Mario is, of course, a seasoned plumber … who just so happens to love wearing red shirts and blue overalls. But he’s so much more than that, proving over the decades that he’s a singularly gifted “Here we go!” sort of guy. Through his 30-plus years of video game excursions he’s outfoxed giant gorillas and bopped big-‘ol Bowsers. He’s become a champ at golf, baseball, soccer and tennis. And whether he’s dancing up a storm or joining Sonic the Hedgehog at the Winter Olympics, he’s still got time to pull out a wrench for a speedy fix-up along the way.
If you really wanna see this mustachioed wunderkind shine, though, get him behind the wheel of a Mario Kart. It is named after him, after all.
Let me say here that some pretty keen gamers consider the Mario Kart games to be perfectly blended racers. They present an enjoyable sense of speeding inertia and slide-through-the-corners track maneuvering that the whole family can enjoy. And at the same time, they’re simple enough, control-wise, that younger gamers can pilot a Biddybuggy or Badwagon at speed without slamming into a guardrail every two seconds.
Mario Kart 8 has all those old-school go-karting basics down, adding a brand new coat of sparkling high-def paint and a couple other zip-around-the-track twists.
Baby Peach, Suiting Up
When all the Mario universe characters are unlocked and present in this game, there are 30 different racers who have a serious need for speed. That roster includes Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong, a bunch of Koopas and baby versions of the guys and gals already mentioned. After choosing your favorite cockpit commander, you create your vehicle from a variety of karts, ATVs and motorcycles.
Then it’s off to compete for eight sparkling Grand Prix cups of four races each. That amounts to 32 racetracks: 16 new ones and 16 spiffed up older tracks from previous games. There are also three different classes to race in: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. Each step up in class picks up the pace … and the challenge presented by computer-controlled opponents. Let’s face it, though, the crazy tracks and easy-to-pick-up whack-’em-smack-’em doodads are what make the difference in a Mario Kart racer. So let’s get right to those.
It’s on to Cheep Cheep Beach
Right off the starting line the first thing racers will notice is how awesome this game’s various tracks look. Whether you’re racing through Thwomp Ruins with its huge falling block obstacles, or speed-ramping over giant mole holes in the Donut Plains, or zipping through Bowser’s gloomy castle with its undulating roadways and laser-eyed statues, the tracks are as fun to ogle as they are to maneuver.
New anti-grav tracks automatically transform the speeding karts into thruster-boosted hover racers capable of clinging to designated surfaces in unruly defiance of the laws of physics. These world-flipping sections aren’t just cool and thrilling, though. They also add to the choice of routes you can take through each course.
There are tons of colorful traps to avoid along the way on any of these raceways, but nothing scary or particularly frustrating. And if racers do find themselves ramping off a cliff in the wrong direction or sliding into a lake of bubbling fire brew, a helpful bumblebee is instantly there to rescue them and set them safely back on the roadway.
What’s a Red Shell Between Friends?
Of course, besides the tricky track trip-ups, it’s the other cartoony racers who are your biggest Mario Kart threat. And not necessarily because of their racing skills, but because of what items they might have up their sleeve. Along every racetrack there are mystery boxes to hit and a cornucopia of random stuff to scoop up. Some of these rainbow-colored goodies—such as the speed-revving Mushroom and the auto-pilot rocketing Bullet Bill—offer a special boost bonus. But most of the items are used as raceway “weapons.”
Don’t go looking for any full metal jackets in this mischief-mad world though! Instead, we find Bloopers, which shoot ink onto the goggles of the racers in front of you. Or a Banana Peel that can cause any speedster to spin out. Or a tossed Red Shell that homes in on the closest kart in front of you, knocking it over. New Mario Kart 8 items include a Boomerang Flower that can be thrown up to three times, bopping fellow racers on its return; and the Super Horn which emits an items-destroying sonic blast.
These specialty prizes obviously become a huge part of the racing strategy. Whether you’re playing solo against AI opponents, locally with three close pals or online with eleven other human strategists, a good red or blue shell item can be your best hope for a last-minute sprint to the lead.
I just hope you’re not racing against that one super clever dude with the big M on his cap!
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.