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Mario Kart 8 review

Mario Kart 8
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £42
inc VAT

The greatest Mario Kart ever made, this is the biggest reason yet to go and buy a Wii U

It’s a rare occasion when we find ourselves getting goose bumps over a game, but there’s simply nothing quite like the unfolding sight of a castle twisting upside down over your head as you advance into one of the main corkscrew corners of Mario Kart 8’s early tracks, Mario Circuit.

Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart has never looked quite so gorgeous

The first time you whizz by, you probably won’t notice the gravity-defying bunting waving in the breeze or the topsy-turvy lamp posts lining the side of the road, but there’s no denying that this is the track you’ll be showing off to family and friends the first time you boot up it up for an audience. It’s this kind of jaw-dropping scale and attention to detail that defines Nintendo’s latest racer for Wii U, and it’s by far the series’ strongest entry to date.

Of course, it’s not really the castle somersaulting through the air; it’s the track beneath your feet, and the only reason why you still feel like you’re on solid ground is thanks to your brand new set of anti-gravity tires. Luckily, these automatically kick into action whenever you need them, much like your glider which makes a welcome return from Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS.

Mario Kart 8
The Piranha Plant is one of Mario Kart 8’s brand new items which lets you chomp nearby opponents

Bikes are back, too, from Mario Kart Wii, but Mario Kart 8’s greatest strength is how it manages to meld each of these somewhat disparate additions to the series into a single well-oiled machine that feels as natural to play as the series’ first days on the SNES.

Controls retain their fundamental simplicity from previous titles, but the real joy is mastering the game’s nuances to boost your speed at every available opportunity. For example, squeezing the right trigger buttons will let you drift effortlessly round sharp bends, while tapping the same button as you launch off a ramp will gain you a small extra boost once you land. Bumping enemies while in anti-gravity mode will also earn you an extra boost, and collecting coins will increase your overall speed as well.

Mario Kart 8
Sunshine Airport sees you contesting the runway with a host of planes as well as your fellow racers

Angling your glider is another crucial skill you’ll have to master. Nose-diving down to the ground is often the quickest route to pole position, but pulling up and sacrificing your speed might just let you sneak into a secret shortcut if you’ve gained enough height. It’s a constant game of risk and reward, and at a blisteringly fast 60fps in both single and two player multiplayer modes (adding a third and fourth racer drops down to a perfectly reasonable 30fps), those windows of opportunity often pass as soon as they arise.

A lot of your success will depend on how you’ve kitted out your chosen vehicle, as there’s a wide range of kart chassis, bikes, wheels and gliders to choose from that all affect your speed, weight, grip, handling and acceleration. In true Mario Kart style, nearly all of them are outrageously bonkers and flamboyant in their design, whether it’s the twin galloping wooden horses on front of the Prancer chassis or the pumping boom box in the boot of the “Badwagon”, but the idea of careering round in Bowser’s Landship with tiny sponge wheels or a giant metallic shoe with heavy duty monster truck tires is just too good to resist.

Mario Kart 8
Anti-gravity enables each level to really make the most of the Wii U’s graphical heft

The courses themselves are also some of the best in Mario Kart history. This is partly down to the addition of anti-gravity, as it really lets the course designers let loose with some of the wildest track designs yet. Along with Mario Circuit, Mount Wario is another standout course that takes place over a single lap. Before the race is over, you’ll have been dropped out of an air carrier, glided down an icy mountain, raced across a dam and slalomed down a snowy ski track that wouldn’t look out of place in Mario & Sonic at the Olympics.

Meanwhile, Toad Harbour’s San Francisco-style tramways open out into a multi-tiered bazaar with two different pathways to follow, while Electrodome channels Mario Kart 7’s Melody Motorway (which also makes a welcome appearance in the retro cups) for a trip inside a giant disco ball as you race over twisting guitar frets and neon dance floors. Shy Guy Falls sees you racing up and down waterfalls while Cloudtop Cruise takes things skyward through stormy lightning clouds and a detour through Bowser’s airship (it even comes complete with a glorious riff of Super Mario Galaxy’s Gusty Garden Galaxy soundtrack). Speaking of music, the soundtrack is simply fantastic, featuring all manner of styles from big brass bands to funky synth and Celtic folk pipes, making every track sound just as good as it looks.

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