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Mario Kart is one of the nostalgic gaming franchises ever conceived. Since its humble beginnings in 1992, the franchise is often associated with long, sleepless nights with friends, with bouts of frequent trash talking interspersed with the cheers of victory and the anguish of defeat. It's a given that, at some point in any gamer's life, they've played some iteration of Mario Kart, and might be wondering what can Nintendo possibly do at this point to keep the franchise feeling fresh. With Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, Nintendo has proven that the franchise isn't done innovating and is still just as significant in 2014 as it was back in 1992.

The first thing you're going to notice upon loading the game is that it looks amazing. Thanks to the Wii U's focus on high-definition graphics, Mario Kart 8's characters and tracks leap off the screen with a visual flair that is unmatched by any other console or game. The game will make you wish Nintendo made the jump much, much sooner. While the other two consoles focus on being as realistic and gritty as possible, Nintendo opts to go in a different direction with Mario Kart 8, with the game being the flagship title of what the Wii U can do graphically.

Mario Kart 8 is not only the best looking Mario Kart game, it's also a celebration of the series history. Long-forgotten features such as collecting coins to boost your speed and making your kart hop return to the series, while newer features like gliding and driving underwater are retained. Like past games in the series, Mario Kart 8 features a large roster of characters to unlock and play with, from series stalwarts such as Toadette to newcomers such as all seven of the Koopa Kids. A wide variety of not only karts, but buggies and motorcycles, are available for you to use on any of the game's 32 tracks. Mario Kart 8 is, in terms of content, the biggest Mario Kart game to date.

The game isn't just a celebration of past Mario Kart titles, it also adds in features and items to make the game stand out on its own. The biggest addition is the Super Horn, which finally provides a counter to the dreaded Blue Shell. Finally, Nintendo has listened to its fans and negated this vile, lead-destroying item! That alone should be enough to get you to purchase the game. The other major addition is anti-gravity pads, which will have you driving not only on the ceiling but on the walls. While the potential is there for this to be disorienting, it's pulled off very well and makes us feel nostalgic for F-Zero.
Rounding out the list of features is online play, which works perfectly with very minimal lag. The ability to save your matches and upload them to services like YouTube is an oft-requested feature and it's one you'll likely be using a lot of in the coming months and years.

Mario Kart 8 is one step from being the perfect game due to one mystifying misstep: Battle Mode. In past games in the series, Battle Mode placed up to four players in an enclosed arena to duke it out using a variety of items. In Mario Kart 8, Battle Mode places you on a regular race track, completely changing the feel of this mode. The enclosed arenas allowed players to find each other easily, creating matches that were fast-paced and frantic; this feeling is now lost in Mario Kart 8.

Mario Kart 8 is not only one of the best games on the Wii U, it's one of the best games of 2014 period. If you own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to buy this game. If you don't own a Wii U yet, it's worth buying one just for this game. It's that good.

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