Review: Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)

Nintendo are famous for so many iconic video game franchises. Nintendo has provided us with epic adventures, landmark platformers and more over the years. However, as we're pretty sure every Nintendo fan would agree, no Nintendo franchise can quite provide the level of obscene fun that the Mario Kart series has done since its debut in 1992.

For me personally, I've always put forward the argument that Mario Kart simply belongs on your home console, whilst others could otherwise argue that portability serves the series right. Well, like-minded karting fans rejoice, as Mario Kart is certainly back where it belongs and its one spectacular experience of a game. Could Mario Kart 8 be the Wii U's killer title? We know where our money is.

The idea of a Mario Kart game is one that really needs no introduction, its essentially the creme dela creme of kart racing video games; its an idea that many have attempted to mimic, copy or even steal, but nobody quite does kart racing like Nintendo do. What we have here is Nintendo's introduction of that killer series to their already struggling Wii U. Mario Kart 8 is a montage of Wii U saving material, fantastic multiplayer experiences, and everything we love about the Mushroom Kingdom in one pretty awesome game.

"I'm telling you Luigi, bikes will always be better than karts".

Let's make a start with what Mario Kart 8 offers in terms of singleplayer content, as that's where the series originated, and strangely what some people enjoy more than (the slightly enraging) online mode. Anyway, this such area is divided into four main modes: Grand Prix; Time Trials; VS Race and Battle. As with other Mario Kart titles before it, Grand Prix is likely where you're going to find the majority of the content and let's be honest, the majority of the fun. Again, as with previous titles, this mode is divided into eight "cups", four of these coups focusing on brand new tracks and four of course focusing on retro tracks.

That's all pretty standard Mario Kart stuff, but it's the tracks you'll find within these such cups is when things start to get quite interesting. At this point, it would be more than fair to say that Mario Kart 8 features a whole range of beautifully orchestrated tracks. Nintendo have made a nice selection of tracks within this one, with some of our favourite new tracks including: Sweet Sweet Canyon, Electrodrome and Cloudtop Cruise. The Mario Kart 8 track design team have done a great job of bringing fresh ideas for tracks and it's also worth remembering that the game includes 16 re-imagined tracks from Mario Kart games gone by.

Obviously some of these such tracks do have to take the cut and it's interesting to see that a lot of the tracks from the 3DS iteration, Mario Kart 7 have not been carried over. Most disappointingly is the lack of the awesome Wuhu Island based tracks.

You don't have to imagine the idea of an "all-Bowser" race anymore.

What really sets Mario Kart 8 out from its predecessors at this point is of course its new functionality and for this particular version of the game, that comes from within the track design. Of course is the returning underwater and flying sections that made their début in Mario Kart 7 but this time we also see the inclusion of anti-gravity sections. Now these such sections could have the opportunity to drastically change the way Mario Kart 8 is played and potentially ruin the core gameplay, but Nintendo have cleverly chosen to keep things pretty simple in terms of this functionality. In anti-gravity, your wheels turn to the sides and you'll be able to glide effortlessly upside down and on walls, bumping off things to give yourself a boost.

Such ideas do at first sound like a major game changer to the traditional Mario Kart formula, but its really nothing when you start playing, other than a really nice addition to a formula that we already love.

I think we've spoken enough about the broad range of tracks on offer within the title, so its also worth talking about just how else you can utilize these tracks. Nintendo have included time trial modes and VS Race as usual, which is a nice little addition. Of course for fans of Battle Mode, that's back in full force, but interestingly this time, battle games are played out on a normal track, which we weren't so keen on, but I suppose it does come down to personal opinion as to what you prefer.

Dive into to the seven seas of the Mushroom Kingdom once again.

Mario Kart 8 promises to boast one of the series' most advanced character rosters to date, with your usual favourites available from the off-set and a number of unlockable treats available on the way. We're not going to elaborate greatly on the character roster, as this is something most players love to unlock and enjoy for themselves. However, we are a little puzzled by some of Nintendo's character inclusions, most notably the large sum of Bowser's minions included in the game. Kart customization is also back, which we should note. Its an exciting addition, allowing you to mix together your favourite chassis, wheels and more. Nintendo have included some awesome kart parts.

At this point, it would be wrong to not briefly mention the selection of items within the game, as they play so importantly in the idealistic of Mario Kart titles. Many of our returning favourites are back, and Nintendo have included some interesting new ones. Including an item that can finally defeat the mighty blue shell, but be warned, its hard to come by.

For many players, multiplayer functionality is notably at the heart of the Mario Kart experience and that's quite rightly so. For that reason, we're quite pleased to see Nintendo investing a handsome sum of time within the game's multiplayer options. All the aforementioned singleplayer modes are available to play with up to four mates locally and you can chuck in just about any controller you have lying about, even your old Wii Remotes will do the job (if you can root one of those Mario Kart Wii wheels out).

"This my party, now get dancing!"

However, the staple of Mario Kart 8's multiplayer opportunities is without a doubt its online functionality, which is as strong as ever. Up-to two players can jump online together to race it out against 12 opponents online, in worldwide or regional races. Aswell as setting up tournaments and group races against other players and you can of course jump into battle mode online aswell. What's pretty impressive is the extent in which Nintendo have polished their flagship online experience, with Mario Kart 8 providing to be the Wii U's biggest online player to date. The way in which the online sectors are presented are nice and Nintendo have made the whole experience a lot sleeker and faster. Abolishing those annoyances from previous iterations of the series.

Aside from online racing functionality, Nintendo have gone the extra mile as to include some awesome features for players who go online with the game. Mario Kart TV is your area to view your very own race highlights and even upload them for your followers and friends to view on Miiverse. Interestingly, Nintendo have also partnered up with internet giant Google, to allow these such videos to be uploaded to YouTube. It really shows Nintendo's adaptation to modern times. The game also comes with its very own set of awesome Miiverse stamps for users who wish to share their screenshots and experiences on Nintendo's social platform.

Race across the line with Yoshi! Trust us, Yoshi wins every single time.

Its also worth remembering that Mario Kart 8 is the series first outing in the wonderful world of HD, so you're probably left wondering exactly what the game looks like on a glorious HD screen. Truth be told, it looks absolutely fabulous, blowing any of its predecessors out of the water. So much so that other Mario Kart games just feel shallow in comparison to this one. HD provides clarity during races and new effects out on the track, water looks lovely. In short, Mario Kart 8 is a treat on the eyes.

We shouldn't forget the sounds of Mario Kart 8 either, well, how could we? With musical masterpieces like these, you'll be humming along for weeks to come. The hand orchestrated tracks within the game are so perfectly suited to those racing moments, that we really can't say anything would do a better job.

In conclusion, Mario Kart 8 is presented so beautifully, that we really struggle to find fault in the hours of entertainment that it can offer. Absolutely killer online functionality, aesthetically pleasing environments and a character roster to die for, make up for the best game we've seen from Nintendo this year and possibly the best game we will see from them for a long time to come. + Josh Moorcroft-Jones

10/10 - Mario Kart has always been Nintendo's system selling, killer franchise and Mario Kart 8 confirms exactly why. It's a game so well constructed, it could easily provide a fitting conclusion to the much loved series. A game that every Wii U owner needs to own.

Review copy provided by Nintendo

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