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Fantasy Life UK Review

A dozen lives to lead in a visually stunning world awaits players in Fantasy Life. But while its union between life simulation and RPG is a marriage made in Reveria for some, others may find the simple storyline diminutive and the variation between jobs a little thin.

From the developers behind the logic-prevailing world of Professor Layton and the sports-filled space of Inazuma Eleven, Level-5 brings the previously Japan-only title Fantasy Life to western players for the first time. In a text-rich environment, players can choose up to twelve lives in the vast land of Reveria and exude their prowess in weaponry and magic battles, crafting or healing. But just like reality, it takes time to master your new life as Hunter, Magician, Blacksmith, or Tailor, as well as the other eight lives available in the game, so players will never find themselves at a loss for new objectives.

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Which life will you choose first; gutsy Paladin, masterful Magician, or the trusty Hunter?

After customising an avatar, players will be dropped into the beautifully lush world of Reveria, bulging at the seams with Level-5’s trademark charm both in characters and the surrounding scenery. But it’s not until you meet a talking butterfly named Flutter that this seemingly peaceful land will shortly feed itself unknowingly into the jaws of annihilation. A strange phenomenon has corrupted the tame beasts roaming Castele, Port Puerto, and Al Maajik, sending them into a wild craze and attacking humans at will. Charged with saving the land from the plummeting Doom Stones by King Erik of Castele, you’ll buddy up with Flutter to reforge past alliances, fulfilling her Bliss requirements along the way.

Fantasy Life’s main storyline can be completed in around ten hours, chiefly due to its half-baked RPG format with no need for levelling up or grinding. However, it’s no detriment to the storyline which provokes emotion and stimulates character attachment in its seven-part drama. But just when you believe there’s more to come with its comical approach to doomsday, it sits placidly in novella terrain. Though perfect for children or newcomers, it misses its mark among seasoned RPG players.

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Now if only there was a genie one could spend three wishes on in Al Maajik.

Those who crank up their 3D slider are rewarded justly when travelling around Reveria. While Castele and Port Puerto are prosperous in allure with historical features, azure oceans and sandy-washed beaches, it’s Al Maajik which truly fascinates the eye. Amidst the desert haze, magic carpet houses, hovering furniture, magical lamps, and rainbow-coloured portals dance across the town as a miniature pop-out Agrabah from Disney’s Aladdin. Since the game’s textures and lighting are perfectly encapsulated within the 3DS screen, tearing your gaze away to read text is solely an afterthought. And coupled with Fantasy Life’s music, it’s a perfect bubble to keep yourself contained within.

With a choice of twelve lives, savvy players should choose three lives for an efficient run. Pick up your sword and shield as a Paladin and venture into the Grassy Plains or caves, then grab your pickaxe as a Miner to chip away at those precious ores, and finally bring those materials to a Blacksmith bench and craft glorious weapons. The game’s ease of switching between lives at various Guild Offices around Reveria is one of the best features in the game, but the many life specific quests received means you’ll be endlessly looping between X, Y and Z for completion, resulting in slightly stale gameplay.

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Learn how to craft items such as potions or food for health along the way in an Alchemist or Cook’s life. It means you can have your cake and eat it too!

While crafting is largely the same in each life – whether as an Alchemist, Blacksmith, or Cook – and simply requires mashing the A button in quick succession, holding A down, and gently tapping A at the correct moment, beast-slaying requires a little more thought. Enemies can either be defeated by quickly tapping the A button with your equipped weapon, or players can use a range of special attacks and supercharge them to unleash ultimate damage. And with a variety of weapons on offer, buying different items with the in-game currency or “dosh” will certainly provide hours of enjoyment.

For those who choose to kick back and relax in Fantasy Life and let non-player characters join them on any given quest, unfortunate coding within the game will render them more troublesome than they are worth. Other than physically popping out from behind your avatar, NPCs will also stick like glue to walls and corners if too great a distance is travelled, while your avatar can seamlessly walk through them as if they were merely ghostly apparitions. The game also suffers from mild frame rate drops, particularly in the vicinity of large enemies, following NPCs, and trailing bounties. It’s jarring and ultimately brings players out of the gorgeous world when we desperately want to be drawn in.

