[Feature] How Mario Kart 8 continues to breathe new life into a once-stagnant series - Nintendo Everything

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[Feature] How Mario Kart 8 continues to breathe new life into a once-stagnant series

Posted on April 19, 2015 by (@LyonHart_) in Features, Game of the Month, Wii U

The newest installment on the Wii U breathes life into a series that was quickly losing its charm and magic

The illustrious Mario Kart is a series that’s been around since SNES and has touched the hearts of millions across the globe with its simplistic-yet-addictive and sometimes-competitive gameplay. We’ve seen the series grow exponentially in features and gimmicks with each new generational entry, but there’s always been one thing in particular that they’ve all had in common that was causing the series to dwindle in its excitement and keeping it from its full potential: speed.

Now, just to be clear, I’ve always loved and will continue to love Mario Kart. It’s held a special place in my heart since I first played it as a child on the Nintendo 64, but as I’ve grown and watched it evolve with each new entry, whether handheld or console, my interest in Mario Kart began to tank, specifically after Double Dash!!. I didn’t have any animosity towards the series (except for Mario Kart Wii) – it’ll always be in a league of its own – but as I began to delve into other racing games across various platforms, quickly becoming one of my favorite genres, it was hard to go back to Mario Kart expecting an immersive, adrenaline-fueled experience games like Burnout, Need for Speed, Extreme G Racing, or F-Zero would give me. After a while, even games that had the same power-up/items mechanics it had like Wipeout, Blur, Split/Second and, in a more obscure sense, Twisted Metal started to feel superior to Mario Kart. I’d still go back and play Double Dash!! and 64 from time to time with friends, but despite the merriment of the occasion, I couldn’t play more than twenty minutes at a time before wanting to go to sleep. The excitement was lost for me. I preferred to watch from a distance.


Double Dash!! on the GameCube was the last one I truly enjoyed, but even its grip on me was starting to loosen as I started to experiment with other racing games. The game was unique with character-specific special items and two-character karting. It was always neat to try combinations with characters you normally wouldn’t see together and see what kind of strategies you could come up with. Everyone had their own style, and it was interesting to see how races would pan out. Despite adding a layer of thinking, great tracks, and a much more expansive roster (jumping from eight playable characters on the 64 to a whopping twenty for Double Dash!!), it still felt too slow. Unless you were in Baby Park, even tracks that were small felt like they took much longer than they needed to. Maybe more boost pads could have helped in some of the tracks, but even at 150cc it simply didn’t feel exciting enough.

Jumping over to Mario Kart Wii, we see the introduction of the wheel and online capabilities. This is where I completely lost interest and faith in Mario Kart. It wasn’t because of these new gimmicks and features, but the poor implementation of them that made me say “enough is enough – I’m done.”

The seventh generation of gaming is where the craze of high definition started to kick in. This is where I really became spoiled with the aforementioned games – primarily with Blur, Split/Second, and other smaller titles like Pure and Fatal Inertia EX. Not only did these titles give me the high-octane action I want in a racing game while also providing items to employ and utilize just like Mario Kart does, but they looked good doing it, were in 16:9, and didn’t make me feel like I was losing visual acuity.

With the wheel for Mario Kart Wii, you couldn’t get the accuracy of turning like a normal controller gave you. It didn’t feel immersive, wasn’t intuitive, and not very ergonomic despite the simple design. You had to turn the wheel in the direction you were going seconds before and hope the Wii would receive the inputs in time before crashing into a wall, grinding through grass, or finding yourself at the end of Lakitu’s fishing hook. Last second saves weren’t possible with the wheel. Even after Wii Motion Plus became standard for Wiimotes, improving the motion controls, the gimmick was still atrocious. The online component for Mario Kart Wii was also a huge let down as it made dial-up look like Road Runner. Simply finding others to be in a lobby with you was an abhorrent task and quickly caused most to give up once you realize you could have watched the entire Godfather trilogy by the end of it all. Whether it was on the track offline or with fans around the world online, the slow speed continued to linger.


