Mario Kart 8: The Game to Save Wii U

The Wii U needs a hero.  Sales have been abysmal, the PS4 is about to surpass it in lifetime units and third party developers are weighing anchor and sailing off into next-gen.  Is there a game out there that can sell the Wii U and save it from the jaws of failure?  Mario Kart 8 might just be that game.

I’ve spoken much in the past about how Mario Kart 8 could effectively have saved the Wii U in 2013 and that it was foolish for Nintendo to release it in 2014 after the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One.  However, what’s done is done.  Mario Kart 8 is out this May and I have gotten some play time with the game, and it’s just as fun as ever.

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Any fears about Nintendo bringing the Mario Kart franchise to the Wii U should be washed away.  The game is both competent and entertaining.  It feels better than previous iterations of the franchise, though it does little to push the formula forward.  This will certainly be a great game to play with friends or online, but those who want something new will be left disappointed.

So is there anything new?  Well, yes, there are plenty of new stages to race around in.  The only tracks I’ve gotten to play so far are Mario Kart 8 Circuit and Little America Island.  Both were well designed featuring different paths a player could take to reach their goal.  Little America Island in particular was very cool.  It is based on San Francisco and it was neat racing around the map and noticing famous landmarks.

Probably the most hyped “new” feature is the anti-gravity sections.  Mario Kart 8 introduces the idea of racing in zero-G spaces.  With zero-G you can now race along walls or upside down.  Does this really change the dynamics of the game?  No.  Much like gliding or going underwater in Mario Kart 7, zero-G is purely aesthetic, but it does look really cool.

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Pretty much everything else in the game returns from previous Mario Kart titles.  This includes the fast, addictive gameplay that has sucked in millions of people with each new iteration.  Mario Kart 8 offers players plenty of different ways to play; the Wii U Gamepad and Wii Remotes.  You can use the gyroscope in the Gamepad to drive, but the size and shape of the Gamepad makes it uncomfortable to “drive.”  The Gamepad is best when used like an ordinary controller.  Like many recent Nintendo games, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t really use the Gamepad’s screen for anything special.  The only purpose it serves here is to pinpoint where other racers are on the map compared to you.

If you want to use motion controls then the Wii Remote is your best option.  Nintendo proved in Mario Kart Wii that it is quite fun to use motion controls to drive a car and Mario Kart 8 is no different.  Sadly, Nintendo would neither confirm nor deny whether the Wii U Pro Controller will be compatible with the game.

The roster is as large as ever sporting familiar classics like Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Wario and WaLuigi among others.  Nintendo is also throwing in a wide range of other less popular characters including the baby versions of Mario, Peach, Luigi and Daisy, Rosalina and even the Koopalings.  There is still plenty of time to add in more characters and I hope they dig into their other First Party titles and possible Third Party titles as well.  With Sonic and Mega Man both coming to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS it would be awesome if they also made their way into Mario Kart 8.  Why not throw in First Party characters like Link or Samus into the game.  Donkey Kong and Wario, who both have their own franchises, are in the game, so why not Samus and Link?

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The big question is how does Mario Kart 8 stand up to the PS4 and Xbox One graphically?  We all know that the Wii U is underpowered compared to the new consoles, but in the past we have seen gorgeous games on inferior hardware.  When Super Mario Galaxy launched on the underpowered Wii in 2007 people’s mouths dropped.  Will Mario Kart 8 have this same effect?  Probably not.  I won’t lie and say the game isn’t beautiful.  Mario Kart 8 will surely trump the visuals of any game previously released on Wii U. Everything is so crisp, colorful and runs smoothly.  The problem is that Killzone: Shadow Fall and Ryse: Son of Rome already look better and inFamous: Second Son will probably top both of those games.  Mario Kart 8 won’t be turning heads like Super Mario Galaxy did back in 2007.

Mario Kart 8 is the first game in a long time that has me pumped for Wii U.  I’ve always been a big fan of the formula and Nintendo is doing it justice here.  This won’t be a game that will blow your mind or convince naysayers that the Wii U Gamepad was actually a good idea.  Rather, this is a game that you will have a good time with and spend countless hours playing.  Mario Kart 8 is a game that everyone should give a shot.