Preview: Mario Kart 8

Nintendo stealthily put a demo of Mario Kart 8 in EB Games Swanston Street for the weekend. I decided to head down and see what was on offer. To my surprise, it was the latest build that was shown in the recent Nintendo Direct. This meant that the build had Pink Gold Peach, Baby Rosalina, The Crazy 8 and the Magic Horn.

It’s pretty safe to assume that this is a close to final, if not the final build of the game.

The tracks on offer were Mario Kart Stadium, Mario Circuit, Sunshine Airport, Electrodome, Water Park, Sweet Sweet Canyon, Toad Harbour and Cloudtop Cruise. All of the tracks on show were a really great showcase for the new mechanics. The blend of new and retro tracks is something that the previous Mario Kart games have done exceptionally well and judging by what’s on offer, Mario Kart 8 will not disappoint. All in all, the level design is on par with some of the best that the series has seen.

The first thing that I noticed about the game was just how good it looked. It’s the first time that I’ve truly been gobsmacked about the graphical capacity of the Wii U. The vibrant art style of the game is absolutely beautiful. It really takes the Mario universe to a new place. The game runs at a steady 60FPS, which is hugely important for a game that’s as fast paced as Mario Kart.

Mario Kart 8 brings forward the hang-glider sections as well as underwater sections. New to the series are the anti-gravity portions of the track. It adds just another level of depth to the game and gives hardcore racers a new mechanic to master. From watching trailers, I thought that the anti-gravity sections might not work well with the fast paced gameplay. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case at all. It genuinely makes the experience feel a new, yet familiar one.

The new items in the game genuinely make things more balanced, yet exciting at the same time. The dreaded blue shell is still in the game however; a brand new item in the Super Horn has been introduced to counteract it. It’s an extremely rare item which is a good thing considering it’s the most powerful defensive item in the game.

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The Magic 8 consists of the Star, Bob-omb, Mushroom, Red Shell, Green Shell, Banana Peel, Coin and a Blooper. It can really turn a race both for the person using it and against. The items can be used to attack other racers but other racers can also steal items such as the Star or Mushroom by racing through the item. Considering the fact that it’s both offensive and defensive, it can be extremely powerful if used in the right way.

The Piranha Plant and Boomerang, whilst visually exciting, don’t add a whole lot to gameplay. Regardless, it’s still great to see Nintendo bringing in more items from the Mario universe to vary up gameplay.

The racers still control similarly to previous games in the series. The Wii U Gamepad shows the current racing positions and the track. There are three buttons. The first enables off-TV racing, the second gives you a full screen map and the third enables motion controls. The centre of the Gamepad hosts a virtual horn, which is quite gimmicky and almost useless.

I’m fairly disappointed with a few of the character choices. In particular, the seven Koopalings and Pink Gold Peach. Whilst they’re cool characters, I wish that Nintendo got a little bit more creative and bought in some outsiders within the Mario Kingdom. It seems a little bit silly to have three variations of Peach as separate characters and seven Koopalings which are essentially the same character.

My brief playthrough of Mario Kart 8 was enough to make me extremely excited for the game. I’m really excited to see how the game pushes the online space as well seeing how players use MK TV. I think that it has the potential to be the best Mario Kart game yet.

Mario Kart will release on May 31st for Wii U.