Mario Kart 8 Wii U

Mario Kart 8 Wii U
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The Wii U has stalled out, however unfairly given its recent run of releases, and Nintendo is betting on its plumber/kart racer to provide a much-needed fuel injection. It's a good bet.

Fresh off delivering a near-perfect platformer with Super Mario 3D World, the pudgy Italian is back behind the wheel for Mario Kart 8. The eighth iteration doesn't do that much beyond finally bringing the franchise, which began way back in 1992, into the high-definition era with glorious graphics, but that's enough — the game's fundamentals remain strong, and the tweaks make it arguably the best yet. As someone who loves games and hates driving, simulator racing games bore me to pieces even as I respect their obsessive attention to detail. Rather than realism, I just want an arcade racer that knows how to deliver fun, and that's pretty much the absurdist Mario Kart series' raison d'etre.

So what else is new aside from prettier pixels? Well, there are ATVs available as well as piranha plant weapons, a fresh jazzy soundtrack and, most importantly, anti-gravity areas that actually add a welcome strategic twist by turning your kart into a hovercraft that sticks to walls, ceilings or whatever. Otherwise, it's the familiar cartoonish cast of characters (30 in all, albeit bolstered by "baby" versions) in a cartoonish collection of vehicles kart racing across 32 ingeniously designed, physics-defying tracks. Half the tracks are brand-new, like the discotheque–inspired Electrodome, while the rest are recycled greatest hits pulled from past games going back to Super Nintendo and Game Boy.

The game supports up to four-person local multiplayer or 12 players online, though it doesn't allow for talking while the race is on. It also balances easy accessibility for newcomers and welcome depth for old-timers, a welcome feature missing from its more realistic competitors. The fact that the game is more of a tune-up and a fresh coat of paint rather than an all-new vehicle will lead some to argue Mario Kart 8 is more evidence that Nintendo is out of new ideas, but old ideas this creative and fun clearly still have a lot of gas. (Nintendo)