Though Fantasy Life faces a few pitfalls with occasional NPC slip-ups and repetitive gameplay, its visually worth its weight in Al Maajik gold. If only the game’s well-paced and superbly crafted storyline was just a little longer, Fantasy Life would saddle up and race off into the sunset with a fist full of dosh and a near perfect score.

8/10

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Pokemon Art Academy UK Review

A small adventure awaits budding artists in Pokémon Art Academy, which is delightfully appealing to children and adults alike. What it may lack in stretching accomplished artists, it delivers in bundles for beginners with easy-to-follow lessons and a good selection of fan-favourite Pokémon.

Though it may be a niche franchise, Art Academy has proven its success in the touch-based generation of Nintendo consoles. And for the first time, Pokémon fans can learn how to draw their much-loved pocket monsters from the adorably small to the ferocious and large in the 3DS application. With a variety of artist tools, Pokémon Art Academy takes you through the basics one step at a time – first you’ll learn how to quickly sketch a Pokémon’s face, then from an angle or from a curled-up pose, and eventually you’ll be taught advance techniques to bring the otherwise flat, two-dimensional sketches to life. It’s linear, accessible and, most importantly, it’s a whole bunch of fun.

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The first sketch without tracing construction lines – part of the novice stage.

Pokémon Art Academy offers three stages – apprentice, novice, and graduate – along with three to four main lessons and several mini lessons per course. Players will work alongside the Art Academy’s professor and AI buddy Lee in each lesson, learning a basic skill set with one or two main tools at any given time. There’s no grading system implemented so, no matter how your drawings turn out, players will never be forced into creating masterful pieces of art to unlock more content. The stage’s main lessons merely need to be completed in order to progress, with mini lessons serving as an extra practise session to reinforce the skill set learnt.

Although not as diverse as other professional artist applications, Pokémon Art Academy certainly delivers with an array of tools in comparison to previous entries in the franchise. From the standard outline pen and markers to the more creative pastel and graffiti spray can, players can experiment with many different styles to produce their ideal and most-treasured Pokémon. Though the lessons always pinpoint which specific thicknesses and opaque settings you should use, don’t be afraid to opt for the smallest thickness setting in order to achieve those sharper details, particularly in the advanced and unlockable bonus sections.

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Comic-book style Lapras – her neck is elongated here to reflect the style.

Providing a linear approach, the application’s lessons become too restrictive in due time and its main gripe falls at the feet of the franchise’s mascot: Pikachu. Players must conclude each stage’s finale by drawing Pikachu and applying the various techniques learnt. But since there’s no other option to draw additional Pokémon at this stage, players are forced to draw Pikachu three times – it’s tedious rather than circular, taking up two slots which could be given to other firm favourites instead.

While free paint offers a greater selection of Pokémon, without the guidance of lessons, beginners may feel out of their depth and uncomfortable with such an open format. However, construction lines and grid markers can be chosen from the layer tool, providing a basic guideline for rough sketching. Additionally, users will find the full palette, eyedropper and colour picker tools for a more superior creative control.

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And the awesome fire-breathing Charizard finishes off the Graduate course. Remember to take regular breaks as this illustration took me two hours!

Pokémon Art Academy gives users plenty of space to save their sketches in the album, as well as Miiverse interaction. But it does lack an image sharing tool, as seen in Tomodachi Life, in order to share to additional social networks with ease. And though 3D isn’t utilised, the app doesn’t suffer from its exclusion, perhaps only missing out on aesthetic appeal, making it perfect for 2DS users.

With superb accuracy between stylus and touch screen, Pokémon Art Academy delivers a solid experience for long-term fans who have yearned to draw their favourite characters. But its main drawback is its inability to bridge the middle ground between lessons and free paint. It may not be a standard Pokémon adventure, but its slogan can always be adapted: gotta sketch ‘em all.

