So Mario Kart 8 is almost upon us and we don't know much about the game. Here comes Nintendo to the rescue, deliver the brand-new information "directly to you" as Nintendo president Satoru Iwata would say. The company released a 36 minute long Nintendo Direct Mario Kart 8, acting as a deep dive into everything about the new title.
The video begins with explanation of Mario Kart 8's big new feature, anti-gravity racing. Mario Kart producer Hideki Konno explained that the idea came from Nintendo exploring a way to add new variety to the courses with the power of the Wii U. Most games in the series have featured some new addition, some bigger than others; Mario Kart 64 added true 3D tracks to the series for the first time, while Mario Kart Wii just added bikes.
Initially, Mario Kart 8's anti-gravity leans towards the latter. It's visually stunning and allows Nintendo to create some amazing tracks, but the gameplay looks nearly the same. The game adds some drift to your kart's control in anti-gravity areas, but it doesn't completely change the way Mario Kart plays. To make anti-gravity more meaningful, Nintendo has added the Spin Boost, where you gain boost from slamming into other karts, instead of powersliding. There are also obstacles on the track that provide a similar boost.
The Spin Boost should make the anti-gravity areas of each track the best place to catch up to the leader, because the mechanic benefits racing in the middle of the pack over being way ahead in first. As Konno notes, it makes the anti-grav areas more aggressive in competitive play, but it also gives players an incentive to act cooperatively to boost each other ahead.
The video showed off new tracks like Mario Kart Stadium, the city-bound Toad Harbor, Shy Guy Falls, a new Mario Circuit, a new Bowser's Castle, a new Moo Moo Farm, a new DK Jungle, a swag course on a snowy resort, and the wonderful return of Rainbow Road. The website shows off the list of cups: Mushroom, Fire Flower, Star, King, Shell, Banana Peel, Leaf, and Lightning. Konno noted that when you're playing the game, the tracks don't look all that different because the camera is tied to your racer's viewpoint, but the replay feature will show off what you actually look like racing upside-down or vertically up a wall.
Mario Kart 8 also brings Mario Kart 7's cart customization into the HD era. Players can customize their kart bodies, tires, and gliders to create karts that fit their playstyle. Karts, bikes, and ATVs in the game are measured in speed, acceleration, weight, cornering, and grip via a six-star system. The full extent of the vehicle customization was shown off in a Japanese Mario Kart 8 stream, detailed on NintendoNews. The full list is below:
- Karts – Standard Kart, Airship, Classical Cat, Bad Wagon, G-Force, Para-Bidybud, Pipe Frame, Princess Coach, Sneaker, Steel Diver, Superstar, Tri-Smash, Turbo One.
- Bikes – Standard Bike, Broad Bean, Burning Bowl, Jet Rider, Mach GP, Maximum, Motor Dozer, Super Comet, Yoshi Bike.
- ATVs – Standard ATV, Bean Rider, Wild Wiggler.
- Tires – Standard Tires, Normal Blue, Ring Tires, Spicy Rings, Roller, Sky Rollers, Monster, Wild Hot, Sponge, Slick, Cyber Slick, Block Tires, Cream Blocks, Metal Tires, Wood Rings, Button Tires, Cushion Tires.
- Gliders – Super Glider, Cloud Balloons, Flower Glider, Koopa Kite, MKTV Parafoil, Parachute, Para-glider, Peach Parasol, Sail Plane, Waddlewing Kite, Wario Glider.
The video shows all the characters in a single vehicle, like Rosalina on a bike and Donkey Kong on an ATV, but the website lists Rosalina as a heavy character and shows her on an ATV, so you should be able to mix-and-match freely. Later in the video, Nintendo outlined the differences between karts and bikes, with karts having greater speed in straightaways, while bikes are slightly better in corners. The ATV probably improves your performance in off-road races.
Mario Kart 8 is also adding new racers to the cast. Bowser's seven kids from Super Mario Bros. 3 - Larry, Roy, Iggy, Lemmy, Morton, Wendy, and Ludwig - have all joined the roster. Baby Rosalina rounds out the baby versions of the cast and Metal Mario is joined by a second metallic racer, Pink Gold Peach. Finally, you can play as a Mii character, bringing the total cast to 30 racers. I'm not big on the Koopalings, because they all feel rather similar, whereas Mario Kart 7 had more interesting additions, like Honey Queen and Wiggler. In fact, these last additions all feel like Nintendo just padding out the cast with spin-off of existing characters.
Onto the new weapons! The first is the boomerang flower, an interesting weapon for fighting in the pole position. The weapon can either hit on the initial throw or the return if it misses, and it can be thrown up to three times. The new Piranha Planet attaches to the front of your vehicle, chomping down on any opponent or banana peel in your way. Then there's the Crazy Eight, which gives you eight items: Mushroom, Green Shell, Red Shell, Banana Peel, Bob-Omb, the Quid, a Coin, and a Super Star. Finally, there's the Super Horn, which knocks over everyone around you with a shockwave or destroys shells in the immediate area. Yes, even Blue Shells. The tide has finally turned my friends!
Mario Kart 8 has four different online modes, separated into who you'll be playing with: Worldwide, Regional, Friends, and Tournaments. The Tournament mode will let players host their own tournaments and set up the tourney details, including date and time, cup choice, and vehicles. Up to 12 players being able to join at one time in each mode. Multiplayer lobbies feature voice chat or a text chat option that lets you choose between set phrases.
You can also race against downloadable ghosts from around the world, with winners getting a special Miiverse stamp. There's also the Mario Kart TV mode previously-announced at E3 2013. This allows you to record your best racing moments and share them with friends or on YouTube, like built-in video streaming options for other consoles.
The latter part of the video includes a small section highlighting Mario Kart 8's music, which is recorded with live instruments. It's all very good and all standard Mario Kart fare.
Nintendo's trying to make sure Wii U owners are all-in on Mario Kart 8, so when you buy the game and register your purchase on Club Nintendo, you'll get a download code of one of four Wii U titles. The promotion only stretches from the game's launch date on May 30 to July 31, so if you want to get either New Super Mario Bros U, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, or Wii Party U for free, you'll need to hurry.
Nintendo also wants to bring in new consumers, so they'll be launching a Mario Kart 8 Wii U bundle with a Wii U Deluxe, Mario Kart 8, the Mario-branded Wii Remote, and a Red Wiimote Wheel. The entire bundle is $329.99, which seems a bit too close to the price of the PlayStation 4 for my blood. It's still a good deal, especially if you buy within the time limit set by the previous promotion, meaning you'd get another Wii U game for free.
All in all, the new Nintendo Direct did one of its jobs at keeping my personal hype at a high level, but I do wonder if the mainstream consumers will even see it. Like all Directs, it seems like this one was preaching to the choir, and fanning the flames of Nintendo faithful fervor. Of course, Mario Kart remains one of Nintendo's best-selling series and at this point, mainstream consumers might just see the name and jump on without any other information. I'm sure that's what Nintendo's hoping for, since the Wii U needs all the help it can get.