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PREVIEW

Mario Kart 3DS

"How could it go wrong? It's Mario Kart."

More than one commentator echoed the above sentiment upon Nintendo revealing a "tricked-out" version of its popular racer back at E3.

An intriguing build-up in the minutes leading up to the video debut, suggesting a Mario Kart quite unlike those previous, had us flashing through the potential outcomes. All likely grander and completely different than what was actually revealed: the inclusion of hand-glider and submarine propeller kart extensions for aerial jumps or lake plunges between normal racing.

In execution they're surprisingly fun additions, and while the three-course race we compete in has us boosting around some familiar tracks, these have been extended and altered to make best use of the new additions to the racing series.

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But before we can spin wheel on turf we hit the character select, the usual speed/strength/mid-range differentiation between the cast used as divisions. Once chosen, you're forwarded to a kart creator screen that's operated much like a three-slot fruit machine.

Toggle slots to select your preferred build, wheels and custom trim. Quick adjustments can see you making hulking monster trucks or ground-hugging sportsters. It's a better system that being stuck with a default ride, and suggests tinkering and practice will gain you a ride and driver better suited for your play-style.

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Onto the courses, and everything you'd expect from a Mario Kart game is in place. Power slides are in evidence, though waggling the thumb nub to charge a boost from drift feels tougher on your joints than when using a stick or D-Pad, and the usual suspects for power-up items are all accounted for, as well as shifting on-track barricades, such as Aztec-style statues, or Donkey Kong barrels.

Of the new kart tricks, it's the hang-glider that clearly comes out on top as the most enjoyable and tactically-sound addition. Expect at least one speed bump-heavy jump per track, launching you skyward and battling for aerial dominance. These are great set-piece moments to see how Mario Kart enters the 3D era, and gives a sense of scale to these courses not seen before - we see roadways disappear into the hills beyond, with tree branches whipping past as you soar into the forest canopy.

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Handling of the glider is as easy as you'd imagine, and Pilotwing scholars will be right at home. Deft touches let you swoop over already-landed opponents, to rest gently back on the track with no loss of momentum. More importantly, you can still fire off weapons whilst airborne, though shells will obey the laws of gravity; best deployed to remove racers as they come in to touch earth once again.

The submersible element to the racing doesn't enjoy the same enthusiasm. Handling is a little different, with sharp turns causing the two wheels on the opposite side of the kart to lift up, and you've got snapping clams to deal with in order to grab coins, but aside from that, this is standard racing with a blue filter over the action. Maybe the depth's secrets and joys are still to be revealed in the later tracks. For the moment, we're not fussed either way.

But the competitive rush is still there, and that potent mix of perfect boosts, well-judged attacks and multi-branching courses that teeter between easy curves and dangerous shortcuts is very much in evidence. Although we're hoping come the final count for tracks, we see as many new creations as classic returns.

Still, it's Mario Kart. How could it go wrong?

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