I love the Mario Kart series. Specifically, I love Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS. But, hey, don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy playing other games in the franchise as well. Depending on my mood, there are times when I’d much rather sit down and play Mario Kart Wii or Double Dash with my friends on a big screen TV than strain my eyes for hours on my 3DS. Regardless, when it comes down to the sheer overall gameplay experience concerning a specific Mario Kart title, Mario Kart 7 wins the race every time.
Seeing as Mario Kart 8 will be coming out this Spring, there’s been a lot of hype surrounding the game’s launch, but I have to admit, I’m not all that impressed. I’m not diminishing the game’s overall aesthetics or even its ambition, as it looks incredible from both a graphical and contextual standpoint. What ceases to truly excite me about this game is the fact that it basically resembles Mario Kart 7, only with an added gameplay element that seems gimmicky and holistically unnecessary – antigravity. I understand that added features are important to new installments of games within a series, but certain features can seem forced at times in an attempt to merely add something new. You may see things differently, but from what’s been shown so far, it seems as though Mario Kart 7 offers a more fulfilling gameplay experience without the gimmicks, which speaks to the series as a whole.
What’s returning in Mario Kart 8?
Okay, let’s begin by looking at the similarities between the unreleased Mario Kart 8 and past games in the series, specifically Mario Kart 7. First and foremost, we’ve already learned that the air and sea racing elements from Mario Kart 7 will be returning in Nintendo’s upcoming installment, which makes sense due to the positive reception of more diverse courses and racing styles. Still, I have to ask myself – how much will this next Mario Kart title really deviate from the last and how much further can the series really go? Consequently, this question has been offset by the inclusion of antigravity segments in the game, but I’ll talk more about that later.
Coins, which appeared in Mario Kart 7 (and past installments) will also be making a return as a way to unlock kart customizations, as well as build up speed. This is pretty straightforward, so I really don’t have a problem with the return of the coin collecting incentive within the game. Also, the infamous Spiny Shell – aka the blue shell of death – and retro courses will be returning in Mario Kart 8, both of which probably don’t come as much of a surprise to fans.
Many of the items, if not all of them, will also be returning from Mario Kart 7 as well. Items will include: Banana, Triple Bananas, Fire Flower, Green Shell, Triple Green Shells, Red Shell, Triple Red Shells, Spiny Shell (Blue Shell), Mushroom, Triple Mushrooms, Gold Mushroom, Star, Thunderbolt, Blooper, Bob-omb, and possibly a few others. Generally speaking, this news isn’t all that groundbreaking, as pretty much all of these items have become commonplace.
What’s really different?
Now that we’ve gotten the general similarities out of the way, let’s discuss what will be different in Mario Kart 8, the biggest of which being the antigravity segments I referenced earlier. Whether you agree or disagree, this element of the game looks quite gimmicky. Now, I can’t truly speak for everyone, especially since I haven’t played the game, but antigravity seems unnecessary to the Mario Kart franchise if trying to improve the overall racing experience is the game’s goal. Slightly slipperier controls while driving sideways on walls and upside down – although the camera reorients to your point of view when upside down – in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the F-Zero series seems rather annoying and awkward in a Mario Kart game. It’s a great way to show off what Wii U can do from a software standpoint, but beyond that it seems like it’s trying to be something it’s not.
Underwater sections in Mario Kart 7 are also guilty of slippery controls, but that’s the point – why include another racing element that induces a similar slippery feel when another form is already being reintroduced in Mario Kart 8? It may work to an extent, but watching footage from the game hasn’t convinced me otherwise. If there were other, more prominent gameplay features added aside from antigravity, I could live with it, but it seems to be the game’s driving point since it was announced, which doesn’t feel like a truly positive deviation from Mario Kart 7.
Moving forward, bikes are being brought back in Mario Kart 8 and my feelings toward them from Mario Kart Wii remain the same – I don’t really mind having them in the game one way or another. It should be noted, however, that bikes in Mario Kart 8 will only be able to wheelie if they boost via a mushroom, a boost pad, or a rocket start, creating a much more balanced racing experience. To me, this makes having bikes in the game a positive, and something that sets it apart from Mario Kart 7, while also improving upon elements from Mario Kart Wii.
Where Mario Kart 7 excels
When it comes down to revolutionary differences, there doesn’t seem to be much that makes Mario Kart 8 a better game than Mario Kart 7. Small differences such as the utilization of headlights in dark areas, 12-player online races, Miiverse integration, vertical split screen and slightly improved kart customization in conjunction with antigravity are all nice, but they don’t make me eager to go out and buy a Wii U and Mario Kart 8 when I can get nearly the same experience from a portable version of Mario Kart on my 3DS.
