There’s little denying that 2013 was a marvellous year for videogames, a well deserved swan song for the sternly loyal long lived last generation of consoles – Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. 2013 was arguably one of gamings best years in recent memory. But who cares, old game is old – right? The moment Playstation 4 and Xbox One were released last year gamings most dedicated communities suddenly cast their expectant gaze forward. So then, to celebrate the beginning of 2014, and a hopefully yet another fantastic year for gaming we’ve decided to count down a top ten list of our most anticipated titles slated for release this year, next up is number eight Mario Kart 8.
Zipping around as the charming denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom through a host of its iconic locale has never disappointed in any iteration of now long running Mario Kart series, and we don’t see the upcoming eighth entry being any different. Nintendo’s premier racing franchise (sorry F-Zero!) was born way back on the SNES; since then it’s become a mainstay on pretty much everyone of the Big N’s home and handheld systems alike. The series has long retained a core fundamental formula of stellar iconic tracks, frenzied competitive multiplayer and responsive karting controls. Recent years may have seen Mario Kart fare better critically on the DS’s, but regardless Mario and friends will undoubtedly deliver a bevy of addictive karting content in this next home console installment. It’s hard not to mention that Mario Kart 8 is excitedly the series first chance to combine it’s uniquely charming style with sublime HD visuals.
Those shiny new high definition graphics are of course only possible because Mario Kart 8 is coming exclusively to Nintendo’s struggling WiiU platform, perhaps they’re hoping that the tremendous success of the Wii version will prove hereditary- doubtful as not even Super Mario 3D World was able to reverse the consoles woes. Regardless of sales problems Mario Kart 8 looks to be a great boon for those who’ve already adopted a WiiU, bringing back a host of traditional mechanics whilst adventurously trying out some new off the wall ideas, quite literally. Most obviously challenging the status quo is the addition of anti-gravity segments, a continuation of the transforming kart mechanic first introduced on the 3DS installment Mario Kart 7. Similar to the handheld vehicles will niftily shift forms depending track conditions, gliders spring up for floaty segments, propellers materialise for tricky underwater sections, and now wheels stylishly retract to form hovercrafts when tackling slidy anti-gravity areas – including some stomach churning upside driving acrobatics.
Whilst some complained the transform-a-kart feature was little more than superficial fluff the anti-grav sections are challenging that notion, as even small alterations like collisions causing karts to spin out of control rather than cartoonishly bounce off one another has the potential to radically alter play styles for portions of a race, forcing players to dynamically shift tactics depending on track conditions. They’re aesthetic changes too, like the simplistic turning on and off of headlamps in dark/ light sections of a track. Miiverse integration is also present, as is standard across all WiiU games, the social network will in this case give players the ability to share replay videos, and comment on fellow drivers uploaded clips. In terms of gameplay bikes will return from their Wii debut, the newly reinvigorated coin system will also find it’s way back, a deeper kart customization suite will be in place and returning classic tracks from earlier entries will be present alongside a full roster of new courses – though if they’ll be altered for the new mechanics remains to be seen.
When talking about Mario Kart it’s easy to get lost in nostalgia; memories of friends sitting around an N64 verbally slinging challenges at one another whilst the characters onscreen reflected the tensions in the room with jovial gloats and anguished screams. Those memories were built around a simple racing game with oodles of hidden depth waiting to be mastered, the reasons those vivid recollections could be generated in the first place is because of Mario Kart’s accessibility and charm that kept players coming back for more. It’s not a game that tries to deliver a serious message, challenge your world view or even build a realistic racing experience, it’s a game that wants to make you smile, whose cartoonish characteristics make it the closest you’ll ever get to playing Wacky Racers. It’s lovable simplicity and quirky tracks are why we can’t wait to burnup the Mushroom Kingdom once more. Besides, we need to hear the tangible shattered disappointment of a friend scorned by a blue shell in the last second just one more time; maybe another after that.