Mario Kart 8 preview: a total disregard for gravity

We've gone a whole generation with no new F-Zero game to show for it. Nintendo clearly hasn't forgotten the franchise, but its appearance in Nintendo Land was, quite frankly, not good. Fans have been clamoring for a new game in the series, but for now, it seems like Mario Kart 8 will have to suffice.

It may be an odd sentiment, but Nintendo's new Mario Kart for Wii U draws many inspirations from the futuristic racer. There's a wonderful disregard for gravity in Nintendo's latest kart racer, with track designs letting players race in mobius strips, flip upside-down, and drive on the side of walls. Certain tracks add heavy amounts of undulation to the mix, resembling GX more than any previous Mario Kart game.

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While the gravity effect is subtle at times, it can be wonderfully jarring. Mario Kart 8 encourages driving in new ways, usually placing speed boosts and question mark blocks along these gravity-altered routes. You could drive on the ground, but why would you when you can drive on the wall? Coupled with the return of transforming vehicles, some races can become disorienting spectacles: drive on the side of the wall, only to lead to a jump that has your kart turning into a para-glider that you use to navigate to an elevated platform, for example.

There's also a total disregard for the natural law of physics. In one race, you'll find yourself driving into a random wall of water. Why is this water suspended in mid-air? Does it matter? It simply adds to the creative chaos that seems to define Mario Kart 8.

The whimsical level design does a great job of showcasing the game's terrific graphics. While Nintendo may be a generation too late to the HD game, it's certainly better late than never. The company's signature cartoon style looks quite fetching. Objectively speaking, the tech is certainly dated--but the art does a great job of masking that fact. I personally thought it quite the looker.

Although Mario Kart 8 does a lot to give off the sense of newness, it ultimately feels like any other Mario Kart game. If you've played any recent entry in the franchise, driving and power-sliding through the courses will feel exactly as it did before. The GamePad does allow for two types of control: traditional button-based controls, and gyroscopic controls a la Mario Kart Wii.

Nintendo wasn't too forthcoming about what features are planned for Mario Kart 8, but a company rep was adamant about referencing "Mario Kart TV," a social service that lets you create and share replay clips to post on Miiverse. Multiplayer is also being enhanced on Wii U, with support for up to twelve player races. But further questions on local multiplayer could not be answered. (For example, will Mario Kart 8 support the rather impressive five-player multiplayer mode that Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed did?)

Mario Kart 8 will be available on Wii U in Spring 2014.