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Preview: Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart only releases once on every Nintendo system so the game has to be as good as possible. We had the opportunity to play Mario Kart 8 in preview and the game is shaping up to be one of the best in the franchise.

Every Mario Kart game introduces something new to the gameplay. Mario Kart 7 introduced underwater and air races while the Wii version introduced bikes to the game. The big new thing in Mario Kart 8 is the anti-gravity. At first sight it may look like just another gimmick but it’s far more than just that. The anti-gravity tracks really add something to the gameplay.

This unique new feature makes it possible to drive on walls and ceilings, resulting in a more intense race. That’s not all however. The rules of gravity aren’t the only thing that changes when you race upon anti-gravity tracks. While racing in anti-gravity you’ll gain a little boost when you hit an obstacle or opponent. This means crashing into your opponent really pays off when you’re under the influence of the anti-gravity power. Thanks to this new feature the races are played differently than in previous games and are a little more tactical.

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Not all tracks use the anti-gravity that much but we played some impressive new tracks like ‘Thwomp Ruins’ and ‘Shy Guy Falls’ where the anti-gravity resulted in some very impressive moments. The anti-gravity really fits the franchise and it feels like the games were meant to be played this way all along. As said in the beginning, this isn’t just a simple gimmick, it’s a new (and better) way of playing Mario Kart.

More balance.

Although Mario Kart Wii was a big commercial success, fans weren’t always that happy with the game. The 12 playable characters and spawning of strong items like the Blue Shield resulted in a very chaotic race were skills weren’t always needed to win. Nintendo listened to those complains and made sure Mario Kart 8 felt more natural and well balanced.

The first thing we noticed during our hands-on was the fast pace of the game. Everything runs really smooth at 60 frames per second and even when you fall of the tracks you won’t lose that much time. Unlike other Mario Kart games, this version is more forgiving towards slight errors on the tracks. When you fall down, Lakitu will put you back on the tracks faster than ever before. This is a great new development since it makes sure this new and faster pace can be kept throughout the entire race.

We also had the impression that the items and the time they appear are more balanced. The feared Blue Shield doesn’t appear that much anymore and the other items are more balanced when it comes to their power. What hasn’t changed is that you’ll gain more powerful items when your falling behind. All in all the balance has finally returned to the franchise. This time your racing and drifting skills are very important if you want to win the race. You’ll still need a little luck to win but it’s never as chaotic or unfair like in the previous Wii version.

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Some new toys.

Mario Kart 8 features some new and old toys as well. Let’s start with the weapons. During our session we were able to use three new items: boomerang, Piranha Plants and golden coin. The boomerang is a nice new weapon since you can use it three times. The first two times you use it, it will return to your kart, this means you can even hit an opponent when your boomerang returns to your hand. The third time you throw it, it won’t return. The Piranha Plant is a powerful new item since it bites everything that’s in its way. Opponents aren’t safe anymore when you drive by them holding the Plant. This item also takes coins and items off the tracks and even gives you a continuous boost when there aren’t any opponents near you.  The last new item, the Golden Coin gives your kart some extra coins. Just like previous Mario Kart games, the more coins you have, the faster you’ll drive.

Aside of the items the game also features some new playable characters such as the Koopalings, each with their own unique character and way of racing. The character roster is filled with several new and returning characters to make sure every player will find his/her favorite character in no time.

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How to control the game.

Just like Mario Kart on Wii, Mario Kart 8 offers different ways to be controlled. You can play this game with the WiiMote (and steering weel), Wii Mote + Nunchuk, Wii Mote and Classic Controller (Pro), Wii U Pro Controller and the Wii U Gamepad. A lot of different styles of playing, we liked the ones where you can control your kart with a stick but that’s truly up to you. Everyone can decide their way of playing.

When you play with the Gamepad you’ll have access over a second screen. On this screen you can watch the map of the track, stream your game or honk your horn. You can also use the Gamepad’ motion controls to steer. The Gamepad isn’t used that much in the game but that’s nothing to worry about. You’ll need your full attention on the television screen in order to win.

Mario Kart TV.

Mario Kart TV is another new and awesome feature. After each race you can watch the highlights again in Mario Kart TV. The fun part about this is that you can change what you want to see. You can pick the characters that need to be featured in the video and even the focus of the video. Do you want a video focused on action or items? You can select all of this in an easy menu. Straight after you select what you would like to see, the video is shown on the television or Gamepad. The video features dynamic camera work and some epic special effects such as slow-motion. You’re also able to share this video on MiiVerse. Mario Kart TV is your own little tool to make some epic memories of your time with Mario Kart 8.

Graphics and sound.

The last thing worth mentioning are the graphics and the sound. So obviously this is the first true high definition Mario Kart game which means the courses and characters look better than ever before. The game is without a doubt one of the best looking on Wii U. Thanks to the better graphics, Nintendo could go all out with details in the levels. Thanks to this, the retro tracks don’t look different from the new tracks. For the first time in the franchise’ history you won’t see the difference in graphics between new and old tracks. All retro tracks are remastered into new versions featuring the new anti-gravity and other new features.

Last but not least, the sound. Another first for the franchise, an orchestral soundtrack. Thanks to this orchestral sound during the races, you’ll be sucked into the gorgeous new world immediately.

Conclusion.

This hands-on session blew us away. Mario Kart 8 is shaping up to be the best in the franchise. Thanks to the balance and cool new features, players will enjoy this game a lot. We can’t wait to get our hands on the full retail version of the game because we only saw a little piece of the big puzzle. One thing’ for sure, Nintendo is on the right track with this one.

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.