Mario Kart 8
Genre: Kart Racer
Platforms: Wii U
Reason To Cop It: The game's beautiful. Nintendo has delivered an immensely enjoyable Wii U title.
Reason to Not Cop It: You don't own a Wii U (yet).
Bottom Line: Nintendo has proven detractors wrong. Cop immediately.
Nostalgia's a slippery emotional state to pin an entire business model to. For years Nintendo has been accused of living in the past. Rehashing old characters, old titles, and leaning on the fond memories aging fans have for their own childhoods. Ivory tower isolationism has also left Nintendo with little to no support for third party publishers and developers.
All of these perceived woes were concentrated and given form in the Wii U. Nintendos' next-gen console that fell somewhere between this generation and the last in terms of horsepower and titles. Since the Wii U launched in 2012, Nintendo has struggled to convince gamers the console is a must own piece of hardware. A lack of compelling Nintendo launch titles didn't help. Where was the new Zelda or Metroid that fans have been clamoring for? Super Mario 3D World was great, but that launched nearly a year after the Wii U debuted.
With 22 years of history behind the franchise, Mario Kart is one of the most widely recognizable and influential titles in Nintendo's stable of intellectual properties. How has two plus decades treated the seminal Kart racing series for contemporary audiences? Mario Kart 8 is a thunderous proclamation of Nintendo's relevancy. The game is simultaneously familiarly welcoming and forward facing. The cast of franchise regulars return with a healthy assorted mix of old 'remixed' and new race tracks.
Is Mario Kart 8 a stroke of ambitious risk-taking on the part of a company that desperately needs new ideas? No, it's not, but it doesn't need to be. Nintendo has taken a tried formula for success and created, arguably, the best entry in the series.
Mechanically, the game remains unchanged from the first time you slapped a cartridge into the top of your Super Nintendo. Some tweaks have been made to power-sliding and drifting allowing seasoned racers to take advantage of those techniques, but the biggest departure from all Mario Kart titles to date is the removal of gravity. Peppered on the asphalt of tracks are anti-gravity strips. When you hit one of these strips, the wheels of your cart fold under the chassis transforming your kart into a makeshift Delorean from the end of the first Back to the Future. You'll stay attached to the track until you cross the next blue strip or fall to your death.
This gives tracks another dimension that falls somewhere between that pirate ship ride at county fairs and F-Zero. It takes a moment to acclimate yourself, but it's an enormous amount of fun to fire shells while being completely inverted. And let's talk about those shells. Is there a more detested armament in video games than the infamous Blue Shell. No time spent in first place is ever anxiety-free as long as that indigo misery missile is in play.
Until now. Mario Kart 8 has finally introduced a defensive measure against the first place seeking shell. The Super Horn is a new counter-attack that emits a sonic blast that destroys all incoming attacks on a player's kart. The sonic pulse will bounce back other racers in its blast radius in addition to deflecting any colored shell assault. It's a rare power-up and only shows up occasionally, but for the first time players are able to protect themselves while in first place.
Mario Kart 8 feels different while still retaining that familiar Nintendo magic. And that's the trick isn't it? Making you feel like a goofy twelve-year-old playing a Nintendo game even though you're paying back student loans and dreading that first of the month rent check being cashed.
More than just a beefier, HD version of Mario Kart, Mario Kart 8 manages the delicate balancing act of appealing to devoted life-long fans of the series and modern relevance to those who may not have such a storied, rose-tinted history with Nintendo.
I'm happy to report that, yes, Rainbow Road is still a track that you're going to die on. It's back and it's still unforgiving. The AI of the other racers is equally merciless as you begin to race at higher classes. With over 30 characters in the roster, half are locked until you complete track and race challenges, Mario Kart 8 doesn't lack in terms of racer diversity. Nintendo has incorporated online mulitplayer damn near perfectly into MK 8 and any time we felt like racing against real people we experienced no lag and quick loading times.
Nintendo has also made it immensely easier to record, save, and share video footage of races to be upload to the Miiverse. YouTube uploading has also been integrated, but will be fully functional when the game launches on May 30.
Nintendo hasn't reinvented the franchise with Mario Kart 8, but they never needed to. This is a perfect example of how Nintendo can turn around the flagging performance of the Wii U. The game is ridiculously enjoyable and could be just the console seller Nintendo needs. Mario Kart 8 should be copped immediately.