Mario Kart 8: Encourages You To Get Up Close And Personal

By Robert Ward . May 15, 2014 . 2:10am

The number of times I’ve been unwittingly bump-boosted off the edge of Mario Kart 8’s new iteration of Rainbow Road during its several antigravity segments is as frustrating as it is telling. Mario’s latest kart racer isn’t just about racing upside-down, across waterfalls, or along the walls of ancient ruins—it’s about taking risks.


Actually, now that I think about it, it’s about knowing when to take them. Adapt or die—that’s the motto at the heart of Mario Kart 8’s gameplay, making it one of the most uniquely competitive Mario Kart games I’ve ever played. Mario Kart 8 includes nearly all the racing subtleties introduced in previous installments: jump-boosting, drift-boosting, vehicle customization, and gliding, but the main pull is a new feature called anti-gravity racing.


For those of you who didn’t catch last month’s Mario Kart 8-themed Nintendo Direct, anti-gravity racing is a new feature that allows racers to defy gravity and race along walls or remain grounded on tracks that twist and turn like the game’s titular “8”.


Each of Mario Kart 8’s sixteen brand-new stages contain anti-gravity segments. Meanwhile, some of the other sixteen returning stages, like DK Jungle from Mario Kart 7 and Toad’s Turnpike from Mario Kart 64, have been re-imagined with anti-gravity in mind, while others, like Donut Plains 3 from Mario Kart (SNES) and Moo Moo Meadows from Mario Kart Wii,do not include it.


Anti-gravity areas areas are marked with a blue strip. Crossing this strip will cause your wheels to turn 90°, and that’s where strategy comes into play. If you bump into another racer while your kart or motorbike is in anti-gravity mode, it gives both the bump-er and the bump-ee a minor speed boost, marked by the automotive equivalent of a pirouette. How will this change the way you play? Well, you can try to do what the 150cc bots did to me and hit another racer mid-drift to push them off course, or maybe just use the stage’s several built-in speed-boosting obstacles to catch up to a racer and ignore hitting them completely.


Similarly, there are advantages and disadvantages to having items in anti-gravity segments. Want to ride speed boosts to first place? You better ditch any orbiting shells or bombs you may have, since getting closer to your opponents is essential to pulling off a successful boost. Don’t bother using items not named “red shell” on enemies too far ahead, either, as you can only sling items about half the distance you could in Mario Kart 7 or even Mario Kart DS.


You can’t depend on having a large arsenal of weapons on hand anymore, as Mario Kart 8 does away with being able to hold two items at a time. Indeed, it seems the days of trailing bananas behind you with a red shell in reserve are long gone. Instead, that item slot is full until you’ve fully parted with whatever it is you pick up in a mystery block, putting the focus on how you navigate the game’s several clever stages. You may only be stuck with one item, but you’ll rarely be stuck with just one route.


For example, on the re-imagined Toad’s Turnpike course, you can use anti-gravity to scale the freeway walls, but if you choose to stick to the freeway, you can use traffic to your advantage. Trucks with surfboards propped on their back can be utilized for speed boosts, while larger ramps launch you into the air and give you the chance to glide over overpasses (and hopefully not into helicopters). You can land on top of trucks for more speed boosts, but be careful—one miscalculated drift will throw a huge stick in your spokes.


Mario Kart 8 escapes the grasp of gimmick-hood not only in the modest frequency in which anti-gravity segments appear, but also in its ability to make non-anti-gravity segments just as risky. Cloudtop Cruise is a perfect example of this. Near the end of the course, you’ll be scaling a large vine (the word “bean stock” comes to mind). You’ll see two leaves hanging off the course which, if maneuvered properly, can be jumped off of in succession to gain a decisive speed boost that has often been the difference between 1st and 4th place.


Similarly, you’ll find cleverly hidden shortcuts all over Mario Kart 8’s long list of stages, including the ones it takes from previous games. I found myself encouraged do some exploration outside of the game’s Grand Prix mode after several embarrassing defeats at the hand of the hawkeyed AI. Such ventures lead to my discovery of the library in the Flower Cup’s Twisted Mansion, which I won’t spoil for you here.


Ultimately, Mario Kart 8 switches up the formula by becoming a close-quarters kart racer that relies on your ability to properly assess your situation and react accordingly at any given moment. Stages are riddled with opportunities to explore split paths or build up speed, and it’s up to you how to navigate them.


Dealing with your opponents isn’t just about getting good items any more—it’s about knowing how to use the terrain to your advantage, and knowing which route best fits the situation.

