To the outside world, the Wii-U is considered a failure with sales figures far lower than Xbox One or PS4. Anyone who owns one, however, know that the console is not only a fantastic machine but far from a failure on the software front. Since launch it's been home to some truly great games: Super Mario 3D World, The Wonderful 101 and Nintendoland are all far more enjoyable titles than the majority of exclusives from Sony or Microsoft and now here's Mario Kart 8, perhaps the biggest release so far for the Nintendo console.
I should probably state upfront that I have always been a massive Mario Kart fan, which means that I can feel immense joy at the arrival of a new game in the series, but it also means I can be its harshest critic. It's precisely because I loved Super Mario Kart so much that I felt a crushing disappointment when I first played Mario Kart 64. So I'm glad to report that in all but one area, Mario Kart 8 doesn't disappoint.
First thing that strikes you is just how beautiful the game is to look at, this is definitely one of the best looking games I've ever played. There's a level of depth and detail to the tracks that's unparalleled in the series, but it's not just the tracks that look fantastic. The cast of characters have all be given life like never before with subtle changes in facial expressions as they race. Although you'll only really notice these during the post-race highlights. The detail is even kept up during split-screen multiplayer at a small cost to the frame rate.
There's a comfortable familiarity to a new Mario Kart game: three speed settings, four cups and 16 tracks, and this helps you instantly settle back into the gameplay groove. Once again its the tracks that are the stars. Different players will have their own favourites but every single track is glorious. Stand-outs for me include a truly deadly new version of Bowser's Castle; the music themed Electrodome; and Mount Wario, which abandons the traditional three lap set-up for a three-stage descent through a winter sports resort.
As in now the norm, the track count is doubled with the inclusion of classic tracks from previous games in the series. While these are never quite as good as the new tracks, Toad's Turnpike in particular is just as dull as it ever was, it's good to see favourites such as Royal Raceway and Moo Moo Meadow given a new lick of paint. They've even managed to make the N64 Rainbow Road interesting!
While Nintendo's developers have kept the basics of driving and power-sliding around corners the same this wouldn't be a new Mario Kart without a couple of new features. Anti-gravity is most prominent introduction and it must be said that it doesn't really change the handling an awful lot. What it does is allow the tracks to twist and defy gravity in a number of truly spectacular ways. You'll find yourself racing vertically up and down waterfalls, along walls and even upside down and various points and it's a testament to the track designers that it never gets confusing.
Weapons are the other new additions. And a Horn that can knock your opponents out of the way with a shockwave. More importantly, it can also act as a long-awaited defence against the Blue Shell. We just wish they were handed out a little more often! Learning the attack and defence capabilities of each weapon is the formula for success, especially on 150cc when the opposition become far more aggressive.
However, the one area that the game disappoints is the Battle mode. For some reason the designers have opted for multiplayer battles to take place on the tracks themselves rather than in specially designed arenas and it's a lot less fun as a result. Hitting friends with a well-timed Green shell can still be satisfying but it's clear that the tracks were not designed with this mode in mind. It's a major missed opportunity, especially online.
All in all, Mario Kart 8 is a fantastic game that's well worth your time. It's still annoying how you're punished for doing well by a bombardment of shells but we accept that as part of the Mario Kart experience. After Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed managed to catch up, Nintendo have pulled out a lead yet again. If you don't own a WiiU yet then this is a game worth buying the system to play.
9 / 10
Reviewed By Zoidberg on Tuesday 3rd June 2014
About the Review
Won Gold on all 50cc and 100cc tournaments, now halfway through 150cc. Played a number of multiplayer races and battles. Total play time around 12 hours.