It has now been twenty-two years since the original Mario Kart powered its way into the hearts of gamers across the world on the SNES, with its winning formula of combat racing and familiar Nintendo characters, making it an instant classic and one of the finest multiplayer games ever created. Now though, Nintendo bring this classic series to the Wii U, presenting the first ever Mario Kart game to feature HD visuals, but putting its graphical upgrades aside, does the tried and tested gameplay still hold up today? And is it really the game that Wii U owners have been waiting on?
Now that I’ve said that, I’ll start with its new visual splendour anyway. Boasting a rock solid and super smooth frame rate and a mightily sharp resolution, Mario Kart 8 will likely be one the finest looking games that one will see on Nintendo’s current console. Though whilst textures may not be to the standard that one might expect on other platforms, the designers compensate for this with some truly lovely effects, fantastic draw distance, lavish attention to detail and such a grand sense of scale as tracks stretch high above you, dwarfing the competitors with their magnificence. There are also beautiful and subtle details such as hair flapping in the wind, or the hand stitched effect on the gliders, Nintendo have truly set themselves a new visual benchmark that I cannot see them toppling for some time to come.
There have been numerous tweaks to almost every aspect of the game, but the most noticeable change is the implementation of anti-gravity racing. Track designs are truly magnificent, boasting all manner of jumps, chicanes and shortcuts, with underwater and anti-gravity sections brilliantly intertwined to keep racers on their toes at all times. These tricks aren’t overly used, however, some tracks are still simply old fashioned kart races, giving a variety to the courses that has simply never been there before, and as if that wasn’t enough, there are a whopping thirty-two of them on the disc, half of which are brand new. Nintendo haven’t said much on the topic of DLC for the game, but given the scope that they have to produce all manner of additional content, I think that this will be assured, and Mario Kart 8 will indeed become a game that will only keep on giving for a very long time to come.
Additionally, there are a total of thirty characters to choose from, though sadly, many of these include baby variations that differ very little from their bigger selves, so whilst the roster is indeed fairly impressive, there have been numerous notable omissions that would perhaps have been better suited to improve the level of variety that players have available to them. Again though, this is something that could very well be rectified with the aid of DLC, so fingers crossed.
Now, onto the racing itself. Again, there have been some refinements made by Nintendo to the benefit of the series, notably, the addition of the Super Horn that affords players an opportunity to defend themselves against the maligned, Blue Shell, whilst also serving as an attack on encroaching drivers. When driving in anti-gravity mode, racers can bump into one another for speed boosts, depending on the angle of the collision though, this could backfire and give an opponent the chance to speed ahead, adding a tension to the proceedings that has never been present before. The drift button allows players to tackle corners whilst building up another speed boost, giving them a jolt to their acceleration when coming out of the bend, interestingly though, this same button allows players to perform stunts in mid-air to earn another essential increase in velocity. The gameplay of Mario Kart 8 has been finely honed to perfection, making it the best entry into what is a very strong series of games.
In terms of play options, Mario Kart 8 offers single player, split screen options for two to four players (anything more than two players will result in the frame rate being locked at 30fps) and online play for one or two players. Races can have as many as twelve competitors taking part, and there are always numerous custom tournaments on the go, you can even make use of MKTV to edit together videos (of anywhere between thirty and sixty seconds in length) of your finest moments and upload them to YouTube. Of course, Nintendo’s online policies get in the way of what should be a wonderful aspect of the game by restricting chat to game lobbies only, and only between friends-otherwise players are reduced to communicating via pre-baked, and generally rather unusual pieces of text. There are no means to invite players into the game, and as usual, it simply exemplifies how far behind both Sony and Microsoft that Nintendo are in this regard. Still though, online play is fun, but of course it is, it is Mario Kart after all.
There are races, battle modes, time trials and customisable karts that allow the more hard-core Mario Kart fans to fine tune their setup to coax just that little bit more performance out of their vehicle, adding an extra element of depth to an already sufficient package. With additional items such as the Super Eight (giving players eight items at once) and the Boomerang, races that are frequently played out on a knife’s edge, and a whole host of modes to choose from, Mario Kart 8 really is the game that Wii U owners have been waiting on. Offering so much more than a simple graphical overhaul, Mario Kart 8 takes everything that defines its predecessors and somehow manages to improve upon them in every respect. With a brilliant soundtrack, genius track design and supremely balanced gameplay, Mario Kart 8 is not simply the evolution of a brilliant series, it is a revolution, and if there is any justice in the world, it will signify a new, and more prosperous chapter in the life cycle of both the Wii U console, and indeed, of Nintendo themselves.
– James Paton @theblackpage81