Thursday, 19 June 2014

Mario Kart 8

I remember like it was yesterday. On my 8th birthday I woke up to the feeling of something heavy by the foot of my bed. I was too tired to open my eyes, so I let me feet do all the work. After feet-feeling it for awhile I figured out two things; 1) It was a cardboard box, and 2) it was pretty heavy. After laying there for awhile, preparing myself to let natural light burn my eyeballs, I sat up and opened my eyelids. I looked at the bottom of the bed and a hazy, blurry image started to come into focus. I couldn't make it out at first, but when I did my heart just leapt. It was a Super Nintendo console. I had to literally pinch myself in case it was a dream (it hurt, by the way!), but after realising that this was indeed the waking world, I grabbed the box and tore it open. What's even better was the fact that under the SNES was a copy of Super Mario Kart. The endless nights I spent playing Super Mario Kart will never be forgotten, and because that game meant so much to me as a child, this latest instalment in the franchise had a lot to live up to. But the question is... is it any good?

Developed by Nintendo and out now for the Wii U comes Mario Kart 8, proof that Nintendo still knows how to create classics. Technically from a baseline level, gameplay remains the same compared to its original SNES counterpart, though with some excellent additions to gameplay, and this all leads to Mario Kart 8 feeling like the most perfectly executed and honed Mario Kart yet. 

Before getting into a race you of course must choose a driver. The bevy of 30 characters to choose from is impressive and varied, and range from unlikely drivers such as your Mii, Iggy, Roy and Shy Guy to more expected ones like Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Donkey Kong. It's a superb roster, though I was somewhat disappointed by the amount of baby versions of other characters included here. There's just far too many, that it ends up feeling like filler. Each character's vehicle can be customised too in three different ways; kart body, wheels and glider. These additions and changes are unlocked after every 50 coins collected, adding both different stats and a nice extra level of visual flair to the races. There's nothing quite like opening your glider to reveal it's a Japanese styled Bowser kite, or changing your kart itself to a motorbike shaped like Mario's favourite dino friend, Yoshi!

There are two types of track; Nitro and Retro courses. As implied from the name of the latter, retro courses are recreations of previous tracks in the Mario Kart franchise. For instance, Donut Plains, the original course we all know and love from Super Mario Kart, is included in all its retro glory, while others such as Moo Moo Meadows, Cheep Cheep Beach and DK Jungle also make an appearance. The new Nitro courses fit seamlessly next to Mario Kart 8's retro counterparts, and are presented and designed flawlessly. From the colourful Sunshine Airport (a course based on Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube) to the spooky Twisted Mansion, the variety of locations in Mario Kart 8 is quite a treat. Each track just plays so well that there's no dud tracks throughout the game. 

The biggest change-up to gameplay is the ability for anti-gravity racing, which essentially means that players are now able to drive up walls and ceilings. This simple yet game-changing ability puts a whole new fresh spin on gameplay, as you won't have to only look behind and ahead of you for other drivers, you'll often see them zipping ahead of you right above your head! However, this won't be a constant ability throughout a race as it merely kicks in at certain points. The usual Mario Kart power-ups are here as always too, but with the addition of anti-gravity comes Nintendo's decision to design tracks with that new ability in mind. It's not overdone, but tracks have clearly been created with anti-gravity in mind. Don't worry though as most of the retro tracks rely on classic, straight forward kart racing instead. That's what makes Mario Kart 8 so special. It gives the player a whole slew of possible ways of tackling a race. Want to purely focus on using anti-gravity? Prefer to hit the tracks in classic Super Mario Kart style? Fancy trying to use power-ups to hinder other drivers? Or will you choose to make use of the many alternate routes before you? Regardless of your answer, Mario Kart 8 has you covered.

Mario Kart 8 all comes together so perfectly that I got that sense of joy I felt back in 1993. From the lush and beautiful graphics that present a world that is both detailed yet cartoon-like, to the incredibly slick, responsive and in-depth driving mechanic that Nintendo have mastered, it's hard to not fall in love with this game. Topped off with a truly excellent 12-player multiplayer mode, this is finally the game the Wii U has been waiting for. With sales now up 600% in the UK alone, it seems like Mario Kart 8 has just saved Nintendo's console. With good reason too, as Mario Kart 8 is a modern classic. Buy it.

Mario Kart 8 races to the finish and gets a perfect 5/5.


Denis Murphy

Mario Kart 8 at CeX

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