Review Price to be confirmed

Mario Kart 8: Hands On

Mario Kart 8 - Hands-on from E3 2013

The current received wisdom from the tech and gaming press is that Nintendo had a dreadful E3 and the Wii U is pretty much doomed. Well, you’d have to be a fool to disagree entirely, but that didn’t stop Nintendo from having some of the most downright enjoyable games of the show. Of these, the star was undoubtedly Mario Kart 8, continuing the series from the 3DS Mario Kart 7, though not exactly taking it out into uncharted waters.

Watch the Mario Kart 8 E3 2013 trailer

Read our Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge Wii U review

It’s easy to mock Nintendo’s “If it ain’t broke…” mentality, and you can hardly say that Mario Kart 8 reinvents the kart racing genre. The major new addition is anti-gravity racing. Drive over certain pads and your kart’s wheels turn into little hover thrusters, allowing you to race on the ceilings and the walls. This transforms Mario Kart’s ribbons of track into twisting, looping roller-coasters, adding a new layer of vertiginous spectacle to the game, and adding to the shortcut options for those players focused on finding the most efficient routes around the track. Gliding also makes a return from Mario Kart 7, with other jump pads converting your kart into a micro glider, allowing you to reach higher coins or float over obstacles on the main track.

Mario Kart 8

Otherwise, the general feel is very similar to Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart Wii. You can use tilt controls on the Wii U Pad or remote to steer, with the tracks wide enough to accommodate them, and the drifting mechanics seem unchanged from the last iteration, which hit the sweet spot between accessibility and providing too much boost for many Kart aficionados.

We took Yoshi for a spin across the three playable tracks, and he raced with his customary speed and precision, so we don’t expect many surprises on the handling front. If you use the Wii U Pad, you’ll see opponent positions and a horn on the built-in screen, which helps to keep the main screen free of clutter.

Mario Kart 8

The three tracks on offer in the E3 demo comprised a race around Princess Peach’s castle, a city track with underwater section and a traditionally spooky Mario ghost house with a number of anti-grav, underwater and gliding sections. All three looked great, with lavish details making the most of the Wii U’s HD visuals, and the kind of vibrant colour and cartoon-like animation that Nintendo seems to pull off every time. The courses seem packed with traps and shortcuts – particularly the ghost house track – and the anti-grav sections work brilliantly, mixing up the action without leaving you confused as to where you’re going. The game appears to run at a smooth 60fps.
Mario Kart 8 also benefits from Nintendo’s new-found embrace of online play. We are promised 12 player online matches and a new version of Mario Kart TV which allows players to share their golden racing moments through the MiiVerse.

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8: First Impressions

Is anything here that groundbreaking? No. Yet Mario Kart 8 did something that few games at E3 2013 managed: it made us laugh, it made us smile, and it made us want to play a whole lot more. Of course, it helps that this is an accessible arcade racer, not some 18 hour narrative-led epic, but this looks set to be as polished and entertaining a game as Nintendo has ever released. A little more exciting than the conservative Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8 could be a pivotal game for Wii U, which makes it a little disappointing that we’ll have to wait until Spring 2014 to play the finished product.

Next, read our Call of Duty: Ghosts hands-on from E3 2013

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