Review: Mario Kart 8 Comes in First Place (Even When Hit By Red and Blue Shells)

Few games enjoy the sheer anticipation and hype that new entries into the Mario Kart series receive. Intrepid reviewers (such as myself) are able to bask in the glory of early play, but must brave the unexplored and sometimes harsh landscape of online communities.

However, just for you dear readers, brave this harsh landscape I shall and through this review you’ll find out if Mario Kart 8 for Wii U really takes the franchise to the next level or if it will get left in the dust of eventual obscurity (who am I kidding, most of you probably spotted the review score on the front page before even reading this).


There are eight cups to play in Grand Prix with four races in each one, giving the game a grand total of 32 different tracks. Most of them are remasters of classic tracks from previous titles; the crown jewel being the Rainbow Road from Mario Kart 64 (pictured above) — remade and better than ever.

As many Mario Kart fans already know, only six characters have ever been playable in any game in the series, until now. Mario Kart 8 marks the first game in the franchise to make far more than six playable. As a bonus, players can even unlock additional characters as they win gold trophies, along with new stages and vehicle parts.

Once you actually start racing, you realize that races are faster — much, much faster. Even 50cc, the slowest speed in 8, feels faster than the likes of Mario Kart 6 for Wii. This upgrade in speed is more than welcome and a refreshing chance of pace (pun intended), as races are far more exhilarating.

There are three speeds that can be chosen in Grand Prix and other modes: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc, with the latter being the fastest. CPU difficulty is adjusted separately through options, although the AI is certainly mean enough without any tinkering.

Other offline modes include Time Attack and Battle Mode. Time Attack is just your racer and the wide-open track as you attempt to set and break records for fastest completion time. You can upload your best times as Ghost data to the online leaderboard and in turn download Ghost data from other top-ranking players in order to racing against them.

Battle Mode is a bit different than a normal race; each racer has three balloons attached to their vehicle and must target other racers’ balloons, all the while protecting their own. The battles are fun and frenetic, and serve as a nice breather between the more intense Grand Prix races. The only complaint I have is that the tracks are a little too large for these battles, which results in a lot of driving around and searching for opponents. Solving this issue would have been as easy as reducing the track size for Battle mode.

Mario Kart 8 (6)

Like any other title in the series, each character has a certain weight that makes them more effective with different kinds of vehicles, tires and hang gliders. Those weight classes are divided into Feather/Light/Small, Medium and Cruiser/Heavy/Large. For instance, light characters such as Peach and Daisy are best with motorcycle type vehicles while heavier characters work best with kart types. Pressing the minus button on the Gamepad allows you to see how all the parts combined affect stats such as acceleration, handling, balance and more.

Drifting, which was first introduced in Mario Kart 64, is absolutely vital to many stages. As such, it continues the tradition of simplification starting from 6 and no longer requires players to hop before pulling off the mechanic; instead players must be precise in their timing when entering a drift. Other features like underwater racing and performing tricks in middair for speed boosts also make a return.

A new feature, namely anti-gravity, really adds extra depth and strategy to racing. Vehicle wheels automatically and seamlessly shift to anti-gravity, allowing players access to new paths by driving sideways and even upside-down. Players can also ram into other racers to gain speed boosts while in this mode.

Items naturally make a return to 8, with four new types joining the fray: the Piranha Plant, Boomerang, Super Horn and Crazy Eight. The Piranha Plant attacks other nearby racers while bestowing periodic speed boosts, the Boomerang attacks enemies directly in front and then comes back around several times, the Super Horn can knock around racers and cancel out any nearby item(s) (including the notorious Blue Shell) and Crazy Eight is eight different items surrounding your character that are chosen at random when you use them.

As a side note, Blue Shells have been officially nerfed (yay!) so being hit by one is still an inconvenience but it won’t cause magnitude 9 earthquakes and massive seizures in a 200-mile radius.


Graphics are in full HD quality and while there have been conflicting reports on whether it’s 720 or 1080p, the fact remains that everything is crisp and clear in motion — as a racing game should be, since you’ll only be looking at the game when environments constantly whiz by. The amount of depth and details in the backgrounds is also highly impressive; there have been times while hang gliding that I snuck a peak at the scenery and was amazed that I could see nearly the entire stage in full detail.

What really matters, though, is the butter-smooth 60 FPS that 8 runs in. And yes, it’s locked. In short, a high speed racing game with up to 12 racers at once that never hiccups, never dips and never slows down is a great thing. Even playing off-screen on the Wii U Gamepad doesn’t slow down the action. I will admit though that rarely the Gamepad stone-cold stopped for a second due to the high tax on the controller, but it resumed just as quickly and I was still amazing and in first place.

