|System: Wii U|
|Release: May 30, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Nintendo's current console is continuously pummeled with criticisms over its lack of appeal to the gaming audience, who incessantly spread prognostications about its demise. The Wii U has struggled with marketing, capturing third-party support and finding the embrace of the hardcore crowd. Mario's first-party offerings thus far have been fine accomplishments, but they still lack the capacity to trigger a substantial boost in console sales. However, that could all change in the coming months. The Mario Kart series has consistently outdone itself despite familiarities with previous incarnations, thanks to fresh designs and arguably the tightest controls of any racing game. Mario Kart 8 is within reach, and we've been teased with many juicy trailers and information. Yet there's still so much under wraps, even with launch just over a month away.
But let's start with the most obvious new feature in the series–the anti-gravity tracks. Mario Kart games have never shied away from launching you miles through the air, then gliding down for a smooth landing, but it has always obeyed Newton's laws of motion. Well that's all about to get flipped, literally. In Mario Kart 8, zero-g sections are littered around the tracks, easily discernible by their florescent blue illumination and the fact that your kart's tires will turn on their sides to form a parallel magnetic field against the track. Suddenly you're skimming across walls, scaling vertical roads, and racing on upside down courses. As you hit these sections the computer-controlled camera begins to angle, throwing off your sense of direction but providing the thrill of defying gravity. At first you'll instinctively want to turn your head with the camera, but after you finally adjust you'll understand and appreciate Nintendo's skill at throwing off your perspective to provide a unique visual experience.
The anti-gravity feature allows an insane amount of flexibility and freedom with the level design. Now there are several path options to choose from rather than simply following the direct course. This will satiate the replay value by tempted players to experiment with each course, figuring out which way will shave off precious seconds and edge into the lead. But this is not only limited to the newly conceived tracks. Mario Kart 8 includes thirty-two courses, sixteen original designs and the same amount of retro tracks. However, unlike recent titles that have simply included updated visuals, the retro tracks are given more than a mere facelift. For example, in the re-inspired Toad's Turnpike, you can drive along the walls and get airborne with ramp equipped trucks.
But we shouldn't simply dismiss the visual updates either, as the trailers show off the first game of the series with high-definition graphics. Custom banners showcasing some clever franchise marketing are plastered everywhere. The vast selection of karts are trimmed out with nice detailing like patchwork on the Wild Wiggler buggy or glossy chrome plating on Metal Mario's kart. The lighting effects will invade every frame of the game, whether it's camera flashes from the spectators in Mario Kart Stadium, the glare from the sun in Cheep Cheep Beach, or the finale of fireworks in Rainbow Road.
Plenty of fan favorite items make a return in Mario Kart 8, but a couple of new entries are making us salivate. First is the Piranha Plant which attaches to the front of your vehicle. You can make it strike forward to give yourself a little extra pull, and it automatically lunges at any player you pass. Then there's the Boomerang, which will require a little more skill. It's a manually controlled projectile that when thrown will launch forwards (or backwards) and then return to you, allowing you to strike multiple targets if aimed well. It will fly back to you after two throws, and on the third it will take off around the track.
And yet, with all these interesting new additions, there's still some huge features being kept under wraps by the Big N. We don't know what sort of arenas to expect in Battle Mode. We can hope that favorites like Balloon Battle and Coin Runners will make a return, but also cross our fingers for something fresh. Multiplayer is probably the biggest unknown, and the feature everyone is hoping will shine through. All we know is that Mario Kart 8 will support four-player local matches and twelve-player online matches. But what modes there are, whether there is ranked play, any match customization options, and leaderboards are all still a mystery. Another new feature that still needs elaboration is Mario Kart TV. All we know so far is that it involves posting videos from matches for others to see, but the details on how it all works are yet to be revealed.
There's a lot to get excited about with Mario Kart 8, but also a lot of big unknowns that could either catapult the series into a system seller, or simply make it a decent racing game that most Wii U owners will pick up, but not enticing enough to bring the rest of the crowd off the fence. I'm hoping for the former, and I'm sure everyone at Nintendo is hoping for that as well. We'll know the outcome very soon, as it launches on May 30th.
Date: April 14, 2014