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Finally, our Mario Kart 8 review has arrived at the finish line. What took us so long? Well you see, I’m playing Bowser driving a heavy kart with poor acceleration and this blue shell came and… ok, I was just waffling. I’ve been holding this for a short but the longer I waited the more belated it became, so I continued to hold it and that just made it worse. So the hell with it, here we go. Mario Kart 8 has the look of a great entry into the franchise’s storied history, but does it ultimately come up short of the podium?

The visuals in Mario Kart 8 are the best the series has seen, and perhaps the best ever on the Wii U. The player models are sharp and colorful, the items and hazards are beautifully rendered, and the tracks are absolutely stunning. Comparing this to Mario Kart Wii is no contest, as MK8 blows the Wii entry out of the water. The sounds are also very well done with crisp, clear voice overs, recognizable sound effects and a really good soundtrack. Presentation-wise this is the best Mario Kart has ever been. Thankfully, the rest of the game can mostly hold up its end of the bargain.

Mario Kart 8

The race tracks themselves are all really well laid out with fun new courses and intelligently re-done retro tracks that incorporate the new driving features (antigravity, gliding and underwater driving, all of which I’ll get in to later) in clever ways. For example, Toad’s Turnpike allows you to enter antigravity mode and drive along the wall on the side of the road to dodge traffic. The Nintendo 64’s Rainbow Road is included as a point-to-point race instead of a lap race and it shines in that capacity. It also gets a gorgeous facelift with lots of eye candy in the distance.

Of the aforementioned driving tweaks – antigravity, gliding and underwater driving – only antigravity is truly unique to Mario Kart 8, since the other two made their debuts in Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS. Antigravity’s biggest gimmick would seem to be driving upside down and sideways, but the camerawork doesn’t play that up enough for that to feel any different from normal driving. Instead, you can ram into bumpers and other drivers in antigravity mode to get a speed boost, which makes for lots of collisions that you would otherwise avoid. This is a bit of a mind game for you to overcome, since for most of the race you’re trying to avoid contact with the other racers, but in antigravity you benefit from breaking that habit and ramming your foes. The gliding and underwater portions are also interesting but fail to change the gameplay much, aside from allowing Nintendo to get even more creative in their track designs.

Mario Kart 8

The roster of racers is rather redundant, to use a term. It includes all 7 Koopa Kids, four baby versions of existing racers, and two racers with metal-plated counterparts. As far as unique characters go, there’s no ROB the Robot, Dry Bones, Funky Kong or the like to liven up the list so you’ll likely pick your favorite and stick to them. Similarly, the various kart parts allow you to choose the chassis, wheels and glider of your choice regardless of character, but there are a number of clone parts that may look differently but perform alike, making your choice half about performance, half about aesthetics.

The races themselves are fun with competitive AI and an item distribution that seems to nail a good balance between causing chaos and just letting you race, which means that luck plays less of a part in the results. Multiplayer races are, as always, the highlight, but really, what happened to battle mode? After the gigantic battle maps from Mario Kart Wii resulted in complaints, I figured Nintendo would reign them and we would get a good, tight battle mode here. Instead, they scrapped the battle maps entirely and left us driving around normal race tracks, hoping against hope to come across another racer to do battle with. This is a disaster, and is the biggest oversight in Mario Kart 8.

If it’s not clear yet, I love Mario Kart 8. It’s the best Mario Kart since Mario Kart DS and should be in any Wii U owner’s library. If you don’t own a Wii U but liked the earlier entries, this could be a reason to get one. Mario Kart 8 is one of the best Wii U releases yet and proves the Mario Kart series still has it. This is a “can’t miss” for Nintendo fans.

Final Score

9.0

Pluses:

Minuses:

+ Great presentation

+ Creative track design

+ Good item balance

– Battle mode (RIP)

– Average racer roster

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