Mario Kart is one of those franchises that is consistently outstanding. Seriously, I can’t think of a single blemish on the series’ record: if anything, the games actually seem to be getting better over time. I have to admit, though – when I first saw screens for the game at last year’s E3, I was a bit worried that it’d be Just Another Kart Racing Game Featuring Plumbers, but the trailer shown at Nintendo’s press conference sure proved me wrong. Now we know that the game will feature a glider function to give you more air time during jumps and a submarine propeller that lets you drive your kart underwater.

I got some time hands-on with the new Mario Kart and was able to try out these features firsthand. Honestly, at this point I’m going to assume that if you’re reading E3 demo impressions at a site called “Zelda Informer” you at least have a basic working knowledge of Nintendo, so I’m going to skip all the boring expository “so this is what Mario Kart is about” stuff for now and jump right into the goods.

MK3D 6.jpgAs soon as you drive off of a high enough ramp or cliff (or whatever, really) your kart will automatically unleash hang-gliding wings. These will obviously slow your fall to the ground, prolonging your jump, but you can also steer your kart to grab coins and items as well as tilt it up or down to create even more drag or send yourself into a steep dive. If you try to stay in the air longer, you can glide right past other karts on the ground, and if you plummet to earth quicker you can nab any item boxes or drive into any shortcuts waiting for you on the road below before you pass over them. Of course, gliding helps you reach certain detours from the main track, too.

That’s not the only new feature of the 3DS Mario Kart‘s cars, however. If your kart drives into deep water, it’ll go into underwater mode. The difference isn’t quite as jarring as glider mode, but since you’ll be driving on the floor of a body of water the way your kart handles is slightly different, with a little less traction, especially as you try to drift. As far as the demo went, there weren’t a lot of underwater sections, but they also don’t impact the course of the race very much based on the little I’ve seen so far.

MK3D 8.jpgThere are points where the track will break off into two forks: one where you can make a jump and glide and another that takes you through a section of submerged road. In the track I played, the gliding portion was clearly the superior choice, since it required you to drive along a narrow ledge and let you soar right above other racers as they passed through the waters below.

Controls, strategies, and items are the same as usual: Mushrooms give you a boost of speed, green and red shells work as projectiles to toss at opponents, other drivers slip on your banana peels, and Blooper shows up to spray ink on the screen to obscure your vision. Zipper pads on the ground also work to give you a brief acceleration burst, and driving through several in succession is key to staying ahead in certain stretches of the track. So far I’ve only seen the usual cast of characters: the Mario Brothers, Yoshi, the Princess, Bowser, and all their friends (and foes), but that doesn’t mean there won’t be more to unlock.

Another new feature of the 3DS version is customizable karts. You can choose your kart’s body, wheels, and a few other features like the glider. Body influences the car’s general attributes like speed and acceleration, while wheels impact handling both on and off the road. Some options will be available right off the bat, while others have to be unlocked, presumably by winning the racing cups and competing in multiplayer challenges.

There were only eight karts per race in the demo version as opposed to the 12 from the Wii version, and of course the graphics aren’t quite to par given that this a handheld edition, but the game’s still amazingly solid just like the DS version before it. It’s definitely not the most impressive piece in Nintendo’s booth – its use of the 3D feature, for example, was pretty underwhelming and definitely not even close to the priority list for the game’s selling points – but if you’re looking for a good follow-up to the DS Mario Kart experience this is definitely right up your alley.

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