players are as chaotic as ever - it’s good to see Nintendo hasn’t lost the magic of what makes this series great. And they finally reinserted a random button in the game for multiplayer! It’s such a small thing, I know, but Mario Kart Wii killed the random option and all it did was cause arguments over who thought which track was cheap. With a random option, everyone can just shut up and play the game.

There’s really nothing bad to say about this game. Yes, it’s here a little later than we’d hoped, but it’s been worth the wait.

Score: A