By their nature, racing games are perfect system showcases. The rivalry between Saturn and PlayStation launch titles Daytona USA and Ridge Racer in particular had the ‘90s gaming press frothing with excitement. Even before that Nintendo’s F-Zero impressed just about everyone who laid eyes on it. Hot on the heels of F-Zero came the legendary Super Mario Kart – a game that made anything on the Mega Drive look positively bland in comparison.
Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7 showed that the respective handhelds were no slouch when it came to throwing around polygons, while Mario Kart Wii proved that the console was more than just a GameCube in a slimmer case.
This brings us nicely onto Mario Kart 8. To say it looks sensational would be an understatement. A genuine treat for the eyes, there’s no way somebody could say the Wii U is underpowered after catching even the slightest glimpse of it in motion. Colourful and vibrant throughout, the frame rate doesn’t falter even with twelve beautifully animated characters on the track at once. The MKTV replays look better still, removing the on-screen clutter while adding a subtle filter.
Rather than refine the series or take it back to basics, Mario Kart 8 builds upon its 3DS predecessor with a few notable tweaks here and there. That means the hang gliding and underwater sections are back for a second time, whilst the track selection is a mixture of new and old. Love them or hate them, bikes make a return as well. Cornering while on two wheels is trickier than before, but the pay-off is made slightly more rewarding because of it.
The majority of karts and bikes are locked to begin with, becoming available once enough coins have been collected. Half the characters are locked at the start too, including all six of the Koopa siblings and a few surprise faces. New vehicle parts unlock at such a steady rate that almost every victory earns something new, even if it is just a glider with a different motif.
Innovation comes not just from the aforementioned MKTV replays – which can be edited and shared online – but also from new anti-gravity strips that send Mario and chums upside down and vertically along walls. Handling becomes slightly slippery, allowing for some big power-slides… which of course provide those all-important speed boosts. Even the revamped retro tracks have been freshened up with an anti-grav strip or two, along with the occasional underwater section.