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Most Anticipated: Mario Kart 8


The Christmas period often takes me back to games I haven't played for a while. All that travelling around, all those afternoons on family sofas, all those frosty mornings and ridiculous winter discounts on Steam and elsewhere - it's made for it. One game I didn't expect to end up playing in December, though, was Mario Kart Wii.

Goodness it looks fuzzy these days, but at my nieces' insistence I spent an hour or two with it (I won't tell you who won, although I'm pretty sure they'd enjoy sharing that information), twisting the ridiculous Wiimote steering wheel peripheral around in the air and blasting through old favourites like Coconut Mall and Mushroom Gorge. I was really into it again, desperate to carve that perfect sliding arc down Bowser's staircases and under the Thwomp blocks and stub out incoming red shells with my tail of banana skins.

Mario Kart's still got it, then, even if it looks like I haven't. Then a couple of days later I saw the trailer for Mario Kart 8 and got to thinking: ooh, yep, I'll be having some of that.

Sharing replay videos through Miiverse could be interesting.Watch on YouTube

The bean counters at Nintendo may not look back on 2013 with any particular fondness, but the pressure seems to have done no end of good for the development side of the company and its partner studios. They hit a real purple patch, firing out Luigi's Mansion 2, Fire Emblem Awakening, Pokemon X and Y, Animal Crossing: New Leaf and our Game of the Year, Super Mario 3D World, among several others.

If Mario Kart 8 catches some of that momentum, then we're in for a treat, but that's not the only thing it has going for it. It's also the series' HD debut, and - as the sumptuous pre-Christmas trailer illustrated - Nintendo is using all those extra pixels to good effect, stuffing colourful new levels like Sunshine Airport with flapping windsocks, roaring passenger jets and shop-filled terminal buildings.

I think we only know about three of the returning retro tracks so far (Dry Dry Desert, Music Park and Piranha Plant Slide, says the internet), but I grew up duelling with my sister in Super Mario Kart on the SNES, so anything from that era also would be particularly welcome. Donut Plains! Ghost Valley! Rainbow Road again? Yes please. Or how about Tick Tock Clock from the DS? I bet that would look good.

I bet just about anything would, actually, given the full HD treatment - and not least because, against the odds perhaps, Nintendo is emerging as the one next-generation game developer that can actually be bothered to do 60 frames per second. Perhaps they will also be reworked to take advantage of the bikes, gliders and underwater driving elements that have settled in across recent instalments - along with the new anti-grav modules.

I bet Mario Kart 8 is the game I play most in split-screen in all of 2014. I wonder how many other games will even still bother with it, in fact.

I'm not just hoping for mild refurbishment and an HD second-fix though; what I'm really hoping for is a Super Mario 3D World style grand design that isn't afraid to take the highs and lows of 18 years of Mario Kart history, twist them inside out and dazzle us with one-shot gimmicks, shortcuts and gizmos in amongst all the familiar trappings.

That probably is a lot to hope for, and it isn't something the trailer or our first look at the game last summer necessarily point to either. It seems much more likely that my first guess was right: a solid, wonderfully colourful and nostalgic remix of ideas and mechanics that were brilliant the first time and have been again and again ever since. But a guy can dream, right?

Either way, Nintendo's developers are in a rich vein of form right now, and hopefully Mario Kart 8 will be the latest beneficiary.

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