Graphical improvements bring something fresh to Mario Kart.

Zooming around the track in Mario Kart has never looked as good as it does in Mario Kart 8. The racing game for the Wii U was announced this year during Nintendo Direct and brings a few new and exciting features to the series.

During my hands-on demo at E3 2013 I was able to race around three tracks using my favorite character, Toadette. The pink-pigtailed Toad was absent from Mario Kart 7, so it’s great that she’s back this time around, as well as Waluigi. These two aren’t the only new characters coming to the game, just the ones that were confirmed at E3.

In Mario Kart 8 you can choose to control your kart via motion controls or the analog stick. With the motion controls you use your Wii U gamepad as a steering wheel, but I opted for the analog stick which felt a bit more natural.

None of the courses have names yet, but they were all very distinct. The first course was centered around Princess Peach’s Castle. At 60 frames per second, the game was extremely smooth and vibrant. The course itself featured all sorts of twists and turns, standard power boxes, and the new anti-gravity feature.

One of the main additions to Mario Kart 8 is the anti-gravity feature. When you drive over certain anti-gravity pads, your kart’s wheels will turn sideways, allowing you to race on the ceiling and walls. It’s a nod to Nintendo’s own F-Zero series and it works well. Though track design in the demo was relatively tame, this feature could lead to some wildly interesting courses.

In addition to anti-gravity, drifting is back and as important as ever. There are two types of drift bonuses in Mario Kart 8. If you drift around a corner for a short amount of time, blue sparks will appear under your kart and give you a small burst of speed. If you can manage to keep drifting for an extended period of time, orange sparks will replace the blue and give you an even stronger boost.

The second track I played had me racing through a busy city. Anti-gravity was included once again, but the main feature was all the various ways I could navigate through the track. Secret shortcut passages aren’t anything new to Mario Kart, but choosing one way over another could definitely have given me an advantage over other racers. The city itself was bright and sunny, with lots of attention to detail. Toads were standing along the sideline cheering me on at every turn, and there was even an underwater section.

The final track was a maze through a ghost house. In this course I could drive underwater and on the walls using anti-gravity. There was also a very short hang-gliding section on this course where I could maneuver my kart/glider through the air to get to the next part of the track.

Beyond the new tracks and anti-gravity mode, Mario Kart 8 will also have a new implementation called Mario Kart TV which will allow players to share awesome clips of their races through MiiVerse. As a whole package, the game looks and feels great, and Mario Kart fans with a Wii U will have plenty to look forward to when the game races to living rooms in Spring 2014.

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