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Mario Kart 8 Review

A spiked blue shell straight to the heart

Mario Kart 8 - Yoshi Bike

Nintendo’s plucky plumber may well be the most talented tradesman of all time. After all, he’s spent years adventuring through the Mushroom Kingdom trying to save Princess Peach from Bowser’s grip; but he spends his downtime playing basketball, tennis, golf, football (or soccer), baseball, throwing parties, taking part in the olympics, and – most popular of all – racing karts. So, it’s good to know that his first HD karting outing is the best entry into the series yet.

While Nintendo gets stick for rehashing past titles on new hardware, Mario Kart 8 really is a breath of fresh air for the series. It still has the same pick-up-and-play glee of Mario Kart 64, regarded by many as the best in the series, and draws upon some of the best ideas that 3DS title Mario Kart 7 brought to the table. Simply put, this is one incredibly tweaked and slickly developed entry into the series.

Courses are also fantastically designed. With 32 tracks to chose from across eight different cups, there’s plenty of variety on offer, especially as most courses offer some sort of deviation or shortcuts to try and reach. Sixteen tracks are completely brand new, but clearly riff on old ideas of a Mario-owned racetrack, Bowser’s castle, Wario’s devilish course and – of course – a Rainbow Road track. But then there’s also another 16 tracks that are complete redesigns of past favourites. And when I say redesign, I mean complete overhaul as new paths are opened, new viewpoints emerge and the delight of Rainbow Road becomes a point-to-point raceway.

Just like in Mario Kart 7, MK8 brings in automatically transforming cars. Hit water and you’ll grow a propellor from the rear, flip off a ledge and into the air and you’ll spawn a paraglider, and there’s even anti-gravity sections that see your tires tuck underneath and levitate your kart or bike off the ground. Switching between is seamless and triggered automatically, but it allows for some incredibly elaborate tracks to race around, making for a whole lot of fun in the process.

Nintendo has also made some tweaks to how karts handle, making the process deeper than just picking from one of the 30 unlockable characters. Just like in Mario Kart 7, you’ll be able to change the body, tyres and paraglider type for a race or Grand Prix. And, instead of this being purely cosmetic, it actually has an impact on how your cart handles. Pick a heavy character with a high top-speed but absurdly low acceleration? Just alter the tyres so grip and weight drop and acceleration increases. It’s an incredibly versatile system that’s also really simple to get to grips with.

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But what does that mean for general play? Well, it’s actually even more enjoyable than ever before. There’s more than enough depth to driving, meaning everyone can carve out a spot for their favourite kart combination. This levels the playing field, allowing newcomers to go up against seasoned MK players without feeling like they’re ill-equipped to win. Learning how to make the most of drift boosts and stunts in each kart combination is great fun, and improved motion controls make it a joy to play with just a Wiimote. It’s like rediscovering the joys of what made Mario Kart great in the first place.

It doesn’t really matter what the karts can do when a well-placed item can completely ruin your perfect lap and 1st place position. And so, this time around Mario Kart 8 brings some new additions to the tried-and-tested mystery boxes of old, including a controversial horn that can even thwart the unrelenting pursuit of the spiked blue shell. One new addition is the ‘Crazy 8’ pickup, which surrounds your kart with a protective ring of eight items for you to use. I, honestly, didn’t really pick these up all that often, but I imagine it’ll be a godsend to online players when left towards the back of the pack. Tie this in with the addition of customisable replay service MKTV focusing in on all those perfect shots and near-misses, and you’ve got complete chaos on your hands.

Speaking of online, and multiplayer in general, Mario Kart 8 is an absolute hoot. While I didn’t actually get to play too many online matches due to the game not being out, the online Time Trials mode is great fun for racing against other player’s ghosts. And split-screen multiplayer is as fun as it’s always been – although there’s some slowdown when you go above two players sharing a screen, but it’s not enough to ruin the experience.

And that slowdown is largely due to the utterly superb visuals that Mario Kart 8 has to show, the screens here don’t do it justice. If only Nintendo could share its secret with third-party developers, because MK8 is easily one of the best looking games this year. Mario’s moustache flaps in the wind, racers look at one another as they pass, and your kart’s wheels even leave skid marks when drifting and trails in sand and snow. It’s just a gorgeous sight to behold.

Sure Balloon Battle isn’t as fun as it’s previously been, due to the removal of arenas and the ability for losers to still continue battling, and there’s a foolish minority calling for the apocalypse due to it actually running at 59 frames-per-second and not 60. But Mario Kart 8 is hands-down the most enjoyable entry in the series so far, and another case for owning a Wii U.

TheGamersHub Score
Reviewer: Vaughn.H
+ Pros

+ MKTV is a great addition when playing with friends

+ Improved motion controls

+ Chaos and fun is an inevitable consequence of multiplayer

- Cons

- Balloon battles just aren't what they used to be

- That's about it

- No, really...

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