The outside world will disappear, and anything other than timing that next corner, grabbing that next item and charging past the competition on the last stretch of a track, will be rendered inconsequential. It doesn't matter if you're racing alone, in pairs, in threes, fours, or joining eleven other racers online. Mario Kart 8 is a fantastic racing game.
The game's far from simulation, but you still feel that refined control when flowing round the tracks. Each wheel and chassis choice for the kart you're driving will alter handling enough to feel noticeable. That's something some lesser simulation racers can't claim, offering nothing more than cosmetic touches between different models.
The franchise has been around two decades now, yet there's enough fresh ideas bolted onto the veteran frame that MK8 does its best to be all things to all people; newcomers as well as older fans.
There's thirty racers in all, most that need unlocked. Grand Prix is still tiered in 50, 100 and 150cc variations. There are Time Trials, freely configurable Versus Racing modes, and the Balloon Battle returns.
And the same options are available in multiplayer, with the exception of Time Trials, which are built around online rankings and uploaded ghost data. And through all this, that tight gameplay that is as top notch and as rich as it's ever been. It's simple, easily understandable, yet massively layered.
The Wii U offers multiple controller options - GamePad, Wii Remote plus Nunchuk - but the best way to play is using the Controller Pro. While the GamePad does a decent job, the heavier weight of Wii U's default controller will gradually tire your hands. While you can use its in-built gyro-sensor to use it like a steering wheel, it feels like a gimmick. No one will be winning Cups this way.
Mario Kart's all about speed. Collecting up to ten coins, many of which litter the track, delivers additional top speed. Just a small gain, but enough that in Time Trials you look to fill your wallet as soon as possible. Perfect drifts round corners will fire up a two-stage turbo, giving you a further, short-term boost. Be ready for arguments between you and friends as to whether the returning bike class is superior in this discipline over the karts.
There are new additions as well. Most tracks have anti-grav sections where we leave the normal track and zoom up walls or along ceilings, our wheels converting to anti-grav magnets to keep us from falling off.
These stretches are usually filled with boost pads and jumps, which combined with tricks add yet another turbo boost. The benefit is so that you'll search for the tell-tale signs of these paths when playing courses, though not every one has them. The anti-grav option is the third transformation for the vehicles, joining the returning glider and propeller configurations. Using the flight paths on courses are almost always high risk, but there's potential time saving to make the danger attractive.
Also completely new is the anti-grav boost. Crashing into another racer while in this mode will catapult your ride forward, while some tracks contain bumpers which have the same effect. These inclusions could become a game changer for the franchise's traditional gameplay; we'll see how they're folded in by players in the coming weeks and months.
New items spice up races as well. The ‘8' item gives you eight items in a scrolling wheel, randomising their line up and forcing you to fire whatever one is in front. The foward-firing Boomerang smacks enemies when thrown, as well as on its return. The Fire Flower allows for ten quick fireball tosses, and alongside these you have the classic items such as Bananas, Shells and speed-boost Mushrooms. And the Blue Shell. The bloody Blue Shell.
There's 32 tracks in Mario Kart 8. They're evenly split between remixes of older tracks and brand new ones that take full advantage of the HD upgrade, hardware and new kart abilities. The new courses really impress, and even the classic ones, though we've raced them to death in previous franchise entries, give a nice break with their simpler designs of circular routes and more straight-forward racing lines. It all adds up to a racing title that's a must buy for Wii U owners.
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