Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Beautiful Bliss That is Mario Kart 8

I am not a Mario Kart fan. I had a lot of fun playing Mario Kart: Double Dash!! with friends back in the day and Mario Kart DS was a welcome companion when I was sick one time, but otherwise my experience with the series is limited and I’ve never harbored the fond attachment to it that many seem to have. I wasn’t even going to get Mario Kart 8 and was more than ready to write it off as just another installment in one of Nintendo’s redundant “cash cow franchises”, but I was lured in by its glossy exterior and the hype surrounding it. I do not regret my weakness for a microsecond. I love Mario Kart 8. Like, I really love it. I was playing it recently and in the middle of a race, I just started thinking about how I couldn’t believe how good this game is. The impeccable visual polish and sheer joy my eyes and brain receive from looking at this game and seeing it in motion, the ultra-refined mechanics and control, the energetic orchestrated soundtrack…this is an unbelievably delightful experience.

Mario Kart 8 is not only my favorite Mario Kart game but very likely my favorite racing game of all time. Granted, I’ve never been huge into racing games but I’ve still played and enjoyed a decent handful over the years. I think what I really love about Mario Kart 8 is that the focus is on mastering its slick racing mechanics; nailing drifts, ebbing and flowing through each winding turn, and coming out on top if you play each gorgeous track with skill. The other “Mario Kart-ish” elements of the game, chiefly items, mix things up a bit and throw an interesting curveball into the racing action, but they don’t seem to be the focus in MK8. Mario Kart 8 is a slick and speedy racing experience first and foremost. Turtle shells and banana peels are merely complementary factors here. Some people might hate this. I love it.

I love MK8 for its tight, no, perfect mechanics and sublime sense of control, not only over my kart racer but over the race itself. I don’t think I’ve ever played another game with a more fluid, exhilarating, and joyous sense of movement. I lean with each turn in particularly intense races, and I can almost feel each drift and boost. While it can be stressful at times, and this is all part of the fun, it also becomes a Zen-like trance of an experience when I get into the zone, zipping and zooming along as my heart thumps and my fingers pivot as I flow through each track. It’s pure wonder.

I often harp on about how mechanics and gameplay are not the one most important element of a video game experience and how I’ve gotten more and more frustrated over the years as Nintendo increasingly sacrifices other creative elements in the name of placing “gameplay” on a holy pedestal. While I absolutely still stand by these sentiments, I’ve also never said that mechanics, gameplay, “game feel”…or whatever you want to call it isn’t important in many experiences, and damn when Nintendo nail it they really nail it. An expertly-crafted gameplay system like the one in Mario Kart 8 can be a moving experience to behold all on its own, but this perfect feel ties in with a game that is stunning to look at, one of the most richly vibrant and beautiful I’ve ever played. Its environments are as imaginative as they are detailed as they explode with color and personality.  It is candy for the eyes in every way. No, that’s not good enough. It’s a dessert at a high-class restaurant for your retinas. And the music. It’s jazzy and jubilant and magical. Just listen to this. And this. And this! All of this ties together in a splendid ribbon that is simply euphoric.

Call this a late review for Mario Kart 8 (though if you’re looking for critique, look elsewhere), call it whatever. I’ve recently gone back to the game after not playing it for a while to finish up some Grand Prix stuff I hadn’t done yet (mainly 200cc, which is a surprisingly excellent addition that is wildly wacky and exhilarating) and as I once again raced across the slick rainbow roads of the Mushroom World as Rosalina on her speedy Jet Bike, I reflected on how much I love this experience. I never expected this title to become one of my favorite Nintendo games of all time, and just games in general. It is genuine, delightful surprise. I love this video game and I’m telling you, if you haven’t experienced it yet, find some way to nestle your hands into a Wii U GamePad and feel the beautiful bliss that is Mario Kart 8.

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