Mario Kart has become a staple for Nintendo's consoles ever since it debuted with Super Mario Kart in 1992. With each new entry in the series, Nintendo has done their best to add a new addition to the play style of the game and have consistently evolved the world so that they never feel repetitive.
With Mario Kart 8, Nintendo has gone an unexpected route with the latest addition and added an “anti-gravity” ability to all of the karts. Using this capabilities, drivers can maneuver on walls and upside down surfaces when able. This doesn't change the way you race as much as previous additions have though, but instead allows the creators to have more fun with the individual designs for the tracks.
We had a chance to play three levels in our demo of the game, the first of which was the brand new “Mario Circuit.” Like some previous tracks, it featured Princess Peach's castle in the background with various Goombas standing in the road to block your path. What made the course interesting though, was how the developers used the anti-gravity. Players take a turn about halfway through the course and are suddenly driving back the way they came but upside down. Seeing the track from this angle was reminiscent of the “Mirror Mode” seen in previous games but felt natural to the progression of the track. Overall it maintained the simplicity of previous Mario Circuit courses but showed off the capabilities of the anti-gravity.
The next course we played was a newly-designed town level, whose name we weren't shown. What made this course stand out was it's combination of large scale American cities in its design. Players will be reminded of San Francisco as they travel through the streets and encounter rail cars with a Luigi logo on them, but you'll also think of New York City as a statue of Princess Peach (in a similar position) stands in the harbor. Overall it wasn't a terribly memorable level, but it was still refreshing to see something new.
The final level we were shown was easily our favorite. It's been quite some time since there was a new “Ghost House” level in a Mario Kart game and Nintendo has finally (ahem) revived the concept. Titled simply “Boo House,” the course is really designed around the trickery of the boos themselves and makes the best use of the anti-gravity that we saw in the entire demo. Furthermore, this track will further impact the nostalgia levels of fans as it features many enemies and locations that we were first introduced to on our Super Nintendos.
What really makes Mario Kart 8 stand out from the previous entries is in the incorporation of the Wii U gamepad. Players can manually turn on/off the gyroscopic controls, depending on whether or not you'd like to steer the pad like a wheel as you play. The touch screen also factors in to play as it can show off the map, and your fellow competitors' position on the track, as well as activate your kart's horn.
Players jumping over from Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS will be glad to know that the glider function from the previous installment has made it over to the new game. It wasn't utilized much in the demo we played, but that might have more to do with the level selection. In addition, bikes and underwater sections of courses will also factor into the game.
Twelve characters are confirmed so far, including Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Toad, Toadette, Princess Peach, Princess Daisy, Wario, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Koopa Troopa. Waluigi is also returning to the roster of the game, after being absent for Mario Kart 7. No new items were shown in the demo of the game.
Mario Kart 8 is currently targeting a Spring 2014 release for the Wii U. You can watch the E3 trailer below.