There are some games that I’ll almost always buy, simply because of the name. Super Mario. Street Fighter. The Legend of Zelda. Pokémon. Final Fantasy. Mario Kart. It isn’t just because of brand loyalty, but rather that the quality of these games is always of such a caliber that I’ve never felt disappointed. So when Mario Kart 8 came out last week, I didn’t wait for a single review before I rushed out and bought it.
If you’ve played a Mario Kart game before, especially 2008’s Mario Kart Wii or 2011’s Mario Kart 7, this game will be instantly familiar to you. You can choose from a selection of characters from all ends of the Mario franchise, then choose whether you want to drive a go-kart, a motorcycle, or an ATV, and then choose from one of 32 different race tracks. You can play by yourself or with up to 3 other people in front of your TV, or up to 11 of your friends online.
Returning, of course, are the items - mushrooms, fire flowers, and of course the infamous Blue Shell. The further behind you are, the more helpful the items you receive are, helping you fight your way back to first place.
New in this iteration is the ability to drive on walls and ceilings using anti-gravity wheels. This is mostly just a gimmick, because despite this, gameplay is nearly unchanged from previous Mario Kart games.
Looking back at my reviews of other Nintendo games, I’ve noticed a trend. Every major game Nintendo has released lately is the pinnacle of their respective franchises, with nearly endless polish and refinement. Super Mario 3D World, Pokémon X and Y, Zelda, and now Mario Kart 8 - while these are all certainly the best examples of these series that have ever been available, they don’t take many risks or push the genre or the medium very far. These are the video game equivalents of summer blockbuster movies: fun, nice to look at, expensive to make, and full of mass appeal, but ultimately not as memorable as smaller, more intimate titles that actually challenge you or make you think.
Nevertheless, Mario Kart 8 is certainly the pinnacle of the series thus far, and if you have a Wii U (and I think you should!), this is one game that shouldn’t be missing from your library.