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Mario Kart 8 Review

  • First Released May 30, 2014
  • Reviewed May 15, 2014
  • WIIU
Aaron Sampson on Google+

Lapping the field.

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What's your favorite Mario Kart item? It's a personality test that has revealed a person's inner thoughts ever since Super Mario Kart gave Koopa Troopa a license to drive. If, for instance, you're fond of the lightning bolt, my handy reference sheet says that you have "schadenfreude" tattooed on your lower back. Or maybe across your knuckles. Either way, you're a connoisseur of chaos. For anyone who adores banana peels, I know that you're a guarded individual, more concerned with protecting your backside than rocking the boat. Shocked at my uncanny insight? My love is poured upon the infinite mushroom. I would much rather take a shortcut than fight for success the old-fashioned way.

I made such hypotheses naturally in recent Mario Kart games. Items were so important, and so ubiquitous, that it was hard to think of anything but the red turtle shells streaming toward you. What else can you do after being struck for the umpteenth time other than contemplate your very existence? In Mario Kart 8, the circumstances that encouraged such philosophizing have changed. Success comes from your racing prowess now, so though you will still curse at the occasional usurper making your life hell on wheels, victory is in your hands. There are no excuses anymore; Mario Kart 8 focuses on its excellent racing, and the experience is stronger for it.

You feel the weight of your driver as you try to hang a tight left while centrifugal forces push you away. Slam into another racer, and you feel the impact; the heavier body cruises onward while the lighter competitor, battered and bruised, tries to regain his or her composure. Speed bursts are everywhere in Mario Kart 8. Turns beckon you to powerslide, ramps urge you to boost, and you're continually seeking new ways to keep your kart speeding along. Unlike in Mario Kart Wii, where you were compelled to drive up out-of-the-way ramps to get speed bursts, opportunities for a rush exist organically within the racing path. So you're continually gunning ahead, desperately motoring toward every ramp while exacting every drop of energy from turns to stave off the fierce competitors nipping at your tailpipe.

There are no excuses anymore; Mario Kart 8 focuses on its excellent racing, and the experience is stronger for it.

All of your hard work is rewarded in Mario Kart 8. Once you leave your competitors in the dust, you can stay in first place. It's a strange feeling driving all alone, without anyone else nearby. In most other Mario Kart games, staying in front of the pack would have been impossible. The computer was never far behind, often passing you even when you were performing flawlessly. Or else you would be pelted by so many items that you wouldn't even know in which direction you were supposed to travel. That constant fight was maddening for me, so I welcome the loneliness of Mario Kart 8. If I stay in top form, I don't have to worry that four blue shells are going to end my fun in a hurry, or that Donkey Kong is going to breeze past me even though he should have been half a lap behind. My skill is all that matters. And I was more than happy to stay in first while everyone else battled for second place.

Hope that ink doesn't stink.
Hope that ink doesn't stink.

That's not to say that items aren't a part of the action. There are still blue shells--although they appeared so seldom that they rarely affected my positioning--and there were times when I was hit by three items in rapid succession and invented a curse that would have brought tears to my mother's eyes. But those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Items are just a complement to your racing now. Use a piranha plant to clear out hazards in your path, or fling a boomerang to bring your competitor to a stop. It's all in good fun. If you're a skilled-enough driver, being slammed by a shell is no more than a slight speed bump. So think up some horrific obscenity for when your shining moment is ripped away from you at the last second, and don't forget it; it may be a while before you can use it.

I was more than happy to stay in first while everyone else battled for second place.

