Today is the five year anniversary of Mario Kart 8 in Europe and the US. While it didn’t get as much love as it deserved on release due to it being on the underperforming Wii U, the racer has gone on to be one of the most successful games of this generation thanks to its Nintendo Switch port. However, is this success deserved? (you know the answer from the title, but just go along with it). Note that this will be a review of the Deluxe version on the Switch, although I will reference the original Wii U offering too.
Within seconds, the sheer amount of content on offer is apparent. The character and track selects are completely packed with offerings across the entire Mario franchise, plus many from Nintendo in general, including The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, Splatoon and Miis. This is fantastic, because right off the bat it’ll take you hours to experience everything the game has to offer before you even dive into different game modes, difficulties, etc. Speaking of which, the game is filled with various things to do, from your standard races right through to a battle mode added in the Switch’s Deluxe version. The variety is welcome and, while overwhelming, is certainly a strength of the game.
However, the fact that it’s available immediately (on the Switch version) is a major flaw. Having everything straight away kills any sense of progression. You do unlock karts, parts and a special character called Gold Mario, but they’re minor rewards that I don’t feel incentive to grind for. In Super Mario Odyssey, I spent many additional hours with it because I wanted to get all of the Power Moons, because doing so unlocked new levels and, with them, new outfits, Power Moon opportunities and more. Heck, in previous Mario Kart games, I spent many additional hours playing because I was rewarded with new racers and tracks for my efforts.
Here, there’s no reason to play other than for the sake of it. This works to a certain degree because it makes the game perfect for casual play due to its accessibility, something that’s a major strength of the game given its multiplayer focus. However, it also means the single player experience loses its allure quickly, which is a shame because the content is incredible. Its lack of a story mode means it needs this kind of system to provide a sense of progression, so for the game to be lacking both is a surprising decision. Of course, the content is enough for most and I know I’m in the minority here, but it’s still something I felt was worth noting. The original Wii U version features random character unlocks which, while imperfect, is an improvement as you actually have continued incentive to play.
This is an unpopular opinion for a reason though, because the game really is good enough to support itself without a significant progression system. The core gameplay is simply perfect. Mario Kart has always been lauded for its tight and intuitive controls, yet 8 manages to perfect the formula even more to provide an experience that feels satisfying and exhilarating. This is exemplified by its innovations to the racing styles, that sees its on road areas and Mario Kart 7’s underwater sections added to via flight sections. These combined with the wall riding areas borrowed from Crash Nitro Kart (of all things) create races that are consistently fresh and enthralling. They even ironed out the problematic Blue Shell by including some hard counters to it – it’s still an abomination to gaming, but it’s now a trainwreck rather than a plane crash on a nuclear power plant.
Overall, Mario Kart 8 accumulates everything the previous entries did to make Mario Kart one of the best racing series ever, polishes it and adds its own flare to create what is, simply put, one of the best racing games of all time. Although it’s not my favourite single player racing game due to its lack of a story or decent progression system, it’s fun to play from time to time and, with friends, it provides a level of fun that very few other games can bring. Even if you’re not a Nintendo or racing fan, Mario Kart 8 is a must play.
What do you think of Mario Kart 8? Am I a piece of trash for nitpicking the holy grail of kart racing? Let me know in the comments or via my Twitter profile @JoshBSocial.