A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mario Kart 8 is an all-ages racing game starring iconic game characters driving cartoonish karts around fantastical tracks. A bit of comic mischief exists in players' ability to use items to interfere with other racers -- you can launch shells to send competitors for a tumble or zap them with lightning to make them momentarily shrink in size and slow down -- but no one ever appears seriously injured. Online play is safe, since communication with strangers is restricted to a small selection of preset text messages. But parents should know that this game connects to Wii U's Miiverse network and that it facilitates video-sharing via YouTube.
What's it about?
The first entry in Nintendo's popular racing series to appear in high definition, the Wii U-exclusive MARIO KART 8 seems satisfied to stick with the formula established by its predecessors. Players choose an iconic character from the Mario universe to drive a customizable kart around more than 30 Nintendo-themed tracks. Some are reimagined routes from previous games, while others are entirely new and include new antigravity sections that allow courses to curve upward and over themselves. Cup competitions let kids race through a series of four first-to-the-finish races against the computer and local players in split-screen play, while Battle mode offers a more combat-oriented experience, with players whistling around tracks trying to pop each other's balloons with various weapons and abilities -- such as turtle shells and boomerangs -- harvested from item blocks. Online play supports races with up to 12 players around the world, and players can record and upload race highlight clips to YouTube -- a first for a Mario Kart game.
Is it any good?
Mario Kart 8 is fun straight out of the gate, offering accessible all-ages racing within graphically sumptuous environments. Kart handling is terrific, allowing racing rookies to experience success right away while encouraging more experienced players to take the time to learn how to finesse corners with drifts and boosts. The high-definition tracks are cleverly designed -- some are twisty enough to provide a real challenge when racing more powerful karts -- and a delight for the eyes, with bold colors, shifting scenery, and plenty of nods to Nintendo games past. Occasional stretches of antigravity track don't alter the racing action as much as you might think -- kart wheels simply transform into antigravity engines -- but they occasionally create a pleasantly discombobulating effect.
Still, as with past Mario Karts, it's not a flawless racing experience. Although there are some 30 characters, many of them are baby versions of primary characters or relatively unknown members of the Koopa family -- disappointing. Plus, the Battle mode is a complete miscalculation, swapping out open arenas in favor of circuitous tracks, forcing players to drive long stretches without seeing anyone to battle. And, of course, there's still the problem of running perfect races only to be struck down at the finish by a random blue shell, potentially falling from first to fourth in the blink of an eye. Mario Kart 8 is a ton of fun -- especially when played in groups -- but this storied racing series still has room to improve.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about safe driving. Racing games are fun but rarely show realistic consequences of high-speed car crashes. What are some safe ways to satisfy your need for speed and competition in the real world?
Families also can discuss online safety. What would you do if you met someone in an online game who was bullying you or prying for information?
- Platforms: Nintendo Wii U
- Subjects: Hobbies: sports
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: strategy
Communication: conveying messages effectively, friendship building
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Not available online
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release date: May 30, 2014
- Genre: Racing
- Topics: Cars and Trucks
- ESRB rating: E for Comic Michief
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.