Latest ‘Mario Kart’ relies on old tricks

Jon Mercer
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Mario Kart 8
Wii U

I can remember standing in centre of the former Sobeys Square in Mount Pearl, waiting patiently in line to try and sneak a glimpse of the original “Super Mario Kart” in 1992.

The latest release of the iconic “Mario Kart,” is heavy on the usual charm, but lacking much in the way of new attractions from the previous version. — Submitted image

Between 1992 and owning a copy of “Mario Kart 7” in 2011, my time spent with the series is best described as dalliances; brief flings, weekend affairs. A school acquaintance had an N64, and thus “Mario Kart 64” became a go-to party game. The same could be said for another friend a few years ago for a much briefer period with “Mario Kart Wii.”

Long story short, Mario Kart holds for me an understandable appeal, but it’s always a short-term deal. Nintendo isn’t exactly a well house of innovation these days, but it does charming exceptionally well. But in the case of the highly anticipated “Mario Kart 8,” is charming enough?

A visual delight

Here’s what “Mario Kart 8” does right; the already perfect notes in its proven formula. It’s got phenomenally tight controls and runs at a smooth as silk 60 frames per second. Like previous Nintendo franchises that have made the jump to HD on the Wii U, it looks spectacular. And I mean completely visually delightful, bright, fast, and so shiny it is ridiculous.

The biggest problem with “Mario Kart 8” isn’t a simple matter of a game being good or bad; more a measure of what it offers over the seven previous releases. And unless you, as a gamer, have been absent from this series for a good 17 years, the answer is not much.

Of the 32 tracks that are featured in the game, only half are new, the other 16 are a greatest hits collection from the earlier games. Out of the 30 racers on the roster, one sixth of them are baby versions of certain characters. That’s not even mentioning the incredibly similar seven Koopaling characters, or the liquid metal takes on Mario and Princess Peach. Coming from a brand that boasts at least five of the most imaginative platformers of all time, there is a painful lack of new ideas or even celebration of different material on display.

Please, Nintendo … I would trade a dozen pacifier addicts for one more appearance from a Super Mario Bros. 2 baddie or item.

Following in the footsteps of Mario Kart 7’s underwater and hang-gliding segments, “Mario Kart 8” introduces new anti-gravity tracks that turn the karts into little Spider-Mobiles. Races suddenly start whipping around like roller coasters, adding a nice thrill to the newer tracks, especially the one set at a busy airport.

But these segments are doled out in extremely limited supply, and feel more of a gimmick than a game changer.

It’s unsettling when a sequel takes away from what came before, instead of building upon it. Yet, “Mario Kart 8” features at least one glaring omission, and an ill-advised, miserly change to one of the core appeals of the franchise.

There is no longer a map display on the screen; it can only be seen on the Wii’s Gamepad.

Now, you don’t need me to lecture you on the obvious dangers of texting and driving. A more grievous cut comes in what Nintendo has done to Mario Kart’s famed battle mode. Gone are the special arenas, with players racing around in search of weapons to take away their opponents’ three balloons worth of HP. In their place are truncated tracks from the main racing mode.

Now players seek one each other out as they lap one another. It feels very stilted in comparison to the specialized courses in this franchise’s history … no, actually it feels worse. It feels nothing short of gimped, chopped down to either make a release date, or avoid spending the resources to flesh out a complete battle mode.

Piranha Plant

Don’t get me wrong, in the midst of a heated race, “Mario Kart 8” performs as admirably as ever. The new weapons are just as much fun as all the old favourites (I love the Piranha Plant), and even manage to offer up an answer to the dreaded Blue Shell, even if the chances of having the Super Horn at this one moment are very slim indeed.

However, there is nothing new or exciting going on in this latest race besides a couple of pretty screenshots in the making courtesy of the anti-gravity tracks. I am sure that die-hard Nintendo fans will sink their teeth in and enjoy all of the different tracks to race and cups to win, and they will love the visual polish that makes it the best looking Mario Kart yet.  

On a gameplay level, the rest of us can’t help but notice the wrinkles that even the best HD makeup can’t conceal.

Platform: Wii U

Developer: Nintendo EAD Group #1

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: May 30, 2014

Rated: E for Everyone.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Nintendo, Super Mario Bros., HP

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