Five years later after the release of Mario Kart Wii, the world was introduced to Mario Kart 8 at E3 2013. Immediately something clicked with me after the trailer debuted. Within two minutes, the terrible taste Mario Kart Wii put in my mouth and the melatonin-inducing gameplay of previous entries was gone. I didn’t know if it was the vibrant colors, the fact that it was in HD or the impeccable music, but I wanted more. The trailer wasn’t enough, so throughout the duration of E3 I went to find as many videos as possible. Every video I saw, whether it be a direct-feed or off-camera, had this sense of magic exuding from it. Was it the level design or any of the things I previously mentioned? I still didn’t know. After myriad hours watching videos and reading articles in the following weeks and months, it dawned on me what it was that appealed most to me – it felt faster.

Could it have been the 60 frames per second that made it feel faster? It’s a possibility, but this was before YouTube implemented 60fps support. Maybe it was the new anti-gravity gimmick that gave the game a more fluid feel. Whatever it was, this was precisely what I was looking for in Mario Kart the entire time. For the first time in a long time, I was excited to get my hands on Mario Kart, not only to play it, but to purchase it on launch day and play for as long as I could. Mario Kart 8 was my reboot.

Before the Wii U was even released, Bayonetta 2 had been announced as an upcoming exclusive title for the console. Having been a huge fan of the first and all of Hideki Kamiya’s work, this would be the title I would wait for to get me to buy a Wii U. Fast forward to May 30th, 2014, months before Bayonetta, and here I am walking out of a GameStop with a Wii U bundle for a game of a series that I had ceased interest in years ago and lost all hope for. Who would have thought? It was one of the few titles of 2014 that made me feel giddy, full of joy, and ecstatic about both Mario Kart and the future of the Wii U, and this was before I even had my hands on it. Imagine what I felt once it was in my possession, set up, and finally at Mario Kart 8’s start menu.


The first thing you notice right away after booting it up (which was also quick) is one of many of Mario Kart 8’s flawless compositions attack your ears with the biggest hug. The UI is beautiful, the sheer detail of the tracks and level design blew me away, and everything about it was bigger, better, and faster. 50cc – the slowest of the bunch – already felt like an improvement from previous games. It was still a little slow for me, though it certainly didn’t put me to sleep for once, but I still got through all the cups because I wanted to complete the entire thing and get all the stamps as well as all the other collectibles.

One of the most important aspects of Mario Kart 8 to me were the stats. The problem with Mario Kart before is it’s always felt more like “let’s see who the luckiest person is this race”, rather than actual driving ability or smart use of the items you acquire. The stats provide the game with more depth and give the player a better connection to a character or set up depending on how they play.

The depth and fact that every character, kart, wheel and glider finally have meaning, substance and merit without getting too convoluted, as opposed to just pick whatever and go – because there was usually such a heavy reliance on items and who could get more blue shells and mushrooms than the other – really made me feel like there was purpose in what, how, and who I was playing. The feeling was very reminiscent of other intricate racing titles and Super Smash Bros.

The items are here to aid you to victory and protect you along the line, not be the determining factor on whether you get 1st place or last. Coins as items prove this, as once you get to first place, that’s basically all you receive, with the occasional green shell, and, if you’re really lucky, the Blue Shell destroying speaker. Despite coins being 70% of what you get when you go through item boxes in first place, you can still maintain that position the whole way through if you know what you’re doing and have got a good setup, even if you’re in 1st from the start of the race.

Speed is made more fun by drifting. Drifting will allow you to go through sharp corners with relative ease and also be a factor in your victory. The ones that don’t drift are the ones that lose, and I don’t mean lose as in not first place (I’d say you’re still a winner if you’re 5th and above online), I mean lose as in consistently being 9th and below and potentially being lapped.


The online component of Mario Kart 8 is also fast. Finding others to get into a lobby is extremely easy, and you’re usually up and running into a race within a minute. The online is consistently smooth and is actually quite remarkable in terms of stability and functionality, something that Mario Kart Wii did not have. Everything Mario Kart also does in terms of online such as Miiverse and Mario Kart TV is also a great addition and adds another level of depth to the series. It is exciting to see other people post videos on Miiverse and online to YouTube of races they’ve had and everything that occurred within them. Since everything in the game from the characters to the maps to the karts all have their own personality now, it’s amazing – and often hilarious – to see the things that transpire. Every video and post is unique in its own way and really adds to the lure and immersion of Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8 doesn’t feel like just a game anymore. It’s become a platform where fans from all around the world come together, play, and share special moments through screenshots and videos with Miiverse as its hub – the new one stop shop for all things Mario Kart.

