Mario Kart 8 Wii U review: A classic returns with style (and anti-gravity)

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There are few gaming frustrations greater than mentally celebrating first place as you spot the finish line in sight, only to be hit by a shell, leaving just enough time for a friend to overtake. And yet the flash of anger in the face of virtual injustice always manages to dissipate in time for the next race, making way for the fresh hope of victory.

There is no question that Mario Kart 8 looks better than ever. Levels have been designed with such loving care and intricate attention that you almost wish Mario could park up and take a wander around. There are over 30 tracks to choose from, many re-vamped versions from previous Mario Kart incarnations such as 3DS’s DK Jungle, or N64’s Yoshi Valley, right back to Donut Plains 3 from the SNES Mario Kart original in 1992. And of course an array of gorgeous and imaginative new tracks – my personal favourite being Twisted Mansion.

There are 30 drivers available, many of which need to be unlocked, and more vehicle customisation on offer, so it’s a matter of finding the right kart and driver for you: fast, but too heavy for nippy speeding-up, like Bowzer? Or perhaps you bump into a lot of obstacles, requiring good acceleration and better handling, like Baby Mario?

The first option available after each race is ‘Watch Highlight Reel’. At first I questioned, “why is this above ‘Next Race’??”, but then I watched and squirmed when it showed my unassuming Yoshi ram into a tree, and laughed in the face of Luigi’s human controller as they tasted sweet revenge in the form of a banana skin. Or you can watch the moment you actually managed to angle the maverick green shell so that it hits a rival – and you can see it in slow motion! Clips can be uploaded to Miiverse, and yes, even YouTube. Nintendo ahead of the curve on that one.

 

So what else is new? Well there’s the new attacks, for a start. The Boomerang Flower can be thrown three times to hit multiple enemies. The snap-happy Piranha Plant gets bitey with the other players (or grabs coins. Who wants the bloody coins? They do offer a very slight boost, I suppose). The Super Horn can be used as a defence against the dreaded Blue Shell – good news for those often in first place. And then there’s the Crazy 8, a fantastic addition for players at the back which offers a mighty and chaotic eight attacks in one.

An anti-gravity element has also been introduced, which means you can race along walls and ceilings, mixing up the routes. The switches between angles and levels are so beautifully effortless – it’s astounding how much you pass along the way while managing to hone in on the details that matter.

You can of course play online, but naturally, Mario Kart is best played surrounded my friends. Though the frame rate drops by half from the solid 60fps when four players are on the screen, it really doesn’t matter. Players can avoid motion control with the GamePad – which can also show the map, or offer a car beep. But not the screen separately in two/three-player mode – which is a shame. It wasn't universally agreed between our group whether handling was easier on the GamePad, some players still preferred the Wii remotes.

The only real downside is Battle Mode. Arenas are no more, as tracks from Grand Prix have simply been altered. It’s just means battles aren’t as good, as it’s not as easy to find people to attack.

Mario Kart is a timeless classic. The 22 year-old series is still massively accessible, with incredible graphics that are endlessly vibrant and inviting. Ultimately, it’ll prove to disbelievers that both the Wii U and Nintendo have a lot to offer. It’s one shell of a good racing game.

Wii U (£49.99)

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