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Mario Kart 3DS May yet Refresh the Franchise

When Super Mario Kart Wii arrived with a wheeze in 2008, much was made of how one of Nintendo's most storied franchises had officially passed its expiration date (even if it went on to sell millions, anyway). And yet here we are, about to receive another Mario Kart title.

That's hardly a surprise, of course. What really shocks me is that it's probably my favorite game in the Nintendo first-party lineup. Yes, moreso even than Super Mario Bros. 3D.

As discussed during Nintendo's E3 press conference, the latest Mario Kart adds another layer of customization to the traditional Kart selection. The items available in the demo include massive wheels and a hang glider, which is integral to the courses that I played. And as it turns out, these additions allow for a slew of new and interesting course designs.

Take the second course in the demo, which includes a number of water hazards. In previous Mario Kart games, missing a turn and flying into the drink meant a frustrating wait while Lakitu hauled your butt back onto the course. This course, however, turns the water hazard into yet one more route thanks to the submarine propeller that attaches to the back of the karts.

Another level uses the hang glider to emphasize the course's Z axis. As you hit ramps and zoom into the air, the hang glider deploys and lets you float back to the surface. Careful consideration of your landing spot helps you shave precious seconds off your time by swooping over a gap and hitting a well-placed corner.

These new mechanics ought to go a long way toward refreshing Mario Kart's track design, which had honestly started to get a bit stale. The multiple dimensions encourage you to find new and interesting ways to negotiate the track, providing plenty of incentive to play a race multiple times.

Another impression facet of Mario Kart 3DS is how smooth it feels on the 3DS. The 3D is understated, but it adds a nice layer of depth that somehow makes the racing feel faster than before. And more importantly, it feel incredibly smooth, which is not something I can say about every Nintendo 3DS game. The series feels more polished now than it has in years.

I suppose it's not surprising that Mario Kart feels so great on the 3DS, given that the Nintendo DS version is secretly its best entry in years. But to feel this jolt of interest in a series that I thought I had tired of years ago is one of the more pleasant surprises of the show so far.

I'll certainly be keeping an eye on this new Mario Kart as we get closer to the holiday release date.


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