Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U is the latest instalment in the long running racing series, starring the plumber who needs no introduction.
For a while it has seemed like Nintendo had perfected the template for the series. This arguably lead to a more sanitised game in the form of Mario Kart Wii. It had wide courses, to accommodate increased players, lacking as many tight twists and turns, with a bloom visual effect washing over everything.
The Wii’s popularity and the casual fun of the motion controls means that many will have experienced and enjoyed the game, but compared to other iterations it was nothing special.
This is the first HD Mario Kart and it looks sharp and colourful. The level to which the game will impress you may depend on how much stake you put in the superficial.
The music is a joy. The production quality is like nothing you would expect from a party kart racer, recorded and performed with an orchestra. However, it is unfortunate that the stellar production is the most notable thing about the soundtrack, not the tunes themselves.
The game reprises the visual novelties like driving under water and flying through the air from the last handheld instalment, but now you can defy gravity on magnetic roads. This has minor impact on the game-play but is visually exciting.
There are only minor changes to game play: you can no longer collect a new item when you are holding one behind you for defence. There are some new items and the game seems less generous with powerful items such as the star-man or bullet bill. When they were used, powerful items do not guarantee you will be back in the fight for 1st as they used to.
Track design is fairly interesting and some of the best recently featured in the series. It could be said that Nintendo are scraping the bottom of the barrel for concepts, but this pressure has resulted in interesting settings including a dynamic airport and a harbour based on San Francisco.
Since Double Dash, the series has been introducing more obscure characters to fill out the character rosters. It is therefore frustrating to see that many characters have been left out, including Dry Bones and Birdo, in favour of six Bowser children.
To many fans chagrin, battle mode has been given very little attention and rather than arenas you must drive around the standard courses which leads to a very unpolished experience.
What the series might need is an entirely new mode to get people excited again. The Super Smash Bros series, which really boils down to mindless brawling, usually has new experiences in each iteration, sometimes doing away with perfectly fine modes from before. In opposition, the Mario Kart series feels like it is going forward on autopilot.
Ultimately there is loads of fun to be had, but it is the same fun Nintendo has known how to deliver for a very long time.
This is a better instalment than Mario Kart Wii, but subtle game-play tweaks, visual gimmicks, expensive production and fond memories of its predecessor will not convince those who do not have a Wii U to go out and buy the console. For those that do have one, you know that this is an essential purchase regardless.