At its E3 2011 press conference, Nintendo unveiled Mario Kart as part of its strong second wave of titles for the 3DS. A hands-on confirms our first impression: that it looks and plays much as you'd expect a handheld Mario Kart to, albeit with the graphical pep and stereoscopic 3D made possible by the Nintendo 3DS. But there are new touches to be found among the instantly familiar kart racing, classic characters, and power-up items--chief among them flying and underwater racing.
As you drive, you can pick up gold coins dotted along the tracks. Nintendo isn't yet sharing what the coins are for, but they could feasibly be meant for spending on the kart customisation options that are another new feature in Mario Kart 3DS. Before we raced, we were presented with a kart customisation screen. Here, we could trick out Mario's ride with our choice of kart chassis, set of wheels, and accessory. The accessories include a propeller and a hang glider attachment, with a number of other unseen options waiting to be unlocked.
The fattest tyres made for a slower vehicle, but one with reliable performance both on- and off-road. We sampled both on a trio of circuits, which also took in stretches of underwater track and hang gliding segments. The kart propeller kicks in automatically when you hit the water, spinning while you race along the seabed and get snapped at from either side by giant oysters. Likewise, the hang glider deploys whenever you take your kart off a sweet jump, letting your driver of choice soar over great gaps in the course, dodging pipe obstacles and collecting coins as you go.
The game will also add Mii drivers, letting you race as your custom 3DS avatar alongside Bowser et al, though these didn't feature in the version available for play at E3. Look for this and more on Mario Kart 3DS from GameSpot ahead of the game's release this winter.