I admit, when I saw the trailer for Mario Kart 8, I was wholly unimpressed. Mario Kart Wii had perfected Nintendo’s Kart racing formula, and Mario Kart 7‘s “additions” were nothing truly fresh. For a kart racer that was aging so quickly, Mario Kart 8 didn’t seem to be anything special. Until I got my hands on the E3 demo, that is.
Mario Kart 8 is certainly a familiar idea: Mario and friends unite to have a friendly competition and plow through various race tracks based on Mario locales in a tournament for undying glory. Players glide along the tracks, drifting, boosting, and shelling their way to victory. This time, however, tracks have certain sections where racers defy gravity by turning upside down or racing on the walls. Mario Kart 8 also includes coins, a feature long absent from the Mario Kart series and reintroduced in Mario Kart 7. For those unaware, every coin collected speeds up the racers, but the limit unfortunately remains ten coins at a time, placing a sad cap on the game’s speed.
The only major drawback I’ve seen in Mario Kart U thus far is its dreadfully slow speed. The first time around, I chose Waluigi, whose max speed was so low that I actually found the game to be painful to sit through despite somehow still running circles around the competition. For my second time through, however, I chose Toad, and while the faster and lighter characters are indisputably more fun, it could still use a few tweaks to the overall speed to be an actively exciting racing game. Now, it’s quite likely that the game’s demo only played in 50CC, the slowest and thus easiest difficulty setting of the Mario Kart series, but even for 50CC, it felt a tad sluggish.
The one reason I truly see Mario Kart 8 as an impressive game, however, is that the track design is unique and inspired, something that can’t be said for a lot of the courses in a few past Mario Kart titles. The tracks are teeming with complexities and extra paths which invigorate the roads and pump new blood through the dry veins of Mario Kart. Coupled with the ever-changing views of the course provided by gravitational shifts, Mario Kart 8 could truly be the savior that the Mario Kart franchise needs.
Now, the praises I’m singing are not too high — don’t think that Mario Kart 8 is going to be an unquestionable day one purchase. Mario Kart 8 exceeded my expectations and I found it to be quite enjoyable, but that’s not to say it’s game of the year material or even the most impressive demo on the show floor. It is certainly, however, a title worth watching. I’m crossing my fingers that the final product is as enjoyable as the demo is promising.