Sunday, 1 June 2014

First Impressions: Mario Kart 8

I have been waiting for this game with bated breath ever since it was first announced. I have not been disappointed.

The tyres screech as they eat into the tarmac, dust flying everywhere as I line up my turtle shell with my opponent's exhaust pipe. I let it fly, and my opponent has just enough time to look round, moustache rippling in the wind, before being launched into the air with an explosion of turtle shell and cartoony stars. I smile and jump into the air with a single cry of 'Yoshi!' before taking him and carrying on into the distance. A strip of blue glints close by as I grab a coin, the track reflecting in the shiny gold surface, and rev up my quadbike to max, echoes reverberating all over the wooden bridge. I reach the blue strip and feel weightless as my karts wheels flip round and start to glow. I hit the waterfall head first and... Start to drive up it. As boost pads fall down the rushing waterfall I begin to pick up speed and soon reach the top (after pin-balling into the person in first place for a quick speed boost). My wheels return to normal and I drift round some corners, sparks flying from underneath me and then I hit a blue ramp and fly over to a tunnel in the mountain, my glider rippling in the wind. Suddenly, the noise of work reaches my ears and I turn to see dozens of yellow Shy Guys hammering jewels. However, I must have been admiring their handiwork for too long as, all of a sudden, my long-time rival had overtaken me, to the sound of 'Wahoo!'. I pick up the pace and we hit the line together. Now it's time to watch it all again in slow motion.

And that is the essence of Mario Kart 8 (how did you like the little drama, by the way?). The two biggest add-ons to the series in this update both begin with gr. Nintendo advertised it as gravity (or, rather, the lack of it) while I think that it's the graphics. They're absolutely phenomenal. From the biggest stadium to the hairs on Mario's face all the way to the particles of dust being flung from the wheels. And anti-gravity just gives you another outlook on how much effort the Mario Kart team have put into the game.

But that's not all, as I have said in the drama paragraph, you can also get a quick little speed boost by hitting into a fellow racer. This gameplay design, somewhat fittingly, flips Mario Kart's races on its head as, rather than staying as far away from your opponents as possible, you try to ram them all as much as you can. And, as competitive Mario Kart players will know, any little speed boost is appreciated.

I have only played through two grand prix so far (I would have done more if my game hadn't taken so long to arrive) which were the Mushroom and Fire Flower Cups although I have also played Mario Circuit GBA time trial. As an introduction to anti-gravity I would defiantly recommend the latter course due to the fact that a quarter of the iconic track has been lifted through the use of hydraulics enabling you to see the majority of the course as you pinball off of your rivals and hurtle, head-first, towards the ground.

As you have probably guessed from the drama paragraph (at least you would have if you have played/read about MK 8) my favourite track so far is probably Shy Guy Falls although Twisted Mansion comes a close second. This is due to the fact that these two tracks show off the polish of the game the most and are also, crucially, really fun to race on. However, I am really looking forward to racing on the two Rainbow Roads as they are consistently brilliant throughout the MK series and these two look to be the best so far. And then there is Sunshine Airport, Mount Wario and Bowser's Castle among the already established Grumble Volcano and Music Park and many more besides. In terms of tracks, this entry is definitely the strongest so far.

And then there are the characters. As normal, you don't start with all of the characters and instead have to unlock them by doing certain things like winning grand prix's. And, while most people were disappointed with the character roster, I feel that it's a good choice (minus Pink Gold Peach - what were they thinking?). One of the main reasons for this is that I generally only play as one character anyway and while its quite nice to have a variety of choice, without a bigger stat change between characters (or specific character powers - please Nintendo!) I don't feel that it matters too much.

Next up are the karts/bikes/quadbikes. So far, I have only used the Quadbike and Sports Bike (heresy, I know) as I missed having the bikes in MK 7 and also, wanted a go at the new Quadbike. Customisation is back from MK 7 (I'm still not sure if I like this or not) and so is the ten coin per race limit. This is as annoying as it was in MK 7 due to it making it more difficult than it should be to unlock new kart parts. However, the kart parts that I have unlocked have been much better and more varied that MK 7 and they all look good as well. Another nice thing with customisation is that it means that I can leave my little sister racing and she can get me coins and unlock kart parts while having fun in the process.

There were five new items added to the game (Coin, Super Horn, Piranha Plant, Boomerang and Crazy Eight) although I have only experienced one of them and that is the Coin. I don't know if I've just been unlucky or if it's because I've been in first place all the time (humbly, of course) but it has been annoying. All the Coin item does is give you two coins (which can be quite helpful as it equates to two speed boosts) but when you have ten coins, it would be nice to see this item stop popping up. I'm really looking forward to finally using the other items as they seem to be quite innovative and varied in style. The two final things that I've seen about items is that you now hold onto the item you've got (which can help you see if the person in front has a Super Mushroom or not as well as letting you nick one if they are holding three - due to them circling the player's kart) and the fact that you can no longer hold onto two items. I think this was done to stop veteran players from hording banana's and shells but it can be annoying for less skilful players.

The final thing that I have seen so far is MK TV. This feature is brilliant, and enables you to watch a replay of your past race. But that's not all, as it also lets you fast forward, rewind and (to Satamer's continued dismay) slow motion-afi (technical term) the replay as well as choose what the highlights should focus on be it one player, three player's, items or action along with how long it should run for. You can then post this straight to Miiverse or (in a frankly, unNintendo fashion) straight to YouTube. This is one of the best features of MK 8 and doubles the already nearing infinite play-ability.

Overall, MK 8 looks great, plays great, sounds great and replay's great. I really look forward to playing more of this amazing game and I hope that it is a sign of great things to come for the Wii U. Watch out for the review later.

Goodbye for now, Harry

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