How do you keep a 22 y-old game series alive and well? By building on its essential aspects and by doing it better than in previous titles. Mario Kart 8 is a feast for the senses and a much needed blockbuster release for the Wii U.
There is no story. This is Mario Kart! Choose a driver and a vehicle and get ready to speed down colourful tracks. Pick up items and use them to foil your opponents. It's fast, it's chaotic, it's unrealistic and it's so much fun.
The biggest improvement and the one that makes this game even more exhilarating is the addition of anti-gravity tracks. Each race course has a portion that is upright, vertical, upside down and/or twisting about. It may not seem like a major feature but it's just enough to mess with your sense of direction and keep experienced Mario Kart racers like myself on our toes. While in anti-gravity, you can also bump into another racer or certain obstacles to obtain a spin boost.
Four new items were added to the existing Mario Kart arsenal. The Boomerang Flower which gives you a boomerang that you can throw thrice. The Piranha Plant - a favourite of mine - which will snap at all the coins, items and player within reach. The crazy 8 which gives you one squid, one red shell, one green shell, one coin, on bob-omb, one boost mushroom, one banana peel and one star. Lastly, there's the Super Horn which, with one giant sound wave, will blast away enemies and any shell - yes, even the dreaded spiked blue shell. You can now only hold one item at a time, even if you drag it behind you. This encourages racers to use the items in stead of hoarding them. However, block respawns and crash recovery are quicker, which actually hasten the pace of the game.
There are new vehicles including the ATV which has unique handling and new characters including all 7 of Bowser's Koopalings.
This is the first Mario Kart to feature live recorded music and it sounds awesome. The orchestral soundtrack adds so much to the game's atmosphere.
Mario Kart 8 also accommodates various controllers including the Wii U Gamepad which supports both joystick and tilt controls, the Wii U Pro Controller for those who like it old school, the Wii Wheel and the Wii Remote and Nunchuck for those Wii fanatics.
Nintendo added more online features for Mario Kart including MKTV which lets you upload automatically saved race highlight, or create them through a simple editing tool. You can share your exploits on Miiverse or upload them straight to Youtube, a first for Nintendo.
First off, the live recorded music makes a world of difference. It makes each race more epic and exhilarating. You haven't yet passed the title screen and you're already greeted with an SNL like anthem that just ranks up the anticipation to play this game.
The new race courses are some of the best I've seen in any Mario Kart game. The anti-gravity tracks adds a whole new level of chaos. Classic courses also got revamped to include some of the new features. Mario Kart 64's Toad's Turnpike now has wall climbs, speed boosts and NPC vehicles with ramps on their back. Courses also feature more moving obstacles like a giant lava Bowser punching the road in the new Bowser's Castle.
Mario Kart 8 shows exactly how detail oriented Nintendo truly is. From the elaborate colourful tracks, to the orchestral music, and even each spectator in the stands, nothing is out of place or flat. There are camera crews, pit crews and even media helicopters. When you enter a tunnel, your vehicle's headlight turns on. Certain background animations trigger when you drive past them like erupting volcanoes or even an aircraft taking off. This game truly is a feast for the senses.
The Battle Mode is very disappointing. Traditionally, this all-out brawl took place in an open arena type level. In Mario Kart 8, it's on a selection of the main tracks which makes it hard to find other players making it hard to get into fights. You spend more time aimlessly driving looking for your fellow drivers then locked in merciless battles with them. Battle Mode is a quintessential part of Mario Kart's multiplayer gameplay and for Nintendo to muck it up like this is a serious misstep. This will even be a deal breaker for those whose Battle Mode is their favourite part of Mario Kart.
If you were looking for an excuse to get a Wii U or have the console and are hungry for a true Nintendo blockbuster title, Mario Kart 8 is the game just for that. Except for the Battle Mode, Nintendo managed to breathe new life into this fan favourite without compromising on what made the series so great.