Mario Kart 8 was the most purely enjoyable game I played this year. It’s another reminder from Nintendo that refinement can be almost as exciting as revolution: yes, we’ve played Mario Kart before, but it’s never looked this good, never offered this level of spectacle, never charmed us quite so much with its dazzling attention to detail nor amused us so greatly with the animation of its competitors. It feels great, too, but we’ve come to expect that. Perhaps we shouldn’t take it for granted that Nintendo games control so beautifully, but whether you’re Shy Guy on a twitchy bike or Bowser on a quad with monster-truck wheels, every vehicle handles as it should.
The track design of its new courses is exemplary. Mount Wario is the obvious standout: if it ever comes up as a possible choice in an online game, you’ll always get at least a third of players voting for it. But then there’s the thumping, disco-themed Electrodrome, the cheerily sun-baked San Fran-inspired Toad Harbour, the stomach-flipping thrill of the sheer cascades in Shy Guy Falls. Dolphin Shoals might not be the finest Mario Kart track ever, but it has my all-time favourite Mario Kart moment: where you splash out into the sun and the muted underwater music segues effortlessly into a euphoric improvisational sax solo. Indeed, the music is glorious: happy, lively, brilliantly played tunes that perfectly fit the courses they soundtrack.
And Mario Kart TV was a masterstroke: its selective highlights package occasionally missed the best bits but so often framed the green shell hits, the joyous drift overtakes and the split-second victories with a strong eye for drama and humour. And the ability at any time to go into super-slo-mo was another sublime touch from a team that must surely have known its internet potential: little wonder the Luigi Death Stare became one of 2014’s few genuinely enjoyable memes.
Above all else, Mario Kart 8 is just rollicking good fun. It has no pretensions to high art; its aim (an honourable one, in my book) is simply to entertain its players as much as it possibly can. Mission accomplished.