You’re not that far behind. You can see the trail of dust from the last racer in front of you. The finish line is coming fast. Will you be able to squeak past for the win? Ahead of you is the last, clear cube with a question mark in it. You shatter through as the dial begins to spin. Will you get the item you need to help you get the win? Mario Kart has always been a balance of luck and skill. It’s a game that anyone can pick up, play, and enjoy because with the right items, a racer of any skill can be competitive. Still, the ones who are willing to learn the finer nuances of the karts are the ones with an edge when it comes to winning. Some past version of Mario Kart probably had a little too much emphasis on luck (curse you, blue shell!), but I’m happy to report that not only does Mario Kart 8 reward skill as much as luck, it also has some of the most enjoyable and beautiful looking courses to race on that that series has ever seen. Speaking of balance, Mario Kart has always been a balance between “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” and finding some way to keep things fresh and innovative. Mario Kart Double Dash was the one that edged more to the innovative side, while Mario Kart for the Wii probably played it a bit too safe. Happily, Mario Kart 8 finds just the right balance to both sides. Yes, it is more Mario Kart. More power sliding, more item tossing, more of everything you love. However, it also mixes things up just enough to make it feel fresh and exciting. The new anti-gravity element is a huge contributor to that feeling. It’s not underused, and it’s not overused. The thrill of facing a long wall or up and down sheer inclines is thrilling and adds some nice challenge to the proceedings. It also introduces an interesting element of strategy to the game as you can get a small speed boost bumping into people while in anti-grav mode. However, the course doesn’t over use this element, and some of the classic ones forego it altogether.
As for the balance between luck and skill, if you are willing to get good at racing, you’ll definitely have an edge. No more will the person in first be punished by being hit with five items in a row right before the finish line. If you can get to first, there’s a good chance you can stay in first. Even the blue shell isn’t a guaranteed stop anymore. However, fear not those who don’t have the time to learn to become ace racers, Mario Kart is still approachable for all levels of skill. With a bit of luck, and some items like the Crazy Eight (one item of each swirling around your car), or the golden mushroom, or others (maybe even a blue shell of doom), just about anyone can find themselves at the front of the pack at any times. This, of course, has always been one of the key appeals of Mario Kart.
You know, one of my least favorite verses in the Bible is James 1:2, which says “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” Are you kidding me? That’s like asking me to be happy when that blue shell of Mario Kart comes swooping in and runs my perfect lap. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a few blue shells swoop in and wreck life around me. They have this way of honing in on us no matter how we try to avoid them. The simple fact is that, at times, life will have times of pain, suffering, and tragedy – the trials of the blue shell. It’s interesting, however, how that verse goes on; “…for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4) Or put it this way; yeah, those blue shells will come, and when they do, you have two choices. One: throw your controller down and just let it get the best of you. Two: race on with a focused intensity knowing that perhaps, just perhaps, you come across something that will help you get back in the lead. Indeed, it’s those that choose to race on not matter what item derails them that generally end up being the better racers. And so it is in life. When those blue shells come in and wreck everything, we can despair or persevere. However, the good news is when we choose to preserve, we can know that there is a God who loves us, who knows that those tough times of trials are exactly the times when not only we’ll grow the most, but when we will rely on him the most. And He will provide us with the very items—the love, the peace, the comfort, the healing, and the help—that we need to get back into the race and finish it strong.
Mario Kart 8 is easily the best looking game in the series thus far, and could be the best looking game on the Wii right now. All of the fundamental racing mechanics that make the series so much fun are present here, and there are a few new twists to keep things interesting as well. I have to admit, I was skeptical of the whole Mario Kart TV thing, where you can watch highlights of races and share them on MiiVerse or YouTube, but it’s actually quite a bit of fun. I do wish there were better chat options for online racing, but otherwise, the online stuff is good for a Nintendo system. Still, nothing is quite as much fun as having a group of people over and racing against three friends while sitting on the couch. Mario Kart 8 is keeping that kind of multiplayer experience alive and well, and I’m so glad it is.