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Review: Mario Kart 8

One of the many new levels of play.

One of the many new levels of play. Now you can fly!

One of the best memories I have of my childhood goes back to when I was a young teen. It was the night that my entire family including my mom plus my two cousins and a few friends beat Arkanoid. For those born after 1990: Arkanoid was this cool game where you had to use a joystick to control a small, on-screen platform, bouncing balls to break down walls. It sounds crazy-rudimentary because it was.

But that night all seven or eight of us had a blast playing the game until there was no more game to play. We beat DOH, the bad guy. We got the ending screen to come up, “…the real voyage of Arkanoid in the galaxy has only just started.”

The best part of that night was that my mom was right there with us, controlling the paddle and screaming just as loud as we did when we finished a level.

The other day I got to bring my kids into New York City to try out a new Nintendo Wii U game, Mario Kart 8. While I am not a huge gamer, the evening we spent playing the game — and the subsequent nights we’ve sat around playing as a family — remind me a lot of that family game night so long ago. Mario Kart 8 is a game designed for group fun. In fact, the more people you have playing, the more exciting it becomes. It’s definitely destined to become a family favorite.

First a few of the basics: This is not a complicated game. My 5-year-old got right in there building out her kart, choosing her character and getting the hang of the controls. If you can hold a button down and tilt a Wii-mote, you’re good to go.

The premise — and goal — is simple. Race your little kart against your friends and family as well as on-screen competitors. Avoid getting in the way of other karts, obstacles and flying objects. Fly when you can. (Antigravity mode is now possible in Mario’s world.)

There are a ton of new tracks, abilities and even a few new opponents. There are 30 different characters to choose from, something my kids loved being able to do. Up to four of us could play at once while in the same room, but you can also play with up to 11 other people in online mode, something we heard about but did not try out.

We did try out all the new power ups, which make the game very unpredictable and can turn a frontrunner into a last place loser. My big girl really enjoyed using a super horn, which basically blasts everyone directly in front of you.

To me, however, the most impressive features are the stunning graphics and razor-sharp animation. My kids loved being able to “take video” of themselves playing the game and then upload it to YouTube. (The idea, at least, since we didn’t try that, either.) My little one LOVED being able to drive underwater, too.

The thing that speaks volumes about the game, however, is the fact that we got into the city and to the Nintendo World store, where the event was held, by 4:30. We got started playing and it only seemed like a few minutes before it was time to leave. We played for more than an hour and had so much fun, it seemed like we were only there for a moment or two.

Everyone got a review code when they left the event, so we’ve been playing on and off for about a week now. I have to say: The fun doesn’t get old. Tonight, knowing I was writing this review, I asked my kids to rate Mario Kart 8. Little Girl says it is “super amazing and great.” I asked my older daughter the same question. She said it is “very awesome and unexpected. It’s not a lot like the old one because there are so many new twists.” I’ll take those words to mean they like it!

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