Mario Kart 8 Preview
A Reliable Racer
Some may roll their eyes at the prospect of another Mario Kart game, but it’s difficult to deny the series’ widespread appeal and the commendable consistency that comes with each iteration. Whether you love it or loathe it (though I’ve yet to find someone who would actually attest to the latter) the Mario Kart series remains one of Nintendo’s most appealing and best-selling franchises – and for good reason, too. How many games fall into the category of being playable by absolutely anyone and hold the unusual promise that they can be potentially mastered by absolutely anyone? Not many, that’s for sure and, fundamentally, that’s exactly what excites me about Mario Kart 8: the stern competition that will come from all ages, male or female, online or offline.
As the E3 trailer sensationally highlighted back in June, Mario Kart 8 is a stunning game to behold. Nintendo wasn’t hiding behind any smoke and mirrors, pre-rendering effects or shady tactics, the game looks and runs magnificently on Wii U. Nintendo has outdone themselves with the art style, with the colourful tracks and characters almost popping out of the screen, verging ever closer to a level of Pixar animated quality that is surely in Nintendo’s near future. Without a doubt, Mario Kart 8 debunks all baseless assumptions that the Wii U is not a powerful piece of hardware.
After soaking up the visuals, I picked up the Wii U’s GamePad and proceeded to select a character from the usual suspects – naturally, I chose Mario. I was pleased to find three tracks to test out and sample the key new feature of the game, the anti-gravity aspect. Unfortunately, despite being enamoured by the scintillating on-screen presentation, I was left rather muted by the experience as whole, mainly due to the laughable AI who were clearly set to ‘must not win at all costs’ mode. It only took around five seconds of competent driving to establish a sizeable lead, which basically drained the fun factor completely as I cruised to victory unopposed. It didn’t feel right that Mario managed to avoid taking a single red or green shell to the rear – but this is hardly a criticism, just a consequence of the demo’s ridiculously easy setting.
The tracks that I sampled felt quicker and arguably more compelling than previous offerings. Now, with the trick mechanics from Mario Kart Wii mixed in with the coin collecting from Super Mario Kart and aerial elements of Mario Kart 7, a higher level of concentration is required to really maximise your speed around the track. Massive lead aside, it certainly made things more interesting than simply drifting around the corners and powering through the straights; you always have to be on the lookout for that extra possible boost that may be at your disposal with a jump, new route or ramp.
The game was setup to be controlled by the Wii U’s GamePad, a controller which has already showcased its impressive motion sensing capabilities in Nintendo Land. I was wholly satisfied by the extremely tactile control offered by the GamePad, which provided far greater accuracy than the previous Wii Remote/wheel setup. The size of the GamePad itself is also an unlikely positive, with tilts and turns easier to comprehend than when using the minimalist Wii Remote. Nudging the GamePad round the corners to activate a drift felt completely natural, and I firmly believe that the GamePad will be my goto controller for the game; I just hope that the screen is used more imaginatively than merely allowing you to honk your horn by tapping on the touch screen.
Upside Down, You Know You’re Turning Me
Once I’d slipped into my Mario Kart racing groove, I was pleasantly surprised by the anti-gravity sections, which have the potential to really mix up the tried and tested formula. I was worried that Nintendo would force players to be on-rails during these sections, but thankfully, I was given full control to move left to right – or should that be up and down? – the track. Similar to Super Mario 3D World’s achingly simple choice to make some warp pipes clear, the anti-gravity sections provided an unexpected thrill and open up new gameplay opportunities where there previously was none.
Admittedly, by the end of my session I was never overwhelmed by the childlike wonder that Nintendo games often provoke. Instead, I found myself assessing Mario Kart 8 with a systematic appreciation of what this game has become: a finely-tuned machine, and one that takes such a simple premise that Nintendo’s competitors can seemingly never match, regardless of their endless pursuit to push more polygons. It’s easy to forget this notable achievement. I was also under no illusions that Mario Kart 8 will be a must-have title for the Wii U, it’s just a shame we won’t get to play it until 2014.
Still in Pole Position
So, Mario Kart 8 doesn’t seem to be reinventing the wheel at this stage, but then again, Nintendo didn’t really need to. Instead, a brand new look, a carefully tuned engine and tighter controls is what fans can look forward to most. The new anti-gravity sections along with the paragliding ability from Mario Kart 7 will ensure that producer Hideki Konno and his team can really let their imaginations run wild when it comes to the track designs. And I’m convinced that once you sit down with a couple of friends or take the action online, Mario Kart 8 will continue Nintendo’s stalwart tradition of being an absolute racing riot.