Ensemble games have always been where Nintendo seems to be the most consistent, and Mario Kart 8 is the latest example of this particular Nintendo trend.
While we can sometimes lament the absolute Mario saturation that seems to overwhelm us at times (Tennis, Golf, Party, Baseball, Soccer, Kart, Basketball, RPGs), it’s hard to argue that these games are all relatively solid forays into each genre, with an established cast that is appealing to new and veteran gamers alike. Mario Kart was the first ensemble cast spin-off game, and with Mario Kart 8, we see that this formula is still just as charming and addictive as it was back in the days of the original SNES title.
If anything, it’s gotten exceptionally better each time… With the exception of Double Dash. That one was a bit of a step backwards in my opinion.
Mario Kart 8 is a stellar combination of what originally enamoured audiences with the cartoony racer, and has enough new mechanics and tricks in its arsenal to prevent it from coming across as just another tired sequel. Nintendo has done a great job of keeping elements that work (customizable karts, upgraded retro courses, new items) and discarding the less popular ones (two person karts, super short tracks, everything else that was in Double Dash).
I’m sorry, I REALLY disliked MK: DD.
This isn’t to say that MK 8 is exactly bursting with innovation. The same foundation is there, drifting/items/getting screwed over by THREE blue shells in one race/etc. The main addition that the 8th entry into Mario Kart history makes is the introduction of gravity defying course sections that make MK 8’s course design really shine.
The courses native to MK 8 are sprawling and sumptuous playgrounds, given a greater sense of freedom and character with now-standard gliding sections, and the advent of these twisting and turning gravity defying segments. The way that these mechanics serve to compliment the standard racetrack design is probably my favourite part of the game. While previous Mario Kart games had some deviations from the standard race track, and certain ‘secret’ paths, MK 8 is generous with options to break from the standard track and find a new way to race to the finish line. These options appeal to me, if only because I enjoy all of the nuanced world-building and thematic inclusions that Mario Kart has integrated over the years.
Outside of a gameplay standpoint, the option to share and edit highlights via YouTube is a nice social touch, which only serves to make Nintendo’s lacklustre online multiplayer infrastructure all the more disappointing. I eagerly await the day that Nintendo applies their slick UI design to a solid online play program. It will be glorious.
Overall, Mario Kart 8 is a whimsical retelling of what made its predecessors so great, and also includes enough new features to keep the storied racing game from becoming just another tired franchise entry.
But always remember… that I get to play Yoshi.