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Mario Kart 8

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Why race as Mario when you could be almost anyone else?

Ever since Mario Kart’s inception back on the SNES, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with these games. It’s a sweet misery I can’t seem to get away from. Anyone who has played a MK game will tell you how quickly sheer self-satisfaction can turn to unmitigated fury when their position goes from 1st to 9th in about 5 seconds due to no fault of their own. And yet we can’t stop playing them.

I didn’t have this blog running when I was actively playing Mario Kart Wii. All I will say about that game is that it was a big learning curve, but once I learned the new control scheme, set up and tracks, it became my favorite Mario Kart. No matter how difficult the tracks were, even Rainbow Road, I could still master them and come out in the top 3 99% of the time.

I’ll probably get some slack for saying this, but I don’t think Mario Kart 8 is better than Mario Kart Wii. There’s too many things that either feel like steps backwards or laziness on Nintendo’s part. I mean, yeah, they added some fun characters to the roster like Baby Rosalina:

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I wish Daisy would die already.

And they also added Shy Guy:

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And last, but not least, let’s not forget the most shocking and thrilling additions:

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Koopa kids!! OMFG!!!

I’m happy with the new characters I can start hating when they pelt me with shells.

I’m also relatively pleased with the new items. I thought I would care about the removal of the trick treasure icons. And maybe I did for a few races, until I realized how good this game is at screwing me over without them. The new items are great, but they’re so rare anyway it’s like a UFO sighting. Except for the coins. Seriously, MK8 has a hard-on for giving the player shells and mushrooms and LOTS of coins. I’ve only received a pirahna plant or crazy 8 or Fire Flower a handful of times in my hours of playing. Haven’t ONCE gotten a Bullet Bill. I only know it exists because the AI gets them ALL. THE. TIME.

But I’m not here to complain about the RNG having it out for me, really. I expect that with any MK game.

Speaking of items, there is a BIG game changer here that, unsurprisingly, takes away even more power and control from the player. In previous MK games, it was possible to drag certain items like shells and banana peels behind you to give you protection while freeing up your item slot. That’s not the case here. Until you actually let go of one of these items, you aren’t able to acquire a back-up. This new feature really adds a level of suspense to the game. Using an item is now a much bigger risk and takes more consideration. I got used to this feature, but it still pains me to not know what I might get for backup.

The character and kart/bike stats are unnecessarily complicated. There really needs to be a more intuitive equipment menu that allows the player to easily compare vehicles, wheels and gliders. As it’s set now, you have to memorize what set-up you like the best, then cycle through the options and try comparing slivers on a yellow bar by memory. I also don’t like the addition of two more weight classes. Three was enough, thank you. Light, medium, heavy. Got it. Now there’s like, mid-light and mid-heavy or something stupid like that.

Then there’s the new tracks. I’m sure I’ll be flailed by Nintendo die-hards for saying this, but I’m not exactly blown away by the new tracks. (Or the tracks they decided to revamp). Anti-gravity was added. Sounds fancy, but all it really means is that your character turns sideways while sailing through the air. All it does is serve to further disorient you, as if the flashing bright colors and constant onslaught of red shells isn’t enough. I don’t particularly like or dislike it. I just don’t see how its this crazy revolutionary new thing. It doesn’t really change anything.

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The new Rainbow Road looks like a space station, for crying out loud.

Ah, the dreaded Rainbow Road… Again, at least in the Wii version, with practice I was able to master the track with my favorite character (Rosalina). After devoting more hours than I care to admit, I still can’t figure out how to make some of the turns without completely letting go of the gas. Unless I want to go sailing over the side of the track, that is. Or switch to a small character, like chibi Rosalina, because they can, you know, turn on a dime. But that doesn’t help me when I’m trying to get a gold trophy and stars on the entire circuit. I’ve already mastered those courses. And, to be honest, I can’t be bothered to re-learn how to do those with a character and weight class I don’t really like.

Many of the other things I’m less-than-happy about seem to be just pure laziness from Nintendo. I’m unsure about the mechanics of all this, but only 32 tracks? In this day and age (and hardware) surely they could have added more tracks. Silly me, that’s what DLC that consumers can be charged MORE money is for! But seriously, it didn’t take more than 3 hours to drive through all the circuits with my friends on a drunken Friday night.

But there’s Battle Mode! …More laziness here, unfortunately. The Battle Mode in MK8 is an enormous leap backwards. It can hardly be called “Battle Mode” at all. Instead of developing new battle stages, or even doing HD remakes of previous ones (which I would’ve been satisfied with), they have you “battle” each other on race tracks! We get the joy of driving back and forth on a racetrack looking for people to hit with items while the AI characters ruin our day. Sounds a lot like the standard races, doesn’t it?

Another small thing I want to rant about: They removed Rosalina’s Luma! Lazy arseholes. It was so cute in the Wii game, spinning and making that cute noise when she does a stunt or hits someone with an item. Yes, MK8 developers, I NOTICE AND I WEEP.

Playing online has been a relatively smooth experience for me. It is a lot more fun to play against other people and have the same edge than working against an AI that has miraculous accuracy with items and impeccable luck. I actually felt like all my practice meant something. They added the ability to have 2 player local co-op in online as well, which is awesome.

Now that I’ve laid all my gripes on the table, I’ll give it to you guys straight. For the handful of people who own a Wii U and haven’t purchased this game yet, expect a lot of frustration in your first hour or so of playing. MK veterans: expect to eat a big piece of humble pie. I thought I was going to go into this game stomping the competition, but I was dead wrong.

Between learning the new mechanics, the new courses with the most inconveniently placed 90-degree turns, and unlocking the best kart set-up, you’ll probably lose more than you’ll win the first session. I refused to give up Rosalina, so that saved some guesswork for me. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It isn’t as big and bright as I’d hoped, but it is there. You’ll push through, because you’ll want to unlock all the characters and get the best acceleration combination. Nintendo’s challenge, I think, was to keep people playing for longer than that. And I’m finding it a challenge to keep playing. On a regular basis, anyway. I still have more things to unlock, but I have games like Mass Effect 3 to play. So I’m afraid to say, this will probably be sitting on the back burner for a while.

Overall, while I find this to be a great addition to my small collection of Wii U games, I can’t say that it is my new favorite Mario Kart. Mario Kart Wii blew my away. Mario Kart 8, not so much.

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