At first glance, Mario Kart 8's looping, twining tracks seem to usher in a new wave of creativity to a series that's never quite been allowed to go stale, but has often driven closer to the 'best before' date than it needs to.
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This time, the twist is that the field's karts (and indeed, bikes) have been fitted with anti-gravity mechanisms, allowing even fat-asses like Donkey Kong to navigate loop-the-loops and kinky mobius loops without gravity getting the better of them.
The gnarly new tracks make for an arresting sight during the pre-match overview sweep, but we're not convinced the excitement carries over to the races themselves.
The anti-gravity gimmick manifests during play in the form of blue barriers at roadside, which when driven over allow you to drive up the wall - where you'll remain unless you get hit by something, upon which you'll tumble back to earth.
"The anti-gravity theme offers quick and crafty shortcuts, the trade off being that the routes are slightly riskier."
The anti-gravity theme then, offers quick and crafty shortcuts, the trade off being that the routes are slightly riskier. In that sense, it reminds us of the underwater/sky routes in Mario Kart 7, both of also which return here.
Controls are reminiscent of Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 - as is the handling. Also mirroring those games, Mario Kart 8 allows you to play with tilt controls, with the GamePad itself acting as a rather cumbersome steering wheel. (No attachments necessary).
The GamePad screen is used to relieve the screen of clutter. Your opponent's track positions can be found here, and in the middle of the screen is a honkin' great horn which can be beeped to give racers in front of you the willies - it's another mechanic that serves to disadvantage race leaders and even out the playing field.
As much as we love Mario Kart however, it was all very cloyingly familiar - not helped by the absence of new weapons or racers in the E3 build, although that's almost certain to change. Mario Kart 8 feels as instantly frivolous and fun as its predecessors, but we're not convinced the anti-gravity gimmick kicks the series on as much as it might - and the return of bikes, propellers, hand gliders and everything in-between suggest that this is a series scrambling for ideas.
It is worth noting for balance however that the three circuits on display at E3 (Mario Circuit, Delfina Island-syle Marina and Boo House) were all resolutely Mushroom Cup fare. There's every chance that Nintendo could let their hair loose on later tracks and deliver the kind of experimental, gravity-bending courses capable of doing the concept justice.