Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) Review.

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Mario Kart is one of Nintendo's most beloved franchises so it's surprising than that despite it's celebrated legacy we're still only technically on the eighth iteration, hitting the Wii U in the hopes to revitalize the struggling system. It's especially surprising when you consider just how many copies the previous console based Mario Kart on Nintendo's Wii sold, over 35 million copies. So with that said, you'd expect the folks at Nintendo to be eagerly releasing a new Mario Kart every year, however we've often only witnessed one release per console system from the Japanese company.

Mario Kart 8 is one of the Wii U's best looking games to date.
Mario Kart 8 is one of the Wii U's best looking games to date.

Mario Kart 8 is a Mario Kart game through and through, don't expect dramatic changes here and in that regard it's for the best. Mario, Luigi and friends race in a large variety of karts or bikes around a selection of familiar iconic past circuits and a few new tracks that for the most part are of an high quality. You can't talk about Mario Kart 8 without talking about how good it looks, with some delightful detail placed into the smallest of things from Mario's mustache blowing in the wind to the birds that scatter as you speed through the tracks. The amount of visual quality put into tracks new and old is to be commended and proves that you don't need the latest hardware to make a game look beautiful, great art design goes a long way.

They don't just look great either, for the vast majority of tracks found within Mario Kart 8 provide a fun and frantic experience. There a selection of tracks returning from previous games including Cheep Cheep Beach, Toad's Turnpike and Donut Plains to name just a few, all these retro tracks have been treated to the HD upgrade and look fabulous, not to mention some tracks have been modified to include one of Mario Kart 8's few new features, anti-gravity. Anti-gravity sounds like it should drastically change up how Mario Kart plays, with tracks now providing unique alternative routes such as the ability to traverse walls or even travel upside down. Trouble is its impact is limited by the fact that other than the ability to collide into other racers and gain a small boost, they don't add a great deal and simply play out as visual variety.

Battle mode is shamefully MK8's weakest link.
Battle mode is shamefully MK8's weakest link.

Whether you're playing alone or with friends, Mario Kart 8 is a pleasure to play. The usual cups return in the variety of 50cc, 100cc and 150cc all offering a different level of difficulty and time trial mode gives you the ability to pull out your fastest lap times against Nintendo employees and the world on global leaderboards. Easily the most disappointing feature of Mario Kart 8 is its battle mode, a mode I've often been a fan of in past games. Sadly it appears the mode as taken a seat back with no true arenas or suitable tracks available instead of the stock tracks for you to play on. So instead of the fun chaotic fun of previous Mario Kart battle modes, you'll spend most of your time traveling back and forth on the circuit simply trying to find someone to attack. It's a shame this is the case and is easily MK8's weakest link. It's also worth noting that when playing with two or more players, the game takes a hit both visually and in framerate.

It's still Mario Kart, but a damn fine one at that.
It's still Mario Kart, but a damn fine one at that.

Now online hasn't always been Nintendo's strong point with their sometimes overprotective approach to online interaction. Mario Kart 8 is no different in regards to communication between players online, which just a few select phrases selectable when you join a room to play in. But, I don't think this is always such a bad thing and in this case it's best that MK8 keeps things simple. Instead of finding the usually negative and abrasive communities found around other games, playing Mario Kart 8 online is a pleasurable and welcoming experience. I'll personally take that over abusive comments about my family any day. Yes some might find its limitations frustrating, but thanks to the fact that playing online is one of MK8's ultimate joys it's nice that the community surrounding it seem just as friendly. Performance online has been solid through a wifi connection and I've had few issues, though there's been one or two problems that have required Nintendo to release patches to fix online performance. But if you're going to experience the best of Mario Kart 8, you have to play it online against other players.

So it doesn't revolutionize Mario Kart, but MK8 is still one of the best Mario Karts yet thanks to wonderful visuals and gameplay that's pure fun both offline and on. The lackluster battle mode is a real shame and one that can't be ignored, but thankfully the racing is better than its ever been. Mario Kart 8 is Nintendo standing tall and showing off their visual chops, proving just what's capable with the Wii U and the results speak for themselves. There are a number of small additions to gameplay that help make Mario Kart feel a little more balanced and the level of difficulty is such that it never feels entirely infuriating. All in all it's a game any Wii U owner would be proud to have in their collection.

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