GAMES - Article
14:10 - 29th April 2014, by Michael Dodson

Mario Kart 8 preview

The release of a new Mario Kart is always a big deal, and if there's something Nintendo needs right now, it's a title that'll get gamers excited enough to take the plunge and give the ailing Wii U bandwagon a bit of a mushroom boost. Having spent an hour at Nintendo's London HQ a few weeks ago testing out a preview version of the soon to be released Mario Kart 8, we're happy to report that this could be this could well be it.

Let's get one thing clear first, though: despite all its gorgeous HD bells and whistles, this certainly doesn't seem like it'll be a revolution in the Mario Kart franchise. There are some fun new gameplay mechanics that we'll talk about in a bit, but none of them really changed the overall feel of what we've come to expect from the series. Although, when the series is one of the most beloved multiplayer experiences in gaming, maybe that's no bad thing.

The presentation of the menus seemed clean and modern, with some nice remixes of older Mario Kart music in the background. The single and multiplayer grand prix modes were all that was available to us to play in the preview build, featuring two new and two retro cups. After choosing our character from the most generous roster yet (we went for Waluigi first - much missed in the 3DS game), we got cracking with the Mushroom Cup.

Straight away, it's clear that Nintendo wants to create a sense of scale and spectacle with its first Mario Kart game on a high definition console, as instead of the relatively bland racecourse against a grassy background that you might expect for the first track, things kick off here in a huge, twisting stadium at night, with thousands of spectators cheering you on.

It also introduces you fairly quickly to MK8's main new mechanic: anti-gravity sections. These are less confusing to play in than you might think, as, for the most part, the camera stays locked behind you while you're driving around loops, up walls, and on the ceiling. However, when you do happen to notice a rival boosting along on a different plane to you, or a castle spire that you only just passed now approaching you upside down, it's a pretty neat effect. They also offer the chance for a bit of a change in tactics, too, since if you bump into someone whilst into anti-gravity mode, you'll earn a small boost - often helpful, but it did send us careening off the edge on a few occasions! Luckily, as a way of keeping things moving, Lakitu was there to put us back on the track noticeably quicker than in any previous Mario Kart. Tracks that really took advantage of the freedom that anti-gravity sections provide, such as when we were racing up then down a magnificent waterfall, or around a topsy-turvy haunted mansion, were easily some of our favourites, and we can only imagine what creative use of the mechanic that the designers have made in the as yet unrevealed Rainbow Road finale.

Some of the retro tracks that we played on were enhanced by these sections too, with the N64's Toad's Turnpike now offering racers the option to avoid the pesky lanes of traffic and take to the walls at certain points. Other retro favourites that we enjoyed included the GBA's Mario Circuit, which features a new vertical section, and the N64's Royal Raceway which, though feeling much more familiar to play on than the last two we mentioned, really benefits from some upgraded visuals.

We also had a go with the new replay functionality, which is available after every race. It's quite fun to play around with, especially the on-the-fly fast forward / rewind / slow motion functions, but probably not something we'll use much after the initial novelty wears off (annoyingly, it's the first menu option highlighted, so you have to go down one if you just want to move onto the next race). Before viewing the replay, we could choose options like who the camera focuses on, whether it shows mostly attacks, overtakes, jumps and so on, and whether or not it plays the music. In the final game, these replays will then be able to be uploaded to Miiverse, although whether or not you'll be able to save the visual effects like slow motion when you put the video online remains to be seen. We actually spotted a Mario Kart TV menu option on the main menu screen, though weren't allowed to go into it, and we're guessing that might be where you'll be able to see your own and others' saved replays.

During our time with the game, we mostly played with the pro controller, which works perfectly well, but also tried the Gamepad, where it was quick and easy to switch between the horn, map and TV duplicate. To be honest, we rarely even wanted to take my eyes off the TV, so having more Gamepad functionality would have been a bit pointless and confusing.

All in all, our time with Mario Kart 8 was a lot of fun, and if you love the other Mario Karts, there's no reason you won't love this. The Wii U may be facing an uphill struggle at retail at the moment, but we hope that, like the anti gravity karts in the game prove, there's no incline that's too steep to overcome. We'll be revving our engines in anticipation of its release on May 30th.

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