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Mario Kart 8


Nintendo have finally made a videogame for the internet. Mario Kart 8 signals the company entering a new age of product that caters to modern demand. It follows as a celebration of a series that’s always found the developer at peak form, returning their unique ethos of character genre games into the karting circuit.


The thing about Mario Kart 8 is that it is exceptionally polished. All of the component parts are finely combed over and executed in the signature Nintendo way. It’s the representation of their best attributes as creators. Things have progressed dramatically since the initial SNES entry and the Wii U version competes at the highest level and is as detailed as any racing videogame.

Artistic flourishes fill out across lovely and clever track designs that pull from the Mario universe. There’s a wide array of track content presented, bringing an F-Zero tilt to the standard formula with new anti-gravity sections. The karts transform and allow for new dimensionality over the standard karting tracks.

Characterization extends beyond the characters and into the tracks. Each has its own identity that pulls from the series. There’s a great sense of creativity behind the new designs, with twisting and diverting sections that expand the limits of what tracks used to be. As a primary example, there’s the excellent Mt Wario, which plays out as more of a staged 1080 Snowboarding slope than the usual lap-focused karting course. Retro stages have also been refined and tightened, each an improvement on the original form.

Perhaps the most significant change-up comes through with the expressiveness of the characters. The entire cast is fleshed out with highly detailed animations, responding to the on-course actions with emotive reactions. It helps to bring out the sense of competition and connects the sense that we’re racing with connected characters, selling the idea that they’re existent and familiar within the universe. More importantly, it leads to hilarious and unexpected results that provide a surplus of great material for the internet.

Online play’s been given an expanded focus. It’s working decently right off, barring the occasional Communication Error that comes with the territory of any online launch. It’s damn impressive how fluid and sharp everything runs, with minimal to no slowdown with online play. Not only is it an impressive feat on a Nintendo platform but is competent against the status of any racing videogame.

The newly included Mario Kart TV finds Nintendo making useful application of social media. We’re enabled to upload truncated edits of our races onto YouTube. The options are super simplified and allow for easy customization over highlights and a way to spread the best moments over the internet. This is a game full of great moments and amusing character interactions, providing plenty of use for this. It’s a necessary thing for Nintendo, who’ve always been devoted to creating personality-driven products, to find a way for their work to reenter the public imagination and conversation within the digital era. This is their finest example of understanding what the internet wants in this regard.

The racing itself is tightly refined. Everything feels right. Multiple control methods are enabled and pretty much any Wii controller is usable. The mechanics urge for broad appeal. Big comebacks remain a quintessential part of the Mario Kart experience. Blue and red shells offer the opportunity to reduce the lead or overtake the lead within the final seconds. It’s one of the few racing games where the competition only ends once the results are posted. There is always an opportunity and opening for new players to put up a trying effort against more seasoned opponents.

The races follow the standard format along with the usual single player implementation. Race across circuits over a few tracks against CPU opponents and rack up medals. There’s big competition in the high classes that likely outmatch any previous entry and it’s a fine time, although the meat of the product remains in the multiplayer component. Perhaps a more interesting, modern campaign might have created more memorable single player experiences. The rubber banding and emphasis on luck also remain as deterrents although the reward of character unlocks are enough to overlook a few slights against it.

There’s a significant downside of this entry against the past efforts. It features an underdeveloped Battle mode that drops specifically designed courses for loose battles on the actual racing tracks. It’s an empty shell of a mode that’s been left behind for a finer focus on building an ideal racing game, where all of the parts contribute to this direction.

Mario Kart 8 is the end result of years of refinement. It zeroes in on exactly what we want from Nintendo. It’s a highly expressive character racing title made for a new generation. This entry moves Nintendo forward into an exciting new era where they can create for the internet. If this is any indication, the long-standing developer still has plenty of fight left in them and can come through with some of the industry’s best work, when they have to.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

  1. yoshi

    29th June 2014


    When reading this review, I was struck by the dissonance of what it says and the 8/10 grade.
    This drove me to view Metacritic. Average score was 88, but Thunderbolt scores are lower than average Metacritic, that was not the point.
    I gave a look to other reviews. All those giving an 8 grade spoke much less enthusiastically.
    And well, Thunderbolt is not afraid to award 9 and 10 grades. Unbelievably, a 10 was given to Mario Kart DS, a game that can’t stand any comparison with the one here.
    All in all, I never saw words and grade so different from each other in a single review. The text is rifle with laudatory expressions and compliments of all sorts.

  2. Calvin Kemph

    4th July 2014


    We’re not Metacritic & this is not Super Mario Kart.

    An 8’s a high compliment..

  3. yoshi

    4th July 2014


    Yes His Kindness.
    Too bad you don’t have to say why Mario Kart DS stood to this as 10 stands to 8.

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