Racing skill determines who wins and who loses. That's true if you're competing with a group of friends (local splitscreen supports up to four players, and you can play against 11 people in the game's smooth online races) or striving for gold medals against the computer (50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror Mode are all here). And by having the importance of weapons significantly reduced, it's now much harder to make up ground once you're stuck in the middle of the pack. There's no instant-win item to come in and save you, so you have to climb back slowly and surely by maximizing your speed and finding the best racing lines while hoping those in the lead make a mistake. Defense has become more important than in previous games. With the introduction of the super horn, you can repel any item flung at you, and simply keeping a shell or banana trailing behind your kart blocks almost any attack mounted against you. Even the star has been toned down. It still grants you invulnerability, but you're no longer infused with super speedy gasoline, which lessens the impact it has. It's fascinating just how different Mario Kart 8 is from, say, its Wii counterpart. It's so much less chaotic and so much more focused that their similarities are largely cosmetic.

Little known fact: Ludwig is named after the lead singer of U2.
Little known fact: Ludwig is named after the lead singer of U2.

It's easy to rave about Mario Kart 8 because its core racing is so well executed. But there are a few head-scratching features that stand out like thumbs on a goomba. Why, for instance, isn't there a clock in Grand Prix? I love knowing exactly how much I won (or lost) by, so I cannot understand what is gained by stripping that away. Also, you earn parts to modify your vehicles by collecting coins, though all that tinkering just distracts from the action. Just give me a smart balance of weight, acceleration, and handling, and cut out the unnecessary collectibles. Then there's the default option after a race. For some reason, your cursor starts on View Highlight Reel instead of Next Race, which is just silly. Oh, how many times I mistakenly viewed highlight because I was anxious to race again. Trust me, this will annoy you, too. Plus, the character roster is quite lame. Yeah, there are 30 drivers, but two of them are palette swaps, five are babies, and seven are koopa kids. That's a boring selection.

One last complaint before I move on: Battle mode was intense in Super Mario Kart, was ridiculous in Mario Kart 64, and has slowly lost relevance ever since those high-water marks. Instead of reinventing Battle mode for the better in Mario Kart 8, Nintendo has reduced it to a lifeless husk of what it once was. There are no arenas built specifically for battling. Rather, you choose one of eight tracks and drive around aimlessly looking for people (either friends, the computer, or a mix) to toss shells at. That is the exact opposite of fun, no matter how many people you're playing against or how you've tweaked the item assortment. Because the tracks were designed for racing, there's no choke points to force people to fight, so you spend more time searching than attacking. Nintendo needed to go back to the drawing board for Battle mode and this tweak only made things worse.

Losing drivers get skinned, their pelts used as hang gliders for the victor.
Losing drivers get skinned, their pelts used as hang gliders for the victor.

Even though Mario Kart 8 does have a few problems, they're small enough that they don't detract much from the racing excellence. The greatest achievement of Mario Kart 8 is that it's as warm and welcoming as we expect, but doesn't cater to those who demand a helping hand. Instead, it strikes a balance, offering accessibility while demanding skill. It's easy enough for anyone to take a spin around Moo Moo Meadows, but the most determined drivers should come out on top. And, as someone who was annoyed by previous attempts to even the playing field, I really appreciate this change.

There's also a great assortment of tracks to hone your abilities on. The 16 new ones are as preposterous and demanding as you would expect, with a race down the snowy Mount Wario being the highlight, and the 16 retro tracks have been smartly remade to fit within this world. The gophers from Donut Planes 3 (originally in Super Mario Kart) create dirt tunnels that you can boost off, and there's an underwater portion when a bridge fails to reach the other shore. Certain courses let you race along the wall, giving you a new perspective on the beautiful worlds. Such a shift doesn't change the feel of racing, but it does add another layer of strategy. Should you ride on the wall in Toad's Turnpike? Or take the shorter route on the ground? And if you're particularly happy with your run, you can cut up a highlight reel of your efforts and upload it for everyone to see.

Nintendo has done an admirable job of keeping Mario Kart relevant. How many franchises can you think of that have remained in top form for more than two decades? Not too many. I do admit that my first impression of Mario Kart 8 was pretty close to a yawn. Mario Kart is one of my favorite franchises, but it's hard to get excited for the same old thing. But the more I played, the more I appreciated the many small changes, and grew to love my time in the Mushroom Kingdom. And now that yawn has changed to a shout of joy. It's more Mario Kart! I'm happy Nintendo still understands what makes this series so darn fun.

