2014-06-06

Mario Kart 8 – The Balance of Luck and Skill

by Yo Snyder

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, 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 and 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 on 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 as seen yet.

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 over used. The thrill of facing along 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 to people while in anti-grav
mode. However, the course don’t over use this element, and some of the more
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 getting 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 as, on rare
occasions, you can a horn that will stop the blue shell in its tracks just as
sure as the blue shell can stop you in your tracks if you aren’t prepared.
However, fear not those of you 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
lucky, 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.
Which, 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, 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
pretty 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.

Score: 6 of 7 – Some of
the online features hold it back a bit, but otherwise, Mario Kart 8 is pretty much one of the best games you can own for
your WiiU, or, is the best reason yet to go out and get a WiiU
.