Specifically, Mario Kart 7‘s portability excels in almost every arena other than screen size. So long as your friends have a 3DS, you can race virtually wherever you want. Plus, online matches render very smoothly and are easily joinable alongside friends. This isn’t to say that online matches will be terrible on Wii U, in fact they’ll probably be even better, but the versatility aspect of Mario Kart 7 allows players to pick when and where they play, although the Wii U’s Gamepad may offset this a bit with off TV play. Still, Mario Kart is a social experience and should be utilized as such. Personally, I haven’t seen this be more true than when I play Mario Kart 7 with my friends or even strangers at various events in close proximity. While Wii U’s console version of Mario Kart 8 will offer up a social experience as well, it will be constrained to one room, whereas 3DS is not. Not to mention, up to eight of your friends can race one another locally in Mario Kart 7, which won’t be the case with Mario Kart 8.
Course selection is also something that I feel sets Mario Kart 7 apart as truly the best game in the series thus far. Levels like SNES Rainbow Road, GCN Daisy Cruiser, N64 Koopa Beach, DS Luigi’s Mansion and Wii Coconut Mall all make incredible additions to the game’s newer courses. Of course, it would be unfair of me to weigh this against Mario Kart 8 without knowing which courses it will include, so please do not think I’m trying to diminish the game based on this. Rather, understand that the courses mentioned pay homage to a vast array of previous Mario Kart titles in an already diverse game. If there is one thing I hope Mario Kart 8 does well, it would be the inclusion of retro courses, specifically taking notes from Mario Kart 7.
What I’d like to see in Mario Kart 8
First and foremost, I’d like to see a broad range of high quality retro courses in Mario Kart 8. Just as Mario Kart 7 brought together some of the best maps from almost all of the past games in the series, it is my hope that Mario Kart 8 does something similar. New courses are great and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a whole host of new maps that push Wii U’s capabilities via antigravity, but retro maps are truly the cherry on top. The courses included in a Mario Kart game truly do make or break its replayability, so paying tribute to some of the best courses from the past is a great place to start.
Before I wrap this up, there’s one last thing I’d like to touch on and that is the incorporation of specialty items. Double Dash‘s character-specific items were incredibly fun to use and offered a whole new style of play to the series. Similarly, Mario Kart 7‘s Lucky Seven also offered something new and fun for players to use during a race. Recently, someone threw out the idea of including a “Crazy Eight” in Mario Kart 8 and it’s not a terrible idea, mainly because it would change up the game’s formula. Now, including a “Crazy Eight”probably isn’t the best idea for the game, considering it would probably be similar to Mario Kart 7‘s Lucky Seven, but I do agree that there needs to be an item or a set of different items that reinvent the overall racing experience. Hopefully EAD has taken notes from past installments in the Mario Kart series in order to offer up fun and diverse item-based gameplay via specialty items.
Where does Mario Kart go from here?
While there’s no doubt that Mario Kart 8 will look and play incredibly smooth when it comes out on Wii U this spring, I still can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by where the Mario Kart series is headed. Before casting it into the eternal fires of gaming hell, I’ll definitely be sure to give Mario Kart 8 a thorough playthrough, but the question still remains – how much further can the series really go? This time, we’re seeing the inclusion of antigravity, which is a tad unusual, but it’ll probably work out just fine. But what happens next time? Will there be a next time for the Mario Kart franchise? I’m not so sure there will be.
Although the Mario Kart IP has seen a large amount of success, I’d like to point out that this is the eleventh overall game in the series. Seeing as Mario and his pals have been riding around in their karts and ruining friendships for quite some time now, it should be noted that there comes a point where things begin to feel stale, regardless of how good the graphics look. If the play style is similar to past installments and only a few things change with each release, Mario Kart could end up like one of EA’s sports games, which suffer from lack of new content each year. Now, Nintendo is a company that loves to try new things and reinvent gameplay whenever possible, so a yearly release for any of its franchises is pretty much out of the question, but sometimes a series can begin to feel redundant, despite a gap in the development process. Personally, this is what I feel has begun to happen to Mario Kart.
In 2011, Mario Kart 7 marked a high point for the series due to its innovation and inclusion of various elements from past games. Up until that point and even now, it’s almost as if Nintendo has been stacking blocks together – blocks being past games in each franchise – in order to build off of past success. Developers have been able to build massive franchises utilizing this method, but eventually the blocks get to a point at which they become unbalanced and come toppling down. I don’t think Mario Kart 8 will be that tipping point, but I don’t know how much longer the series will be able to ride on its past success.
-Ocarina of Time Nerd