Back To Top
The Good
Karts feel satisfying beneath your fingers
Courses provide plenty of opportunities for smart speed bursts
Wide assortment of interesting tracks
Emphasis on driving rather than fighting rewards skill
Challenging without feeling cheap
The Bad
Battle mode is downright boring
Weak selection of characters
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Mario Kart 8

About the Author

Tom firmly believes that Super Mario Kart is still the best game in the franchise, but loves just about every new entry. He spent more than 40 hours playing Mario Kart 8 across every mode. Not to brag, but with the help of Max Hulburt, he got a three-star rating on every cup.
699 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for drubacca117

The reviewer that was reading the video script couldn't sound more bored to be doing this review.

Avatar image for ps3gamer1234

Great review.

Avatar image for nl_skipper

This game is fun but I really gotta disagree with the idea that it's more about skilful driving than chaos or item dominating. At least when it comes to the online portion... if you're anywhere but 1st place (which is a crapshoot near the beginning and relies largely on luck, and the initial boost you receive) you're going to be constantly harassed by every player in the pack and never keep a position... it's standard chaos and luck like all the other Mario Kart games.

While being able to drive well gives you an advantage, being the best driver is not at all a guarantee of victory... there is too much that's not in your control!

Avatar image for rushiosan

@nl_skipper Mario Kart 7 walked the right path into correcting the chaotic item system. I mean, there was a lot of blue shells, lightning and stuff, but the skill really counted toward dominating a race, staying in 1st by your own skill. Mario Kart 8 definitely took a step back. It's by far the most irritating Mario Kart experience I've had since Mario Kart Wii. There was room for a lot of innovative ideas, mission mode was great on DS, we really needed more stuff like that to keep us hooked in the single-player. Well. Not even the MK8 online worth it.

It's a big mess with HD graphics.

Avatar image for jdog8888888

It is a fun game alone. It is a fun game multi player local. It is a fun game multi player online. Hard to go wrong. I would buy my Wii U over again just for this game.

Avatar image for zorlandu

What's wrong with the koopa kids?

Avatar image for RabidBurp


It's like having 7 different versions of Bowser Jr.

Avatar image for Tranula


Avatar image for bobbo888


Avatar image for snxx

@hcgamingdad It's not that Gamespot gives crap reviews to Nintendo games, it's that they have no consistency at all, and this plagues all systems.

Avatar image for Gamer3344

the times when mario games were getting 9-10 scores, i miss them :-/

Avatar image for clumpyy

@Gamer3344 Super Mario 3D World?

Avatar image for crazyj_007123

this game is sooo much fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Avatar image for 30hanman

To me, it's one of the best from the series and exactly what I wanted and more. Who cares about battle mode anyway. Amazing game deserve an amazing review score, to me, it's easily 9.5 out of 10!

Avatar image for Silvershadoh

Obviously, below is my opinion. Take it as you will.

I've sunk quite a few hours into this game, and I must disagree with most of this review. Items still dominate. Blue shells still dominate. You can be the most precise driver in the world, but badly-timed items will bring you from 1st to 8th real quick. 8 did nothing to change this. I am still getting hit by blue shells 1-2 times per track, and you have no defense against red shells if you get a coin from a box. At least 7 let you store an item behind you until you picked up another.

Don't get me wrong, skill is important, BUT I would say skill and items are of the same importance in 8 as they were in 6 and 7. 8 did nothing to change that.

This is still the Mario Kart they have been delivering w/o many changes, imo (above is my opinion, obviously). I'm still giving it a 9/10.

Avatar image for snxx

@Silvershadoh I'm actually relieved to read that.
Shame on me for believing anything McShea writes as a reviewer.

