Friday, August 8, 2014

Wii U: Mario Kart 8 Review

I'm obsessed with video games, but I kind of lost my interest when we switched consoles.

For those of you who don't know, a few months ago, we traded in our Xbox 360 for the more family friendly (with free online play) Wii U. I must admit, at first, I was rather disappointed.

For those of you who enjoyed the original Wii, and later purchased the Wii U, you probably understand where I'm coming from. Wii U wasn't a great success, as Nintendo lovers had hoped. In fact, when it came to other gaming consoles, Wii U couldn't even compare.

However, I was still excited, because I know that Nintendo still has some of the greatest games, and with the recent launch of Mario Kart 8, I am crossing my fingers in hopes that Nintendo will make a comeback.

* Product purchased by me for review purposes.

Is it worth it? Is Mario Kart 8 all that it's been cracked up to be? Should I buy it?

I truly enjoy playing Mario Kart 8. I was surprised with how much I liked it--I typically prefer the SNES version, without all of the fancy graphics and extras. Not this time, however. I'm finding that I am really, really excited about this one. Possibly even more excited than my 7-year-old son.

Mario Kart 8: Old and New Tracks

What I found most interesting were the number of tracks available. There are over 30 of them, and like SNES, N64, 3DS, and the original Wii, these racetracks are split up into the original cups: Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special. Half of the Mario Kart 8 tracks are familiar, because they've been featured before on other Mario Kart games. The difference is that the graphics are fantastic, each "level" is extremely vibrant and colorful, and there are more features than I'm used to.

For those that are wondering, Rainbow Road is one of the tracks. As a matter of fact, there are two Rainbow Road tracks. As a child, Rainbow Road was my all-time favorite on the SNES, so I have to admit, I became a bit too excited over this. My son was also thrilled! C'mon, you know you were, too!

The other tracks are just as fun, just as vibrant, and each of them are difficult in their own way, which makes it more exciting. There are areas where you can drive under water, roll through the clouds, and glide through the air with your parachute.

Various racing modes are available including Grand Prix, VS, Battle, and Time Trial. Like all old Mario Kart games, 50, 100, and 150cc karts are all there, ready for you to take on low-speed fun or high-speed competitions.

One of the coolest things about the Mario Kart 8 tracks (besides Rainbow Road) is the Bowser's Castle level. There is a giant, fire-hot Bowser that stands in the middle of two tracks, and punches left and right as players ride by. I found that my son and I were literally screaming while we rode past Bowser, scared that he was about to "get us." Definitely one of the coolest tracks in the game. It'll get your adrenaline pumping, for sure.

Are there hovercrafts in Mario Kart 8?

You may have heard about the "hovercrafts" in Mario Kart 8. While it's not actually a vehicle that you can choose, it's a feature in certain tracks. When you drive over the blue hover pads, your car turns into a hovercraft, which allows you to "fly" and ride along the sides of the walls and in some cases, the ceiling. I've also heard that if you purposely try and run into players while hovering, you receive some kind of boost. I have yet to experience that, probably because I have terrible aim.

Mario Kart 8 Characters

There are over two dozen characters to choose from, including originals such as Mario (duh), Luigi, Donkey Kong, Peach, Yoshi, and even baby characters, among others. There are also unlockable characters, including a metal Mario and Toadette. As an added bonus, you can use your MiiVerse character once you unlock this feature.

When you're choosing a character, don't forget to consider "weight." Heavy, medium, and light characters are among your choices. Large characters such as Donkey Kong and Bowser are considered "heavy," which means it takes them longer to get moving once they've been hit. Baby characters are considered "light" which means they get to going faster if they've been stopped for any reason. Remember though, just because they are heavy, it doesn't mean that they're slower while racing.

Mario Kart 8 Ride Customization

A feature of Mario Kart 8 is the ability to choose and customize your ride. Start of with the "basic" ride of your choice, from scooters to motorcycles, and cars to ATVs. Next, choose your tires. Tires will change your stats, so be sure to push the "+" button to see acceleration, handling, etc. when selecting your wheels. Finally, you're able to select a parachute that helps you glide through the air.

It should be noted that the amount of customization available isn't overwhelming. In fact, I feel that the balance here is perfect. Even my son thought so, and he usually likes to be able to customize every little detail of his characters when it comes to gaming.

Question Blocks and Weapons

Banana peels, red shells, lightning bolts, OH MY!

Mario Kart 8 wouldn't be the same without a plethora of weapons after hitting those giant Question Blocks. Red and green shells, banana peels, and my all-time favorite (the lightning bolt) made a comeback in Mario Kart 8, along with new items that I will not reveal here (I'm not much for spoiling surprises). Use the left trigger to shoot your items (using standard controls on the GamePad).

Mario Kart 8 Battle Mode

Battle Mode, if you're not familiar, consists of players with balls around their karts. The goal is to hit your opponent(s) to knock off their balls. Once all of the balls are gone, that player is out, and the last remaining player is the winner. In old versions of Battle Mode, you were in an enclosed track. Unfortunately, in Mario Kart 8, you play on the regular tracks. This simply ruins the fun of the game, as you can pretty much go anywhere. At least in the old version, there was nowhere to hide and the games were pretty fast-paced, which was the whole idea. This, my friends, was the biggest disappointment and the game's biggest downfall.

Luckily for us, Nintendo is a great company; very customer service oriented, and I'm sure that they'll remedy this in the future, even if only on the next Mario Kart release.

Other Mario Kart 8 Features

One of the best features is online multiplayer. It humbled me a bit, and helped me realize that I'm not as good as I thought I was. Here, you can compete with up to 12 other players (and one person in the same room as you). The features in multiplayer mode including tournaments and voice chat.

Another features is the ability to playback your highlight reels and racing videos. You can even share screenshots on MiiVerse, which I really enjoy. Alternatively, this footage can be uploaded on YouTube to share with the world.

GamePad Game Play

When I first played on the Wii U GamePad, I was a bit confused. The screen was a tiny little image in the top right-hand corner. It took me a moment to realize that I could make it full-screen by taping that image. This allows you to play Mario Kart 8 even if someone is using the TV.

If you want to play on the TV, however, you simply use the GamePad like a normal controller. Other players can also use the WiiMote (hold it horizontally and move it around like a steering wheel). What I found to be the easiest was using my Wii U Pro Controller and my NYKO Pro Commander for Wii U. Both of the aforementioned controllers are very similar to the Xbox 360 controllers, and being that I'm an Xbox girl at heart, it made all of the difference.

If you find yourself fumbling and getting frustrated with the bulky, heavy GamePad or the small, lightweight WiiMote, you should definitely look into the NYKO Pro Commander, or the Wii U Pro Controller. You won't be disappointed.

Overall, I'd give Mario Kart 8 a rating of 8 on a scale from 1-10, with 10 being the highest. So far, it's the best Nintendo game yet that I've played on the Wii U. Had it not been for the unfortunate changes implemented into Battle Mode, I would have given the game a 9 or a 10, easy.

But, we can't always get what we want, right?

Enjoy the game, and let me know what you think!

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