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REVIEW: Mario Kart 8 Is The Kick In The Pants Nintendo Needed For The Wii U

After nearly a week of playing Mario Kart 8, it appears this entry is the best to come out of the two decades of the game. Nintendo has shown it is more than capable of showcasing what its systems can do through its first party titles.

Most of the complaints I have about the game are small and have already been addressed in plenty of other reviews:

The Battle mode has been nerfed. While I enjoyed occasionally turning a race into an all-out battle fest with my nephews, having tracks double as battle courses severely cripples the mode. Even with 12 racers, tracks can feel barren and opportunities to hit your opponent are few and far between. It doesn't help that this game doesn't have an onscreen map.

Lack of customization. Mario Kart 8 provides plenty of ways to change your kart. Unlockable options include new bodies, new wheels and even new gliders. But the differences between those parts are few and far between. Up to four of the wheels can offer the same statistics, with the only differences being cosmetic. Mix in that the 30 character options boil down to heavyweight, medium-weight, and lightweight and there just aren't that many directions to go.

Online waiting times. I'll give Nintendo credit, they've gotten better with online systems since the last generation. But I've encountered too many times where I've been ready to jump into a random online race, only to be greeted by the beginning another race. While it's nice to see other racers compete, these wait times can cause competitors to drop out and shrink the field you're racing against.

But even with those issues and my long-winded dissections of them, the eighth installment in this franchise is just the thing the Wii U needs to get out of its funk. The console's been bogged down by headlines about its poor sales and even calls for Nintendo to pull a Sega and kill the Wii U off Dreamcast-style.

That last idea seems more like click-bait than reality. Still, the console's lifetime sales are locked between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, despite a one-year advantage.

Nintendo reported that more than 1 million copies of Mario Kart 8 sold in the opening weekend alone, giving the company a solid boost, though there was no official breakdown of how many new console sales came from the game.

One thing Mario Kart 8 shows off that will help push console sales is just how it looks. While Sony and Microsoft had more powerful consoles in the previous generation than the original Wii, and even more powerful entries this generation, Mario Kart 8 shows the Wii U's graphical capabilities are nothing to sneeze at in the right hands. The game runs buttery smooth at 60 frames per second in 720p, even in two-player races (Nintendo still hasn't cracked the smooth four-player race yet). The result is an experience that looks the most advanced of this generation so far.

But those are just a bunch of numbers that don't do the game justice. Instead, here's a video showing of the reimagining of the Mario Kart 64's Rainbow Road course at the 1:05 mark.

Wii U - Mario Kart 8 - New Courses and Items Trailer by Nintendo on YouTube

This is all in-game footage. It's not the sort of pre-rendered sizzle reel that doesn't exist on the disc you'll see plenty of at next week's Entertainment and Electronics Expo.

Following Rainbow Road on that video is another retro track—the game features 16 of them, as has been the norm—from Super Mario Kart (SNES). Instead of simply creating a graphically updated version of the older courses, Nintendo's gone and redone them, incorporating the game's new features, like zero-gravity stretches and underwater plunges.

The best example of the drastic change is the update to Moo Moo Meadows, as shown in this video. The track on the left is from the Wii version released last generation:

Mario Kart 8: Moo Moo Meadows Head-to-Head Comparison (Wii U vs. Wii) by GameXplain on YouTube

In addition to the retro courses, there are 16 new courses for a total of 32 tracks that each have their own distinct feel. One race you'll be gliding by a castle, the next you'll be dodging streetcars in an oceanside city, and another you'll be watching Shyguys rave in the Electrodome (sadly, no glowsticks, just a ton of neon).

The best new feature this game has to offer isn't its graphics, or its tracks, or its new items (finally one that can destroy a blue shell!).

It's the highlight videos.

After each race, you can view a 30-second reel of the best moments from the race. It ranges from tricks to hits to daring passing moves. It even shows when one of your green shells happens to wipe out your girlfriend's cart a good six seconds after you launched it. Or that time she plowed you into a cable car.

The highlights range from 30 seconds to the entire race and allow you to focus on certain racers. This, combined with the intensity of Luigi's facial expressions, has created a small Internet phenomenon revolving around Luigi's death stare.

Luigi Ridin' Dirty - Death Stare in Mario Kart 8 by CZbwoi on YouTube

But really, the entire reason I'm writing this is to show off my own highlight video. I had to make sure to bury it this far in so you wouldn't get suspicious.

Wii U - Mario Kart 8 - (N64) Toad's Turnpike by Kyle Buis on YouTube

Check out that hangtime.

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