Two years ago today, the next installment in one of Nintendo’s best selling franchises was released; Mario Kart 8. While I am always excited for a new Mario Kart game, I had no idea how much Mario Kart 8 would revolutionize the the franchise, cementing itself as my favorite kart racer yet.
Mario Kart 8 was initially revealed at E3 2013, a time where Nintendo was desperately trying to sell the new and struggling Wii U. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the game looked. I love how Nintendo consistently proves that games don’t have to look realistic to look visually impressive. This was the first Mario Kart in HD, and it was obvious Nintendo labored to make the game look as good as possible.
Drawing from its predecessor, Mario Kart 8 brought back customizable karts, coins and gliders from Mario Kart 7. While it was nice to see these popular elements return, it was the new ideas introduced in Mario Kart 8 that made it truly special. First, Mario and co. could now race in zero gravity, which changed both the visuals and gameplay. I have fond memories of tightly gripping the controller racing up and down walls trying to bump into opponents to get the extra speed boost. Some tracks are entirely designed with this new mechanic in mind, including some of the returning retro courses. I have been playing Mario Kart for all of my life, so it was refreshing to see retro tracks revamped in this new style of racing.
The track design is very strong in Mario Kart 8, and I never got tired of any of the tracks, even months after the initial release. I loved revisiting courses like Wario Stadium, Tick Tock Clock and Royal Raceway in HD. Some of my favorite moments took place on the new courses; racing in the sky in Cloudtop Cruise, driving through San Francisco-esque Toad Harbor and, best of all, zooming down the treacherous Mount Wario. With all of the fantastic content already in the package, I never could have imagined what happened next.
DLC has always been a touchy subject for Nintendo. When Nintendo releases a game, it generally has all of the content it is ever going to see. This was not the case with Mario Kart 8. Fans were surprised with four additional cups and six new characters split into two DLC packages. The new courses were clearly made with the same love as the originals, which reinvigorated interest in the game half a year after it came out. It was a lot of fun to return to Mario Kart 8 to play the new courses and revisit the ones I had grown to love. As for the new characters, Nintendo pulled off yet another first for the franchise by introducing racers from other games. Link and characters from Animal Crossing joined the race, leading me to wonder if the next Nintendo racing game could expand beyond the limitations of just Mario.
The multiplayer options were also greatly expanded for this iteration of Mario Kart. With a simple multiplayer lobby that ran smoothly, players could easily meet up with their friends and get racing. A new feature called Mario Kart TV allowed racers to upload their favorite replays to YouTube. After seeing half-hearted online multiplayer attempts from Nintendo in the past, it was exciting to see such a big step forward in the online department with Mario Kart 8.
Sounds like Nintendo really pulled out all the stops for Mario Kart 8, right? Well, they had one more trick up their sleeve. Just when I finally thought we had seen all of the surprises for the game, Nintendo announced one more thing; 200cc. After years of maxing out at 150cc, Nintendo finally ramped up the intensity of Mario Kart racing. 200cc actually requires use of the brake, adding a new layer of skill previously unseen. I have grown so attached to 200cc, I don’t know how I ever played Mario Kart without it, and I certainly hope it returns in future installments.
Although it wasn’t enough to bring the Wii U to relevancy, Mario Kart 8 was a success; selling 7.5 million copies. Mario Kart 8 was a huge step forward for the franchise, ushering in new innovations while still respecting the established traditions of past entries. If you had asked me in 2013 what I expected from the next Mario Kart, I can guarantee my vision wouldn’t have been nearly as ambitious as the final product. 200cc, DLC, characters from other franchises, zero gravity racing and a replay upload service are just a few of the things that make Mario Kart 8 the best game in the franchise. It doesn’t hurt that it is the best looking game Nintendo has ever released, too. While I still enjoy revisiting Mario Kart 8 from time to time, all of the new ideas and additions just make me wonder; where will Mario Kart go next?