With solid internet capabilities, we get the addition of DLC. DLC further keeps Mario Kart 8 fresh and wanting you to come back for more. Not only did I play Mario Kart 8 every day for 4-5 months straight, but after a quick break I ended up coming back for more with DLC pack 1 which added new cups, characters, and karts. Now with DLC 2 coming in a few weeks, 150cc is about to be left in the dust by 200cc, a first for the series. Yes, we’re going faster.


It goes without saying that the trailer and comparison videos have me excited beyond belief. It is absurdly fast, and I am in love with it. I haven’t played Mario Kart 8 in about two months, so I’m elated to get back into it going even faster than ever before. No Mario Kart has provided me with as much exuberance, content, and replayability as much as the eighth installment has and continues to do.

When it comes to racing, whether it be a simulator like Forza and Gran Turismo, karting like Diddy Kong Racing and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, or arcade racing like Midnight Club and Ridge Racer, faster will always be better. Let’s be honest with ourselves, F-Zero wouldn’t be as popular and beloved as it is if it played a little more like Big Mutha Truckers.

Leave a Reply

  • IndigoRift

    It’s kind of surreal reading this. When you mentioned your experiences with games like F-Zero, Extreme G, Wipeout, and others, I felt the exact same way. Double Dash!! was also basically the last MK that I’ve liked.

    And then it all went awry from there once MK8 got mentioned. I’m pretty much the opposite here. I feel like MK8 murdered and buried my interest in the franchise indefinitely; this coming from someone who has followed it since day one on the SNES. I can’t really explain why or how it happened. I think it may be because I have always liked F-Zero a lot more, and I’m bitter from the absurd neglect it has gotten. I can’t deny that it’s a factor.

    I genuinely want to try MK8 again, but I’m thinking this will be the very last Mario Kart I ever play either way. I’m banking on the speed boost making a difference.

    • LordDisco

      Mario Kart and F-Zero are very different games, and although the F-Zero stage(s) in MK8 feels a little like F-Zero, it’s definitely not F-Zero.

      Mario Kart 8 truly revived the series. The new and unique stages are gorgeous, and MK8 controls the best of any Mario Kart game thus far. It’s tight, the stages are superbly designed, and I haven’t enjoyed a Mario Kart like this since Double Dash.

      If the next Mario Kart game is even remotely as good as this one, I will be all about it. I know we definitely have differences of opinions, but try not to judge MK8 with F-Zero. The two franchises are very different, and Mario Kart shouldn’t take a hit because F-Zero’s popularity declined tremendously. The two franchises went their separate directions because of their success and non-success.

      • IndigoRift

        I’ll be quick to admit that MK8 is outright refreshing. The music, tracks, visuals, and the overall presentation are unquestionably refreshing. It’s practically everything that LyonHart described in one of his paragraphs.

        “The first thing you notice right away after booting it up (which was
        also quick) is one of many of Mario Kart 8’s flawless compositions
        attack your ears with the biggest hug. The UI is beautiful, the sheer
        detail of the tracks and level design blew me away, and everything about
        it was bigger, better, and faster. 50cc – the slowest of the bunch –
        already felt like an improvement from previous games. It was still a
        little slow for me, though it certainly didn’t put me to sleep for once

        I wholeheartedly felt the exact same way from the crossed ‘t’s’ to the dotted ‘i’s’. It was refreshing in many areas. But as I said, the neglect of F-Zero was a factor, as in only one factor out of a few. While I find that the item balance is easily better than MKW, it’s just too little too late. By the time MK8 happened, I was already fed up with the luck factor in races. Prior to MK8, I already had too many moments where item combos wrecked a race and made me think “If only F-Zero was still around with a new game…

        So even with all of its perks, I still find MK8 fatiguing to play. My races don’t play out as LyonHart first described, and approaching the game from the perspective that “this is a party game” does not really help. It softens the blows, but doesn’t get that homesick feeling out of my mind where I yearn for something else I liked. F-Zero just happens to be that “something else”. I’m not necessarily comparing the two, but in terms of racers, I have always enjoyed F-Zero far more, and that’s without even pitting the gameplay of the against each other. That’s just the way the two franchises first struck me in my experiences when I was too young to even think about comparing them — I have no control over that one.

