The system still has at least two or three years left before bowing to new hardware, but Mario Kart 8 may have saved the Wii U. For months, interested shoppers waited for Nintendo to release something big to justify spending upwards of $300 on the console, and the big N finally provided that must have title, though to be fair, Super Mario 3D World is reason enough to own the machine.
There are so many reasons to love this title, starting with its outstanding visuals. Whether it’s Sunshine Airport, Royal Raceway or the reimagined Cheep Cheep Beach, there’s no shortage of details to absorb as you putter along the winding tracks and even driving underwater.
Of course, the classic Mario Mart experience is very much alive in this sequel, with players hitting each other with red turtle shells and bombs. In addition, we see the ability to glide through the air and customize one’s karts, staples from the excellent Mario Kart 7 for 3DS.
That said, Nintendo gave its arcade style racer plenty of unique features, from new weapons like the Super Horn that finally offer fans a chance to avoid the dreaded blue spiny shell, to anti-gravity segments that have them racing along walls and upside down, there’s a variety of things that set MK8 apart from its predecessors.
Meanwhile, the publisher introduced another first for the series, downloadable content. The first pack, available for $7.99, delivered tracks from other Nintendo games, including Hyrule Castle from The Legend of Zelda (Link is playable to boot) and Mute City from F-Zero, which is the closest we’ve come to the series since its exquisite outing on the GameCube. Finally, we received new vehicles in the form of the Blue Falcon and Tanooki Kart, with Tanooki Mario to go along with it; the May DLC features content from Animal Crossing.
Beyond that, up to 12 people can race against each other online, while split-screen support is still there if you want it. Furthermore, the game supports multiple control types, from the Wii U GamePad and Pro Controller to the Wii Remote and Wii Wheel. There’s even a feature called Mario Kart TV, which lets you upload key moments from different races for the world to see.
All told, it’s a ton of content that’ll take gamers multiple number of hours to get through. But remove all of these options and you’re still left with the core mechanics that make the Mario Kart series great, right down to that last banana peel. Whether it rescued the Wii U is up for debate. What’s not is the high level of polish. If you plan to buy the system, Mario Kart 8 is an essential purchase.
Master MK 8 with Prima’s items guide, then see the differences between the new Cheep Cheep Beach and its DS version. Hone your skills with our beginner’s tips, and learn how to upload replays to YouTube.