What if you could counter the blue shell?
Mario Kart 8 has unveiled two "new" characters. They are Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach. What the heck, right? You're probably rolling your eyes at the lack of surprise with Baby Rosalina (who's joining Baby Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Daisy), but Pink Gold Peach?
Think Metal Mario, but a more precious, royal metal (gold) and then pink because femininity is pink even though I'm wearing a pink shirt right now and I am super manly. Seriously. I am eating a pound of salami and a half pound of cheese for lunch.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Then there are two new items. The Crazy Eight is 8's Lucky Seven, flitting all the items around your person. The Super Horn promises maybe the biggest Mario Kart shake up in a while, which is funny in and of itself. Using it blasts a radial sound wave in all directions that will shake up nearby drivers but also destroy shells and other things that would otherwise mess you up.
Yes, that includes the blue shell, if your timing is right. It's supposedly a rare and infrequent item. I got it twice in my first race and then never again in my next seven.
It might be possible to up that frequency, however, as Mario Kart 8 gives you Smash Bros. levels of parameter setting. You can choose green shells only or bananas only or red shells only. You can even change the frequency of powerful item drops and have a race filled with blue shells and lightning strikes. You can also restrict kart types.
This customization extends to the new online Tournament Mode. You can create a tournament, give it a name and set the parameters: teams or no teams; tournament duration and frequency; controller restrictions (for example, Wii U gamepad only), and so on. Then, it doles out a lengthy code number you can give to friends to help them find it. You can also freely (without numbers) just join up into active tournaments.
Another online addition is Mario Kart TV, which, miraculously, lets you upload (short) clips straight to YouTube (through your own YouTube account). Your last 12 races are automatically recorded and there's a mild editing suite to choose how you want to share your matches. It doesn't pull from straight gameplay, but records everything that happens in a match and then shows it off with tighter camera angles not too dissimilar from how the auto-race looks while you're waiting for other people to finish.
You can choose which racers to focus on (by default, it just shows highlights of you), what events to focus on (items or drifting or big hits), and how long of a highlight reel to make. Full race recordings won't be able to go to YouTube, but can be uploaded to the Mario Kart 8 Miiverse. 30, 45, and 60 second clips can go directly to YouTube.
While making new things out of the familiar, Mario Kart 8 also makes the familiar feel foreign. Courses stick to the underwater and gliding shtick from Mario Kart 7, with the addition of disorienting gravity sections that see you driving perpendicular to the ground.
And this commitment holds up in the modernized versions of past stages, which have been, in large chunks, redesigned to accommodate these new gameplay modes. It's a bit uncanny to see stages once taken as muscle memory trip you up with these non-traditional racing bits.
It's different and weird and loud, but it's probably the way to go when you can't count on the Mario Kart fans of the last 20 years to sustain the series. And committing to these sections fully also has them appear in shorter bursts and feel more cohesive than in Mario Kart 7, which sort of felt like, "okay, here's this long, tedious water bit."
Plus there's a stage called Electrodome which, despite not (unfortunately) being related to Videodrome, gave me an interesting mental image for a Cronenberg Mario Kart.
Mario Kart 8 might not be that, but it's obvious that Nintendo is totally comfortable with transitioning the series into something much more colorful and frenetic. Yes, it is Mario Kart, but it does feel a bit different. Maybe all that pretty bloom lighting is just messing with my eyesight.
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9:00 PM on 12.05.2014