2014 in Preview: The Sky is the Limit for Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8's new anti-gravity mechanic gives designers the chance to make the best Mario Kart yet.

Article by Mike Williams, .

Way back in 1992, demos weren't a thing, so the Toys R Us near my house was where I used to go to try out games. My first 16-bit era console was the Sega Genesis, a wonderful gift from my father a few Christmases prior. I enjoyed the system immensely and wasn't too torn up about not having the Super Nintendo, which had only been released the year before. That is until I went out to Toys R Us that fateful day to see what new games were coming out. The previous Super Nintendo demo unit had Super Mario World, but that day they had changed it to a new, upcoming title.

Super Mario Kart blew my tiny mind away. The characters, the Mode 7 racing, and the absolutely awesome Battle Mode. At the time, I thought racing couldn't get any better (This is a recurring theme for gamers I've noticed. It always gets better). For the next two months, whenever I got a few spare hours, I went to Toys R Us and played Super Mario Kart. If there was no one there, I'd jump on. If there was someone playing, I'd play against them or patiently wait until they were done. I lived and breathed that game, despite the Genesis I had at home.

Bikes, hang gliders, and more are back for Mario Kart 8.

I loved the game so much that when Christmas rolled around and my father got me the brand-new Sega CD, I played it only one day. The next day, we promptly returned it and bought a Super Nintendo and Super Mario Kart. (Yeah, in hindsight, that was a total dick move on my part. What can I say? Kids are dicks.)

Fast forward to college and I now own a Nintendo 64. We had an open dorm room where we kept the game systems and there was always some local multiplayer going on, be it Goldeneye, Starfox 64, or even some Turok 2. My most played game? Mario Kart 64. I was a monster at the game and nearly unbeatable in my dorm. I was so merciless that my girlfriend at the time actually stopped playing Mario Kart 64 forever because I trounced her so bad in a race. (In hindsight, that was a total dick move on my part. What can I say? College-aged teenagers are dicks.)

Mario Kart and I have a long history. I love the series. It has had some outings that didn't resonate with me -- Super Circuit and Mario Kart Wii come to mind -- but even at its worst they're still great games. Creating a good kart racer is hard, as evidenced by the numerous dead attempts at Kart racing franchises left in Mario Kart's dust. That Sega's recent Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is legitimately good is pretty shocking. Seriously, it's really good and on sale all the time. Buy it.

After the relative disappointment of Mario Kart Wii for me, I was wondering how I'd react to Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U. At Nintendo's E3 2013 press event, I finally got a chance to see what the company had crafted as their first HD Mario Kart. Settling into the game for the first time, I picked up the Wii U GamePad and began my first race.

I hated it.

Hold on, don't kill me yet! The problem is the default controls on the demo unit had you tilting the GamePad to turn, like the Wii Remote controls on Mario Kart Wii. It's fun for casual players, but I don't find any precision in that mode of play; it just feels too flighty to be enjoyable for me. I stuck it out and made it through the first race (which was actually the third race in the demo) with the control scheme, just to get a feel for the game. For my next race, I switched to analog controls, which can be done at anytime during a race by tapping the GamePad's touchscreen.

Even the most basic course benefit from the new anti-grav mechanic.

"Oh hey, Mario Kart. There you are," my fingers said immediately. There was the left-and-right tap of the power slide, the feel of holding a drift and waiting for the right time to release. That's the Mario Kart I've missed, now in glorious HD and married a track that would be perfect in F-Zero. (Hey Nintendo, bring back F-Zero. I'm willing to pay for an HD remake for F-Zero GX.) The F-Zero comparison is superficial, because while your kart is in anti-grav mode, it slides along the track as if you're on the ground. No big changes to the series here.

Pretty much everything from past Mario Karts is making a return, with the exception of Double Dash's switching mechanic. That means in addition to the new anti-grav, every vehicle has underwater and hang-gliding options, spread across regular karts, heavy karts, and bikes. Coins return for Mario Kart 8, but the demo didn't give any insight on how those coins will be used in the game. Ramp tricks for an extra boost are in and I'm not a snaking master, but it seemed somewhat possible in the demo I played, like the weakened version found in Mario Kart Wii.

Tracks are crucial to a great Mario Kart; you want more Bowser's Castle and less Vanilla Lake or DK Pass. There were only a few tracks in the demo I played: a Mario Circuit, a Seaside Resort, and a Boo House. (These aren't official names, just placeholders I've made up.) The latter two are pretty vanilla tracks in my opinion, but the Mario Circuit shows real promise.

Circuit courses tend to be the most boring in their respective Mario Karts, as they're meant to ease the player into the game. In contrast, the new Mario Circuit shows that the anti-grav sections can really free the Mario Kart track designers to try some new things. In old games, elevation tended be a gradual shift or achieved through big jumps or boosts. In Mario Kart 8, the designers have a chance to really embrace verticality. And it works. The Mario Circuit is a great-looking track in a great-looking game. Seeing the Mushroom Castle zip by upside-down in the skyline at 60 frames per second is worth the price of admission. (Which is currently free, I guess.) If this is the starting point, I look forward to what other insanity Nintendo will come up with.

The Mario Circuit was one of the best courses in the demo.

Hungry Nintendo is always the best Nintendo in my opinion. The Wii U is currently tracking well below their expectations. I'm sure they're hoping that Mario Kart 8 will contribute to the Wii U's fortunes like Mario Kart 7 did for the 3DS. And to make that happen, they need an absolutely amazing Mario Kart.

