Mario Kart 8 – London Post-E3 Hands-On Impressions

At a secret London location revealed only to the great and the good of the gaming world, Nintendo today let top videogame journos from across the land into their inner sanctum. The goods? Only the latest and greatest of the smorgasbord of announcements made at E3, of course! PopBucket got some fine hands-on time with a range of top upcoming titles for Wii U and 3DS alike — so look out for our updates as we digest the wonders that we have seen.

Firstly and foremostly, our attention was drawn to Mario Kart 8, and with good reason. Since first crashing through our eyeballs at Nintendo’s E3 announcement and Nintendo Direct webstreams alike, there’s been a great deal of excitement afoot for the anti-gravity instalment of the legendary racing series. Taking a trusty Wii U tablet of dreams in hand, we swiftly found that it was a joyride that didn’t disappoint.

Mario Kart 8 Glider

The Mushroom Kingdom never looked so fine.

It’s hard not to gush effusively about the game’s graphics, because they represent a visual foray into the Super Mario universe that no game in history has ever topped. It looks great in motion too, even in the split-screen mode that we were playing with a Nintendo PR representative. Wheels whir and skitter at the start as you charge your boost, Lakitu’s fishing line dangles and wobbles as he fishes you out of a hole, light bounces and refracts gorgeously from cap, dungaree and banana peel alike, and little details such as hot glowy fireballs igniting Koopa shells dragging behind your vehicle induce grins — assuming you can take your eyes off the mayhem enough to see.

There’s a tangible tactile loveliness to it all, in short, and the gameplay doesn’t disappoint either. Whilst the Wii Wheel and Wii U Gamepad can be used as motion-sensitive steering apparatus (with traditional controls at the touch of a button and, pleasingly, a tempting horn in the centre of the Gamepad screen itself), the three circuits that we experienced are far from the wide yawning avenues of motion-happy Mario Kart Wii. These are tight and challenging courses, rife with hazards, anti-gravity shenanigans and gorgeously illuminated Goombas.

That said, it’s worth noting that there’s certainly some adjustment to both anti-gravity floatiness and, particularly, airborne glider controls, especially with the Gamepad control method we’d opted for. They’re certainly responsive enough, but bear in mind that Mario Kart 8 swells the modes of traversal from Mario Kart 7′s to a roster of four: driving, gliding, submersible racing and anti-gravity hovering, each of which have their own handling to take into consideration. If you think this game is pandering to the casuals, think again.

We love the anti-gravity though. It’s a million miles from F-Zero; think more along the lines of Super Mario Galaxy‘s mind-bending inventiveness on Back To The Future hover-wheels. The trio of circuits on offer lured us in with the sunshine Mushroom Kingdom racing we’ve come to expect, sure, with the occasional glider ramp or anti-gravity curve thrown in for good measure. Soon enough though, we were racing along the walls of a San Franscisco-style city, replete with trams to be avoided and huge hills to fly down by road or air alike — and that’s before we get to the new Boo House circuit, which employs anti-gravity mischief to brilliant effect by having the option of racing across undulating walls. It’s trippier than the very mushrooms Mario and his chums are so gleefully cramming into their engines to go faster, and that’s before we even mention the part where you race along the wall of a haunted house that then flings you off a glider ramp to have you flying sideways onto a balcony. We don’t remember anything like that in Mario Kart 7.

Character models are detailed and expressive, it sounds as chirpy and wild as you’d expect, and as is par for the course, the game handles beautifully — and with surprising fluency for oft-maligned motion controls. What’s more, it feels like the series is continuing to grow from its strengths, taking the best elements of all that’s gone before and cramming it all together with new innovations. Coins have never glittered so gorgeously, fireballs have never burned so brightly and racing underwater has never been so immersive that you’re wondering why your tee-shirt isn’t wet. We even managed to win a race. Go PopBucket!

Make no mistake — Mario Kart 8 is destined to be a system-shifter for the Wii U. It’s just a shame we’re going to have to wait until 2014 to see it!

Author: Tony White

Narcissistic manchild Tony is known for his penchant for red and black, and was the accidental but grateful namesake of a sandwich in a Norwich coffee shop. He appreciates any media that doesn’t take itself too seriously. He doodles, does a weird webcomic and self-publishes comedy novels despite popular demand.

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