If it isn't broken, don't fix it usually applies to long-running Nintendo titles like Super Mario Bros. and Super Smash Bros. Nintendo is known to refine the core concept for sequels, adding a dollop of something innovative here and there to keep the momentum going. That's been the case with the more recent batch of Mario Kart racers on both home and portable consoles: core racing formulas with something new added to the mix.
With Mario Kart 8 announced at E3 for a Spring 2014 release, just how is Nintendo's iconic racing series handling when zipping high definition circuits?
Praised as one of the better looking, "true" high-definition efforts from Nintendo, Mario Kart 8 looks just as stunning in the flesh than in trailers and videos. Nintendo have taken quite a different approach in the visual style, a twinge bit more realism and more natural texture work than in Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS. Instead of shallow, fairly enclosed environments, we've got vast arenas to race in, decorated with bustling trees, intricate background details; a far bigger sense of scale and majesty compared to the past entries. Despite the added detail, the Nintendo charm is still very much apparent. We aren't zipping about barren, lifeless detailed worlds, but unique environments littered with Mushroom Kingdom characters, enemies and subtle throwbacks to past Mario Kart and Super Mario Bros. titles, it's a remarkable leap in both art-style and the general look and feel, yet keeping series staples to retain what fans know and have loved about the series for decades.
The leap to high definition has really made its mark though the design, but also in the gorgeous lighting, shadows and of course a solid 60fps. For most, framerate isn't really a concern as long as the game itself is playable, but for racers like Mario Kart, a smooth and consistent framerate is desirable and the Wii U version certainly doesn't disappoint so far. Even in two player local split-screen the action remained and pushed a solid 60fps without any apparent dip in performance.
It certainly looks the part, but what about the actual gameplay and vehicle handling? With any new entry in an established franchise there's always a concern that there might be too many tweaks that veer the new game well off course, but fortunately Mario Kart 8 is still very much in the hands of the folk who continue to fine tune the concept like a well-oiled vintage car. Taking both karts and bikes for a spin, Mario Kart 8 feels very much like the balance set in Mario Kart Wii, leaning more to the Wii edition than 3DS in physics/weight. As a result, both vehicle types feel tight and instantly familiar. The game can be played with traditional/analogue control, Wii Wheel, GamePad motion control and the remote/Nunchuck combination for a wide number of playstyles - from the traditional player to those who hopped on-board during the Wii era. The two wheelers also seem to have been tweaked ever so slightly to establish a stronger balance between kart and bike, with wheelies seeming to disappear, at least from the demo. Tricks on ramps however, together with the glider ability introduced in Mario Kart 7 are still very much there in full force for those who know just when to use it.
Mechanic wise, this time round the new slice of innovation is the anti-gravity segments, some of which were included in the E3 demo played. It's not on demand, so like the gliding sections or tricks are limited to certain sections of the track design that seem to be as optional shortcuts or at times, obligatory to the track's concepts. It sounds like a foreign idea to Mario Kart, but as with bikes and underwater sections, anti-gravity does have a place in the race, adding a shift in perspective. There may be a concern that sticking onto the ceiling or caressing the walls could disrupt the traditionally on-ground experience with awkward handling, but these sections certainly work for the most part; maintaining both traction and speed, adding a new dimension without drastically reinventing what's worked for years.
The E3 demo featured three distinctive tracks - the first was what should be the traditional Mario Circuit, but ventured off into showcasing the stunning gravity twists and turns on the track. After setting the scene, players were invited into a tropical/port setting, a bustling cultural hub with trams, warm lighting and even a mini-market thrown in for good measure. This untitled circuit was the perfect showcase for the various different routes Mario Kart 8 appears to be working towards, branching off in places, micro but sharp shortcuts in others. Finally, the demo grand prix ended in the spectacular Boo Mansion, where a portion involved clinging onto walls to avoid colliding with a Boo banquet and eerie lighting to bring this scary setting to life.
What also appears tuned in the demo so far is the game's AI, with the "rubber banding" effect appearing to be reduced in favour of the person in front, with more useful items being granted to those leading the pack as well. The balancing items towards the lower end of the race weren't shown or available in this demo, however Nintendo did confirm that these are being ironed out for the eventual release next year.
Worth waiting for?
Overall the demo to Mario Kart 8 is a spectacular start to something that will be rather impressive. The game is blistering fast, fluid and familiar yet ups the ante considerably. We're excited about what's to come and it's certainly worth trying out the demo in an Expo near you in the future.
I find it strange how Nintendo can say that they can't justify making a racing game like F Zero because they can't 'develop the genre' or whatever, and then they go and develop a Mario Kart game like this. Still, it looks amazing and I can't wait to play it!
Very glad to hear that it's more on the Mario Kart Wii side when it comes to physics and the sense of weight. That has to be the main reason why I enjoyed Mario Kart 7 a lot less. Double Dash feels insane after Mario Kart Wii as well. They got the perfect balance on the Wii that every other game in the series feels completely off to me.
I'm not even sure what I'm more excited about, this game or Super Smash Bros. All I know is that I'll play them online all the time.
I hopingthey give us the option of adding the race time to the hud, im praying for time trial to be extended over all modes and im wishing that they bring back baby park; 7 laps, short track, pure carnage!
But i know i wont get none but i still cant wait for this game.
I guess the thing with F-Zero is that Miyamoto doesn't just want to do like, he wants to make it amazing and just a few tracks aren't going convince Miyamoto.
With Mario Kart 8, ideas explode and he found something that would work well against all the other amazing features, you can never go Anti-Gravy in the air or underwater in F-Zero and Bikes are back! It still has a lot on unique features, even Anti-Gravity looks like it is different. Mario Kart 8 is the type of game I wouldn't criticize or have an opinion until I have tried it because it is an extremely popular series which is why they started developing for it .
Mario Kart doesn't come out often enough that I feel much need for Nintendo to reinvent the series with each new title - Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 added enough to the formula, taking it to the next level (HD graphics, better online support) is all I really wanted from Mario Kart 8 and I'd be just as hyped if they left out the antigravity. Now if Mario Kart 9 was more of the same it might start to feel stale and would need a shakeup, but on my end Mario Kart 8 just needed to introduce the series to a few key modern gaming conventions.I might be in the minority but I rather like the familiarity of Mario Kart 8, to be honest. (I got to see the e3 demo up close at one of the Nintendo Experiences hosted by a local Best Buy.)
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