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  • KoRLumen

    Cannot. WAIT. AHHHHHH.

  • Ony

    I have a really important question:
    In a race, if you go backward, does Lakitu catch you and teleport you like in Mario Kart 7, or the game let you go as you wish ?

    It bothered me so bad in MK7. Especially in the old Train map of MK64 where you couldn’t follow the train tracks anymore :(

    • Robgoro

      Ah, sadly, I’m afraid he does…that’s one thing I really wanted in Mario Kart 8, too, was the ability to have full range to explore the tracks. I actually wish they had a mode where you could just walk around them as Mario and take in the sights.

  • glasssoldier

    My frothing demand increases!

  • Crevox

    Where’s my food for thought

    • keithmaxx

      Here’s one: preorder one for you and one for your next-door neighbor. Right now. And grab a WiiU for him/her too, while you’re at it.:D

  • chaika

    Must. Buy. Now.

  • Ethan_Twain

    “the main pull is a new feature called anti-gravity racing”

    I like it. Way to slip that in there. 10/10.

    • …I didn’t notice that. I’ll go give Robert the flogging he deserves.

      • Robgoro

        It will have been worth every bruise.

  • Those first couple of screenshots almost made me think I was looking at an F-Zero game.

    I love it!

  • NeptuniasBeard

    The Big N must have a fair bit of confidence in this game to let reviews release this early. And judging from the few I’ve read, it is not at all misplaced. Can. Not. Wait!

    • Samsara09

      The WIIU’s fate is gonna be partly determined by this game,so nintendo has to have a lot of confidence in it.

      • NeptuniasBeard

        No need to get so serious about it lol

        • awang0718

          Actually, he is right. The Wii U’s fate will be determined by this game and Smash. If this game does not sell well enough to boost Wii U sales, then removing the Gamepad and selling the Wii U for $200 will be Nintendo’s only other option. If that doesn’t work, then the Wii U is officially dead.
          I’m not trying to be serious, but lets be realistic. This game is one of the Wii U’s last hopes.

          • 0nsen

            Woah… I thought it was already around that price point. Now I’m seeing they sell this at around $300.. no.. just no…

          • Robgoro

            The console has been out for a year and a half. By this point in the 360s life cycle, we had Perfect Dark Zero. I think it’s safe to say that we can put the doomsaying on hold until things actually happen.

          • Nesther

            But the 360 had a bunch of exclusives like Gears of War, Dead Rising,Chromehounds etc. within a year. Plus third-party support, something the Wii-U doesn’t have.

          • Robgoro

            The WiiU doesn’t have exclusives? The Wonderful 101? Pikmin 3? Super Mario 3D World? Mario Kart 8? Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze? No question that it lacks solid third party support, but to say that the WiiU didn’t get several exclusives in its first year is silly.

          • Nesther

            I never said the Wii U lacked exclusives. It’s just that your comment about PDZ implied that within the same time span the 360 was worse off, even though it was arguably in a better situation, with more exclusives and a third-party support that continued to exist beyond the first 6 months or so.

          • Robgoro

            It’s not that the 360 was worse off in terms of sales, sure, but in terms of game drought, I think it’s comparable. In it’s first year, owning a 360 was not unlike owning a PS3 – 90% of its games were third party, there was very little unique to it. Third party support for the sake of third party support gives you more game options, but how many of those options are really actually popular, playable, dying-to-pick-up titles?

            Sales patterns have changed. People who want fancy new tech pick up XBO and PS4’s right away, which is why their sales rate decrease nominally after a huge burst in their first year. The WiiU, sadly, doesn’t offer the same kind of new tech these consoles do, so people wait for games. That’s what we’re seeing with the Wii U – a bunch of people waiting. There are nearly 6.2 millions WiiU’s out there – and sure, it took a year and a half to get there – but PS4s are sitting steady at about ~7.5 million and XBO at 4.6. There are a lot of Wii Us out there, and it’s still getting some third party games and Indies.

          • Nesther

            We’re seeing the same thing with the PS4 and Xbone: a lot of people waiting for more games to appear, especially Japanese games before making the jump. You make it seem like the people that want the newest tech instantly go for the PS4 and XBone, whereas the people that want games buy/wait for the Wii U…? I really doubt that’s how reality looks like.

            And again, I absolutely disagree with the first year and a half comparison. The 360 had a similar amount of exclusives compared to the Wii U and pretty much every third party multiplat was 360 bound. So in terms of game library it was doing a lot better than the Wii U. Not to forget, that multiplats often ran better on the 360 than the PS3, so it had that edge that made it THE platform to own the first few years of the last console war.

