Mario Kart 8 first impressions: beautiful, but by the numbers

Mario Kart 8

The Mario Kart series’ recent return to form on 3DS raised hopes for its debut on Wii U, but going by its showing at E3, there’s little to get really excited about. It’s all perfectly serviceable, of course, but the limited demo – which kept us tethered to the slowest 50cc karts – made it difficult to judge the finer qualities of the game’s handling model. It all clips along at a healthy 60fps, though, and is as vibrant, chunky and beautiful as you’d hope from the first ever HD Mario Kart.

The only major change – at least at this stage – is the addition of anti-gravity segments that allow for tracks that twist and undulate in every direction. Like the hang gliders – which also make a return here – antigravity is granted automatically at the appropriate sections of track, your wheels folding down in deference to Back To The Future. While there was nothing in the demo to suggest this has any significant impact on gameplay, it certainly creates a dizzying sense of vertigo at times, and occasionally disorientates. Subtle touches, such as Peach’s hair, which succumbs to gravity even when your kart won’t, add to the effect.

There were 12 selectable characters in the demo, the expected lineup joined by Toadette and Waluigi, who return after their absence from Mario Kart 7. In fact, there are many returning features, Nintendo even describing the game as a sort of Mario Kart greatest hits compilation. Mario Kart 7 provides those aforementioned hang gliders as well as underwater sections – one we see in a ghost house track plummets down a flooded corridor, also using antigravity to stick you to the walls, before spitting you out at a 90-degree angle to the rest of the world. And Mario Kart Wii’s motorbikes and ramp tricks are also present -– simply shake the controller to perform one.

Karts can be controlled using the GamePad’s touchscreen or tilt sensors – though there are no plans for a comedy oversized steering wheel to house it. There aren’t any new powerups to speak of, either. At least, not yet. Nintendo wouldn’t confirm if any new pickups would be announced at a later date, but it didn’t deny it either. The game’s not due for release until spring 2014, so there’s plenty of time yet for new additions.

Online races support up to 12 players, local racing is confirmed, as well as Wii U’s take on Mario Kart 7’s communities, which allow players to customise the way they race together. And keeping up with next-gen trends, players will be able to share clips of their victories through Miiverse with a new feature called Mario Kart TV. Like Super Mario 3D World, however, Mario Kart 8 feels a little by the numbers to really raise the pulse.