You probably knew this bit already, but Mario Kart 8 is looking like another polished racer from Nintendo. The game's visuals are beautiful, 1080p and 60fps even in two-player split-screen, while new characters and weapons such as the Piranha Plant keep things feeling fresh amongst otherwise familiar surroundings.
Mario Kart 8 paints the Mushroom Kingdom in a bloomy haze, each track stuffed with incidental details and embellishments. Puddles mirror your tyres as you splash by, while resting flocks of birds scatter as you zoom past tracksides populated with lazing Toads, Piantas and Nokis.
One of the best examples of Nintendo's production values are the latest round of retro tracks, all of which have been given a noticeable upgrade from their previous appearances in the series. Watch below for comparison footage of their Mario Kart 8 versions matched up alongside the originals.
As usual, the game includes a total of 16 returning tracks alongside 16 new courses, the opening eight of each were available for us to try. A cursory glance at the retro selection might leave you initially underwhelmed (many of the best tracks have already been re-used and Nintendo hasn't returned to a course more than once) but it's another matter when you take those same courses for a spin and see them post-makeover.
Retro courses now feature sections with Mario Kart 8's anti-gravity race mechanics, as well as the series' recent glider and underwater additions. These changes see the dreaded N64 track Toad's Turnpike return with ramped lorries that flip you onto new vertical track sides and let you storm past swaths of traffic hazards. Mario Kart Wii's Moo Moo Meadows now has an elegant skybox, dynamic lighting and lush green fields, while GBA Mario Circuit has been altered so that part of track is tilted to a 45 degree angle.
It means there's little gap in complexity with the game's new course selection, early favourites of which include Mario Circuit's Möbius strip-style course around Princess Peach's Castle, Toad Harbour's seaside slopes similar to San Francisco (with a Peach-shaped Statue of Liberty) and Sweet Sweet Canyon's glazed dessert trackway, like something out of Wreck-It Ralph's Sugar Rush land.
Things look rather less smooth when in split-screen with three or four players - Nintendo describes the experience as 30fps here, although other minor graphical differences are noticeable. Draw distances are greatly reduced for certain details, such as the imprints of your vehicle's wheels on sand, although when travelling at speed it is not always noticeable.
Mario Kart 8 will feature at least two new weapons, including the Piranha Plant item from last year's Super Mario 3D World. The portable pot plant reappears here to gobble up passers-by, while Mario's Boomerang Flower power-up is included for the first time as a three-shot weapon with homing abilities, able to pick off anyone in a large radius. Finally, you can also now earn coins from item boxes - these work in the usual way, with up to 10 to collect in a race.
There are a few other tweaks to the formula too - the biggest of which is that you can no longer pick up additional items while holding a weapon behind your kart. The possibility of defending yourself with a banana or shell while stocking up on a second weapon was a key tactic, and its removal is a little puzzling. On a more positive note, seasoned players will notice a far smoother reset (once again you're fished out by Lakitu) if you fall off the track. Spin Turbos, earned by bumping into players while racing upside down, are another new feature.
Then there's the GamePad. Its touchscreen features have been expanded slightly beyond the last time we played the game - when it was used simply as a horn button - but the added extras do little to push the controller as a must-have feature. The horn is still present, albeit alongside options to toggle between a live view of the main screen, a map of the track layout and a list of the current player rankings. These options clear away some of the on-screen clutter from your TV - a welcome thing when the tracks look as good as they do - but are hardly revolutionary.
Nintendo still has a few things to show - the rest of the characters, for example, and most notably the Mario Kart TV feature briefly mentioned at E3 last year, used for sharing race footage. We got a sneak peek at the "Edit Highlight Reel" option included at the end of each race, where you select parameters to automatically generate a video of your playthrough. You can choose the clip length, specific characters for the camera to follow and a focus on key racing moments such as item use or stunt jumps. It's a nice extra, especially considering the Wii U's lack of any baked-in game-streaming.
Mario Kart 8 will be another polished Mario Kart game then, but then you probably knew that already.
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