“Mario Kart 8,” $59.99, available for Nintendo Wii U, features 32 racetracks and nearly as many Mario family characters to race on them. The tracks include 16 new courses and 16 “remastered” favorites from previous releases. While some of the usual locales have returned — Bowser's Castle, Donkey Kong's Jungle — this game also drops in some unexpected destinations like a Yoshi animal preserve and a Toad-managed airport. If you're worried about half the tracks being reruns, note that Nintendo has lovingly re-created each one to bring them up to the Wii U's HD visual standard. Plus, Nintendo has carefully tweaked some of the older courses to add in the signature element of “Mario Kart 8”: anti-gravity racing.
Yes, “Mario Kart 8” will drive you up walls and even take you upside down as tracks twist in every direction. Although it may sound disorienting, the game turns the camera as you drive, to keep your viewpoint level. On some tracks you barely notice you are on the ceiling, except during the postgame replay. To that end, the anti-gravity elements are there purely for inventive track designs, allowing for thrilling plunges down a waterfall and vertiginous U-turns on roads that hang in midair.
To forever save those moments, “Mario Kart 8” will create shareable highlight reels of your race. By clicking through a selection of simple settings after any event, the game can generate a 30- to 60-second video clip of highlights, which can be shared to Nintendo's Miiverse site or to YouTube. Perusing friends' replays is a great way to discover shortcuts and techniques that can shave tenths off of your Time Trial scores.
“Mario Kart 8” supports all of Nintendo's modern controllers. You can use the GamePad or a Wii Remote/Wii Wheel for motion-based controls, although that still does not quite measure up to the old-fashioned joystick-based option. The GamePad itself supports both modes — a button on the screen lets you instantly swap between control schemes — or you can use Nintendo's Wii U Pro Controller. The GamePad also is the new home for the live race rankings, which means those beautiful HD tracks are not obscured by leaderboards and the overhead track map.
Unless you're the type of Karter who exclusively plays battle mode, which Nintendo unexpectedly hamstrung in this outing, you'll find “Mario Kart 8” a typically fantastic entry in the line. The kart handling is as precise and satisfying as ever; the course designs bright and detailed. With plenty of customization options and the ability to create dramatic race videos, “Mario Kart 8” is a crowd pleaser.
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