By now, many of you have probably seen the Luigi death stare. Mario’s long-neglected, taller green brother seems to be overshadowing him when it comes to the internet buzz for the latest Mario Kart game, Mario Kart 8. I’ve lost count of the number of gifs or short videos set to music I’ve seen of Luigi, callously slaughtering an opponent with shells and driving past with an intent almost-smirk. But although Luigi may be upstaging Mario as the most-talked about character in Mario Kart 8, the game itself definitely is worthy of some discussion, too.
My first Mario Kart was Double Dash, which I played obsessively for hours in high school. My second was Mario Kart Wii, which I didn’t think quite measured up to its predecessor but did become a topic of conversation and bonding activity in my fledgling relationship with Thad. Now, Mario Kart 8 comes along and blows both of them out of the water with a vibrant, physics-defying, high-definition go-kart racing game on steroids. It’s everything I didn’t know I wanted out of a Mario Kart game.
They say seeing is believing and I’ll say the graphics really are more of an upgrade than I was expecting, from realistic waterfalls and rivers, the crisp colored tiles on Rainbow Road, or even little details like the texture on Thowmps or on sugary road cones topped with sprinkles. It’s fun to look at, even when you’re not playing.
When you do start playing, you notice even more changes. The item system has been re-tooled, seemingly in response to common complaints. For instance, the blue shells are no longer automatic death, thanks to the Super Horn that allows you to blast it away from you. Coins change the dynamic of the race by giving you a small speed boost when collected and increasing your top speed when you’ve collected the max of 10. Fire Flowers and boomerangs are also interesting new additions to the player’s arsenal, and the Crazy 8, which surrounds you with 8 spinning items you can use as you please is either useful or crash-inducing.
Besides the item reworking, the physics of the game are great in terms of how kart handling changes on land, in the air, underwater, and going upside down. The variety keeps the courses interesting and the game overall is just a lot more responsive than Mario Kart Wii.
I also enjoy the the updated character roster and kart customization options. At first I thought it was silly that all the Koopalings are unlockable characters, but 1) it reminds me of my nostalgic days of playing Super Mario World and 2) I decided that Lemmy is my favorite character to race as, so I’m glad he’s in the game. I also have enjoyed racing as Rosalina and though she was a much better racer than in Mario Kart Wii, but I really do a lot better with lightweight characters than heavy ones. The kart customization is a final great feature, and with so many karts, wheels, and gliders/parachutes to choose from, you can make your vehicle totally your own.
Finally, the game as a great mix of Nitro and Retro courses, with most of the Nitro courses being really good additions. Several of my favorites are Thowmp Ruins (which has great music, too), Cloudtop Cruise, and Water Park. Don’t get me started on the Electrodome, though. I hate it.
We didn’t have a Wii U before the game came out, and I hoped I didn’t regret buying the bundle, really just to play Mario Kart. I’d say it was worth it just to play this game, not to mention all the interesting-sounded new games that we’re heard about at E3.