        I don’t hate MK8. In fact, I think my problem is that I’ve played too many new Mario Karts and not enough of any other racer. That’s evident from the fact that I didn’t bother to complete all cups with triple-star ranks. That was always my tradition for years. This time, I unlocked the mirror stuff sometime last year and never played the game again. This was long before the DLC was released, and I never touched online (because I hated playing any MK online). So yeah, I think I’m just [permanently] tired of the series, especially since I hardly have any other racers to fall back on. I plan to try MK8 again after the update to see what happens, but I’d rather not invest in DLC for a game I will likely not play for long, even with the F-Zero reps.

        • IndigoRift

          Actually, scratch what I said. I’ll just go all in.

          I really want to enjoy this game and give it a thorough shot, so I’ll just go ahead and buy the DLC too. That would supplement the experience. Instead of waiting for the update, I’ll go ahead and start playing today to get the mirror stuff out of the way. I’ve been away from MK8 for quite a few months, so I think I’ll be alright this time.

          • LordDisco

            I wish I had more time to play, but since I work a heavy job, my game times are very limited, especially on consoles (I can play my 3DS to and from work on the train).

            But last week, I played Smash Bros and MK8 with a bunch of my Japanese colleagues. It was awesome! I forgot how good MK8 was, so when I saw your post, I had to say something. It had just been so long since I played, and seeing the faces and reactions of my Japanese friends as they experienced the DLC stages for the first time was priceless.

            MK8 DLC is borderline perfect. A substantial amount of content for a cheap price. I cannot wait for the next batch!

    • Hermione Granger

      i just stopped with mario kart on the n64. but first a little history about my life experience…

      back in the day we got f-zero and mario kart on the snes. even if i played mario kart on the snes i didnt see it as anything special, f-zero was the better games no doubt. when the n64 arrived there was a new f-zero game the game was still good but had become different. the new n64 mario kart was way better than the horrible snes version. the cube arrived and i didnt bother picking it up, it was all ps2 for me at that time. but i did play double dash, it was just okay. then in the meanwhile we have had thousands of kart games on various systems over the years… now back to mario kart8, after playing it, it just feels like it have become a mix of the old n64 f-zero and n64 mario kart. i have also played a lot of different kart games since the snes mario kart. so when we have mario kart8, i dont feel its anything special, its been done many times before.. and with all this dlc crap and patch bug fixing on top of it. i just dont care anymore, the ninty seal of quality aint there anymore… its more like its all hype and ninty desperate need a seller than anything else.

      but with all that said, i would love to see a new f-zero game…

      • Skarnet

        wtf did i just read???

        • Ragnell

          Agreed. No quality? I thought hermione was smart…

      • Michael Cortorreal

        Hmm so wait…
        You didn’t play other Mario Kart games aside the N64 one.
        You like F-Zero a lot more than Mario Kart.

        So if you barely experienced Mario Kart games, how can you say MK8 is the same as the others…given you barely experienced (in your own words) all other installments that came after MK64 also when you admit that, to you…is a blend of the N64 F-Zero and Mario Kart games.

      • What happened to your ‘Shift’ key?

        • Hermione Granger

          its broken…

          • Both of them? What about ‘Caps Lock’?

          • Hermione Granger

            its gone too… i know i need a new keyboard.

  • icecreamperson

    My ranking of the kart games (from worst to best)

    Super mario kart

    mario kart super cicruit

    mario kart 64

    mario kart 7

    mario kart ds

    mario kart wii

    mario kart doubledash

    And finally, mario kart 8. I hate mario kart on handheld and the games from the snes, n64 and gameboy haven’t aged well to say the least.

    • PersonofLordlyCalibur

      For me its
      from worst to best

      Mario Kart super circuit
      MArio Kart 64
      Super mario Kart
      Mario Kart wii
      mario kart Ds
      Mario Kart 7
      Mario Kart Double Dash
      Mario Kart 8

      • Bradley

        lol I just recently found out that everyone hates super circuit a lot …….WHY!?

