by Brian Robbins

Another quarter in the fiscal year, and another powerhouse Nintendo release. Just this past month, Nintendo unleashed Mario Kart 8 for the struggling Wii U. With sharp visuals, tight gameplay and an impressive coat of polish, could this be the system seller Nintendo has been looking for since the launch of the system? Not only is this a must own for hardcore gamers, Mario Kart 8 is a must-have title for literally anyone with electricity surging in their house.

The Mario Kart franchise first screeched onto the scene with the Super Nintendo back in the early 1990’s, the gameplay was solid, fast, and most of all invigorating for any racing fan. It was easy to play but hard to master. Sequels came and went and usually added more to the overall package. With Mario Kart 8, there’s plenty of new ideas but the basic fundamental kart racing game we all know and love, still shines through.

What Mario Kart 8 adds to the formula are anti-gravity sections littered throughout the race track. When I first tested the game at last year’s E3, I wasn’t impressed with the new feature. It just didn’t add anything unique or special to the racing. It felt unnecessary. Boy, what a difference a year makes to development time. Now these portions are the most exciting parts of the track. Your kart’s wheels will transform into their wall-scaling counterparts and when you bump into another racer, both of you will get a burst of speed. It fundamentally changes the gameplay of classic Mario Kart. You are no longer avoiding other racers but actively trying to slam into them during these sections.

A highlight to every new Mario Kart game is the additional items they add. With this iteration, they added an item that counters the dreaded Blue Shell; called the Super Horn. If you time it just right, the horn’s sound wave will crumble the demonic projectile. Granted, the Super Horn is a rare item to get but it adds more defensive depth. Another new item that’s sure to be a favorite at parties is the Piranha Plant. Once you activate it, the plant will automatically try its luck at snapping fellow racers and spinning them out. You can also manually control the plant, and use it as a poor man’s mushroom speed boost. They also included a new boomerang weapon, which is extremely powerful and acts just like you would expect. Along with the new items all of the classics are back too, giving Mario Kart 8 one of the biggest arsenals of the franchise.

Of course, you can’t forget about the insanely detailed tracks you’ll be racing around in. With Mario Kart 8, they added some of the best speedways since Mario Kart 64. Thanks to the anti-gravity sections, the courses never lack in variety. You’ll be racing on the side of a candy mountain that seems straight out of Wreck-It-Ralph, as well as familiar feeling beach courses that will take you underwater. Also, just like in Mario Kart 7, you’ll also find sections in the course that will launch you high into the atmosphere and will activate your kart’s hang glider. Of course, the infamous Rainbow Road is back as well and is every bit as challenging as it ever was.

This has been the only game that truly shows off the graphical ability of the Wii U. There were times during gameplay that the visuals matched something you’d see on a Playstation 4 or an Xbox One title. The graphics look that stunning. Obviously, the better your TV the more impressive it’s going to look. Do yourself a favor and play on a 1080p television. Mario Kart Wii made it difficult to follow your racer during a local four player splitscreen match but Nintendo seems to have fixed this problem. Thankfully, it’s easy for everyone to get a grasp on the action.

If there was one downside of Mario Kart 8, it has to be the online capabilities. Nintendo happens to be light years behind Microsoft and Sony with their online features. Racing in matches with randomly selected players is easy to do but that’s about it. The game just feels too limited in this aspect and with no real microphone to trash talk in, why not just play with someone in your own living room? Nintendo needs to get with the program and hopefully the Wii U version of Super Smash Brothers solves this problem. Just a shame that Nintendo’s marque racing franchise’s online is just so bland. Also, when racing with your friends, don’t bother with the battle mode. They changed the classic formula and has everyone in a much too large track, trying to pop each other’s balloons. The game seems to go on forever and felt like it was just added at the last second.

With Mario Kart 8, you’re getting plenty of racing goodness. There’s an insane amount of characters and karts to unlock, tracks to try out and did I mention it has one of the best theater modes in gaming? Just look at Luigi’s death stares mid race and try not to laugh. The only negative thing with the game is again Nintendo’s online functions. Mario Kart 8 is another smash-hit for the kart racing series and is an absolute must own for the system.  For those of you who haven’t picked up a WiiU yet, there is a bundle available that includes the console, a copy of Mario Kart 8, a Mario stylized Remote Plus, and a steering wheel, all for $329.99. Come into your local Slackers and pick it up today.

4.5-star-turtle