Today I take a look at one of my favourite competitive multiplayer games found in so many homes throughout the West and the East. Mario Kart 8! This game has been knocking on the professional eSports stage for sometime but has struggled to be taken seriously due to the supposedly randomisation of certain events during races. Even so this article at Vice.com demonstrates just why MK 8 is a game worth exploring on the world stage.
On first sight it would be so easy to just chuck aside a game named "Mario Kart 8" into the casual bin and be done with it. But let's all face it, any racing game fan worth their salt would know that behind MK8's deceptively cute visuals, the game is actually an incredibly deep combat-oriented racer destined to end up on the eSports stage - if not with this version of the game then certainly the next! There are no take downs or crashes here, in the Mushroom Kingdom, you arm yourself with turtle shells, banana peels, magic stars, and even super hungry plants! Boasting a huge lineup of racers, all new tracks, and the inclusion of even more game mechanics, the game is proving once again that Nintendo knows what it is doing.
A Background on the Game
As the name implies, this is the eighth game in the Mario Kart series - a racing game set in the world of Super Mario. There is no story line or campaign to play through, the game is straightforward: using Mario-themed characters, and Mario-themed powerups, players must race their way through several courses based on various stages based on the famous Nintendo video game. Being released on the Wii U, the game is also superior to previous versions of the game in terms of visuals and performance.
Powerup's Change Everything
What makes Kart so unique is the presence of the powerup's. As players run through the course Death Race style, they have the option of passing through question mark blocks (in the game, they are translucent shimmery cubes). These will provide players with a random power item to be used. The power ups vary in purpose; some are used to help you boost forward, like the mushroom. Some can be used to attack other players directly, like the throwing turtle shells. Others are used as traps, like the banana peels you can leave in the track. There are a lot of new items introduced here, like the Boomerang Flower (if thrown carefully, you can hit several other racers with a single throw), the Piranha Plant (which tries to eat anything in your way and pulls you along for a quick boost), and more. All these power ups pretty much change the dynamic of racing and need to be both respected and used wisely. A hastily or rushed use of a powerup can see you taken very little advantage from it whilst your opponent can counter and destroy your position with a well timed use case.
By carefully using these powerups, you can slow down enemies you are chasing, or delay those that are behind you. Of course, players should also remember that the other racers will be using items as well.
New Character Choices
The character selection will also determine your basic kart performance. Grip, acceleration, max speed, and many other stats are determined by who you choose. Though more often than not, the reasons for making a character choice tend to be something more self-preferential as opposed to being functional.
The character lineup has been expanded considerably to woo fans further in MK8 and with all seven of Bowser Koopa's kids now unlockable, there is so much more variety in the types of racers you can choose from. Sadly, not all new additions are interesting; this is particularly true of the "Baby" variations of the characters (Baby Mario and Baby Luigi).
The spots would have been better off being used for more specific characters like Dry Bones, Birdo, Hammer Brothers, and other iconic Mario series staples. In fact, it would be amazing if Nintendo just tosses in the entire cast of Smash Brothers into Karting, can you imagine that!
The Mushroom Kingdom Looks Better Than Ever
There are a whole load of new tracks along with some remakes of old favourites, giving this Kart a lot of races for you to compete in. Rainbow Road is once again, one of the fanciest tracks in the game and it also features some of the most beautiful visuals with its shiny fences, well placed ramps, and incredible lighting effects that make it feel like a 1980's discotheque. Most of the stages are equally wonderful to race in. With stunning vistas rendered in the distance and a lot of on-track action as well.
Though as pleasant looking as most of the environments are, you will be spending much of your time focusing on the race intently, so yes, missing out on the scenery is something to be expected - leave that to the spectators. The good thing is that the game also features a special record function that allows you to save videos of your races -allowing you to not only review your performance, but be able to take the time to appreciate what you might have missed.
Not Quite Perfect
This game is super fun to play and equally fun to watch whether in your home on in one of the many amateur eSports tournaments held using different stages here, but it has its share of issues. Gone are the arena matches (you can still do the balloon fight thing, but it's basically just a race, which is not complementary to the idea and feel of the arena - by the way the balloon fighting mode would have made a pretty cool eSports event too). Also, while the game does support local split screen, the Wii U's pad will mirror the split screen view instead of giving each player an individual screen. Speaking of multiplayer, online matches are easy to access and fun, but setting up your own private game with friends is nearly impossible unless you coordinate outside of the Wii U.
Of course, these little problems mentioned are not going to stop you from having a blast with Mario Kart 8. As a racer and as a new instalment of an established series, MK8 which now has a deluxe version available is incredibly solid, fun, and a must have for every Wii U owner. Nintendo may be incredibly stubborn about repeatedly milking its established franchise characters, but with games as well polished like this, it is hard to fault them for it and we'd be surprised if Mario Kart 9 doesn't follow suit in delivering Nintendo fans another solid sequel and a worthy eSports title in what is now one of their best ever series.