The Wii U hasn't been the biggest success for Nintendo but can the arrival of Mario Kart 8 change its fortunes? Find out in our Mario Kart 8 review.
It's no secret that the Wii U has been a something of a flop for the legendary Japanese firm. We really wish that Mario Kart 8 was launched along with the console instead of the somewhat forgettable Nintendo Land.
Alas, it didn't and we've had to sit tight for it to arrive. But was it worth the wait? Is it the Wii U's knight in shining armour?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the game, there's some good news. Mario Kart 8 comes with a free game! If you register the PIN code for Mario Kart 8 in Club Nintendo between on 30 May and the end of 31 July. Available titles include Pikmin 3, New Super Mario Bros Wii U and Zelda: The Wind Waker.
Mario Kart 8 review: Tracks
There are a total of 32 tracks which are, as usual, split into different cups. The mushroom, flower, star and special cups are made up of 16 new tracks, while the other 16 are existing courses from previous Mario Kart titles including the Wii, N64, 3DS and SNES.
Nintendo has managed to strike a lovely balance with the old ones between making sure they're recognisable and lovingly updating them with gorgeous graphics and features. It is a little confusing that there are two versions of Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 8, though – the N64 track and a brand new one.
There's a good range difficulty across the tracks and the layouts are well thought-out. Visually, the design is simply stunning making it probably the best feature of Mario Kart 8. One of our favourite elements is the giant rock lava Bowser who punches the track as you drive past.
The big new feature of Mario Kart 8 is anti-gravity racing. Go over a special blue booster pad and your vehicle will turn into a sort of hover car with the wheels horizontal. You can drive on the walls and ceilings which is simply super fun.
When you're on an anti-gravity part of a track you even get rewarded with a Spin Turbo boost if you manage to bump a competitor. Many of the tracks include excellent underwater sections and sections where you glide through the air.
Mario Kart 8 review: Characters
If it takes your fancy you can take to the Mario Kart 8 courses as your Mii character but we find it much more fun to play as the Nintendo characters. There are three different classes of driver: light, medium and heavy.
You will have your favourite and although you may have to fight over who gets Yoshi, there are some new unlockable characters. You can drive as Baby Rosalina, Pink Gold Peach (not some crazy pantone colour) and one of Bowser's band of merry men such as Lemmy, Ludwig and Roy. You might remember them from New Super Mario Bros Wii U.
Mario Kart 8 review: Karts
If you've played some older Mario Kart games then you'll be used to choosing from different karts and bikes. There's plenty to choose from and you'll unlock more as you play the game. I personally dislike the bikes but it's pretty fun finding your favourite or even ones which suit different characters and tracks. Possibly even more enjoyable is simply putting characters like DK and Bowser in a bright pink car with a cat's tail on it.
Not only can you choose from different cars and bikes, there are various different wheels too. These aren't just for show either and will affect the stats of your ride. Thirdly, you can select different gliders for those airborne moments, although these have less impact on how you do so it's advisable to pick the one which allows you to see best where you're going.
A minor caveat of the game is that the stats which we've mentioned - which include speed, acceleration, grip and handling – aren't shown unless you hit the '+' button which isn't obvious at all.
Mario Kart 8 review: Weapons
Mario Kart wouldn't be Mario Kart if it wasn't for those green and red shells and, of course, the slippery banana skins. Therefore, it's no surprise that these remain a staple of the games arsenal of items. Old classics also make an appearance including the golden mushroom, lightning bolt and, naturally the blue spike shell.
There are some new items for Mario Kart which add to the fun, too. We don't want to spoil them for you but they're called the Boomerang Flower, Piranah Plant, Super Horn and Crazy Eight.
There's no explanation or tutorial on how to use the new weapons but part of the fun is finding out what they do when you manage to bag one while you drive.
Mario Kart 8 review: Modes
You probably don’t need us to tell you what different modes are available in Mario Kart 8 because it sticks to the classic formula of Grand Prix, VS and Battle. There's also a time trial mode. Once again, you can choose from 50- 100 and 150cc karts.
We've been over the tracks which feature in Grand Prix mode and VS is pretty much self-explanatory. Battle involves each player wielding three balloons and you lose one each time you get hit and unfortunately there's bad news on this one.
With previous editions this mode ensures a massive lifespan of playability but we're not impressed with the Mario Kart 8 incarnation. Where we're used to area style setting where you play until one player remains, here you simple play on regular tracks and often drive around for ages just trying to find someone to throw a shell at until the timer runs out. Mario Kart is about having fun but there's no fun in this so it's a disappointing flaw to one of the best bits about the Mario Kart series – why fix it if it aint' broke, Nintendo?
Mario Kart 8 review: New features
Aside from the anti-gravity racing there are some new options on offer in Mario Kart 8. Online multi-player allows you to compete with up to 12 other players and you can even have two players in the same room, on the same Wii U which is neat. You can setup tournaments and also voice chat while you race.
Another new online feature is Mario Kart TV which gives players the option to upload footage to the web and show off those smooth drifting skills.
You're probably wondering how the game uses the screen on the Wii U's GamePad. Well it's nothing mind blowing but there are a few different options you can choose from. For starters, like many other Wii U games, you can play Mario Kart 8 on the GamePad alone so if someone is using the TV and won't budge, you can still play.
If you are using the TV then the GamePad will show you a top-down view of the track so you have some idea of what's coming up. You can also see where everyone is in real-time while a list on the left shows positions and even what weapons each player has. If you don't fancy the track view, you can choose a giant horn button and you can also switch the controls between motion and buttons.