Hands-On Impressions: Mario Kart 8

Back in January, Nintendo left fans hanging in anticipation as they announced that the next Mario Kart for Wii U would be revealed during the upcoming E3 Expo. Fans and gamers alike wondered what would come in the new installment. Would the flying and underwater mechanics return? Will we see the partner system once again? Perhaps it’ll be a crossover with Sonic? Most importantly, will this Mario Kart do enough to keep it fresh?

Fast forward six months and we now know the name, we’ve seen the trailer, and we’ve played through three of the game’s courses. Fortunately for both fans and Nintendo alike, the answer to whether the game is still advancing and keeping things interesting is a resounding yes.

It’s hard to ignore the most stunning and most obvious improvement in Mario Kart 8. The HD visuals are the best we have seen on any Nintendo console to date, beating out recently announced titles like Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Each character glimmers and every kart shines at the most appropriate times, breathing new life to classic characters. Detail is what makes this series so special, and this is clearly displayed when you see Mario Kart’s take on the Statue of Liberty or Peach’s ponytail as it adjusts to the gravitational pull. The levels themselves create a living and breathing environment that has never been seen in such detail in any past Mario Kart title.

Anti Gravity is Mario Kart 8’s main selling point, and it excels in doing so. No longer will Mario and the gang be bound by the chains of gravity and will instead race through tracks that twist and turn, spiral and warp, and whatever else the course pleases. It’s already evident what a game changer this feature is. In the Ghost House themed track, players drove along dinner room walls and through twisted chambers that ran right into what appeared to be water suspended in a corridor. The wackiness and creativity here is likely the tip of the iceberg, and I’m very intrigued to see what Nintendo will showcase next.

For those like me, playing with motion controls is not ideal in a game like Mario Kart, so I’m pleased to see that the GamePad can be used just like the Wii Wheel or simply with traditional controls. I had the opportunity to play with both control schemes, and as I suspected, both worked just as they were intended. Just like every Mario Kart before it, controlling your kart and character is smooth and responsive, and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds to get adjusted. Nintendo has not made it clear whether the Pro Controller will be supported, but I’d be surprised if it was left out.

A few other things to note. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief as Waluigi is confirmed to return as a playable character, as well as the long lost Toadette. Matches will feature 12 racers once again, and there has been no word as to how many playable characters remain hidden and locked. Tricks return from Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7, as well as the recent additions of underwater riding and flying with a glider. It’s also worth noting that Mario Kart 8 will feature both local and online play, with the online play being said to be the best the series has ever seen.

Mario Kart 8 is a fantastic title that is helping keep the series fresh and innovative while sticking with the standard formula that continues to create fun experiences with each title. It’s a shame the game will miss the holiday season this year, but the short demo we had the chance to play is more than enough to sell us on the game. Mario Kart is not a series that strays far from it’s main foundation, but Mario Kart 8 is looking to keep everything we love about Mario Kart and bring it to the next level.

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