Monday, February 9, 2015

Video Game Review: Mario Kart 8 for Wii U

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: More racing fun with Mario and his friends
Cons: Extra content for purchase, some information only on GamePad
The Bottom Line:
Creative courses
Matched with familiar game play
Fun for series fans

New Racing Season Opens with Mario Kart 8

Who says that sibling rivalry dies when you reach adulthood?  For Christmas, my brother and his family got a Wii U.  Guess who bought one before New Year’s.  That’s right, it would be me.  And this is despite not playing my Wii much at all during 2014.  I also had to buy the latest version of my favorite Wii game – Mario Kart 8.  Yes, it is just as awesome as I expected it to be.

If you’ve played any of the previous seven versions of this game, you know the basics.  You are racing against 11 other characters around fantastic courses trying to get first place in various cups.  Depending on where you place in each of the four races, you earn points that determine your overall place in the cup.

So what’s different this time around?  There are new courses, for starters.  About half of the courses are new or at least new variations on familiar themes.  Of these, my favorites in the Twisted Mansion (a haunted house), Toad Harbor, and Sunshine Airport.  Then there are 16 retro courses from the previous versions of the game.  Since this is only the third Mario Kart I’ve bought, there are plenty on here I don’t recognize, but I do enjoy playing the familiar Moo Moo Meadow and Grumble Volcano from the Wii, the last version I bought.  And a couple of the courses are one long race instead of going around the same course for three laps.  For those, we get check points.

If you are familiar with the Wii version, the controls will be familiar as well.  Once again, you can use your Wiimote and tilt it to control your car.  Or you can use your Nunchuck controller.  And yes, the game pad controller that comes with the Wii U can also be used as a controller with either tilt or thumb stick control.

There are a couple of changes to game play from the last version.  They have brought the use of coins back to the game.  They had used them in the very first Mario Kart, the one of the SNES.  (And yes, that’s the other one I have.)  Collecting coins will increase your speed.  It’s a small amount, but I can see the boost at times.  You start with somewhere between zero (1st place) and 5 (12th place) and can collect up to 10.  They are scattered around the maps.  Of course, you lose three each time you are hit by an object or drive off the edge of the map.  (And if you do drive off the edge, they actually put you back on course faster than before, too.)

In addition to being on the maps, coins might be hiding in the mystery boxes you can pick up along the way.  If that is your prize, you’ll find two coins.  Other new surprises are plants that will attack your fellow races and gobble up coins, a boomerang, and fire power.  Of course, there are plenty of the old standbys like Bullet Bill, red and green shells, and invincibility.

The final change to the game is the gravity defying part of the game.  Parts of the courses allow you to race up walls and even upside down.  There are clear indicators in the game when this is happening.  It really doesn’t change how your car operates, but it is fun to think about.  Oh, and if you crash into an opponent in this section of a course, you get a boost!  Obviously, this is more prevalent on the new courses, but they’ve switched up a few of the old courses to let you do this as well.

In addition to the traditional races, you can also do timed trials and fight battles to pop your opponent’s balloons.  And you can race by yourself or with up to four people in the same room.

Plus they’ve brought back the ability to play against people all over the world thanks to the internet.  One or two people per machine can log in and race or battle to their hearts content.  One change here I really like is that at the start of each new race, you are given a choice from three randomly selected courses.  Everyone votes for one of those three and then the game randomly selects the course you actually race.  If those three really don’t appeal to you, you do have a fourth choice – random, which will randomly pick any course in the system not necessarily one of those three courses.  Overall, this cuts down significantly on those annoying people on line who always select the same course over and over again.

There are a couple of things I don’t like about this game.  First, the rankings and course map don’t appear in part of the TV screen but on the GamePad during the race.  Any time I glance down to see those things, I lose track of where I am on the TV screen.  Maybe I’ll get used to it as I go along.

I’m also not happy that they have developed some extra content that is for sale separately.  Oh, we get as many courses with this version as we did for the Wii, so they aren’t skimping on us, but after spending $60 for this game, it seems a shame that I have to pay extra for the final few characters and courses.  I’ve resisted – so far, but I have a feeling I will wind up buying them.

The game looks and sounds great.  The picture is crisp and the sounds effects are fun.  Both are definitely a step up from the last version, but what else would you expect from new video game system that uses an HDMI cable.  Of course, it’s all still highly stylized cartoon action, but for what it is, it looks great.

I’d been debating for a while about buying the new system, but I’m glad I did.  So far, I’ve been concentrating on Mario Kart 8, just because it’s always been a favorite franchise.  I’m sure I’ll be racing around these tracks for some time to come.

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