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I don?t think Mario Kart has ever had a story beyond being an assorted group of characters from Mario?s history who like to drive around in circles, throw a random assortment of items at one another, and see who can cross the checkered line first. Oh, and they get a fancy trophy at the end.
At this point, you would think that all the go-karting tricks have been let out of the bag in the previous installments. But this time, in order to freshen up one of gaming?s best spin-offs ever since it first debuted back on the SNES, Nintendo decided to turn the game on its head. Literally.
The big new gimmick this time around for Mario Kart is anti-gravity. Racetracks will not only follow a somewhat circuitous route on flat ground, but will branch off and climb up buildings, and possibly continue to climb until you are on the ceiling. Every kart has been conveniently fitted with wheels that double as anti-grav wells, and the branching paths make it so each track is chock full of shortcuts that will benefit the most veteran racers. Not to mention it?s going to make it even harder to lock cars in your sights with those red turtle shells.
While there will be retro courses returning, I went hands-on with three brand new tracks that I was told would likely find their way into the 50cc cup of the final game. Bikes, gliders, and underwater segments from previous titles returned to complement the anti-grav, and the graphics looked absolutely stunning in HD?especially in Boo?s Haunted Mansion. At the end of the day, however, it was the classic Mario Kart gameplay, still intact, that brought a smile to my face.
There was one minor drawback, though. Quite simply, the anti-grav and winding tracks reminded me of F-Zero in a lot of ways, which makes me think this is just another sign that the once beloved racing franchise will go another generation without making an appearance. At least some elements live on in other games?first in Smash Bros. and now in Mario Kart 8.