The Mario Kart franchise is unique because it appeals to a wide variety of audiences. Hardcore gamers can really get into the exact mechanics of the game and master every track, but anyone can pick up a controller and immediately start having fun. This accessibility is what Mario Kart is famous for, and with the reveal of Mario Kart 8, it seemed that it could be a system seller for many. Mario Kart 8 not only lives up to its expectations, but it surpasses them.
As with every Mario Kart game, there are an amazing 32 tracks. 16 are new tracks, and the other 16 are completely remade tracks from older games. These retro tracks have been updated with new mechanics and tweaked to better fit the way that Mario Kart 8 works. Every track is great, and there is not a single bad track in the game. Each track is a pleasure to play, as they all have their own unique draws. Of course, the most important part of these tracks is a new addition to Mario Kart: anti-gravity.
Anti-gravity sections are marked by glowing blue strips on the track that look similar to boost pads. However, even if you are in the air, your kart will transition into anti-gravity mode. This is shown by your tires flipping up and spinning horizontally. You float above the track, and you are able to drive along walls. Anti-gravity is not just a cosmetic change; it completely changes how the game is played. Now, if you are playing as a light or feather weight character, instead of avoiding contact with others, you are encouraged to bump into as many people as you can. When a racer bumps into another while in zero gravity mode, both players will spin and gain a boost of speed. The person that bumped into the other will gain a larger boost, but since both racers benefit from this feature, it encourages teamwork when playing multiplayer in Grand Prix mode.
Anti-gravity also looks amazing. Throughout Mario Kart 8, you will not just drive on walls; you will be driving in every direction imaginable. In some tracks, racers drive straight towards the ground, but are then launched in to a gliding section so they can safely land. Although it can be difficult when you are driving, it is great to look back on the highlight reel of your race and see that you were driving in crazy positions. In Mario Kart Stadium, you drive right next to a helicopter, and the Toads inside wave at you as you pass by. Anti-gravity is more than just a gimmick; it's a game changer.
Besides anti-gravity, there are many new additions. There are four new items, and they are all exceptionally fun to use. The Piranha Plant works similar to the way that it does in Super Mario 3D World. Once you activate it, the Piranha Plant will periodically chomp, pulling you forward with the speed of a mini-turbo. The Piranha Plant eats anything in front of it, including Bloopers, Shells, Banana, and even other racers. The Boomerang Flower is another item taken from Super Mario 3D World. It has three uses, and each one throws a boomerang from your kart. It spins out any drivers it touches, and if you can aim it just right, the boomerang will hit your opponents on its return trip, too. However, other racers can catch your boomerang by pressing the use item button before it touches them, and if they do, they can throw it back at you. The Super Horn is a godsend for anyone that hates the Spiny Shell. Similar to the Spiny Shell, the Super Horn is an extremely rare item, but it is immensely powerful. It has a single use, and when it is used, it lets off a booming sound wave around the racer that used it. The sound wave lasts for a little more than a second, and spins out any racers in its path. Additionally, it destroys any items caught in the blast; even Spiny Shells. Finally, the Crazy Eight is an item very similar to the Lucky Seven. This rare item spawns eight items that spin around the racer that acquires it: a Bob-Omb, Blooper, Coin, Green Shell, Red Shell, Banana, Mushroom, and Star. By pressing the L, you can use whatever item is currently in front of your racer. This item is very fun to use and makes you feel very powerful, but its power is balanced by its rarity.
Mario Kart 8 is the first HD Mario Kart game, and you can tell. This game is the greatest looking game I have ever seen. I have never seen a game more realistic than this one. The lighting is so fantastic, and everything looks so smooth. As you drive, you can see the tiny grooves in the cement, making it look completely natural. Say goodbye to the flat, gray roads of Mario Kart Wii, for when you play Mario Kart 8, you will feel as if you are driving on a real world race track. Besides the beautiful graphics, there are countless tiny details in Mario Kart 8 that show just how much care was put into this game. These details are so small, some are actually impossible to see when racing normally. I highly recommend you to go into a solo race time trial, and slowly explore every part of every track. As you approach the Yoshis in Sweet Sweet Canyon, you can hear them cheering you on. There are all sorts of documents on display at the indoors part of Water Park. These are just a few examples of the amazing detail that has gone into this game.
Of course, as with any Nintendo game, the graphics are not the only amazing part of this game. This music is absolutely delightful, and it really stands out in courses with many different forms of racing. The music sounds muted underwater, and has a more electronic feel in anti-gravity sections. Every track has a unique, fully orchestrated track, and each one is a pleasure to listen to. The Gusty Garden Galaxy theme even makes a return as the music for Cloudtop Cruise, a track in the Special Cup.
One interesting addition to Mario Kart 8 is Mario Kart TV. Your races are recorded, and after every race, you can view a highlight reel of the race's best moments. You can speed it up or trigger slow motion whenever you want with the push of a button. You can even save your favorites and upload them onto Youtube or the Mario Kart TV website and mobile phone application for others to see. It is a great feature that allows players without a capture device to share their favorite races with their friends, and it can also act as an anti-cheating device; as players are recorded throughout the match, if the Mario Kart 8 is ever hacked, all players need to do is send Nintendo the NNID of the hacker and footage of the race.
All in all, Mario Kart 8 is a fantastic game that has me smiling every second that I play it. Mario Kart 8 is one of the most beautiful games ever created, and is also incredibly fun. If you are on the edge about getting a Wii U, pick up the Mario Kart 8 bundle before the end of June and you can get another Nintendo game for free. It is a great incentive for anyone that has not yet picked up a Wii U, and with the many great looking games coming out this year, now is a better time than ever to get one. Mario Kart 8 is the greatest game in the series so far; if Nintendo manages to improve the series this much with every iteration, it will never get stale. Even people that are not huge fans of Mario Kart will want to pick this one up.