Nintendo’s Mario Kart franchise never fails to entertain because of timeless gameplay, whether you're launching a spiked turtle shell at an adversary or using a boost pad to take the lead. The graphics also look better with each new installment, with the 2011 release of Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS featuring some of the finest tracks in history. As for Mario Kart 8 on Wii U, you’ll be please to know it fires on all cylinders.
This marks the first time the series will debut in high-definition, meaning the detail on the track will look better than ever. Judging by our brief playtime with the game, this is definitely the case. Smaller things stand out, like sparks from tires during a drift or even the after effects from slipping on a banana peel or falling prey to the deadly spiked turtle shell. The game also moves at a pretty brisk pace, a beautiful 60 frames-per-second without letting up.
In addition, there's a literal twist to the track design. This edition allows you to use anti-gravity to your advantage. You can race alongside walls and ceilings with ease, thanks to the magnetic stabilizers built into your tires. This allows you to keep full control of your vehicle even as your world literally turns upside down. It'll take some getting used to – the design can be a bit dizzying for some – but by the second lap, you'll have no problem performing an upside down drift or firing off projectiles that seem to have some magnetic power as well.
Like previous games in the series, Mario Kart 8 will allow you to choose between bikes and karts. Both have their advantages – karts offer more traction, while bikes let you gain speed by performing death-defying wheelies. Multiplayer makes a return as well, as you can either challenge friends locally between the Wii U GamePad and the TV, or online through the Nintendo Network. Though not all the tournament options were revealed, you can expect plenty of competition when the final game releases. Keep those turtle shells handy.
The only downside is that when people play against each other locally, only one will have access to the GamePad, while others will have to use Wii U Pro Controllers or Remotes. Based on how well Nintendo handled steering with the add-on controller, everyone will want a turn.
That's because Nintendo included a neat control trick with the GamePad. You can play the old-fashioned way, using the analog stick to get around. Yet the real fun comes from real-time steering. By tilting the controller like an actual steering wheel, you're able to guide the kart with relative ease. Even when it came to more complex maneuvers like drifting and jumping, we had no problem getting around with Mario and his friends.
Using drifting and jumping to your advantage is vital, as you earn boosts that help keep you in the race. With jumping, you'll need to time this just right while flying off a ramp. You'll know you've done it successfully, as your character will perform a brief mid-air celebration before receiving a boost.
As for drifting, the two-tier system makes a return. Drifting for a brief period of time will activate a boost, as indicated through blue sparks that appear underneath your kart. However, if you go longer the blue sparks turn orange and you'll gain an even bigger boost.
Mario Kart has come a long way since its inception back on the SNES, and the eighth rendition looks to be the best yet, between the anti-gravity racing, the multiplayer options, the gameplay features and the visual beauty. Take it for a test drive when the game releases for Wii U early next year.