Where would Nintendo be without Mario Kart? How many friends would you still have if it wasn’t for Mario Kart? Lucky for us, we can still destroy friendships into the next generation with Mario Kart 8 exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U. In the coming months, the Wii U will most likely finally be getting its much-needed surge in popularity thanks to this title and many others on the way, but how does it play?
I got the chance to play Mario Kart 8 at the Nintendo E3 Event being held at various Best Buy stores across the country. Luckily, there happened to be a participating store reasonably nearby, so, naturally, I went with high hopes of getting some Mario Kart 8 action and a superfluous amount of StreetPass tags. If not for either of those things, I would have stayed in bed because I had been sick the days prior. While I had been feeling better that morning, I did not know that a torrent of horrible sickness would soon wash over me. Thanks, Mario Kart!
By the time it was my best friend and I’s turn to play, I had felt terrible and great all at once, terrible because the cold building was giving me a fever and great because, well, Mario Kart. My first glimpse of the game was the temporary menu used for the Nintendo event, which had this really awesome music playing along to it. It was very different from anything on the soundtracks of previous entries, as it had a more electronic vibe to it, while still keeping that traditional family-friendly competition feel to it. I really hope that music stays in the final game. I am sure it would be very refreshing for everyone playing a familiar game on a new console.
Familiarity plays an interesting role here as Mario Kart 8 is essentially the Mario Kart we have been playing for years now, but with a big new feature: anti-gravity tracks. While we only got to play one track, it had a taste of the wild new tracks the game features, as several times we were caught driving sideways for a bit. It all surprisingly felt very natural, mostly thanks to the sturdiness of the racers. I am used to using heavy racers, like Bowser, but I had to use Luigi, who is lighter. Even so, I can see that there has been some added weight to the characters, without sacrificing the game’s sense of speed. The game may not blast through tracks at the intense speeds of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but it’s still a very satisfying ride.
One of the most important aspects of the game that I noticed was the rebalancing of the game’s items. One of Mario Kart Wii’s biggest flaws was in how a player who has been in first place the entire game can be jettisoned to dead last place in the final seconds of the game because of one asshole’s blue shell. What was so unfair about it was how long it took for many racers to get back on track amid the chaos, in addition to how often these things might occur. It may be funny to watch, but as a video game, there is a terrible imbalance afoot when chance takes a much greater priority over skill. Fortunately, if my single race in Mario Kart 8 is any indication, balance and order has been brought back to the Mario Kart franchise.
I was able to remain in 1st place for the majority of the race and be hit by several renegade shells, making a few computers catch up to me, creating a very tense few seconds, but I ultimately came out with victory with a good use of drifting. My best friend on the other hand got into a hairy situation midway through the race, but wound up in 3rd after getting a nice hang of the game’s new driving mechanics. Every shell fired and every banana tossed only fueled the tension of keeping your spot in the healthiest way. When my heart was pounding in anticipation for the last half of the race, I knew this was probably the best in the series yet.
As it is on the Wii U, you can expect some GamePad functionality, but it only seemed to work as a map, similar to the second screen for Mario Kart DS and 7. I was actually using the original Wii Remote with motion controls, and controls felt tighter than ever. The Wii U GamePad was capable of playing with motion controls of using the buttons. While we didn’t get to try out the Wii U Pro controller, I can only assume it works just as well. My best friend, who is used to using the GameCube controller for playing Mario Kart Wii claimed the Wii U GamePad was surprisingly easy to use and get a hang of.
Once the game ended, I remembered how terrible I felt, but it was okay because Mario Kart 8 was just lovely. There weren’t very many characters to choose from yet, but the roster will likely be expanded greatly. Also, there were no bikes being used on the tracks, so I can’t say how those might feel, given the new implemented anti-gravity features.
While all I got was a taste of Mario Kart 8, I can tell it is definitely shaping up to be the best in the series and one game that current and future owners of a Wii U should not miss out on. The graphics looked better than ever, the motion controls were very responsive and tight, and the whole game just oozed this chaotic elegance that the Wii U needs to boast its true potential. Plus, I got this flag.
Mario Kart 8 is due to be released sometime in the Spring of 2014.