MARIO KART 8 (E)
The Mario Kart series is a 22 year-old car that hasn’t had a substantial tune-up in about eleven years, and while this reliable old clunker could still always be counted upon to get you where you needed to go, it began to seem like its glory days had been long since left behind. The eighth installment, however, has completely pimped out your ride, overhauling and transforming it into a sleek, flashy sports car that’s never handled better. Thanks to its colorful HD graphics, this is easily the best looking entry in the long-lived racing franchise and arguably the prettiest title available on Wii U. But it’s the modifications that have been made under the hood that are most impressive, many of which address criticisms that have plagued the series since its inception.
Mario Kart has always been a game in which you could stage spectacular upsets, going from last place to first (or vice versa) with only seconds to go in the final lap. As long as you were clever in the use of your power-ups, you didn’t have to be great at racing games to win. This made the game accessible to everyone, but infuriating to hardcore racing enthusiasts, who could see a well-timed blue shell screw them out of victory in the final moments of an otherwise perfect race. Mario Kart 8 brings greater balance to the contest. When someone knocks you off the track, Lakitu retrieves you faster. Shortcuts and special moves offer huge rewards, tempered by potentially devastating risks. Even those blue shells can be deflected now, meaning skilled players won’t be inevitably penalized simply for being in first place. Reversals of fortune still occur, but now it feels like they have to be earned. You need only race through a few of the imaginative courses to see that Mario Kart 8 is in the same league as Double-Dash and Mario Kart 64, but with the test of time, this may even prove to be the greatest Mario Kart yet.
MURDERED: SOUL SUSPECT (M)
In this supernatural whodunit, you play both the detective and the victim, investigating the mystery of your own murder as a bullet-riddled specter. Your ghostly tools include the ability to read thoughts, possess cats and walk through solid walls. Unfortunately the game assumes your brain has already succumbed to rigor mortis. Clues are obvious, and your investigation leads you along a tediously linear path. You never feel like you’re solving the mystery so much as tagging along while the mystery solves itself.
ULTRA STREET FIGHTER IV (T)
We knew this day would come. For nearly twenty years after the release of Street Fighter II, we were treated to numerous updated versions of the game—each with tweaked mechanics and the arbitrary addition of a word like “super,” “hyper,” or “turbo” to the title. Looks like “ultra” is the choice to kick off this same trend with the five year-old Street Fighter IV. Hardcore fans will probably be the only ones to notice the subtle gameplay changes, but everyone will be able to appreciate the five additional combatants on the already meaty roster.