8/10

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Inazuma Eleven GO: Light & Shadow UK Review

The fantasy football RPG arrives on the Nintendo 3DS for the first time along with a new hero to boot. But with a darker and more corrupt storyline is Inazuma Eleven GO: Light & Shadow worthy of championship glory, or will it dribble down into the corners to be forgotten?

Level-5 has granted us a new vision for the Inazuma Eleven series and welcomed protagonist Arion Sherwind as Light & Shadow’s football hero for Raimon. For those less familiar with the series, it’s been ten years since Inazuma Japan clinched their victory at the Football Frontier International – which closed the third instalment of the original Inazuma series – with goal keeper Mark Evans at the helm of the game. Now, there’s a deeper and larger darkness at work behind football, where winning or losing matches is predetermined by Fifth Sector bigwigs, making players detest the sport they once loved.

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This is only the beginning of Fifth Sector’s dominance.

For 3DS owners who are fans of Japanese anime, the Inazuma Eleven series is bound to nab your attention. Gripping cutscenes with hyperbolic drama, along with superb voice acting, is certainly expected, so it’s without a doubt Inazuma Eleven GO: Light & Shadow delivers action marvellously. Characters are voiced with such sincerity that it brings the sports RPG to full and vivacious life, something that the cheesy and cliché script lacks in comparison. And combined with the upbeat tunes and fully operational 3D overworld, Light & Shadow both looks and feels the part handsomely.

Yet while the game’s aesthetics are beautiful, there are times when frame rate drops can occur between character conversations, and are noticeably present in 2D and 3D. Although only a minor issue in the grand scheme of gaming, it’s an aspect that detracts players from the storyline and character voice over – and no player wants to miss loveable Adé’s Geordie accent and his cracking anecdotes on the team’s formation and competitive fishing.

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Rounding up recruits for your dream team is all in a day’s work during your time at Raimon.

On a similar path, Light & Shadow’s story mode script is a rather unfortunate and painful experience. Aside from the odd scripted guffaw, Arion’s love for personifying football is a little vomit-inducing. His constant peppy attitude towards his team mates can become so tiresome that players may find themselves cheering on the villain of the story after a quick jibe to the protagonist.

Forced jokes often meander throughout the script, as well as an unfortunate social networking device called “iNattr” which has Raimon’s football squad needlessly hash tagging every last word. Luckily, players can avoid ever having to find out which sandwich JP wants to buy, or which #awesomefriendisawesome, and why Arion is #sozlike over an inside joke. Sadly, there’s no “soz ‘ard” to add to the game’s British colloquialisms.

In terms of gameplay, Light & Shadow brings the best of both worlds with battle modes and match missions, as well as straight up football. Players are able to customise the Raimon team and recruit new members through a grand selection of PalPack Decks, along with the ability to purchase boots, wrist and neck accessories, and gloves for stat boosts. Item chests are also hidden throughout the overworld, with the better item stat boosts located further afield as you progress, encouraging exploration.

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Fighting Spirits can be summoned for great effects during matches.

By using the stylus, matches can be easily mastered through ball passes and intercepting the opposition with blocks and slides. As the game progresses, players will be able to summon a fighting spirit or use special moves in order to get the upper hand on the field. Basic football rules apply to levelling in matches, but occasionally story mode will enforce a new spin on the game with match missions. As such, they produce variety, as well as breaking up the monotony of training, giving Light & Shadow larger appeal.

On the other hand, verses battles used to train the Raimon team are typically very easy to exploit. With only three different match battles to train in – scoring a goal, defending the ball, and upping offence with tackles – most can be won within a couple of minutes and rarely need decisive planning.

In a nutshell, Inazuma Eleven GO: Light & Shadow delivers a solid gaming experience and will become a sure hit with fans of the animated series and its previous instalments. But the game is drastically let down by its poor script and monotonous, highly exploitive gameplay, leaving Light & Shadow unavoidably offside.

