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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


But Mario Kart 8 is about so much more than over the top kart designs and ludicrous F-Zero-style courses. It’s the acute attention to detail that really makes this game shine, and we’ve never seen a Wii U game looking more beautiful. It’s sometimes difficult to appreciate just how much is going on every time you jostle for pole position, but the Highlight Reel (by far one of our favourite features) gives you the chance to hone in on the tiniest of details. It automatically picks out the best moments from each race and compiles them into a single video, but you can edit it to focus on items, specific drivers, action, item hits or drifting before uploading the video to Miiverse. You can also upload them straight to YouTube using the Wii U’s internet browser in-game as long as you have a Google account.

Mario Kart 8
You won’t have much time to admire Water Park’s ferris wheel, but it leaves a huge impression when you re-watch your race in slow motion

You can also use the GamePad to slow down, fast forward or rewind certain events, and it’s here where you truly appreciate just how much craftsmanship has gone into making this game look so stunning. To give just a few examples, Mario’s wiggling moustache and Shy Guy’s hood both billow in the wind while Daisy strikes a vicious high kick whenever she lands a successful trick. Blooper-shaped spaceships also cruise round Mario Kart 8’s version of Rainbow Road, while Sunshine Airport is full of holiday destinations on flight departure boards that mirror each individual track name.

Of course, alongside the sixteen new tracks are an equal number of golden oldies from Mario Karts past. Admittedly, the very best tracks from later titles such as Mario Kart Wii and Double Dash for the GameCube have already been snagged by Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, but with a roughly equal spread of courses from across all generations, there are still plenty of excellent choices here, from Donut Plains 3 on the SNES right through to the 3DS’s Melody Motorway and Piranha Plant Pipeway.

Mario Kart 8
The Super Horn finally gives you a weapon to fight back against dreaded blue shells

Not only have they all been buffed and polished to look their very best in Full HD, but several have been retrofitted to take account of Mario Kart 8’s anti-gravity rules as well. Toad’s Turnpike is a particular favourite, as you can now drive up the walls of the highway and use cars as cheeky ramps to activate your glider and glean extra boosts off the top of lorries.

Sherbert Land’s icy lakes from the GameCube era have also been thawed to include new underwater pathways and Cheep Cheep Beach from Mario Kart DS has never been more versatile in its number of time attack approaches. Those hoping to cruise round Peach’s Castle in the N64’s Royal Raceway will be disappointed, though, as Nintendo has cruelly locked it away behind a pair of newly constructed gates.

Mario Kart 8
Toad’s Turnpike from Mario Kart 64 now lets you drive up walls and other trucks

Races get even better when you take them online. You can either play alone or with a friend, but each race will feature a full roster of twelve racers no matter which option you pick. There are both regional and global categories to get stuck in with, but you can also create your own tournament or race against friends registered to your Wii U and rivals from previous online games, so there’s plenty of variety on offer.

In ordinary matches, each player also has their own rank score, which helps pit players against others of a similar skill level. Unlike older Mario Kart games, though, your score goes up or down at the end of each individual race rather than, for example, the end of a four-race grand prix. This is a much better solution than previous online offerings, as it prevents players from losing out on points if any sore losers decide to drop out because they don’t want to dent their player score.

Tournaments are particularly flexible, as you can set them to occur daily, weekly or between a fixed period in time. You can also choose the number of races, set certain rules and disable the CPU if you wish. The only downside is that once you’ve finished the chosen number of matches, you’re effectively booted out of the competition. You can still compete in additional matches, but your ranking won’t change. This is perhaps a little less fun than a more traditional tournament structure which sees winners progress onto further rounds to determine a winner. Still, it’s a small complaint and certainly doesn’t detract from the overall competency of the whole online experience.

The only major puncture in Mario Kart 8’s tires is the Battle Mode. Here, players have three balloons tied to the back of their kart and the aim is use as many items as possible to try and pop everyone else’s before they deflate yours. But not since the heady days of Mario Kart 64 has Nintendo managed to replicate the sheer frantic genius of those four open-plan arenas, and Mario Kart 8 doesn’t fare much better.

Mario Kart 8
New item Crazy Eight gives players a formidable arsenal of items to play with

However, Mario Kart 8 at least tries to break out of its series doldrums by offering players something completely new to get to grips with. Instead of lacklustre arenas, you have eight grand prix tracks at your disposal, giving you free rein to drive in whatever direction you like in order to take down the opposing team with whatever items you can get your hands on.

It’s a tantalising idea for anyone who’s wanted to poke about each track without having Lakitu shaking his fist and ringing alarm bells in your face, but in practice it rarely lives up to that giddy ideal. It’s not just that these tracks have been primarily designed for racing on, thereby making U-turns and hunting down enemies that much harder when you’re constantly being slowed down by gravel and rough terrain, but their huge size also makes them rather lonely, empty spaces even with a full twelve players whizzing round them. Even N64 classic Yoshi Valley and its perfect mishmash of criss-crossing pathways left us a little cold, and if that track can’t quicken the pulse, then nothing can.

Mario Kart 8
Battle Mode may not be up to much cop, but the superb grand prix races more than make up for it

But while Battle Mode may be a bit of a disappointment, it’s not enough to stop Mario Kart 8 from being the best game currently available on Wii U. With the addition of a solid single and two player online mode as well, Mario Kart 8 is the greatest reason yet to go out and buy a Wii U. It wins a Best Buy award.

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