I’ll be honest with you in saying that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the latest two Mario Kart games.  Not that I’m saying Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7 were bad games, because they weren’t.  They just didn’t grab me.  Having said that, I didn’t expect a lot going into Mario Kart 8, which was finally unveiled this week at E3 in Los Angeles.  I didn’t expect much right up until I got the controller in my hand, and then that impression changed immediately.

The very first thing I noticed was that Mario Kart lends itself incredibly well to the modern, HD world.  This game is gorgeous.  Everything is incredibly bright and colorful, and I couldn’t see a single blurry texture or low poly model in my entire time with the game.  It was also incredibly smooth, running at a completely solid 60 frames per second.  I didn’t notice slowdown even once.  I really cannot overstate how great the 60FPS was and how much it added to the game.

In total, I played three tracks that showed off different features of the game.  The first was a traditional drive through the Mushroom Kingdom, meant to showcase the new anti-gravity strips that you’ll find all throughout Mario Kart 8.  At several points during the race, you’ll cross these blue strips and your kart (or bike) will transform by having its wheels turn into hoverpads, and then you’ll follow the contours of the track – in this case, following it as it twists and turns and goes upside down.  This also made for a neat graphical effect where – as you raced – you could see the track off in the distance, going high into the sky and twisting.  It also helped provide a sense of speed that’s normally lost on Mario Kart, since now you can see a considerable amount of scenery flying by you at any one time.

The second track I played was a race through a city, this time meant to showcase several shortcuts and the multiple paths that can appear.  In this case, most of the paths that were off the main road involved the anti-gravity strips and would allow you to drive on the walls beside the main track.  Normally, I wouldn’t be a fan of multiple pathways and splitting up the players.  Kart racers are at their best when they’re chaotic and tightly packed but these wall runs were a little different.   First, they were generally only short jaunts and got you back into the action fairly quickly.  Second, I was still very near the main track and, unless I was either very far ahead or very far behind, I could still see the other karts racing below me on the main track.  I never felt like I was racing alone, even when I was the only racer taking that path.

Finally, the third track I played was a Luigi’s Mansion-inspired track that showcased some returning elements to the series, namely gliding and underwater sections.  This was the most familiar of the three tracks I played; there was less of a focus on anti-gravity wall runs and shortcuts – just straight racing.  What this track really did, however, was show off how good-looking Mario Kart 8 really is.  Weaving between ground and water while the kart’s headlights lit up the darkness was actually really impressive, and I hope there are more tracks like it.

Talking to the Nintendo employee manning the demo, I managed to get a bit of additional info.  Nintendo will be introducing a feature called Mario Kart TV, which allows players at any time to record the entire race and post it to Miiverse for the world to see.  Online and local multiplayer was also confirmed, although the number of players that can play at once is still up in the air.  There is a possibility that local multiplayer could be up to six players with the support of two GamePads but, again, this is entirely speculation at this point.

Motion controls have also made a return but they are not mandatory.  At any time, you can use a button on the GamePad touchscreen to switch between motion and thumbstick steering.

I’ve also included a gallery of screenshots and the trailer (seen above) so you can see what I mean when I talk about how good it looks.