6.5/10

*Please note the Shadow version was played for the above review.

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Tomodachi Life Review

Far from the generic life simulation game, Tomodachi Life lies somewhere in between the invisible fly on the wall we’ve all secretly wished to be and the guilty pleasure of a pseudo reality TV show. While there’s life, love, scandal and birth, the game’s biggest advantage with quirky observation is also its largest flaw – there’s just not enough to physically do.

Previously a Japan-only title, Nintendo has certainly taken a dip into hot water in order to bring Tomodachi Life to western audiences. But controversy over same-sex relationships aside, the whimsical Mii simulation title may find itself oddly placed on the condiments shelf next to Marmite, Mustard and that weird one at the back no one ever uses. It’s a complex title which won’t appeal to everyone; some may love it, others not so much. But Tomodachi Life can surprise and makes way for a pleasurable and addictive experience.

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Silver kicked her husband out “accidentally” after a bad dream. Clark was snoring too much.

Firing up the game will take you through the step-by-step process of naming your island and making your lookalike Mii. So, meet Silver; she’s energetic, outgoing and charming. Based on a sliding scale in five categories – energy, speech, facial expressions, mood and how they act overall – Miis personalities are calculated to fit one of 16 personality types within the game. And they are scarily accurate – even my lookalike’s parents were spot on.

But after creating a host of Miis and feeding them crazy concoctions of caviar, cappuccino and gigantic mouth-watering cheeseburgers from the island’s supermarket, players can edit their personalities and tone of voice as much as they like, so there’s no limit to creativity. Meaning a ridiculously low-voiced male named Gandalf, who’s obviously incredibly unique, lives with a cat in a Wizard-themed room, and secretly fancies the pants off the girl next door, Galadriel, is best friends with the confident, go-getter Tony Stark who just can’t stop wearing cowboy outfits and hates crisps so much he melts into a pool of liquid mercury.

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That’s Linda being her usual clumsy self. #ohdear

Though the game’s most amusing moments emerge from drama unfolding in your Miis lives, there’s much more to do than just mere observation. Once a number of residents are living in the island’s apartment complex, they’re going to need food, clothes and living arrangements. They are the ultimate Tamagotchi – but will never bleep every two seconds for food or walks – and as the player, you get to solve all of their problems.

Equipped with a levelling meter, Tomodachi Life blends from simulation to RPG seamlessly. In return for solving Miis’ problems, the player is rewarded with money, which can then be spent on daily necessities for residents. It’s a truly vicious cycle that will always benefit them, but who can resist the joy of seeing one’s father eat a strawberry and then shoot into space? It must have been one heck of a juicy strawberry. Players can then take a trip down to the boutique to grab the latest and most fetching fashion trends, or peruse the interior store for different designs to makeover their living space.

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Yes, that’s Mr. Stark. His red helmet is a little different, no?

However, as wacky as the selection available daily is, Tomodachi Life lacks customisation methods. The interior designer screaming to burst forth and exude creativity from your mind is not an option, and neither is the internal sous chef who longs to combine a French baguette with soft cheese. Unlike Animal Crossing, there’s no designated area to doodle needlessly in order to replace an awful duck shirt, making Tomodachi Life fall a little flat.

The game also opens up various places of interest as you progress, including the Concert Hall, Mii News Station, Photo Studio and Amusement Park to name a few. Each place tends to hold different events which are scheduled at a particular time every day. For example, players can catch a magic show to slice and dice their Miis with excellent use of gyroscope and motion sensor controls, or head to the park for a daily barbecue, making sure to blow any smoke away with the 3DS microphone. Although events and dreams are amusing at first, there’s never any additional surprises planted in order to return. Much like the cycle of reality, it’s repetitive and desperately needs variety to revitalise those first experiences.

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A gorgeous moment between two Miis. Everybody say “aww” on cue now.

