Jun 242014
 

The sun is shining bright. The roar of the crowd has approached the level of volume that makes the rest of the world fall away. Now it’s just you, them, your powerful machine, and the wide ribbon of blacktop in front of you.

The countdown starts. You begin to rev your engine, and then finally take and manage to pass a couple racers in front of you. The thrill is intense, and between your adrenaline rush and the carbon monoxide fumes from all the vehicles, you’re feeling pretty tipsy. You’re about ten seconds into the race and you’re doing fairly well, so you do what is typical at this point – thrash your head a little and gleefully shout every obscenity you know and then make up a few new ones.

It is at that very moment that the unthinkable happens: you are struck by lightning, a Koopa shell nails you right in the tailpipe, and your entire field of vision is obscured with Blooper ink.

They’re so adorable, you almost forget how obnoxious the babies are. ALMOST.

Like the previous seven games in the series, Mario Kart 8 is a game full of mixed sensations, even if you don’t actually get to inhale any noxious fumes. A few moments of glory can quickly turn to rage as you lose five places in less than a blink of an eye. Sure, you need to have fast reflexes to make your way through each track, but like in any Mario Kart game, the most important skill you can have is to be able to quickly recover from falling off the track or being attacked. One of the things that has been done to change the pace of this already frantic game is to make the Lakitu that puts you pack on the track after you fall off operate much faster. Unfortunately, the helpful little twerp still takes a handful of precious coins from you as payment for services rendered.

These coins are important for a couple of reasons. First of all, you get a tiny speed boost when you pick them up on a track. The more coins you have in your pocket, the higher the maximum speed is for your vehicle. The second big reason to grab these golden goodies is to unlock more kart customization options. This system works similarly to the one introduced in Mario Kart 7, because it allows players to choose the body, tires, and hang glider to give their vehicle the best stat mix for their personal style of racing. Personally, I like to pick the most adorable options so my opponents will be too busy going “AWWWW” to notice the Bob-Omb I just chucked onto their lap.

Behold the Super Horn, which will likely be heralded as the most welcome addition to Mario Kart 8.

Speaking of Bob-Ombs, Mario Kart would not be the caricature-filled party that it currently is without items, and some cool new ones have been introduced. There is a Boomerang Flower, which hits people as it is thrown and during its return flight. There is also a Super Horn, which can not only attack racers, but also defends against items including the dreaded Blue Spiny Shell. Last but certainly not least is the Piranha Plant, which attacks opponents and obstacles, grabs coins, and provides a speed boost when it is lunging forward to chomp on someone or something. It is undoubtedly the most amazing Mario Kart item ever. Honestly, all three of them are truly welcome additions to the game.

All of this furious karting action will take place on 32 total tracks, with 16 of them being brand new and 16 of them being revamps of tracks in previous games. Hang gliding and underwater racing segments return, which allow you to soar over chasms or drift boost 20,000 Leagues style respectively. On some of the revamped courses from days of Mario Kart past, you may run off the track and into the water, only to find that you can actually drive there now. This opens the possibility for sneaky shortcuts or grabbing a submerged item block, followed by rising out of the water to dramatically snipe someone.

This time around, anti-gravity sections have been added to almost every track as well. When racers pass through certain points in the track, the laws of physics get chucked out the window. Racers are no longer restricted to the ground, and instead can find themselves scaling the walls to bypass rush hour traffic on Toad’s Highway, or dangling precariously over Peach’s Castle. It’s a little hard to wrap your brain around at first, so don’t feel bad if you find yourself turning your head sideways to make sense of where you’re going. While in anti-gravity mode, bumping into an obstacle will give you a short speed boost. Bumping into an opponent does the same thing, but gives them a boost as well. This opens up the possibility to be delightfully devious and tactical when planning your collisions, since you could very easily send someone speeding off the edge of the track.

Driving on the walls in real life would eliminate so many problems, but perhaps create a few new ones.

In the eyes of the online gaming community, Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode is one of the most controversial features. In previous games, there were special courses designed just for Battle Mode, which is the game mode that involves assaulting your competitors to pop all three of the balloons attached to their kart. In previous games, Battle Mode happened in special arenas that were designed to make players run into each other as much as possible.

For some reason, in Mario Kart 8, the battles now happen on the game’s regular tracks. Given the size of these tracks, it is pretty difficult to find another player to go after, especially with the lack of any sort of map or radar. Sure, it’s definitely not as fun as it was in Super Mario Kart, but this lackluster game mode is by no means a deal breaker. And it could conceivably be improved with some DLC arenas in the future.

Whether you’re playing Battle Mode or just some standard Grand Prix racing, it’s hard to tell the difference between local and online multiplayer. Quite honestly, you will be in such a delightful fit of road rage that you probably won’t notice a slight drop in framerate. The online player count has been increased once again to 12, which means two more actual human players that are out for your poor driver’s blood on the track. There are quite a few customization options for online races — making all the item blocksonly yield peels — so each room you join has the potential to be a completely unique experience.

This is not only one of the most attractive Mario Kart games ever, but it is also one of the slickest looking Wii U games to date. The colors are so vibrant they will make your eyeballs buzz right in their sockets. Everything has a fairly realistic texture and sheen to it, while somehow managing to maintain a classic cartoon charm. These are the obvious pretty parts.

Where the visual ante was really stepped up a notch was in the finer details. If you’re racing on a sandy or snowy track, your tires will pick up debris and their color will change to reflect that. When racing on the Yoshi Bike, its arms extend when drifting around a corner or stick straight out when hang gliding through the air.

The music in the game is just as magical as the visuals, because Nintendo has continued their foray into the realm of fully orchestrated soundtracks. Classic racing tunes get a full makeover, bringing them up to this generation’s standards. New tracks have energetic songs that are so catchy, you just might find yourself making up lyrics to them while you’re plummeting off the edge of the new Rainbow Road. Which, by the way, is the most difficult one we’ve seen yet.

Behold, the most hated course of all — Rainbow Road.

BEHOLD, THE MOST HATED COURSE OF ALL — RAINBOW ROAD.

Taking the wheel of a goofy little kart may seem like child’s play, but it’s not for the faint of heart. You will need the lightening fast reflexes of a cat and the blood lust of a shark if you want to be truly successful in Mario Kart 8. The new anti-gravity mechanic will warp your brain, and just when you get all comfortable admiring your stack of golden 150 CC trophies, you will be absolutelyannihilated by the game’s online community. You’ll also have to be careful not to get too wrapped up in the fabulous scenery, because that is precisely when you will get slammed off the track and drop from 2nd to 9th place before you can even come close to breaking the world record for most expletives screamed in a second.

It’s a game that makes you take a beating and keeps you crawling back for more. You will cry tears of frustration. You will make guttural utterances of joy. And, in the end, you will likely be so hyped up you may just need to spend a few quality moments in close proximity to your real-world car’s exhaust pipe to come back down to earth again.

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