Driving into the final corner, you jump and drift giving you a much needed boost. Victory is within your grasp, but at that moment a red shell appears. You are hit, coins flying, you are inches away from the finish, but alas cannot gain enough speed to make it across. As you finally come to the realisation that your victory is ripped away, out of the corner of your eye you see Luigi. He looks, glares at you with pure evil behind those eyes, and drives across the finish. Welcome to Mario Kart 8. Where the Year of Luigi lives on. Forever.
Arriving on the Wii U to much fanfare, and incredibly solid sales for a struggling console, is Mario Kart 8. The granddaddy of the karting genre has returned and shows once again why it’s always been on top. On the surface it’s very much like any other MK game, but get deeper and you’ll find a number of key improvements that make it actually one of the best in the series. And not just because of the abundance of Luigi gifs that have appeared across the internet.
Tracks once again split between classics and new, however even the classics have had something of an overhaul. Less a copy and more of a remake, classic tracks are now adorned with a number of new features, none more so than the anti-gravity sections. Tracks like Toad’s Turnpike now come with added jumps and drivable walls to navigate. It adds a different layer to each track, and with the new graphical grunt of the Wii U they look simply magical. Despite being vastly more underpowered than the PS4 and Xbox One, Nintendo still manages to make their game look glorious, simply because they put art style before anything else. This can proudly stand alongside the likes of Infamous and Ryse and that is a testament to Nintendo’s ability at getting the very best out of their hardware.
MK8 really feels like it’s had pure joy injected straight into the veins. Even in 150cc where the difficulty really ramps up, and you’re left reeling from hit after hit, we very rarely stopped smiling. The difficulty being something that has definitely been raised since the last iteration. In 150cc this may be the most challenging Mario Kart game since the original. This is a good thing.
As frustrating as it can get when on the final lap you’re hit by anything and everything, it never became controller smashingly annoying. Our loss was accepted and we simply retried until those final championships were conquered. And you’ll need to beat all the championships to unlock everything, and there is a ton to unlock. Hidden characters, new kart parts and Miiverse stamps are all waiting and will take a lot of time, skills and luck.
Where Mario Kart 8 really shines is, believe it or not, online. Nintendo are finally getting to grips with online play and it’s a joy to see. Okay, they may not be on the level of Sony and Microsoft, but they’re trying! Able to either race in Grand Prix’s, Tournaments or Battle Mode, joining games is incredibly seamless. Choose a room and you’re pretty much good to go. Battle Mode however is quite a disaster. Gone are the arenas that made the SNES and N64 versions so fun, instead you just get the standard tracks featured in the main grand prix. It’s an incredibly lazy cop-out, which is something you rarely ever see from Nintendo. The tracks are designed for racing and it shows.
Much like Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 shows that nobody makes games quite like Nintendo. A master class in design that shows how tragic it is that the Wii U finds itself in such dire straits. A sure fire system seller that everyone who owns the console should buy, and if you don’t, now’s the perfect time to buy one.