Controlling with the Gamepad works surprisingly well, especially when using the analog sticks. Tilt controls can also be enabled at any time and while it’s fun it is imprecise and should be avoided for competitive matches. If playing on-screen, the Gamepad displays the racers and their current places, lap location, the horn (which only honks), allows for switching between tilt and stick controls and allows switching between on and off-screen play.

Mario Kart 8 (3)

Online runs just as smoothly as offline and the internet connection doesn’t even have to be particularly great (take it from someone who has been booted out of SoulCalibur 5 lobbies due to very spotty connections). You can choose to play regional or global matches, or create and participate in tournaments. Tournaments can be customized in a variety of ways, such as engine speed, number of CPU opponents racing with the human racers, number of laps, item dropping rate and tons more.

Another online component allows you to share video content. After every completed race, players can choose to watch, customize and upload their highlight reel to Miiverse and even Youtube, using the Mario Kart TV feature. With Miiverse, you can attach a text or picture message to your video, then upload the post to the Mario Kart 8 community for members to view, “Yeah!” (basically a Miiverse “Like”) and comment on. Regarding Youtube, you’ll need a Google account to log-in to, then the video clip uploads on your channel.

As I’m sure many of you heard, if you use the MKTV method of uploading clips Nintendo automatically content IDs it. This means that if you enable ads for the video, Nintendo will essentially claim all ad-revenue. An easy way to circumvent this? Simply use direct-feed instead.

But I’m sure the big question in everyone’s mind is whether Nintendo has “finally gotten with the times” and integrated voice chat into 8. Well, there’s good news and bad news. Good news is that online voice chat is supported in multiplayer matches with friends. The bad news? Voice chat is only implemented during the waiting lobby area and not during actual matches. Furthermore, voice chat will not be available for regional or global matches with strangers. Personally I never use voice chat and I still enjoyed the online matches, but I’m aware that many people do use and enjoy this feature. I’m not sure why full voice chat wasn’t implemented but take that decision as you will.

Finally, while the feature was not released at the time of this review, Mario Kart 8 will have a nifty smartphone and tablet app that will allow players to upload their status, rank and even video clips for other friends to view.


Mario Kart 8 looks to be one of the, if not the best, Mario Kart titles with new mechanics, even better graphics, high frame rate, faster racing speeds, new items, a bigger roster and a host of other new changes that add complexity and depth to an already excellent franchise.

While I do wish certain mechanics such as two-racer teams and character exclusive specials would have made the list, and many gamers might be disappointed with the partial voice chat, 8 is still an excellent entry that should not be missed.

Join the Discussion

  • truthtellerdealwithit

    Cannot wait ;D

  • Mus1ckFPS

    This game alone and the SSBM is forcing my hand to buy a wii u

  • Awesome, I got this fully paid for and will be joining GameStop this weekend to help them get rid of those posters.
    Can’t wait to play this!

    • M.C. Pauly GooGoo

      Oh man thanks for reminding me about that demo weekend – I completely forgot about it and would’ve kicked myself if i missed it!!

  • JustGaming

    Awesome. So happy this game has turned out good and seems to be pleasing critics as well. This, Zelda and SSB U are the shot to the arm that Wii U needs.

  • Cpt Ahab Spampurse

    Consider that dust blown off of my beautiful Wii U. Excited!

    • Dario Antonio Puello Lugo

      That the problem that i see with the wii U,two Excellent for year. πŸ™ ,Ninted Needs to maker a lot of games.Their games are awesome but there arent many. :”(

      • Komicturtle

        There are always indie games. And honestly, I’m looking more forward to indie titles on Wii U and PS4 more than AAA games.

  • doom guy

    Looks like this game is worth buying the Wii U for πŸ™‚

    • Boerewors

      There always is the one reason to buy a Nintendo console, that’s how they get you. It always starts with you buying one as your second console for that one game… And you end up with this huge catalog of excellent Nintendo games while you hardly ever play your PS or Xbox no more….at least, that’s how it always works for me πŸ™‚
      And if you buy this, don’t kid yourself that you just like mario kart… I saw you almost buy one last Christmas when Mario 3D world was just out! πŸ™‚

      • john doe

        Ill still be playing my PS4/3/vita. Honestly I was only considering this as the bundle. In preparation for smash.But the more videos I watch the more I cant wait to play it.

      • Budgiecat

        Oh please

        FF XV
        KH III
        No Man’s Sky
        MGS V
        the Division
        Guilty Gear Xrd: Sign
        the Order 1886
        Lily Bergamo
        Alien Isolation
        Infamous SS
        Gran turismo 6
        Watch Dogs
        Deep Down
        Drive Club
        Witcher 3
        the Evil Within
        Lords of the Fallen
        Batman Arkham Knight
        Dragon Age: Inquisition
        Strike Suit Zero
        MLB 14 the Show
        Samurai Warriors 4
        Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate
        Kingdom Under Fire II
        EA UFC
        Dynasty Warriors 8 XL

        • Boerewors

          Clearly stated that it is how it always turns out for me, didn’t say that there will be a shortage of PS games… Thx for the list tho. I always buy my Nintendos to be my 2nd console just for 1st and 2nd party titles… But measured in hours my Nintendo consoles always “win” in the end.

