The original Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo will always be one of the greatest games I played as a child. It kept me up until 3am every night at my cousins house that summer we were in South Dakota when I first played it. When my parents asked me whether I preferred the Sega Genesis or the Super Nintendo, it was the reason I said Super Nintendo (good call). It was my sister and my obsession that Christmas vacation when I finally got it, and when I returned to school, it was all I thought about.
When I finally had a Nintendo 64 years later and saw Mario Kart 64 on the shelf at Wal-Mart, I cobbled together every cent I had to buy it, and while I never loved it as much as the SNES version, I played it almost as obsessively. A while after that when the first handheld version came out, Mario Kart Super Circuit, I was racing around tracks in the college library and free periods at school. When Double Dash finally came out on the Gamecube, I had it at launch, and my friends and I played it frequently.
Unfortunately that was were my Mario Karting days peaked, and I never really went back to it with the same passion. I bought the DS version, but after playing Double Dash with four people all the time, going back to single player was tough. I never got much into it beyond completing each circuit for the gold medal and calling it good. When the Wii version came out with the steering wheel peripheral it peaked my interest. I got the game at launch and tried it out, but I *hated* the steering wheel. I switched back to a classic controller pretty quickly. My wife didn’t really like Mario Kart which left me with nobody to play with, so much like the DS version I played through the circuits and never picked it up again. Mario Kart 7 launched on the 3DS and despite not really getting into the last two titles I bought it, however I have yet to actually play it. It had gotten decent reviews but I just never got around to giving it a try. It still sits on my shelf collecting dust.
Mario Kart 7 wasn’t the only thing collecting dust. My Wii U sits relatively untouched as it waits for games that will peak my interest. I pre-ordered Mario Kart 8 but hadn’t really given it much thought besides that. In the weeks leading up to the launch I started seeing all these glowing reviews online about how it was the best game for the Wii U so far (not hard), and it was the first must have title for the system. With my pile of games finally cut down to a more reasonable level now that I’m on an MMO hiatus, I was looking for something to spend some time on and I figured “why not a Mario Kart game?”
I convinced my wife to play the game with me this time around, and once I got it on launch day we dived right in. Much like the last few titles the game let’s you race both karts and bikes, and now even some ATVs. The body, wheels, and gliders on the vehicle are all customizable and will change the vehicles speed, acceleration, etc. This is something that I’m sure a lot of people like about the game, but I’ve never really liked it. I always preferred a more even playing field of one type of kart that everybody rides, and you just have to find the best route through the course, and use your items as best you can. Determining the best configuration of vehicle options to optimize my racing for each specific circuit is not one of the highlights for me.
Aside from the kart options, the game feels a bit smoother than the Wii game did for me. The tracks are fun and I don’t get a sense of disorientation when flying through them like I did on the Wii. The gamepad also allows me several perks of displaying the whole map, and the other drivers locations.
Most of the classic items in the game are there, and thankfully the presence of the Blue Shell seems much more limited than in the Wii game. When I played higher CCs on the Wii, I would almost have to intentionally sit in second place until the race was almost finished or I would be under a constant barrage of Blue Shells. Mario Kart 8 still has them, but I’ve encountered considerably less of them while riding up in first, even on 150CC. What’s more, the addition of a new “Super Horn” items gives you a small chance of deflecting the Blue Shell. The item is possible to obtain in first place, though it is fairly rare. However if you have one and use it right as you see the Blue Shell, it will destroy it. Of all the races I have been in so far, I have only been in first, had the Super Horn, and used it to deflect a Blue Shell two times. Still, it’s nice knowing that it’s always a possibility.
One of the more frustrating things about the game is the NPC characters on higher CCs. In previous games the last CC was challenging, but not ridiculous. In Mario Kart 8 you can win to be sure, but you need to be almost perfect. It can be infuriating hitting an opponent with an item to watch them spin out and be back on the road before you even close the gap, but you hit a banana and go from second place to seventh place in about 2 seconds. In Mario Kart it’s never over until you cross the finish line and anything can happen, even in the last lap from last place, but I really wish the game felt a little more fair against NPCs on the higher CCs.
Battle Mode is back as usual, but it’s not something I’ve really touched since Super Mario Kart. I loved playing it back then, but none of the games since have really got me interested in it. My wife wanted to try it out on Mario Kart 8, and to my surprise they decided to ditch battle arenas in this title and just put you onto regular kart tracks. As I expected I didn’t find it nearly as fun as just racing, and it felt kind of cheap that battle mode didn’t get it’s own courses. Looking around on the interest, it looks like I’m not the only one with that opinion, and a lot of people are saying battle mode is the one area the game really failed in.
Aside from it’s shortcomings I have had quite a bit of fun with the game. I think my wife just plays with me because I want her to, but I think she might be having just a little bit of fun. Mario Kart is definitely one of those games that I need friends to play with, or a kid that enjoys it as much as I do. As I don’t have either of those readily available at the moment, she will just have to pretend she’s interested. When we do finally have kids I hope they are into Mario Kart, cause I’d really like to play it some more.