Simply stated, Mario Kart 8 doesn't go out its way to change the formula that's helped the franchise maintain its success for over twenty years now. Instead, developers at Nintendo are going back and refining everyone's favorite aspects from previous Mario Kart titles. This includes bikes from Mario Kart Wii, hang-gliders from Mario Kart 7, and 12-player local and online multiplayer. Other significant efforts to improve the experience include 60 frames-per-second gameplay (one player confirmed, Nintendo's working on 60FPS for two players), and the franchise's first steps in high-definition. Mario Kart 8 is aiming to be everything a Mario Kart title on the Wii U can and should be.
That's the heart of Mario Kart, a gameplay experience that everyone can enjoy, is easy to pick up, can still be challenging, and is always fun with friends. I can personally confirm that Mario Kart 8 feels as good or better than ever before. The controls on the GamePad felt tight and responsive, though if you prefer the Wii Motion Controller+Nunchuck or Wii Wheel then first, you're adorable, and second, your expectations are probably in line with what's available. It's a Mario Kart on the Wii U, there should be a minimum expectation of quality. My time with Mario Kart 8 was enough to persuade me that Nintendo is doing everything they need to.
However, just the next Mario Kart wouldn't have been enough for Mario Kart 8 to have won Neoseeker's "Best Racing Game" award of E3 2013. There's something more, something better than previous titles in the franchise and it's not something readily apparent. Yes, it's related to Mario Kart 8's big new "feature" which is the ability of karts to turn on anti-gravity. For example, the primary map shown for Mario Kart 8, and the inspiration of the title at that, is a figure eight at first glance, but upon further inspection is actually a Mobius strip.
Sure, sure, Mario can drive on the ceiling and walls, big deal, right? It's not the feature itself that impressed me, but what it forces Nintendo's map and game designers to do with each level. In tandem with the huge leap into HD graphics and stylized an cartoony art style, the anti-gravity features opens up the world of Mario Kart in a way I haven't seen since the original Super Nintendo title. Of the three tracks I played on, each was vibrant and beautifully realized, as if a track had been laid through the middle of Mushroom Kingdom itself.
I remember each and every Super Mario Kart level, from the Koopa Beach stages to Rainbow Road. By today's standards they were sparse and simple, but they were iconic because we were able to explore those areas in a way we'd never been able to before. Playing Mario Kart 8 I got that feeling again, as if I was seeing the world of Mario Kart fresh eyes. It was rather like the experience of going from Mario Sunshine to Mario Galaxy, where the mechanics themselves don't change so much as the way you feel as you're playing it. And again, it's only possible because of the HD upgrades and 60 frames per second -- I was absolutely stunned by my time with the game.
If you've got one of the Nintendo-sanctioned Best Buy's around your home, I'd recommend visiting and trying out Mario Kart 8 for yourself. If you're anything like me, you'll walk away wondering just how long it will be before you're back racing in the new ghost house stage or on the Mario Kart 8 Mobius strip track. It wasn't so much the greater experience, after all you're still just holding down the gas and tossing shells, but more the dozens of ephemeral moments of nostalgic glee and wonder. I want to play more Mario Kart 8, I want to race my friends on those tracks over and over, and I want to recommend everyone keep an eye on this game.
Mario Kart 8 made me feel like I was back in my living room, school bag thrown on the floor, chewing on a pop tart and a smile from ear to ear. Forza, DriveClub and Gran Turismo 6 are all amazing games, but in comparison they made me feel old. If you need me I'll be sketching what I think the new Rainbow Road will look like on some notebook paper.