Previews

Mario Kart

Preview: Mario Kart Wii moves up a gear into hyper-excitement

Somewhere in the world, most likely floating in-between clouds eight and ten, is the only games journo to have enjoyed hands-on time with Mario Kart Wii.

How'd he infiltrate Ninty HQ? No one knows. Maybe he hid inside one of Reggie's giganto pockets. Whatever, he's the luckiest man on earth, and either way, he's being evilly coy with the details. Fess up!

Back on the right track

So what beans has he spilt? On top of the 12-player online races we've known about since, oooh, Greener counted 12 karts in the original screenshots, he's delivered sweeping confirmation of classic tracks and new weapons.

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With 16 new courses, expect 16 old favourites to match - Ninty lurves symmetrical menus, you see - borrowed from all Kart games from SNES to DS.

With the 16 new tracks making up the traditional four cups of four courses, we wouldn't be surprised to find a secondary, retro collection of cups - as seen in Super Circuit.

We love the idea of seeing Super Mario Kart's thin and crispy Donut Plains fattened into stuffed crust 3D wonderment - it triggers explosions in our Rainbow Road-entwined cerebral cortex.

But, it's the implications of playing these retro tracks with the more sophisticated modern Kart mechanics that really have us chin-scratching.

Not only will we see how courses last played during the era of stovepipe hats hold up in this cynical age of hoodie-wearing snaking, but there's a new boosting mechanic in town, laughing in the faces of what were long presumed perfect racing lines.

The speedy brigand in question? We're calling him the stunt boost. Previous videos of Wario spinning 360 degrees in his obnoxious hotrod introduced the concept of stunts - performed from new ramped boost pads - and it would seem that landing them gives you a red engine flare and some extra oomph.

Sure, the obvious choice would be to hound every jump ramp in sight, but factor in long half-pipes ripe for stunt action and striking that balance of stunt-based dallying and nippy course progression grows tricky.

Take, for example, the frozen mountain peak that debuted at Nintendo's autumn press conference last year. The course, a wintry sibling to Double Dash's DK Mountain, looks to start with racers dropped from a chairlift at the peak for a subsequent zip to the base (cribbing from Snowboard Kids something rotten).

Don't expect a straightforward slippy-slidey ice plummet; with high slopes on each side and some immensely sharp bends, this has more in common with an enlarged bobsleigh run.

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As such you're rarely out of a half-pipe: in other words, this is a course-long stunt opportunity. Wah, indeed.

Frosty delights

Slamming off these frosty inclines also reveals a neat visual edge that the sometimes shaky screenshots fail to convey.

A stonking great draw distance exposes a dreamy alpine lodge awaiting our motorists at the foot of the mountain, lusciously smothered in a hazy depth of field effect that forces the powers at work under the Wii's bonnet to pull overtime.

The best news? The man on the inside - and we're talking about Mr Hands-On, not the man living inside the Wii implied in that last sentence - says it's both smooth and packed with special effects.

Mr Generous even goes as far as mentioning pretty explosions. Ooooh.

Could this explosion be as a result of some new supercharged weaponry? New items are due to appear alongside our old shell banana thunderbolt favourites, and the only light shed so far is a conspicuous mention of many 'mushroom types'.

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