It’s been a while since Nintendo rolled up their sleeves, stuck their head under the hood and gave the Mario Kart series a much-needed tune up. The last few Mario Karts have added the odd new mode and gradually improved the series’ online component, but the core karting gameplay hasn’t significantly changed since Mario Kart: Double Dash over a decade ago. Aside from perhaps slight differences in course design philosophy Mario Kart DS, 7, Wii and Double Dash are all more or less the same when the rubber (and turtle shells) hit the road.
In terms of modes and features, Mario Kart 8 strips the karting experience to its bare essentials. Basically you have grand prix, time trials and online. Balloon Battle returns, but custom battle arenas have been replaced with futzing around on regular tracks, so honestly it may as well have been excluded. Really, the only new feature is Mario Kart TV, which allows players to share little highlight videos with other Mario Kart 8 owners, or post them directly to YouTube. It’s neat, although a more honest title for the feature might be “Hey, promote Mario Kart 8 for us for free, Nintendo fans!”
So yes, when you boot up the game and shuffle through its menus, a sense of disappointment may creep in. This is all there is? That feeling will quickly evaporate once you start your first race.
This is an all-new, supercharged Mario Kart. The game is absolutely gorgeous — from a technical standpoint it’s far and away Nintendo’s best-looking game ever, and from an aesthetic perspective, it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with most of the stuff on the PS4 and Xbox One. The game also sounds great, with Mario Kart’s underappreciated catalog of backing tunes getting the live instrumental treatment. For the first time since the SNES original, Mario Kart feels like a premium, triple-A production.