Avatar image for frank_bauer

@Silvershadoh I agree. While playing, I remembered this review and wondered if the reviewer REALLY played the game at all. I wouldn't go as far as saying that items can push you back from 1st to 8th, but I have been pushed back to 4th several times, and you still have those situations where you are hit by a blue shell just inches from the finishing line, and after being 1st through the whole race, you end up finishing 2nd. Not an issue on 50cc, but from 100cc onwards, it become noticeable.

That is not really a complaint though, because Mario Kart will always be a party game - a game where you have fun, ideally with other people. And in such a game, it is quite useful to have the items as a kind of "equalizer" so that a less experienced player has a bit more of a chance. If people want a game where skill translates into ranking 1:1, then they should buy some racing simulation and not Mario Kart.

By the way, the thing that the reviewer did get right is that the AI players don't overtake you anymore out of nowhere. Previously, it happened that players in the back of the field somehow "magically" became faster than players in the front. That seems to be gone completely.

Avatar image for Starsailor_IT

After playing this game for 3 hrs I must say that 8 is not enough for a game like this. I never complain about scores, but I must say in this case a 9 was in order. If not only to boost the attention towards this game and doing Nintendo a favor in this difficult least when they do things right they deserve praise.

Avatar image for Masenkoe

@Starsailor_IT Nintendo has been praised for years. 8 is still a great score..

Avatar image for ekolite

The only thing Tom could have mentioned is the outstanding visuals and decent sound. But I guess that kind of speaks for itself. I haven't pulled an all nighter with a new game in a long time. This is the best kart racer I have played since Super Mario Kart. I would say for me that I like it a little better than Mario Kart DS, which is one of my favorites. Even with the uneven and slapped on Battle Mode. The replay option after a race takes some getting used to, but I think it kind of makes up for it because it keeps track all of your customizations upon exiting and changing game modes. Online is hectic, smooth and tense. Loving it. There's my few cents.

Avatar image for ekolite

@hcgamingdad I agree with your comment on Tropical Freeze, but A Link Between Worlds did get Game of the Year mane!

Avatar image for tachsniper

Another 8 from Gamespot... why am I not surprised?

Honestly wondering why I hang around here anymore.

Avatar image for mirage_so3

@tachsniper God you people are such whiny bitches.

Avatar image for realguitarhero5

Skill being more important than randomly acquired items may have just sold this game for me.

I was already considering getting a Wii U.

Avatar image for rushiosan

@realguitarhero5 Too bad it's not true. Items are the core of the game as always. Winning is just a matter of luck.

Avatar image for Nev3rtime

The adjustments to the items seem quite positive. You recover from being hit or falling off a ledge much faster in this version and the new pace feels fast and satisfying. Also it feels slightly more challenging on 150cc compared to other recent Mario Karts, but that might just be me. You can only hold one item at a time which make you have to scrap items in the hope of getting something better.

With the three mushrooms power up they now circle your kart and you can drive into an
opponents mushrooms for a speed boost which adds a nice element of either trying to keep hold your own mushrooms or steal an opponents. There seems to be a number of nice little touches and it all feels very polished.

I'd say it's well worth buying for any wii u owner because I'd imagine you'll get plenty of play time out of it and you can pick a free game from good selection. If you don't have them already you should use it as an excuse to get either WindWaker or Pikmin 3. Two of the best games on the wii u.

Graphically MK8 is great, as you should be able to tell, but you do see plenty of aliasing. I don't want to be one of the 1080p obsessed crowd, but if there was one improvement that would have let the beautiful visuals shine would be if they'd managed to squeeze in a bit of anti-aliasing.

Worth noting that the music is truly incredible. Nintendo must have struck a deal with the devil considering the quality of their music in a few of their recent big games. Debate what the golden era of Nintendo was but Nintendo music, though always great, has never been as better than it has in recent years.
Avatar image for Nev3rtime

Got it 12 hours ago on eshop.