Completing Tomodachi Life’s goal for marriage and children can be surprisingly quick. Maybe it’s the summer haze that’s got those eccentric Miis craving for a love nest, but within a week my lookalike had their hands full babysitting two children after a whirlwind wedding. In these special moments, the game really comes into its stride and offers up some truly memorable moments. Plus, when your lookalike is stuck in a love triangle between two superheroes it’s akin to the Mastercard adverts: priceless.

The quirky life simulation game is not without its flaws, but delivers a scintillating experience fit for any age, shining brightest when shared with friends. If you’re not a fan of dressing Miis in an assortment of chick suits, it may be best to sit this one out.

7/10

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Mario Kart 8 UK Review

With the brand new anti-gravity feature, Mario Kart 8 refines the classic racing franchise to dizzying heights with super slick graphics. But occasional blind spots deter the game from reaching its true potential, leaving fans a little adrift.

With its visually stunning graphics and thrill-a-minute gameplay, there’s no denying that Mario Kart 8 is the best entry to the racing series since 2003’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Nintendo GameCube. But it’s not just the pull of the anti-gravity feature that leaves us wanting more, there are also the wonderfully designed new and retro tracks – each with luminous boost pads, secrets and catchy musical beats – along with a heavenly drift mode that captures both the look and feel of alpine skiing while at the helm of a steering wheel on Mount Wario. Yet through its crisp character features and robust vehicle customisation, the exclusion of an on-screen map is just as confusing as obtaining a Golden Mushroom on Rainbow Road; completely wasteful.

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We wonder who’s got the better nerves of steel here.

While the Wii U GamePad’s motion controls are utilised exquisitely in Mario Kart 8, its secondary use as a map screen is entirely redundant. Serving as a distraction rather than part of strategic play, looking down at the GamePad’s map will likely cause a substantial collision – and not the spin-boost kind. Knowing where your rivals are, who’s got the dreaded Spiny Shell, or even just using the on-screen map as reassurance of your lead is often crucial to cinching your victory.

Though it’s merely an inconvenience in normal play, there’s an air of underlying and unnecessary discomfort when playing in off-TV mode with the GamePad, where the map can only be accessed via touch screen mode, relegating your race to a small section in the top corner. It’s a small but unfortunate misstep from Nintendo.

An excellent curveball thrown into the racing game, which may unnerve veteran Kart players somewhat, is the ability to hold only one item at a time. It’s a cruel albeit amusing lesson for those banana stackers out there, many who love to protect their victory from all angles by keeping an extra handy for the “just in case” moments. Though Donkey Kong might have had an extra say in the matter, it nevertheless creates an interesting shake-up within the game’s format.

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The Boomerang is quick, but the Piranha Plant is just viciously cool.

On a similar path, Mario Kart 8’s four new items boost fun and invigorate competitive play with the Piranha Plant, Super Horn, Boomerang Flower and Crazy Eight. Instantly ravenous, the Piranha Plant can knock over rivals, as well as gobble up banana peels and coins – it’s a real hit on the track when in use, giving boosts occasionally and offered favourably to players in middle positions.

Given the notoriety of the Spiny Shell, the Super Horn is, on paper at the very least, the best item in the game. Whether it’s a coincidence or just sheer CPU hatred, the Super Horn mocks players by turning up when least needed, instead item boxes feed players with an excess of coins when in first position. But when the opportunity comes knocking, its desired effect is fantastic, leaving players with an urge to recreate a maniacal, villainous laugh, or just a smug look (for the modest) as their rival is bested.

Mario Kart’s multiplayer action is usually only served in versus mode, but in the eighth instalment players can race against friends and family in Grand Prix mode. Although the graphics become diluted in split-screen, it’s an instant time-saver making victory that much sweeter.

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Toad’s Harbour is an excellent track for racing, but there are too many nooks and crannies for battle mode.

However, battle mode poses a problem, limiting players’ choice down to eight race tracks seen in the main game. Since there are no unique battle stages, balloon pop mode feels lost in the title’s loop de loops, where players can simply hide on larger tracks such as Toad’s Harbour and Yoshi Valley rather than rage in a heated frenzy over red and green shells. But Nintendo has integrated online play seamlessly with custom rules for tournaments and an in-game chat feature for friends in the lobby area, keeping players glued to the track even after the main game is complete.

