In this series of articles we'll write about one or more Mario games per day (apart from when we miss a day), each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
Despite its ups and downs the Wii U has delivered a relatively small but distinguished library of excellent first-party games, in some cases using stronger technology and HD resolution to deliver experiences that we'd have only dreamed of in the past. Mario Kart 8 arguable delivers on that promise of taking a key Nintendo franchise onto another level.
The arrival of MK8 in Spring 2014 wasn't initially as perfect as it could have been. Perhaps due to the challenges of incorporating a shiny HD engine it missed what would have been a perfect Holiday 2013 release; if it had landed in that window it would have given the Wii U a double hit - with Super Mario 3D World - to rival the 3DS line-up of that period in 2011 - which featured both Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land. As it was it didn't quite make it for that window, and in other sources of complaint the GamePad didn't offer a fifth player or full-screen off-TV viewing in multiplayer, and the Battle Mode was - and still is - a disappointment.
We decided to get those negatives out of the way quickly, as overall it's a title packed with positives. At launch it captivated with its delightful visuals and - perhaps more importantly - its 60fps performance in both single player and two player splitscreen. For those that argue the difference between 60fps and 30fps isn't a big deal, we only ask that they alternate between two and four player splits in this title and re-assess.
Even better was that Mario Kart 8 also delivered some of the best net code that Nintendo's managed to date; no online experience is absolutely perfect, but online races still rock along with glorious smoothness when using a solid connection, and considering the importance of competitive racing to the franchise that was a huge win.
Moving on to all-important gameplay, MK8 delivered two key improvements. First up, and that which defined a number of designs in new tracks, was the anti-gravity mechanic. Sensibly the player's perspective always remains the 'right way up', but when anti-gravity is activated the track and surrounding world can be seen to flip and twist as you race, making for some spectacular visuals.
Secondly we have expanded vehicle customisation, in which you can switch and alternate wheels, vehicle body and gliders. This wasn't entirely new, but was certainly beefed up a fair amount, while this entry also retained bikes from its Wii predecessor. When you consider the wealth of control options incorporating the traditional and motion controls introduced on Wii, this felt like an impressive accumulation of ideas.
This entry was a landmark for its franchise in more ways, too, primarily through DLC. It was the first series entry to have additional content, and these extras also took the series away from the Mushroom Kingdom cast - this had previously happened in the Bandai Namco-developed arcades. Much excitement came with tracks and characters featuring F-Zero, The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing, with these DLC packs and 'season pass' also being priced very competitively.
It's a title that's featured free updates too. Costumes unlocked with amiibo scans were expanded, while an all-new 200cc mode has added a new level of chaos to races.
Overall, Mario Kart 8 has been a critical and commercial success on Wii U. At the time of writing it stands as the best-selling game on the system, even surpassing 32GB model pack-in (in the West but not in Japan) Nintendo Land. It's sold 5.43 million units so far. A truly indispensable part of the system's library, it's also likely to be remembered for years to come as an integral entry in the franchise.