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Mario Kart 7: Nintendo fiddles with its winning formula

Hands on: Are big changes a big mistake in Mario Kart 3DS?

Hang-gliders? In Mario Kart? Oh this is not going to end well.

If there's one thing you don't do with a well established, fiercely loved gaming franchise it's fiddle around with it.

Mario Kart is about power-slides, it's about slip-streams, it's about a last minute pull of the trigger to blast your rival off the finish line. Most importantly, though, it's about tyres on tarmac (usually) and how it feels to whip around a well designed track.

So to take those tyres and propel them as far away from the tarmac as possible may be considered a step too far from the core for die-hard fans.

Flying? That's not karting. That's more like, well, flying.

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It's not even the only major change to arrive with the series as it pulls on to the 3DS. Would you believe that delving underwater is now no longer considered a moist mistake but par the course? If we hadn't taken a dip ourselves only to see a little propeller pop out of our kart to continue the race, we probably wouldn't either.

Let's not panic too much, though, to be honest, those underwater sections add very little to the experience except the slightest hint of slow down thanks to water resistance.

As for the flying, most of Mario Kart 7 is well and truly grounded - let's keep our attention firmly on that, for the time being at least.

For starters it all looks pretty spectacular, doing more than enough to leave the Wii's efforts in the dust.

Getting inked by a Blooper, for example, isn't just a case of 20/20 vision one minute and annoying blotches the next anymore. Now it's a far more nuanced animation that actually leaves you looking forward to getting one in the eye.

Obviously the Blooper in particular benefits from the unique selling point of the 3DS. The ghostly squid bobs just in front of the screen and poops a shower of shining spheres in your direction. Glistening slightly in the light, they take advantage of the 3D tech before splattering satisfyingly across the screen.

It's just one example of a many in a game that's full of luxurious visual touches. Models are bright, solid and completely smooth but it's the tiny bits of detail that really create a rich visual display.

But cooing at flowery colours isn't what earns the bread for the hardcore karter. You need to know how this beaut feels to drive.

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WHEEL DEAL

We should point out firstly that your driving experience will depend somewhat on how you set up your kart. We're not talking Gran Turismo grade tuning here but you can choose from a number of different chassis and wheel sets for each character to tweak your ride's performance. It all depends on your preference for weighty traction over speed or vice versa.

As always, though, most of your success will come from knowing each track, its racing lines, quirky kinks and little exploits. With only a few tracks available at this stage of development, we obviously can't pass judgement on the track pack Mario Kart 7 will offer, but, while versions of Airship Fortress, Maple Treeway and a couple of other favourites return, we have to say we didn't find any of the courses we played much of a challenge.

Perhaps it's a sign of our boy racer skills, but we never felt forced down a route we didn't want take, rushed to make a last minute dodge or really pressured by the track itself at all.

The AI opponents did a better job of providing a challenge; snapping at our heels to begin with, launching a well timed attack here and there and, admittedly, getting the jump on us sneakily right on the finish line once.

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