Though Mario Kart 8 encounters the odd kink or two, it’s still as fun, fast and furiously addictive as its predecessors, particularly with anti-gravity features thrown into the mix. Rev up your Wii U engines as this is a staple game no Nintendo fan will want to miss.

8.5/10

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Mario Kart 8 Review

It’s hard to believe there have been only eight main entries in the 22-year-old Mario Kart series. But considering Nintendo focuses its efforts on releasing one new title per system, it’s easy to see why the long-running kart-racing franchise still stands strong today.

Upon playing Mario Kart 8 for the first time, one of your immediate reactions will be spurred by how everything runs smoothly. The game boasts a solid frame rate, top-notch resolution, clean interface and fluid animations. Even by today’s standards and compared to more powerful hardware, the Wii U exclusive looks and plays great. With beautifully crafted tracks and detailed character designs, it will always be one of the prettiest and most colorful titles on Wii U.

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Up to four players can take part in the series’ flagship mode, Grand Prix. This is definitely a refreshing inclusion, but the game’s performance is noticeably lowered as more players enter the racetrack. A mission mode, however, is nowhere to be seen. Mario Kart DS may very well be my favorite title in the series – primarily because of its mission mode, which presented a significant bonus to the core racing experience.

Mario Kart 8 also contains fewer battle modes than previous installments. Although it wasn’t an entirely original concept, the Coin Runners battle mode in Mario Kart 7 is inexplicably absent and was at least a welcome addition to the Nintendo 3DS entry. While still pretty fun, its only battle mode – the series standard Balloon Battle – takes place on lengthy courses that often make you feel like you’re racing for the finish line. You’ll also find yourself unintentionally playing hide-and-seek with the other battling characters due to the scope of its arenas.

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The game brings back most of the items from its direct predecessor and adds a few new ones, such as the handy-dandy Super Horn, which finally gives players a way to fend off those menacing Blue Shells. It also introduces the nifty Piranha Plant, providing minor boosts to the holder while chomping on everything in its way, attacking rivals, grabbing coins and swallowing projectiles. A questionable omission is the inability to simultaneously carry two items. Unlike previous titles, the game doesn’t allow you to nab another item until you release the one you’re holding. You can no longer stock another item, which takes some time getting used to for series aficionados.

The game supports multiple controller options, including support for the Wii U GamePad, Wii Remote and Wii U Pro Controller. Unfortunately, the GamePad’s features aren’t used to their full potential. For example, rather than reserving its display for its holder, the GamePad’s 6.2-inch touch screen renders whatever’s on the TV screen – whether one, two or three others are playing with you.

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It does feature a large character list, containing multiple fan favorites and a number of newcomers, but due to the lack of racer-specific items (à la the risk-taking Mario Kart: Double Dash), the disparity between each one is minute and all are essentially the same with a different coat of paint. Heck, several characters are even voiced by the same actor.

Through Mario Kart TV, the game allows players to share highlight reels on YouTube and Miiverse. The highlights, which are attributed to a selection of editing options, are brief clips that are automatically accumulated once a race is complete. They also allow you to view in-game footage in slow motion, showcasing the Wii U title’s impressive visuals with flair.

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Its online multiplayer segment is basically a revamped version of previous online modes, combining the best online elements from Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7. Up to 12 players can engage in races and battles with others from around the world via the Internet. They can also partake in tournaments, which boast robust configuration settings, allowing players to choose whether they want to race with select items or opt for none at all. It also supports voice chat, which is a first for the series but only limited to friends.

With addictive gameplay, gorgeous graphics, exceptional tracks and a strong online component, Mario Kart 8 is one of the best titles Wii U has to offer. Although it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the kart-racing genre, the game undoubtedly solidifies the Mario Kart series.

8/10