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Mario Kart 8 Review: Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads
It’s been a while since I really sank my teeth into a Mario Kart game. The last entry I played extensively was Mario Kart Wii, a title that was equal parts frustrating and fun. I played a bit of Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS and enjoyed what I played, but for some reason never got around to picking it up. However with each new trailer and info reveal for Mario Kart 8, I couldn’t help but get super excited for the game. After spending some time with the latest entry in Nintendo’s staple racing series, (or at least the only one not named F-Zero) I’m happy to say that Mario Kart 8 is not only more fun than I had originally anticipated, but it’s quite possibly my favorite entry in the franchise.
One of the big new mechanics featured in the game is the inclusion of anti-gravity. On certain sections of tracks, racers will be able to burn rubber on walls, ceilings, and everything in between. When this mechanic was first announced, I was worried that doing this might be disorienting but in practice, it feels completely normal and makes for some thrilling ways to traverse tracks and speed past other racers. I was never big into watching race replays, but the anti-gravity mechanic makes each race worth watching again. It’s surprisingly awesome to watch as your car or bike hits and anti-gravity pad and begins to work its way up a wall and above other racers.
Anti-Gravity sections also introduce another new mechanic, Spin Turbos. When you hit other racers’ vehicles in an anti-gravity section, you’ll perform a quick spin and gain a slight speed boost. Certain special bumpers will also allow you to replicate this effect without the need to go careening into another racer. This tactic typically goes against everything you’ve ever learned in Mario Kart, but manages to be a fun and unique twist on classic mechanics without feeling too gimmicky.
Mario Kart 8 also features some new items to help you cause even more chaos on the roads and raceways of the Mushroom Kingdom. The Boomerang Flower lets you fling a large boomerang at foes which has the potential to hit them on the initial throw as well as on the return. The initial throw distance is considerable on its own, but on the third throw, you’ll hurl the boomerang a crazy huge distance. The Piranha Plant mounts the familiar floral menace to the front of your vehicle, where it will lash out and strike at nearby foes and obstacles. I don’t much care for it as an offensive weapon, but it does make for a great defensive tool for taking out obstacles and ensuring other racers don’t speed past you at the last second.
The last two new items are arguably the most important. First up is the Crazy 8, which spawns eight items around you. These items typically include things like Stars, Bob-Ombs, Shells, Banana Peels and Super Mushrooms but there’s a catch. While the Crazy 8 circles around you, if someone runs into you or hits a section of the Crazy 8, they can use whatever item they hit. This gives them the potential to grab a Star and proceed to wreck your day or they could hit a Bob-Omb and cause an unwanted and impromptu explosion. The last item is the Super Horn, which allows players to create a sizeable sound wave around their karts and bikes. While it’s nice as an offensive tool, it is better served as a defensive measure particularly since it is the one item which can stop the bane of every first place racer’s existence, the Blue Shell. Both items have some great tactical uses and are items I hope to see in future games.
The game also features a few new racers like Baby Rosalina, The Koopalings, and Pink Gold Peach, the metal analog to everyone’s favorite princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. You’ll unlock new racers at random as you complete cups in either single player or multiplayer. Additionally, as you collect coins you find scattered on tracks, you’ll unlock new car and bike parts which you can use to customize your ride a la Mario Kart 7. I like the way the game handles unlocking new content. It’s a gradual process that doesn’t ever feel tedious to do and the fun of getting a brand new character or part after a batch of races makes for a nice little reward.
Gameplay wise, Mario Kart 8 handles like a dream. I played primarily with the WiiU gamepad’s analog mode and quickly fell back into the groove of power sliding around corners and hoping off ledges for those little extra seed boosts. You can also play the game with a Pro Controller, Wii Remote, a Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo, a Classic Controller, or if you’re feeling particularly daring, the Wii Wheel. The gamepad also features a motion control mode and while it handles okay, I still prefer the feel of the analog mode or a Pro Controller. My experience with the online mode, though somewhat limited, was still very positive. I never ran into any lag or frame rate issues and lobbies were always quick and easy to find. I’m hoping to put in some time on the tracks with the rest of the Nintendo Team in the near future.
I also want to take a moment to gush about how gorgeous this game looks. While I loved the look of Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 manages to look even prettier. Courses like Toad Harbor, Twisted Mansion, Cloudtop Cruise and Electrodome all feature some stunning visuals and their fair share of little touches that make them so memorable. The returning course all look great too, each of them receiving some tune ups to accommodate for new mechanics and HD facelifts. This game is as much fun to watch for me as it is to play. As fun as it is to battle my way to first place, it’s also nice to just watch the scenery as I drive by. While the new Rainbow Road looks really nice and is a fun drive in its own right, it lacks the sense of challenge that previous versions have always invoked.
I only have one major complaint with the game and that’s the battle mode. In previous games, battle mode courses were specially designed arenas of different shapes and sizes that allowed players to zoom around collecting items and popping enemy balloons while protecting their own. While the last part of that description still holds true, the battle mode courses in Mario Kart 8 are the same courses as the normal race tracks. I’m kind of baffled at this change since almost nothing is altered to accommodate for the gameplay shift. In all honesty, when I play battle mode in this game I usually end up realizing that I’d rather just race on these tracks instead.
I can’t recommend Mario Kart 8 enough. If you own a WiiU, this is a must buy. The new mechanics and items all feel like solid additions and the courses are as much of a joy to look at as they are to race on. I didn’t touch on it above, but the soundtrack is also great, sharing some of the similar jazzy influences of Super Mario 3D World. Whether you’re racing by yourself, with a room full of friends, or testing your skills against others online, Mario Kart 8 is blast from start to finish.