Editorial: Mario Kart Hate

The two-rider system made for some interesting co-op at least.
Bowser and Bowser Jr in Mario Kart Double Dash.

Hello again singular readers and welcome to another post on the internet about Mario Kart. With almost every Wii U owner I know chomping at the bit to to pick up the latest in the kart racing franchise I was just as ecstatic as they were to get my hands on a new reason to dust off my console. Mario Kart has been a long running staple of Nintendo consoles and, despite waning opinion, I have found a lot to like in every console entry to date. This does include the newest Mario Kart 8 but the lead up to this game’s release felt like it included a lot of drummed up promises.

While I do feel Mario Kart 8 was over hyped, I got as much enjoyment out of that title as I have past Mario Kart titles. I have even played the much derided Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. I did notice a bit of franchise fatigue while playing that game which, coupled with my general disinterest in handhelds, made the whole experience seem quite tired. Before that I had spent a good deal of time with Mario Kart Wii, finding a lot of fun in one of the only lag free online Wii titles. That game’s addition of motorcycles to the gameplay was welcomed, if a bit overpowered compared to karts, but the primary draw was in it being my first online Mario Kart experience. It offered a nice semi-competitive ranking system and seemed to demonstrate that, despite the randomness of items, skill very much played a factor into winning races consistently. I never pursued the online modes enough to get particularly good against human opponents, but it never really mattered to me.

Case in point is the time I spent with Mario Kart Double Dash back on the GameCube. Despite lacking an online mode, like all of my GC games, I found a good amount of replayability in this title. The addition of the two-rider mechanic was fun in its own way and the great stage design and tight driving controls the series has maintained throughout were present and accounted for. Of particular note was the All Cup mode which lined up every race in the game in one Grand Prix. I had always found the game compelling enough to make an occasional attempt a placing first in every race in the All Cup, even though the random items did frustrate at times. Eventually I pulled it off and I think some sadistic part of me liked the poorly constructed challenge the random items added to that feat. Without them I would have probably managed that in one or two passes.

But this, like the other environmental additions, is more of a visual addition than a big mechanical addition like Double Dash's two-rider system.
Mario Kart 8 introduced the anti-gravity mechanic.

Even older entries in the series displayed a propensity for chaos over skill. The loathed Blue Shell’s inaugural appearance in Mario Kart 64 may have been less potent that it would become in more recent years but it still caused its share of problems. In the original Mario Kart for the SNES arguably the most powerful item at the player’s disposal was the simple Red Shell which operated with frightening accuracy and efficacy in a game where it was not possible to simply drag a banana to block incoming shots. This also ignores the frustration the AI caused with their computer- and character-exclusive items. Toad and Peach would drop mushrooms the player cannot obtain that cause the player to shrink when touched. Mario and Luigi can, and regularly will, deploy a star while in any position in the race.

Throughout its twenty two (22!) year history, Mario Kart has always been about being a chaotic frenzy more than it was about being a pure racer. As a child playing on the SNES against my older brother I recall complaining about losing “just because you had an item”. Then my brother replied, “this game is all about the items. If there weren’t any items it’d be pretty boring.” I remember agreeing at the time, as I usually did with my older brother, and for the most part I still do. I even tested this out years later in Double Dash with an Action Replay code to turn off items. The result, I can confirm, was pretty boring. Perhaps if I could have played online something more interesting would have been seen, but against AI the races played out where no one moved from their positions and I won handily every time. The series, for better or worse, has always been about being a random and chaotic racing game that can be viewed as punishing skill but never enough to overshadow it. I do not consider myself a Mario Kart pro (I never learned how to Snake) but I could still pull off consistent first place victories in offline Grand Prix modes (which I consider to be the main aspect of any Mario Kart game).

I feel like this is more to do with franchise fatigue than it is about anything this game did on its own.
Mario Kart 7 gets pooped on a lot.

Then in comes the latest in the franchise, Mario Kart 8, and all its promises of restoring balance to the universe. Though I attest that the series has always been about the randomness and chaotic aspects that items bring along I do also admit that the balance between frenzy and skill had been skewed only more away from skill in the intervening years since the original game was released in 1992. Mario Kart 8, from all the preview coverage and eventually the two-week early review coverage, seemed to be bringing things back to the center. Pretty much all of these claims were pinned on the addition of the Super Horn which is capable of deflecting a Blue Shell. But, though I have unlocked a majority of the game’s content by now, I have never once been in a position to use this semi-rare item in this way. More to the game’s actual credit, and what I hear much less of, is that the rate at which Lightning Bolts and Blue Shells are triggered has been greatly reduced from previous entries. Unfortunately I cannot comment on the game’s online mode because my Wii U’s pitiful wifi antenna is barely capable of staying connected to my router.

And now that the majority of the dust has settled on the game I feel like Mario Kart 8 was held up as a game it never really was in the face of a severe software drought for a system that still manages to keep an interested userbase. But enough about what I thought, what about you? Did you get Mario Kart 8? Either way, what about your opinions on the rest of the series? I neglected to mention anything about Battle Mode, but that was not by accident. Fill in the rest of the story in the comments!

3 comments

  1. And now that the majority of the dust has settled on the game I feel like Mario Kart 8 was held up as a game it never really was in the face of a severe software drought…

    Exactly.

    …for a system that still manages to keep an interested userbase.

    If only *just*.

  2. I am enjoying my time with Mario Kart 8, but I feel a great deal of that enjoyment comes from the fact that it is the first MK game I have played since MK64. While I agree that the chaotic nature of the game is certainly the source of the series’ charm, it is also serves as the biggest source of frustration. Getting nailed by a blue shell followed by a green/red shell (or three) in the last leg of a Grand Prix race is frustrating, but it is infuriating that such a series of events results in a second place finish. A second place finish in a single race would not be terrible, except you need to get first in all four Grand Prix races in order to get the three star ranking.

  3. Man, I was ready to say that this was still a GOOD game despite my many nitpicks (bad gamepad integration, no clock on races, splitting N64 Rainbow Road in thirds) UNTIL I tried “battle mode”. What a piece of crap that is. They didn’t even make new courses for battle mode! I played battle quite a lot on MKDS and a bit in MK7 and this is just awful in comparison. GAH! I miss Block Fort.

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