          • Robgoro

            A sound argument – but let’s agree to disagree here.

  • subsamuel01

    Based on the reviews it’s obvious that this is another Amazing Mario Kart game. The only thing I’m worried about is online play, almost every review I read criticized the lack of online options which is almost vital for a game like this.

    • PreyMantis

      What do you mean by lack of online options?

  • I’ve got a question!

    How’s the battle mode in MK8?

    • Time Sage

      Utter crap. Special arenas are gone, you instead battle on slightly modified versions of normal courses,

      Rules don’t change from the olde games but the courses clearly aren’t meant for it, too big and too spread out. A pity because the courses are really creative and beautiful, they could have done some really interesting things with the battle mode.

  • Samsara09

    finally they nerfed the itens.I hated red shells.

  • ShawnOtakuSomething

    Nice review:D I was sold before but now my money belongs to Nintendo as I type……. Rosalina can get close and personal with Mii anytime

  • SaiyanJedi_Trunks

    This will hopefully give the Wii U that well needed push. Looks like a fantastic game. I only wish Battlemode took place in arenas…or at least giving us the option.

    • NeptuniasBeard

      I hope for it to. Maybe Nintendo related articles will start getting a bit more positive around here…

  • mojack411

    Basically getting two games by buying this due to Nintendo’s awesome promotion. Willing be picking up Wind Waker HD with it as well. Can’t freaking wait for this game it looks lie such an incredible leap forwards for the series. Hopefully this gives the Wii U the momentum it needs to slingshot into even more system defining games.

  • 0nsen

    How many Tracks are there in this game?
    Recently I became interested in racing games again and was looking for one with around 100 tracks, but apparently there are no games like this.

    I was majorly disappointed by Mario Kart Double Dash, because I completely beat it in a couple of hours and there just weren’t enough tracks to keep me interested in playing anymore.

    • British_Otaku

      32 Tracks. 16 of them are completely new, while 16 of them are remade from a previous game sometimes with a lot of touches to reflect the current mechanics.

      Mario Kart Double Dash had just the 16 original tracks (being the last installment before the Retro stage thing became a standard with the DS game). So, you will find double the content to play with, 8 cups vs 4 cups (times three difficulties).

      Otherwise, I think Mario Kart has a bit of a problem in comparison to F-Zero (challenge and ton of modes help a bunch) but makes up for it by having online.

      • 0nsen

        Hm… I’m always playing on the hardest difficulty anyway. As long as the AI is fair that’s the best way to enjoy racing games. And if the AI is unfair like in F-Zero (NGC) I don’t even bother any further.

        32 tracks.. so instead of one weekend (MK:DD) it would take two… not enough do dump my money on the U.

        Maybe this would work better if there were various objectives for each level, like there were with Mario 64. Dunno if one can apply this to racing games.

        • British_Otaku

          F-Zero including GX on the GameCube is perfectly fair… when you aren’t playing the story mode. >_> I recommended it as the game series all throw a tough stage after a tough stage getting you to learn how to approach varying scenarios, they allow you to destroy your opponent’s machines, there is no rubberbanding and there isn’t a script forcing opponents to land in the same place order again and again.

          The difficulty adjustments seem more “real” as well. You are probably best off starting with the easiest difficulty of any F-Zero and that’s a requirement for the less fair story mode in GX. For that reason, even if I can’t remember how many tracks any F-Zero has, I find them more engaging.

          Anyway, yeah, 32 tracks isn’t super impressive either but it should give you plenty to play with for months and years on end if you were to either play multiplayer with friends locally or face people online.

          Objectives could work for a racing game in a Super Mario 64 (basically that is what Mario Kart DS did with Mission Mode or F-Zero GX did with Story Mode). They really need to blow it up though to make the games last when you are playing them alone. Time Trial and Grand Prix can only last so long.

        • Robgoro

          I think 32 seconds is a pretty healthy helping of tracks – though I do agree that I wish there was more to do on them than just Grand Prix/VS and Time Trials. Keep in mind that DLC might play a role in the future of Mario Kart 8.

  • Altumn

    OH HELL YES! This looks better then I thought. But if dry bones isn’t in it… I will be very upset with Nintendo.

    • Robgoro

      Dry Bones isn’t in it. Don’t worry, I’m still dealing with the heartbreak of losing R.O.B.

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