        • PersonofLordlyCalibur

          THE CONTROLS!!. i dont know why but i found the controls in that game are slippery and annoying. i did like the music though

  • Kallumsmarties

    I think my problem with Mario Kart Wii isn’t speed. Speed has never been an issue for me personally, But I didn’t think the visuals were pretty and by the time I could play online, hackers hacked it and completely made online unplayable for me. Why would anybody wanna go online then knowing hackers were going win cuz they had unlinited items due to this hack? I say all this, I still played the crap out of that game. I just adore it to bits. The only game that has ever beat Mario Kart was Diddy Kong Racing. Now if that game came back, I would be so god damn happy.

    I think Mario Kart 7 really got me back into playing Mario Kart like I used to as a kid. Playing at crazy hours and not wanting play anything else for months, but once Mario Kart 8 came out, I can’t go back to most Mario Kart games anymore. Oh god that February trailer with the Koopalings got me so god damn hyped for it. Hearing that music from Electrodrome for the first time. Mario Kart 8 is the first proper Mario Kart that looks absolutely stunning. I think what made Mario Kart 8 the best Mario Kart in my opinion is actually DLC. It was good without it, but it felt like it was missing something at the same time and extra courses is what it needed. I think the DLC courses are even better than the courses you got at launch. 200cc is going to make me spent hundreds of hours more on it now XD. It makes me so glad to see Mario Kart still being a hugely popular game.

  • Evan Baranowski

    As someone who really got into Mario Kart with Wii (I had played 64 and Double Dash but never owned either, I also missed out on DS), my opinion on the series is drastically different. Wii was my life, for a period of time. It was extremely fun to play with the wheel (which I found was more about tilting than turning) and the difference between bikes and carts was much more evident and rewarding. Mario Kart 7 felt different and more smooth with matchmaking, but the sub and glider mechanics felt underused. That’s less of a problem with 8 but I feel that game is the most iterative entry of the series. Still love it, but it’s also less accessible as a party game because of its kart mechanics, which is too bad.

  • Retro

    I also feel that the game is really solid and feels amazing to play, but the item imbalance ruins it. It feels as if your skill isn’t much more of a factor in this iteration. The coin item really shouldn’t appear after 10 are collected and coins shouldn’t spew out in such large amounts after getting hit because they’re needed for max speed and you drop 3 every time you’re hit. If someone gets triple red shells behind you, which spawns considerably more than you’d expect you’re basically guaranteed to drop 5 or more places without any chance of catching back up. Bananas aren’t stacks anymore they’re a spinning, easily penetrable barrier. Blue shells are ALWAYS a threat spawning upwards of 2 to 3 times per race. The mega horn doesn’t pop up nearly enough to be a life saver. The the chances of getting the reusable items are too high since you can easily spam them. Green shells bounce too much to the point where even if you miss your target you’ll ricochet into them somehow. Lightning is still over powered. Getting ink’d makes you slide everywhere. The game is just so frustrating, the mechanics and speed are incredible and fun and the tracks are colorful and cool, but the items which are a large component of the cart racing experience just ruin it. Even if you’re skillful at racing every track, know every short cut, every time saver, even if you know everything about the game you STILL need to hope to god that RNG doesn’t screw you. It’s around 80% luck and 20% skill. It kinda makes me worry about how 200cc will be.

    • Skarnet

      wow. you don’t have a lot of skill then. cause it’s more like 80% skill and 20% luck, if you are actually good at racing…

      • Retro

        Okay I’m not the best. I’ll admit that. But if you’re in first and the only thing that item boxes are giving you are coins which I guarantee does not only happen to me. What do you have to protect yourself? What can you do if the guys behind you get red shells or boomerangs or fire flowers or any projectile. You have a coin. You can’t do anything. You’re completely vulnerable. Try holding a single shell or banana behind you for an entire race. It’s not easily obtained.

        • You have to learn to look behind you, first place or not. I am constantly looking behind me when I race, dodging green shells and any other projectiles. Red shells you can’t help since they hunt you down but you can usually save yourself if you use a map to your advantage, sometimes having the red shell hit something that’s in the way, or simply holding an item behind you. The horn isn’t nearly as rare as people make it out to be. It’s certainly not common, but I’ve had my fair share and destroyed a good amount of Blue Shells and even Red Shells if I feel like that’s the smarter route to take (for example: you’re about to cross the finish line of the last lap and Red Shells are mere feet away from you)

          • Retro

            Thanks for the info, I’ll try to use the map to my advantage. Maybe I just have bad luck with horns, don’t get them too often. Thanks again.

