Mario Kart 8 for Wii U – The Best and Worst Mario Kart Game

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Last Friday I purchased a copy of the new Mario Kart 8 game for the Wii U. It’s something that I’ve been anticipating for a long time. After all, I’ve played almost every single game in the series, with the exclusion of some of the older DS/DSi editions. Now the complaint I have isn’t something I was completely unaware of before I purchased the game, but I was hoping for a better experience with the Battle Mode than I’ve had so far.

The GP elements are excellent. The tracks are fun and, as far as I can tell, the items are well balanced. I’ve only run through the 50cc GP so I haven’t played enough to really determine whether or not the “rubber-banding” of the AI is going to be annoying.

The basic races have, for the most part, been well enhanced with each new iteration.

But for some reason Nintendo keeps dropping the ball with the Battle Mode. I don’t know why this happens – it’s been the most compelling reason to play the games for myself and many others over the years. Besides, once I’ve beaten the GP races at all levels and with first place on every track I’ve never found much of a reason to go back and play them again and again.

When the SNES version was released I played it for days on end with my younger brother. Until the N64 version came out it remained one of our multiplayer staples for several years.

The N64 version was, at the time, an awesome game and it still holds up well. In my opinion it had the best Battle Mode of any Mario Kart game, and many others that are fans of the game still agree.

The GameCube version had a good Battle Mode but it wasn’t as good as that of the N64 edition. When the Wii version was released I found myself replaying specific tracks, such as Wario Stadium, against friends but we were not fond of the Battle Mode stages at all. They simply weren’t well designed and when playing only two players it often took more time than should have been necessary to find the other player. In the end we resorted to playing the N64 version in the Wii Virtual Console.

Mario Kart 8 seems to have continued the slow erosion of Battle Mode fun. Instead of having battle arenas, that are closed and well designed, it places Battle Mode directly within the racing tracks.

Personally, I think this takes away much of the fun and intensity that can still be found in the N64 version. It is not well designed for a only a couple of players. Sure, the system can reportedly dump AI in, but that feels like an attempt to add one thing to make up for the lack of another. I simply don’t care to have AI in Battle Mode. That’s not the point. I want to crush my friends in battle, not the computer.

In my view the only way for Nintendo to correct this significant error in judgement is to release battle arenas as DLC. However, it’s likely they’d charge for this and, if so I’d feel a bit ripped off. Nintendo did it perfectly on the N64 but for some reason hasn’t tried to reproduce it.

I don’t believe in change just for the sake of change and I’m tired of critics complaining about how nearly every game hasn’t changed enough. If something works, and it works well, then sometimes it simply doesn’t make sense to change the formula.

Unless this concept is added back via DLC then it’s likely I won’t be playing Mario Kart 8 very much once I’ve beaten everything. It will also make it less likely that I’ll buy the next Nintendo console, whatever it may be. There are only a couple of reasons that I purchased the Wii U: to play the New Super Mario Bros games and the latest Mario Kart and the lower entry cost for the console. The Xbox One has the games and multiplayer experience I typically prefer, but I’m still waiting for the cost to be reduced (it’s not that I can’t afford to purchase one at the current price – I simply don’t want to).

I’m not one to criticize every decision that a company such as Nintendo makes, but when they developed Mario Kart 64 they did something great and yet they seem focused on making each successive game’s Battle Mode just a bit worse.

Mario Kart 64 was a game that I would sit and play with friends for hours on end on a Friday night via the Wii Virtual Console. It wasn’t unusual for us to play over 200 consecutive battles in a single evening, cussing at each other and laughing the entire time (sometimes we played nearly twice that number of battles).

Yes, I did transfer my virtual console purchases over the Wii U but I’ll have to buy additional Wii controllers to be able to play multiplayer Mario Kart 64 since it is stuck in the Wii Virtual Console and not available for the Wii U Virtual Console. This means I can’t (yet) use GameCube controllers or the wireless Nintendo Pro Controller with the Wii Virtual Console games. Hopefully, this will change in the near future but until then I’m left hoping that Nintendo will make an earnest attempt to bring the fun of N64 Battle Mode into Mario Kart 8.

Why am I making a big deal out of this? Because Mario Kart 64 Battle Mode is one of the most enjoyable ‘death match’ type games I have ever played. The rules are simple and rounds can last for several minutes or end in a matter of seconds. And it wouldn’t have taken Nintendo much effort to re-introduce this level of fun. If Nintendo made all of the original N64 Battle Mode levels available as DLC I wouldn’t have much trouble reaching into my wallet to pay (a little) more for them.

I’m not recommending that fans of Mario Kart avoid purchasing this game. It is fun and playing multiplayer in the races is probably a lot of fun as well. But if you’re specifically interested in the Battle Mode then you may want to hold off and see if Nintendo resolves this problem.

Updated 06/18/2014: The Mario Kart 8 races are indeed a lot of fun when playing multiplayer. I’ve had the rare chance to play four-player, split-screen multiplayer two weekends in a row (rare for me these days, anyway). As far as the AI rubber-banding – it’s consistent with most previous games. In 50cc it’s not difficult to get a long lead and even lap some of the AI. The 100cc and 150cc games are very different and getting first place in all races is significantly more difficult. I was able to achieve first place in all races of all cups in the 50cc on the first try. The 100cc and 150cc were a different story. On more than one occasion I found myself very frustrated because I had achieved first place in three out of the four races within the same cup.

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