I'm thinking this is a review you've been waiting for! I hope you enjoy ours, as well as all the others that pop up around the net today. All these reviews will probably make the wait for May 30th that much harder! See you in a few, short hours.
SPECIAL NOTE - This review DOES NOT contain commentary on online play. A separate feature on Mario Kart 8's online content will be posted at a later date. This decision was made in order to test online features once the game is released worldwide.
There's been a list floating around on the internet for awhile now. It shows a bunch of announced initiatives and games that can 'save' the Wii U. Some of those games and ideas have come and gone, such as Super Mario 3D World and certain bundles. While that list only has a few options left, one that has been included since day 1 was Mario Kart 8. Mario Kart Wii was an absolutely insane seller on Wii and continues to pull in sales to this day. Many, including Nintendo, are hoping that Mario Kart 8 can put a dent in some of the Wii U stockpiles that retailers have.
To be completely honest, I don't know that Mario Kart 8 can shoulder that burden. That's only because I don't know that one game can entirely change the fortunes of a platform. I know Iwata believes it to be true and I'd like to think he knows a bit more about the situation than I. With that said, if there ever a game that could really turn the tide of Wii U sales, you can bet your ass that Mario Kart 8 deserves to be that title.
Mario Kart 8 give me a feeling from Mario Kart that I haven't felt in quite some time. I feel like the game is ridiculously tight and fine-tuned. Mario Kart Wii was a blast, but it definitely played fast and loose with a lot of mechanics. That had a lot to do with the platform the game landed on and the market it was reaching out to. Obviously the pitch worked, as Mario Kart Wii sold like gangbusters. That doesn't mean long-time fans loved the hell out of the game. Quite a few people felt the game dumbed things down a bit too much in all directions. If you believe that to be true, Mario Kart 8 is you new savior.
I am finding it near impossible to put into words just how good Mario Kart 8 feels. It could very well be the most well-designed entry in the series up to this point. Racing feels so responsive and engaging. Handling is tight and takes a lot of time to master, especially when you're mixing kart/bike/ATV parts. Finding that right mixture of parts and then learning how that vehicle handles is such a rewarding experience. Marry that with the actual physical controls and you'll get an experience that makes you feel positively giddy.
The most important part to drive home is that Mario Kart 8 never made me feel like I was racing a losing battle. We all have that feeling when we play Mario Kart...that feeling that the game is just gunning for you when you're in first. The feeling that you're going to be hit with everything but the kitchen sink when you're up ahead. The anger of seeing second place somehow whip ahead of you with a kart that just magically doubled its speed. For every race I participated in, I never felt that to be the case. It may have taken Nintendo too long to wrap their head around the rubberbanding issue, but I feel that Mario Kart 8 offers the best job of hiding that element.
I honestly felt like these 150cc races were edge-of-my-seat, white-knuckle experiences. I'm not even kidding about that! When I was trying to pull off perfect first-place finishes in each set of 4, I kicked back in my recliner, snuggled up to the edge of the seat and leaned in towards the TV. I had to deeply focus and stay on-top of my game to pull off those wins. That's not because Mario Kart 8's other racers play unfair. It's because they race hard and smart...they feel more like human players than computer controlled opponents.
I don't know that I've ever got this sense of satisfaction from Mario Kart when playing against the computer. Sure, I had the sweat drip and the cheers scream out when I was playing online or local multiplayer in other Mario Kart games. When I would play single player, I definitely had a blast and a half, but I never felt like I was racing against real people. I felt like I was trying to outsmart a computer and a set of odds. Mario Kart 8 comes closer to matching that real-life experience. It's almost like each character has their own racing style and personality. That might have to do with the different kart parts and their mixing/matching, but I'll be damned if it isn't handled better in this game than any other kart.
There's also a lot of good to be said for the new items, as they really feel like fresh and interesting additions. The Super Horn, as mentioned above, can save you from missing out on a first place victory. It seems surreal that we actually have an item that kills off the blue shell, but I'm oh-so happy it exists! There's also the Piranha Plant that chomps at coins and opponents as you pass by, also giving you a nice speed boost with each bite. Those two additions are great, but the boomerang flower is my favorite. Having a weapon that can be thrown a large distance, taking out multiple characters and then returning to you for two more throws? That baby can be key to clearing a path to your victory if used appropriately!
I definitely put all those bad boys to use when playing local multiplayer. There's no denying that a huge part of the Mario Kart fun comes from multiplayer, so you can bet we've had a ton of 4-player racing going on here. Two-player split screen is a real joy this time around, as the screen is split vertically and still maintains the single player's silky smooth 60fps. When you go 3 or 4 player, you'll see the framerate halved to 30fps. This is certainly noticeable, especially when going right from single into multiplayer. It sure would have been nice to see 60fps pulled off for the entire experience, but 30fps doesn't hurt the experience at all. After a few minutes in a race, you'll quickly forget the framerate difference and pay much more attention to how your friends are quickly passing you by.
With all this multiplayer madness, I don't even know how Nintendo managed to keep Mario Kart 8 running at 60fps in 2-player. Mario Kart 8 is one of the prettiest games I've ever seen on any platform, including Microsoft and Sony's newest entries. You know that isn't a bunk statement, either. You've seen the footage and been wowed by just how bright and gorgeous it all is. The game looks just as good as that footage, if not better when you're peeping it directly on your own TV. Mario Kart 8 absolutely screams off the TV with visuals that seem too good to be true. Grass textures, neon signs, mud puddles, fluffy clouds and SO much more to take in. Sure, these bits of eye candy might get lost in the shuffle while you're gunning for first, but it definitely makes for one hell of a gorgeous blur.
We're also getting the first Mario Kart game to feature music recorded by a live band. Not all the tunes get this treatment, but it seems that there's a good split between live and computer composed songs. I've always found Mario Kart games to have outstanding music that sticks with you, but Mario Kart 8 takes it to the next level. Man, just thinking about those live-recorded tunes gives me goosebumps! It would be an absolute travesty if Nintendo didn't offer this game's soundtrack via Club Nintendo. Jazzy, whimsical, fun, toe-tapping and hummable compositions are a pleasure to the ears on every track you encounter.
Outside of that, I can't really find any complaints to make! Mario Kart 8 feels like the culmination of everything that Nintendo has learned while building the franchise. There are years of know-how going on behind the scenes, which makes for one of the best and most engaging entries the series has seen. The racing AI is top-notch, the visuals are unbelievable, the handling is too good to be true and the music gives you a grin from ear to ear. If Mario Kart 8 doesn't convince you that you need a Wii U, I don't know what will. This game is a party in a box for years and years to come.