    • Daniel

      Just turn Items off when doing a race, other then that it is pretty imbalanced but then again what other Mario kart wasn’t?

      • Retro

        That is true, none of them have a perfect balance or even close to be honest. I do race without items it’s weird but enjoyable in it’s own way. Just wish it wasn’t as much of a hindrance, the game is still good.

  • Skarnet

    OP. You do know there are other control options in Mario Kart wii??? sounds like you are bashing it because of the wheel. when wiimote and nunchuck was the greatest control option for MK ever!

    • Melatelo

      I was thinking that myself. Doesn’t really make any sense as it’s just an option.

  • PersonofLordlyCalibur

    Hold a sec! , you complained about MKwii’s motion controls but , couldn’t you use the gamecube controller or the wii mote and nun-chuck?

    • You could, but I was focusing on the gimmicks of each one. Mario Kart Wii was heavily focused on the wheel, even bundling it and having the box art of Mario and Luigi using it. For people who didn’t have another nunchuck besides the one that came with the Wii itself, and maybe didn’t own a Gamecube potentially ridding the option to use that controller, this was the only other way. It ruined the entire experience.

      • PersonofLordlyCalibur

        i hate motion controls for driving games(i always crash using them) thus since i always owned a gamecube i always used that controller instead. i actually found the racing tracks for mario kart wii to be fun and creative

  • Retro

    The dlc is amazing though. The courses and characters are really cool.

  • Ryudo9

    Same for me. DD tanked the series for me and Wii MK was so phoned in and felt going through the motions but no heart. DS felt ok but not great and MK7 was lame. MK8 gave me the same joy as when I first played MK SNES and MK N64. I did like the GBA one but MK8 really gave the series new life for me.

  • shaw98

    Mario still kickin butt after all these years.


  • TanukiTrooper

    That’s odd, I have never felt that the series has become stagnate, there was a mis-step or two with a couple of titles, but nothing major. But generally I have felt that the series has gotten better and better with each home console title. It may suffer from some “sameyness” but most series that have been going on for over 20 years can feel a bit tired for people that need games to have massive changes each iteration (almost to the point where the game no longer resembles what the series used to be renowned for AKA Resident Evil). And just look at Call of Duty which is the exact same game every year with a new skin, at least MK is one game per console. I tend to feel that people who say they enjoy MK64 over the more recent titles are viewing the 64 version with nostalgia glasses. It’s very rickety and sluggish when you compare it to MK8.

    • Justin McQuillen

      Yeah, it’s true. People remember MK64 as being better than it really is. Goldeneye is still superior to modern FPS games though ironically.

  • Justin McQuillen

    Mario Kart never had a bad phase, that’s ridiculous. Every single game in the series was solid gold and far above and beyond the likes of Twisted Metal. Don’t even get me started.

  • NinetalesCommander

    I do agree with alot of this but I cannot agree with all of it.
    For starters, I don’t feel the items are as good as you made them out to be, in fact I feel they are quite badly designed in terms of who gets what. I’ve had tons of times when I’ve hit an item box and the person in front of me has gotten a much better item than I have.
    Just recently I played Mario Kart 8 and I was in 8th place and I got a Triple Mushroom which was fine by me until I saw the player in front of me get a bullet bill! What the heck? How exactly is that fair? If I’d gotten a Golden Mushroom I wouldn’t be complaining as much but considering how amazing the bullet bill is compared to 3 simple mushrooms, it’s downright unfair even by Mario Kart Standards.

    The other main problem is the character roster, it’s just a complete mess in terms of who is missing. Not only did we get a bunch of Baby characters nobody cares about aside from Baby Mario and Baby Luigi but Diddy Kong, Bowser Jr, King Boo, and Dry Bones are missing! Come on Nintendo, that’s not cool. Also, Nabbit would have been a great choice as a playable character considering speed is what he’s all about.

    However, despite these 2 complaints, I can still say Mario Kart 8 is an amazing game and if you don’t have this game yet, go buy it, it’s amazing.

  • super mario kart :Games fun and hot for you.

  • D2K

    I still play MK64 and Mario Kart Wii. For some reason Double Dash felt weird to me. I never felt comfortable.