I can't tell you that Mario Kart 8 is going to be the perfect Mario Kart, because I've only played three tracks, three times in a row. But what I've seen is a glimpse at something that can be great, especially if the tracks take more after the Mario Circuit, which stands as Nintendo's best foot forward currently. When I played the game it was summer of 2013, and the game is currently slated for spring of 2014, so Nintendo's had time to design more tracks and cut out what doesn't work. Fingers crossed that they pull out all the stops. The Wii U needs it.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for sam-stephens #1 sam-stephens 4 years ago
    I really can't wait for this game. The anti-gravity surfaces are a neat feature. I just hope they have a lot of new maps in this game.
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #2 Ohoni 4 years ago
    You made the right call on the Sega CD, that thing never went anywhere.

    I love the new Mario Kart, but I still don't know that it'll be worth buying a WiiU over. Depends on the bundle packages, I suppose.
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  • Avatar for Baleoce #3 Baleoce 4 years ago
    Mmm that mirror mode toad's turnpike. MK64 was the one I played the most as well. I had the merciless approach, because it is one if the *very* few games I was above-par at, that I felt the honest need to actually show it to people. I wanted to impress them by brutally humiliating them at it, and not in a nasty way, I was just really proud of how well I played it, and even to this day I can not say that about most games.

    I played Mario Kart 8 at Eurogamer Expo. First thing I said to the guy at the booth is "how do I switch to regular controls?" I can't stand gyro. I'm also begging for an F-Zero GX HD. I feel we have many Nintendo racer parallels in our gaming history xD 8 It felt good, and I can imagine it would have an even better feel at 150cc speed, as most of the games do. I do hope Nintendo peeks its head outside of their development studio though, because I feel there were some lessons to be learned from the success of Sonic All-stars Transformed.

    I still think it's time for the series to evolve to Super Smash Kart. The potential racers / kart styles / weapons / race stages. I won't bark on about that though because I honestly feel Mario Kart 8 is looking in good shape, and I can't wait to get a hold of it.

    On a side note, I've been having a ton of fun lately with both Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 on the Wii Virtual Console. But in bed, playing it with the GamePad in my lap, using a classic controller pro.Edited December 2013 by Baleoce
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  • Avatar for Jinqs #4 Jinqs 4 years ago
    There have been a lot of great racing games, but in my mind, it has never really been better than the original Super Mario Kart. I played it for hours and hours as a young pup. It was a mainstay in my college dorm alongside Goldeneye and International Superstar Soccer 64 (despite being two generations older), and even today, I could easily lose an entire afternoon to Mario Kart if I powered on a SNES.

    Visuals aside, I feel like the game hasn't really aged at all really, and the additions that have been made to later entries in the series have not dramatically improved on the original formula that made the game so competitive and great (catch-up AI? Blargh!).

    So, in conclusion, Super Mario Kart is sublime. Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed is fabulous as well though, and it looks as though MK8 is heading in a similar direction. Color me cautiously optimistic.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #5 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    Wii u will be fine, but this is a mega title
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #6 Critical_Hit 4 years ago
    I'm still waiting for Mario Kart to catch up to Diddy Kong Racing, and just start offering up several vehicles. It's about time Mario took to the seas and skies... again. Lest we forget the "Skypop" and "Marinepop"(?) vehicles from Super Mario Land.

    Also, just make it Nintendo Kart already, guys. C'mon.

    But MK8 is still something worth looking forward simply because it is a SUBSTANTIAL LEAP forward, visually. Thus far, the games on the Wii U have come from a place of "We reject HD gaming hardware!". Some real, "old-skool" Japanese xenophobia or something. Some teams at Nintendo are just so closed-off and 100% committed to continuing on what they know well; Gamecube-era game-making techniques.

    But when you look at Mario Kart 8 here - or Xenoblade 2, or the Zelda tech demo brought to E3 2011 - it's clear that SOME PEOPLE at Nintendo know what's up and are eager to move beyond from what they've been doing for a decade. It's exciting. And it's nice to see some games on the Wii U that DON'T merely look like someone took a Wii game and played it through the Dolphin Emulator.

    Mario Kart is always fun. They usually at least have the potential to sell systems - though Double Dash didn't seem to do much. And this one looks particularly gorgeous. I'm hoping this is a good one.
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  • Avatar for rock27gr #7 rock27gr 4 years ago

    Oh, I think the WiiU already has plenty of games that are worth buying for.
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #8 Ohoni 4 years ago
    @rock27gr Tastes differ, personally I haven't seen it. There's Wind Waker, which may be slightly better tha the original version but I played that and am satisfied, there's Mario 3D which is a solid Mario but also not a system seller, there are a bunch of ports which are the same or better on systems I already own, the only game I actually care about is Kart, and like I said, it's not really a $300 game.
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  • Avatar for rock27gr #9 rock27gr 4 years ago

    Fair enough, got my WiiU on Black Friday deals and I've been having tremendous fun with Lego City Undercover, so much so that I haven't touched Mario 3D World yet, and I still have a sealed Rayman waiting(multi-platform but best on WiiU), and ZombiU, while I enjoyed Nintendo Land and WiiParty U local multi-player with friends, and spend 3 hours last night playing online Tennis (my arm hurts now though.)

    My girlfriend has been enjoying Wii Fit U (when she can get me off Lego City), and I still need to get Pikmin 3 (loved the first two on the GC), plus Deus Ex DC (also best on WiiU).

    The above aren't the only worthwhile releases on WiiU either, amd I haven't even began looking into the eShop offerings, too much on my plate as is anyway.

    So I guess it's a matter of taste maybe, but I can't say I've been feeling any shortage of software, only of money in my pocket! :)
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  • Avatar for rock27gr #10 rock27gr 4 years ago

    That said, I hope Mario Kart 8 is something special, the only console Mario Kart I've enjoyed was the original (N64s was ok though), and while I liked the two handheld ones, nothing has come close to the SNES one yet.
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