At Play Expo in Manchester, Nintendo had a special surprise for attendees in the form of Mario Kart 8, a title which wasn’t expected to be playable at the event, with its new features being promptly shown. Nintendo have previously shown off the new anti-gravity feature in Nintendo Direct videos as well as the signature 8 shaped track that twists over itself. While the anti-gravity feature is new to the franchise, is it just a cheap gimmick trying to paint over the same old karting experience?
Nintendo had two tracks demoed at the event and I was lucky enough to be able to play both. The first track was the game’s featured 8 shape track. It was an example of one of the more basic tracks of the game that featured no secret paths just a straight up race. The first half of the track was raced as normal but the track transitioned to its upside down state after driving over a special blue marking on the track. The transition between the two was barely noticeable and didn’t interfere with your racing experience. While in hover mode. driving operates in almost the same way with the only noticeable difference being while jumping small ramps you let out a parachute which allowed you to overtake players and avoid deadly weapons on the final stretches. While it was a simple feature, it added a bit of spice to such a simple track.
It was in the second track that the game showed off its true potential. The track was more complex with a wide variety of short cuts to be taken. One of my concerns about the ‘hover’ mechanic is that it would only be implemented by going upside down but I was proven wrong. In one section of the track nearing the end, there is a hover strip that is positioned so it could easily be mistaken as a bumper or scenery. By driving over the strip, the kart shifted into hover mode and allowed the player to ride on the vertical wall. This was an unexpected use of the hover ability but also so subtly placed that I completely missed it on my first lap. I am sure I would have missed it on the second lap too if not for one of the Nintendo booth helpers I was racing against telling me.
This experience made me realize how the multiplayer version of game will change the experience completely. Not only would it allow players to competitively race against each other as they have been able to in previous incarnations but also let them learn from each other. I was instantly reminded of playing Castle Crashers online and how every time someone would teach you something new till one day it was your turn to share your knowledge. This track showed only a glimpse of what this could offer; not even starting on the possibilities Miiverse posts would bring. Mario Kart 8 had become an unexpected social experience.
As for the racing, the game has been made a lot more competitive and complex. In the second stage I managed to find three hidden paths (including the hovering section), with possibly more undiscovered. While normally the secret paths might be the best way to win, I saw how in Mario Kart 8 it won’t necessarily be the case. On the hover path for example, while the driving area was quite big but the exit was very small. Not only was it a prime place to use power ups, it also only had two compared to the four on the normal section of the track. Power ups can change the tide of a race so if all 10 racers take this hidden path, you could easily find yourself with problems. On one part of the track, the power ups weren’t actually stationary as they normally are but were attached to a tram, moving along as the tram did. This will help make every race different rather than following the one sure path to victory.
The game is very accessible to players regardless of their preferred playing method. The booth had Wii motion controllers on offer but the Wii U gamepad also offered motion control too. The function could be easily be turned on and off during a race simply by pressing a large button on the gamepad screen. It was very quick and easy to do even as my kart scrapped across a wall. I can only presume that the Wii U Pro pad will be comparable too which means that families can play together without needing to buy more accessories to play.
Mario Kart 8 looks like it is going to surprise people and has clearly had a lot of thought put into its development. It has been built to try to bring the families, casual and pro players together to play in harmony. I predict with the amount of secret paths and alternative routes will make sure there is no set way to win and will be more fair for all players. Let’s just hope that Nintendo doesn’t get left behind at the start line with more delays and let upcoming games such as Angry Birds Go get a head start.