The Mario Kart titles have become a staple of Nintendo's consoles and handheld systems over the past 19 years, so the fact that a new game is being released for Nintendo's new 3DS system comes as no real surprise. What does come as a surprise is how many new ideas the developers have injected into this newest rendition and the sheer impact they have on the actual gameplay experience.
For the preview build at E3, Nintendo had 5 tracks playable, but you were limited to two laps per track. Most of the gameplay elements remained very reminiscent of past Mario Kart releases, but there were a few new twists tossed in that greatly increased the playability of the game.
For starters, you will now sprout wings whenever your kart goes airborne. You can then control the glider, which will allow you to maneuver your way around obstacles and to specific landing spots. This is a good time to not only get yourself lined up for your landing, but also a good way to push other racers of-course. Going underwater also shows off a new accessory to your kart, as a propellor will pop up on the back of your vehicle whenever you submerge it. And while the game still controls and feels the same underwater, it does provide some really cool visual touches that show off the system's 3D capabilities rather well.
In Mario Kart 3DS you still have the same basic power-ups that you can pick up throughout each race, some more useful than others. The ink blots seem to be a bit less distracting this time around, although when they first pop onto your screen they can throw you off your game a bit, especially if you're viewing the game at higher levels of 3D. If you find yourself getting overly competitive, you can even bump a fellow rider using one of the action buttons. There's also the ability to customize your kart with different body styles and tires, the latter of which can determine how your vehicle will handle on varying surfaces.
When it comes to tracks, the Mario Kart series has always been hit or miss, but the five playable tracks in this preview build were all top notch. Not only were there new tracks like Wuhu Island and the jungle from Donkey Kong Country Returns, but the returning tracks were equally well-designed and offered a nice challenge in the way they were laid out. You can tell that the developers put a lot of time and thought into the game's raceways and responsive controls and it really pays off in the overall experience.
Visually, Mario Kart 3D is leaps ahead of anything we've seen on any of Nintendo's portable systems before and when coupled with the 3D effect, really spring to life onscreen. The 3D effect also makes judging distances much easier, something that can help make the many winding twists and turns of the tracks more intuitive than ever before. It will be interesting to see how all of the tracks look once we get a chance to tackle the finished product later this year.
The musical presentation is equally up to the task and does a fantastic job of carrying the light-hearted mood of the game's racing action. There are some familiar tracks as well as some brand new material for players to enjoy and the voices of the various cast of Mario-themed racers is as solid as ever. Much like the visuals, it's quite an exciting prospect to think about finally being able to hear all of the musical pieces once the game is finally released.
We've seen some great Mario Kart releases over the years, but Mario Kart 3D might very well be the best one yet. The new gameplay ideas really bring a layer of freshness to the experience and the new tracks are easily the best we've seen to date. Toss in good controls and some unbelievable 3D visuals and you've got a game that absolutely no Mario Kart fan should miss.