Mario Kart 8: An unpopular opinion
By Ed Acteson
A trait of recent Nintendo consoles is that they tend to be underpowered compared to the generational equivalent by Sony or Microsoft. The primary consequence of this is alienating third party developers whose games simply require too much hardware to run
Yet, when you own the IPs that Nintendo owns, their loyal fan base will continue to buy the consoles in droves. With Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros, Metroid, Pikmin, Pokemon, Star Fox and many others in their stable, Nintendo continually churns out games that are widely considered to be among the finest ever created.
There is a notable absentee from the list above and it is the Nintendo franchise whose gameplay is about as close as you can get to bottling pure fun and injecting it straight into your veins. I am of course referring to Mario Kart.
“About as close as you can come to bottling pure fun and injecting it straight into your veins”
Since the heady days of the N64 when I contested my first ever Mushroom Cup, I knew deep down that, despite thoroughly enjoying Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer, no other racing game could top the enjoyment of zooming round a track firing tortoise shells at Bowser.
With the exception of the Switch (at the time of writing), every Nintendo home console since the SNES has enjoyed an original entry into the series and they have each possessed their own charms and challenges. Despite loving Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash, it is Mario Kart Wii that I have always regarded as the high water mark of the series and I dread to think how many hours of my life I have lost to it. I still regard myself as largely unbeatable at the Peach Gardens circuit barring glitches, cheats or acts of God.
However, there is one entry to the series that I simply can’t get on board with and it just so happens to be the most recent, the most popular and the highest rated entry of all; Mario Kart 8 or, as I prefer to call it, Mario Kart Drift. Let me start by saying that by no means do I dislike MK8 or have any pretence that it is anything other than another masterful Nintendo creation. It is visually gorgeous and offers the most characters and tracks that any Mario Kart has ever possessed. It is just that, to me, it doesn’t feel like Mario Kart.
My chief gripe is that players are now actively rewarded for mastering the dark art of drifting with an incremental boost building up the longer you are able to slide. In order to facilitate this, the courses are wider and possess significantly longer corner sections than in previous entries in the series. The game has clearly been designed with drifting at the absolute forefront of the developers minds.
“The game has clearly been designed with drifting at the absolute forefront of the developers minds.”
I feel very much the same about the new anti-gravity gimmick. Though it might have been a cool feature if used sparingly, it is present in virtually every course in the game. As a consequence, several courses now branch off into so many different sections and routes that it only serves to separate the field. What has always made Mario Mart so enjoyable is travelling the course in a tight pack of banana-dropping, shell-throwing, lightning-striking, lead-exchanging mayhem, especially in split screen mode and I do feel that the anti-gravity detracts from that.
In my opinion, the genius of Mario Kart lies in the notion that, regardless of how much effort you put into mastering a course, the field is always levelled by the impact that the items can have on the game. The fact that you can drive a near perfect race and still fail to win having been rained down on with blue shells and lightning from those struggling at the rear of the field is exactly what makes the game fun, frustrating and hilarious in equal measure.Though the weapons are still present, I feel as though the drifting and zero-gravity have combined to separate the field to the absolute detriment of that part of the game. As far as I’m concerned, it has significantly dampened the experience.
“Several courses now branch off into so many different sections and routes that it only serves to separate the field”
I should confess at this point that, despite my complaints, I have still spent a vast amount of time playing Mario Kart 8, mastering every cup at every CC level. Why? Because I am the sort of obsessive loser who would commit the time and effort required to complete a game that they weren’t particularly keen on, only to later co-found a website in order to moan about it. If these gimmicks are to become a permanent fixture in the series then I’ll continue to buy and play the games without a moment’s hesitation. However, I can only hope that Nintendo don’t stroll too far from the formula that made Mario Kart the king of the track to begin with.