It's an incremental update as all recent Mario Karts have been but I kind of feel this is the incremental update that had to happen. We've had great held Mario Karts in the current ilk on both the ds and 3ds but the wii version had a number of issues. Such as a terrible framerate, especially when in 3 or 4 player. We needed a console mario kart that built on the fundamentals of recent mario karts but does it right. So far this seems to delivers where Mario Kart Wii fails. That said, as someone who played the other three similar Mario Karts (DS, 3DS and Wii) this new iteration is underwhelming.

So it's the 3rd Mario Kart to feel like an incremental update on Mario Kart DS and if the next mario kart doesn't have a whole new game engine, karting mechanics, ect, I'll be very disappointed.

Avatar image for billzihang

Let the cretinous fawning commence.

I'm not talking to anyone under 12-- you guys are fine, this kind of game is aimed at you.
Avatar image for matthova

man does everything on wii U get an 8?

Avatar image for awoody17

@matthova I think all "high profile" games on gamespot get 8's. It's starting to feel like a cop-out...

Avatar image for 3G-ENIE

New characters selection are from NFC. It's call money. Lol

Hopefully better multiplayer map in future DLC.

Avatar image for Santosmares

8 to Mario Kart... 8 to TLoU... do you see where I am going? >: (

Avatar image for hcgamingdad

I agree, Gamespot always gives crap reviews to Nintendo games. Other than that, its a good site.

See the BS review of Tropical Freeze, a 6 really? I have the game and its better than most.

Avatar image for salmon71

I'm curious, but how come the review is 15 days BEFORE the release of the game?

Avatar image for zerantoss

@salmon71 Game reviewing sites, etc get copies of the game before it's released so they can review it I believe

Avatar image for dallask

Mario Kart 64 is one of my all time favorite games, and this actually makes me wish I had a Wii U

Avatar image for kato1234boss


Avatar image for oddjob117

@kato1234boss same here

Avatar image for jin85

I don't understand whats up with Gamespot and 8 , I think that's the only number that they know

Avatar image for hcgamingdad

Because it is a Nintendo game. If it was COD 69 they would give it a 9 and laud its amazing originality.

Avatar image for Piris

I just played the demo at best buy. It's super fun :)

Avatar image for xolivierx

5 days

Avatar image for Wogrim

Not a fan of the gliding and the flat-ground speed boosts (boosts for ramps only). Lack of battle mode and all the baby characters is lame. Probably won't get it.

Avatar image for abcdefgabcdefgz

Sounds decent, but it will always be mario kart 64 for me. That game had it right

Avatar image for crazywolf5150

Looks like a great game and they've innovated on the racing part, but battle mode sounds terrible if only on racing tracks. I remember the good ol' days of Mario Kart 64, whose battle mode was a blast to play. If I had the money I might buy a Wii U for this and Super Mario 3D world, but I think I would still need to get a PS4 first. Also, how's the online play system? Is it any better than the Wii's?

Avatar image for samus_my_life


Avatar image for GSyyzandra7yyGS

Definitely much enjoyable to play!

Avatar image for Pewbert

So this was what was supposed to sell loads more Wii U units and slow down the sales of PS4 and Xbox One?


Avatar image for jellyman68

@Pewbert It will sell loads more Wii Us. I'm even considering buying one now as I love Mario Kart.

Avatar image for locknuts84

Review makes it sound like a 9.

Mario Kart 8 More Info

  • First Released May 30, 2014
    • Nintendo Switch
    • Wii U
    Mario Kart 8 introduces new racing circuit designs and antigravity karts that will have players driving upside down. Players will also enjoy a variety of series-favorite features, including the return of 12-player online competitive play, hang-gliders, underwater racing and motorbikes.
    Average Rating302 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Mario Kart 8
    Developed by:
    Published by:
    Driving/Racing, Arcade
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Comic Mischief