In case you didn’t get in on the fun, Nintendo had Mario Kart 8 preview events at GameStops this past weekend, and I was lucky enough to give the game a go. I’ve been with the Mario Kart series since its debut on SNES, and have thoroughly enjoyed every installment since. Mario Kart 7 has become something of a benchmark for me following its release on 3DS, with its brilliant new air and underwater additions to the racing formula, so I had very high expectations for 8 as I walked into my local GameStop. I’m happy to report that if the final game is anything like what I sampled, fans have quite a bit to look forward to when it drops on May 30th.
From the outset, the MK8 demo hits the ground running, as players are greeted by way of Mario shouting the title’s name with total abandon. Just to reiterate, this isn’t the final game, so I’m assuming there might be tweaks to certain things in the game’s final retail version. That being said, I enjoyed the serenity of selecting a racer then quickly assembling a kart to my liking. As in MK7, 8 has carried over the simple mix and match system of combining chassis, wheels and tires, and gliders, which I hope is never abandoned. Besides the strategic aspect of it, kart customization adds a small flourish of individuality that I greatly appreciate. From there, players select from one of eight tracks, and it’s off to, well, the races!
It never ceases to amaze me how easy Nintendo makes track design look in the Mario Kart games. In just the small sampling of races that the MK8 demo affords, I was floored by an incredible variety of courses. Toad Harbor feels like a pseudo-San Francisco with its hilly roads and cable cars, while Sunshine Airport sends a jetliner straight at the player as they glide through the air. In terms of visuals, it’s easily one of the top games on Wii U. My eyes were darting all over the screen trying to soak in every glittery detail of the tracks I was zooming around. If Wii U is “last-gen”, I don’t ever want to leave.
As far as course design goes, the MK8 demo is also tops. Course layouts are intentionally pulse-pounding, with mini-events like the incoming jetliner I described packed into every course, which is both visually arresting but also a means of keeping players on their toes. What seem like simple eye candy is often an obstacle or hazard in disguise, tasking players to act on the fly to avoid crashing and falling behind. What’s more, sometimes these events happen once per race, which further amps up the thrills. It’s not as jarringly chaotic as I’m making it sound, either, as players will have clear indications of when road conditions change or a hazard is incoming; it’s a more than fair setup. Essentially, it’s a new way of making every race unique and fun, no matter how many times someone plays through the game.
Finally, the controls are as rock solid as ever. I played using the GamePad and Wii Racing Wheel, and while I race exclusively with traditional analogue stick and button controls, I was pleasantly surprised at how much better the motion tracking was in the demo than Mario Kart Wii. That not to say MK Wii had rotten motion controls, but MK8 is clearly a step up. Regardless of which setup I used, my racer controlled perfectly. That’s important, given the insane amount of action happening on the screen. The transition from land to sea to air is as smooth as it was in MK7, and the new anti-grav mechanic is equally sound. It might seem like a mundane new feature, but anti-grav is a thrill to experience. Racing along a wall with other drivers below me was mind-bending and exciting. The avenues this opens for finding shortcuts was not lost on the developers, either, so look forward to secrets peppered about that tie-in to the mechanic.
Overall, I think Nintendo has put together a racer to be proud of. I couldn’t get enough of the demo and found myself even more hyped up for MK8 than I was before. May 30th can’t get here soon enough, and when it does, I’ll be following up with a full review!