Ryan Smythe ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In the world of video games, nothing quite compares to the pure hatred brought about by a Blue Shell that ruins a perfect race. No amount of juking, items, or controller throwing can alter the course of the spiky death from the sky; until now. Mario Kart 8 has provided, along with an 60 fps and HD quality game, a way to shut down the blue shell. It’s called the Super Horn, and it is the most important item ever introduced to a video game.
Accompanying this beautiful savior of racers is the aforementioned Mario Kart 8, Nintendo’s newest title in their ever-growing catalogue of games. Featuring 30 characters including the user’s Mii, this is the biggest cast of the series to date, topping Mario Kart Wii’s 24 playable characters. With the classics like Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, DK, and Bowser all returning, the biggest change is the introduction of the seven Koopalings, Bowser’s trusted minions from Super Mario Bros. 3.
Gamers without a 3DS may be unaware of an additional cart customization feature, first shown off in the handheld-exclusive Mario Kart 7. It breaks down the kart into three parts: the body, providing most of the aesthetics and base stats (Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling, and Grip); the wheels, primarily modifying the handling and grip of the kart; and the glider, which is used to carry the karts across the massive jumps littered throughout each level, and mostly modifies the visual aesthetic with slight tweaks to weight and acceleration. In total, there are 26 bodies, 18 wheels, and 12 gliders.
This gliding element which originated in Mario Kart 7 is not the only drastic change from older Mario Kart games. The other big change to the race dynamic is the introduction of anti-gravity. When a racer passes over a specific point, the wheels flip onto their sides and the laws of physics are ignored. Sometimes it’s for a shortcut, sometimes it’s to race perpendicular to the actual track, and sometimes it’s to race completely upside down. This mind-bending addition adds depth to what was already the most inventive racing game on the market.
The setup for the racing has remained the same, playable by up to four players, with eight cups of four races, keeping the number at 32. The tracks are split up into two categories, Nitro and Retro. The Nitro courses, the Mushroom Cup, the Flower Cup, the Star Cup, and the Special Cup offer 16 brand new racetracks, while the Retro courses, the Shell Cup, the Banana Cup, the Leaf Cup, and the Lightning Cup are all classic courses from each previous Mario Kart game. The 50cc (slow), 100cc (faster), and 150cc (fastest) options have returned as well, allowing new players to learn the tracks at slower speeds before jumping on to the competitive 150cc tracks.
The competition is taken to a fantastic new level with the introduction of online racing. Again brought over from the 3DS, up to two players per console can go online and race against anyone from around the globe through Nintendo’s online servers which, unlike on the Xbox and PlayStation, does not require a subscription to access. If racing against anyone from around the globe seems too overwhelming, Nintendo also offers regional connections as well as friends list-only races along with tournaments.
The online connectivity doesn’t end there. The brand new Mario Kart Television- or MKTV for short – allows players to edit highlights with rewinding, fast-forward, and slow-mo from their best races and post them online for the world to see. With bragging rights paramount in a racing game, the ability to show off incredible comebacks or green shell shots from across the map provides the greatest way to rub success in the face of defeated racers.
Accompanying the free-for-all traditional racing format are three classic Mario Kart game options, Time Trials, VS Races, and Battle mode. Time Trials give players the chance to put in their fastest possible time on any unlocked track without the distraction of other racers or items, with the choice of competition being previous or online “ghosts”, aka previous times made by other racers. It is a chance to either show off mastery of a track, or the ability to follow more experienced racers and learn exactly what they like to do to squeeze out the very best times possible. The VS Races split the twelve racers into two teams, blue and red. They then compete in a Cup, with each racer gaining points for their finish position in each race for their team, and whichever team has the highest score at the end wins.
The last option, Battle mode, has received a few tweaks from its previous versions. Instead of continuing the old format of a set of arenas to battle in, players are instead split into two groups and placed at periodic points on a race track facing one of two directions. Once the battle starts, players can either continue along their original route, or turn around 180 degrees to attack from a different angle. Everyone starts out with three balloons, each worth one point. Losing a balloon means losing a point, but popping someone else’s balloon with an item gains a point. If all three are popped, then the racer goes into “ghost mode” where they cannot be targeted, but are still able to fire off items at the still active racers.
Consistent in all of these game modes, as well as the title and waiting screens, is incredible music. Sound Director Kenta Nagata, known for his composing work on previous Mario Kart games, as well as Pokemon Stadium, Animal Crossing, and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, he returns to oversee the music throughout this game and does an outstanding job. Most racing games have bland soundtracks that need to be supplemented by music from the player, but turning down the volume in this game is inadvisable, as the tunes match the pace and intensity of the races, building as the laps go by. There is a very real chance for Nagata to receive an award for this soundtrack once the time comes for voting.
Mario Kart 8 is not only the best Mario Kart game to date, it is the greatest racing game on any console. The HD graphics and 60fps are absolutely stunning, and the tracks are incredible. While the PS4 and Xbox One continue to struggle getting their games to the same technical consistency that Nintendo has achieved, Nintendo has been able to get their online quality up to where it needs to be, not just for the upcoming Super Smash Bros. game but for competitive play in general. On top of that, any Mario Kart 8 game registered to Club Nintendo between the release of the game and July 31 will also provide the user with a download code for one of four Wii U games.
Overall Grade: A