          • Budgiecat

            Just for 1st 2nd party?

            Missing out on a lot of great 3rd party Nintendo titles..

  • Delsin Rowe

    woooow. just wooow. can’t wait to play this game on my brother wiiu πŸ˜€
    looks awesome. and like always , nintendo comes first. then sony and whatever….

  • Dario Antonio Puello Lugo

    i hope no less for this game.Good Review

  • Pedestrian

    wii u games are getting 9 and 10 left and right but the system is so awful nobody wants to do anything with it.
    as for the game i can’t play anything else in this genre after i played crash the racing in my ps, it was and is perfect and no mario kart or sonic racing can top it.

    • Budgiecat

      I have Yatterman racing for Wii……

    • Rob Nevico

      The system isn’t awful, it’s complex. This exact thing happened during the Gamecube days, when developers overlooked the system because it was “cute” and kiddy and, like today, people believed that a bigger number obviously meant better performance. People flamed it, said it sucked, the games were rehashes, PS2 was way better, etc… and then that system brought us Resident Evil 4. Now ask around and you’ll find not one person who has anything bad to say about the Gamecube in hindsight, and it’s not because it had one good game, it’s because it had a ton of them that still hold up today. Seriously, go play a PS2 FPS and see how it still stacks up to Metroid Prime. Find one PS2 era game that is still as fun to play as Mario Kart or Mario Sunshine. Seriously, I went back and popped in some classic PS2 games and found they aged really badly. Even the ones I loved were hard to play and enjoy. My point, however, is that I’ve yet to play a Nintendo game I hate and one that I won’t play years later and that is what Nintendo banks on, I think. Quality that lasts.

  • LiquidSword

    I won’t play another Mario Kart until the blue shells are removed.

    • Alexadelaide

      Ya blouse πŸ™‚

  • Ace TheFlame

    Nintendo used to be my favorite company. It’s sad to see how far they’ve fallen. I remember when Mario and Zelda were great reasons to own a Nintendo console, but now they are like the only reasons.

    I forget the WiiU even exists until they use one of their “tried and true” titles to dig them out of their hole…

    • Xeon2

      You should check out Pushmo world, or Bayonetta 2, or Smash, or Miyamoto’s next IP, or Monolith soft’s next ip or the next fire emblem, or batallion wars, or Rayman Legends Wii u. There are more reasons than just “Mario or Zelda” What about Metroid or F-Zero or even the next Mistwalker game?. Nintendo consoles have a nasty habit of snagging titles that everyone wants to play. Next level games confirmed that they are working on something. Nintendo is relatively small from first party. But they are rather large when taking into account for the second parties that they are amassing. Also, Nintendo should throw much more money into marketing.

      • Rob Nevico

        They don’t need to, though. The current gaming market is overrun with a sea of millennial gamers that think Call of Duty is a quality game and that graphics are more important than storyline. Nintendo and third party support has been ongoing since the mid-90s. You can thank Sony for that since it’s SNES add-on went on to become the PlayStation and stole pretty much every developer away from Nintendo, which made for sour relations and was the primary reason the N64 was a flop, but even then, look at the game changing titles that system managed to create. If I had to guess, I’d say Nintendo relies on quality over quantity and makes these new games for people in my age group who grew up in 80s and 90s and now have kids of our own. Do we want our small kids playing the Last of Us? Or do we want them playing Mario Kart 8? What better way to raise a new generation of gamers then to have the original generation of gamers remind their own children that nintendo was once king and it’s their responsibility to make sure they are never forgotten.

  • xultra

    I’ve got it since yesterday ,THX Amazon, my kids by now have golden the whole 50cc Cup.
    Graphic is great to play ,when i watch to my kids the Aliasing is annoying ,but 60fps are much more important.
    The animations of the characters are super cute, I like πŸ™‚
    AND you got one game for free if you make a registration @30.06.2014 ,I take Zelde Wind Waker , very nice value for my money.
    I must play …

  • Jecht_Sin

    “and while there have been conflicting reports on whether it’s 720 or 1080p,”..

    Just for completeness of information, the 1080p rumor has been put to rest for good. Digital Foundry analysed the whole game and confirmed it runs at 720p60fps (locked). With no antialiasing indeed.

  • rj

    Its the same old Mario Kart, not sure what all the appeal for this crap game is. The world has been brainwashed by nintendo.