For Wii U owners this week is about one game, Mario Kart 8. A new arrival in the franchise is always an exciting occasion, and in some respects this entry takes the series forward in more ways than its predecessors — it brings HD visuals to the franchise for the first time, anti-gravity, enhanced online features and the ability to share highlights videos directly to YouTube. It's also been critically acclaimed, and far from being a minor upgrade on past entries we explained that it's an "experience undoubtedly evolved from its 3DS predecessor and rather different from the Wii entry" in our own review. The attention to detail shines through.
A key figure in leading the development team to produce such a fresh experience is Nintendo Co., Ltd's Kosuke Yabuki, Director for Mario Kart 8 and most recently seen giving an impressive demonstration in the Mario Kart 8 Direct broadcast. We had the opportunity ask Yabuki-san a few questions about the latest entry ahead of its 30th May arrival.
When development on Mario Kart 8 started, was it largely the same core team that produced Mario Kart 7 for 3DS?
Yes, it was the same core team that produced the previous game. Of course the team was a little larger this time due to work on the HD element.
Being able to drive upside down is one of Mario Kart 8's most unique new features. How did the idea for anti-gravity racing come about, and why did you decide to add the "Spin Turbo"?
In Mario Kart 7 we introduced dynamic gravity to handle sequences underwater or on the moon for example. As the idea developed, it led us on to rethink how we handle gravity in the first place and we eventually came up with the anti-gravity feature of Mario Kart 8.
The Spin Turbo idea comes from Japanese spinning tops. We thought that the sight of spinning tops bumping into each other as they whirl around was perfect for the behaviour of karts in the anti-gravity areas. Players will need to come up with different strategies than those used for racing over normal track sections, so I’m sure that this will create situations never seen before.
Keeping a 60fps frame rate in two player mode while having the best graphics possible was our aim from the start.
Mario Kart 8 runs at 60fps in single and two-player mode. Was it a challenge maintaining this silky-smooth frame rate, given the amount of graphical detail present in the game?
Keeping a 60fps frame rate in two player mode while having the best graphics possible was our aim from the start. This was a huge challenge, but we were able to pull it off thanks to all the team members sharing a common goal and working together with the utmost care. Thanks to this smooth frame rate, I feel we’ve been able to create a race experience that feels better the faster you go.
Once you reach the goal, please do make sure to check out the race highlights that will automatically feature the greatest moments of the race. Seeing the race again from a different angle than usual will really let you enjoy the beautiful graphics of this title.
You've opted not to include second-screen local multiplayer in the final game (one player on the TV, one solely on the GamePad) – can you tell us why that is the case?
I thought that for Mario Kart, playing with someone else on the same big TV screen gives the game a more competitive feel. Because of this we decided to limit the local multiplayer to TV split screen, and had the development team focus their efforts on the graphics and 60fps frame rate.
The online modes, including Tournaments, were recently revealed. What prompted this approach as opposed to the Communities from Mario Kart 7?
As you will see when playing the game, the Tournaments in Mario Kart 8 are a further development of the Communities in Mario Kart 7. We decided to change the name to ‘Tournaments’ because now it’s possible to specify the dates on which players meet periodically to play, and each session has its own ranking.
Mario Kart TV ties in very neatly with the current gaming craze of sharing your performances with other players. Do you think this feature will become an important part of the game's core appeal?
Yes. Mario Kart TV is one of the important features of this game. It works together with Tournaments as well, so we really hope that many players make use of it.
However, we’re not just thinking about the core appeal. I think that deep down everyone wants to keep a record of the times they spent having fun with family or friends. I also think that being able to watch these videos on a PC or smartphone will help make for some great memories of these moments.
In developing Mario Kart 8, we have re-created and re-combined all game elements and adjusted everything over the course of thousands of tests to aim for the perfect balance.
When picking the roster for the game, what new characters were you especially keen to include, and which ones were left out?
The Koopalings in particular are some of the new characters that I recommend. For this game I wanted to have them all appear together. They all have superb individuality and their expressions are very unique. I think they are great characters that will definitely give players a laugh or two.
On the other hand, there are some characters that appeared in previous Mario Kart titles, but unfortunately didn’t make it into this game, such as Bowser Jr., Dry Bones, King Boo, and Diddy Kong. I really apologise to players who liked these characters in particular, but the new characters are a lot of fun as well, so I hope you all try them out.
Have you ever been tempted to take the Super Smash Bros. approach and include characters from outside of the Super Mario universe?
We’re always considering ways to make the Mario Kart games more appealing, but I don’t think that just increasing the number of characters would make the game better. Of course, I’m not ruling out the possibility of such an approach in the future though.
With the classic tracks, was it difficult to include these circuits given the game's focus on anti-gravity racing? How did you select which tracks to update?
When talking about classic tracks, it’s tempting to think of them as just straight-up remakes. However, as the karts’ behaviour, the camera and the number of players now are different than when these tracks first came out, we had to re-design everything, including the track’s width and spatial layout. It’s after doing this that we add the anti-gravity areas to the tracks, but only where they would be effective. I think that the section where you race along the wall in N64 Toad’s Turnpike is a good example of that.
Balancing is clearly vital in a Mario Kart title, so are there any particular adjustments you’ve made in that area in comparison to Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7?
Adjusting only a specific part of the game would break the overall balance. In developing Mario Kart 8, we have re-created and re-combined all game elements and adjusted everything over the course of thousands of tests to aim for the perfect balance.
Were there any features that you wanted to include but had to leave out of the final game?
No, there are no features that were left out from the final version. In fact, we kept tuning the game until the very end and in some cases we even added some things right in the final stages of development.
I hope you will all enjoy Mario Kart 8, the latest and greatest addition to the Mario Kart series.
We'd like to thank Kosuke Yabuki for his time, and Nintendo UK for arranging this interview; Mario Kart 8 hits the Wii U in Europe and North America on 30th May.