Although I’ve had a Wii U console since February, I haven’t seen a game that made me keep the system powered until now. After a soft launch, and a library of ports like “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD” and sequels like New Super Mario Bros. U, I’ve been ignoring it. Mario Kart 8 is the game my Wii U has been waiting for, though.

To be fair, MK8 is as familiar as Nintendo’s other offerings. It is the next iteration in the beloved kart racer with a few new innovations and enhanced graphics. But man, what polish that enhancement brings.

MK8 returns with a lot of the improvements from Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 intact. Players still race for coins, can control their characters with a variety of control schemes from the Wii U classic controller to the Wiimote racing wheel. Flying and underwater track sections also return, and have never looked or played better.

If there is anything I find disheartening about Mario Kart 8, is that it signifies the final nail in the coffin of the F-Zero series. In the Super Nintendo era, F-Zero was that fast, spectacular racing game, while Mario Kart focused on lower speed, cartoonish battle races. While MK8 still maintains the series’ whimsy, upped its game for spectacle to new heights.

This game is fast! Between the flight sections and the new ability to drive along walls and vertical surfaces, there is a real sense of speed this time around. Even the process for falling off the track has been streamlined. Instead of a lengthy sequence that robs you of precious seconds, Lakitu just takes three coins from your reserve.

The graphics this time around are this most highly polished yet. HD polish agrees with Mario Kart. One of the classic tracks, “Moomoo Meadows,” really showcases the difference between the Wii and the Wii U. The new tracks look great as well, and are filled with dazzling moments, from driving up a waterfall to a track inside of a Mushroom Kingdom Disco.

There are a few nitpicks in all the polish, though. There are fewer customization options for setup, including split-screen multiplayer that is only vertical. Annoying, but not a deal breaker. Also, rather than being set in closed arenas, battles now take place on the racing tracks, which are too big to accommodate a two player match.

Mario Kart 8 is both a return to form and a surprising elevation of the familiar racing franchise. For a console that has been languishing, this is a much-needed “must have’ game.

 

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