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Mario Kart 8 Preview

We go hands on with Nintendo's new Mario Kart for Wii U

Forget Super Smash Bros. 2014 is the year of Mario Kart 8. In just two months’ time, Mario and co will be revving their engines and racing onto Wii U in what looks like the series’ best entry yet. On top of gliders and motorcycles from previous entries on Wii and 3DS, karting goes anti-gravity this time round, taking a leaf out of F-Zero’s book that, quite literally, turns the series on its head. We were lucky enough to spend some time with the game ahead of its launch on the 30th May and it’s safe to say that Mario Kart 8 is shaping up to be one of the most exhilarating Mario Kart games we’ve ever played.

Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8’s big new feature is anti-gravity wheels, which flip out sideways when you hit a slope

It’s easy to get complacent when a new Mario Kart arrives. New vehicle types go some way in shaking up the well-worn tire tracks left by previous games, but even with two decades of experience under our helmet, nothing quite prepared us for the eye-popping sights of Mario Kart 8’s first new track, Mario Circuit.

On paper, it’s a simple figure of eight, a cunning nod to the game’s title. On the race track, though, each curve has been looped and moulded into an undulating roller-coaster that twists and turns like a corkscrew. In the middle of all this lies Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64, nestled in a cosy curve of track near the finish line, surrounded by cheering Toads and gaggles of spectators.

Mario Kart 8
With so much to take in, you’ll find it hard to keep your eyes on the road

Goombas waddle across the track as you take in the first few slopes, but as you crest the first hill after your anti-gravity wheels kick in, the whole course opens out above (or rather beneath) you in a breathtaking vista of upside-down castle turrets, chunky box trees and fluttering bunting. At 1,920×1,080 and a smooth 60fps in both single player and local co-op (the speed drops to 30fps when you add a third and fourth player), Mario Kart has never looked so gorgeous. Sadly, there’s precious little time to take in the scenery, as you’ll soon find even more Goombas and ramps littering the track in front of you, forcing you to tear your eyes away from the jaw-dropping sights around you and bring your focus back to the task at hand.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other tracks to salivate over. Our favourite by a long shot was Shy Guy Falls. Before the race even starts, you can see tantalising boost pads falling down a pair of waterfalls in front of you, and before long you’re not only racing down those tumbling falls, but up them as well, tracing a path through the boost pads as you rocket back to solid ground, ready for the next lap. It’s enough to put F-Zero (and all other Mario Kart tracks) to shame, and with this amount of scope and scale on show in just the Flower Cup (generally the second of four grand prix cups), we can’t wait to see what the rest of the game has in store.

Mario Kart 8
Shy Guy Falls sees you racing up and down waterfalls

It’s the attention to detail that really makes Mario Kart 8 stand out from the rest of the pack, though, as you’ll not only spot the odd spectator round the sidelines, but also Mario Kart TV vans parked just past the finish line (complete with bumbling Toads stuck in the sun roof), finely crafted adverts plastered across numerous billboards, and even Mario Kart 8-branded tires on each individual race kart.

We were particularly fond of the pumping “Pimp My Ride”-style speakers found in the back of one of the monster truck kart chassis, a choice that now makes a big difference to vehicle handling in Mario Kart 8. Previous games have offered us a range of tires, chassis and glider to choose from, but this was the first time we could really tell the difference between different kart combinations. For instance, we made the erroneous decision to go with slim wheels and a rocket bike for one grand prix, and while they let us lean tighter into each curve, they were next to useless for power-sliding out of them again.

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