by Brian Robbins

 At this year’s E3 it was a struggle to even get inside the Nintendo booth. The lines were incredibly long, the floor space was overly crowded and you just couldn’t get from one game to another. Luckily, I got to play one of the Wii U’s biggest games, and that was Mario Kart 8. I’m a huge Mario Kart fan so I was pretty pumped to get some hands on time. Keep in mind, the build I played at E3 this year was very much a work in progress.

Starting out, you have the option to use either the Wii U’s gamepad tilt controls or the classic analog and buttons. Being a purist, I had to stick with the traditional controls. I found that the tilt controls seemed more or less twitchy so I figured I should just stick with what I understood. Before the game started, of course you had to pick your character. Personally, I can’t play a Mario Kart game and not be Mario.

When the game has loaded the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s gorgeous. I can confidently say that this game is easily the best looking Wii U game to date. It had incredibly vivid colors, the environments looked alive and characters seemed almost like something out of a Pixar movie. Even the items seemed to get an overhaul– I never thought that green turtle shells could look so beautiful.

But visuals don’t mean anything if the gameplay isn’t there. And for the most part it is. There were a lot of features that weren’t available during the E3 demo. For example, in Mario Kart 7 you can collect coins on the track to give your kart a boost but in the E3 build the coins were there but they didn’t provide anything.

What was there was one of Mario Kart 8’s new features: anti-gravity sections. On certain parts on the track, your kart will transform its wheels to jet engines that will grip the track as you go upside down and side to side. It was a neat feature and it looked cool but it didn’t really add anything to the gameplay. Then again, I only saw a couple of tracks and this game was just announced this month. I hope Nintendo really goes buck wild with this feature because I could totally see it becoming something really fun and different. It’s just a shame that during the E3 build it was rarely showed off.

Despite the new features, the gameplay remained basically the same. It’s still the old Mario Kart. You’ll get better items if you’re lagging behind, and you’ll probably only get a banana or a green turtle shell if you’re in first place. It’s almost as if you’re rewarded if you decide to stay in the back until the last lap of the race. I feel like they really need to change this up somehow.

Basically, if you’ve ever played a Mario Kart game in your life, you’ve played Mario Kart 8. It’s unfortunate but true. I mean, if you absolutely love Mario Kart, then you’ll have a great time. Everyone else might get bored with the  limited gameplay. Granted, this is a very early look at the game and there’s sure to be more features added but for right now it’s basically Mario Kart 7.5.

It’s no secret that the Wii U isn’t exactly performing admirably. What seems to be the case is that the games just aren’t there. I’m very confident Mario Kart 8 will be a system seller, and hopefully down the line Nintendo will add downloadable content to the game post launch. I think what they will need to do is add more tracks, karts and characters to keep people interested. That’s one of the main problems with the Mario Kart franchise; it just gets stale after too long. They have a golden opportunity with the next console generation to completely change that.

 Sure, Mario Kart has always been undeniably fun but it’s never been a game to keep you occupied. It’s like candy: it’s nice to have once in awhile but you don’t want to keep eating it, when something like Zelda or an actual Mario game is a better main course. I’m hoping with the next iteration of Mario Kart that they’ll add more depth and unlockables to keep the player coming back. If Nintendo would take their time with the Mario Kart games maybe we’ll have a more absorbing title. I’m very optimistic about Mario Kart 8 and most likely it’ll be a must have for any Wii U owners regardless of how hollow the series might be.