Mario Kart's punchy drifts might not have as much praise heaped upon them as the playful arc of the plumber's jump, but they're just as well defined. They've been the backbone of a series that's been one of Nintendo's most consistently brilliant, as well as one of its more lucrative.
Mario Kart's real trouble is that it got its formula down pat back in 1994 with Super Mario Kart, and only when it's veered too far from that original template has it strayed from unbridled success. Hence the disappointment of Double Dash!! and its needless tinkering, and hence the success of Mario Kart Advance and Mario Kart DS, the two hearty handheld compendiums that offered more of the old and restrained themselves of throwing up too much that was new.
Seeing Mario's kart spontaneously sprout a set of canvas wings in the series' 3DS outing is understandably going to get people a little worried, then. Watch it sprout a propeller as it heads underwater, and it's easy to think that Mario Kart hasn't just jumped the shark, it's gone swimming with the fishes while it's at it.
Happily, these augmentations have been well woven into that classic Mario Kart template, and the 3DS edition is, like its portable forebears, another witty compilation that's thrown a few of its own thoughtful additions into the mix.
It's got old-school credentials, and not just in its combat-based racing, iconic character roster and colourful track selection. Coins can be collected to go that little bit faster, a system first seen in the original (and best) Mario Kart that's been sorely missed since.
Mario Kart 3DS has also sought counsel from the series' ugly duckling, Double Dash, but at least it's lifted the right things. The vehicle customisation introduced by the GameCube outing makes a full-blooded return here; karts are composed of three slots, with the chassis, wheels and wing all up for alteration. [Correction: Double Dash did not feature kart customisation, but it did allow you to select two riders and from a broad variety of karts, which might be what Martin was thinking of. -Ed.]
The first offers a grand cosmetic overhaul that comes with a few performance tweaks, but itís the second option that has the most dramatic effect. When loaded out with miniscule pinwheels, the karts bear a resemblance to Double Dash's garage not just in looks; handling is skittish, the karts cornering with all the grace of an overloaded shopping trolley.
There's a middle option that's a straight facsimile of the series' more traditional handling; with these slick racing tires bolted on, the karts feel responsive and fresh, and that defined drift is kick-started, as ever, with a neat little hop before entering a corner.
The last option straps on monstrous tubes of rubber that lend the karts a lurching sensation wherein the whole track's transformed into one long and lazy drift. Alongside the pinwheels, it presents two playful handling extremes that counterpoint the purposeful feel of the standard driving model.
Each one of them shows off that trademark drift in a different light, be that nervous, controlled or lumbering. Each one of them is served by the return of the drift-boost mechanic, once again fuelled by aggressive snaking. It's not the most graceful of solutions, but at least it's not quite as painful as before, the 3DS' circle pad proving more open to waggling than the sharp edges of the DS' d-pad.
Elsewhere, Mario Kart makes grand use of the 3DS' quirks. It's a given that 3D is a perfect fit for racing games - this is a genre all about depth perception and nailing apexes, even if in this case you're trying to do so with a red shell honing in on your six - but it's still pleasantly surprising to see Nintendo step up to the plate with such purpose.
60 frames per second are maintained even with the 3D slider set to full headache, but that's the least of its achievements. It's no idle lie to call Mario Kart the best-looking 3DS game to date [that is an idle lie, it's clearly Luigi's Mansion 2 - Oli], and its assured handling of Nintendo's fantasy vision makes it quite possibly the best looking handheld game to date; trackside detail blooms handsomely while Mario's pastel landscapes stretch all the way to the horizon.
Retro Studios' involvement - and to what extent the Texan developer is involved remains a mystery - tells in the standout course of the three initially on display. Set in the jungles of Donkey Kong, the track goes from dense overgrowth lit by shafts of light to a glittering golden temple, with several of the assets seemingly ripped wholesale from Retro's last Wii outing, Donkey Kong Returns.
There are hints of some other Nintendo franchises creeping into the mix too. That set of wings feels like more than an appendage; several of the tracks aggressively propel the karts into the sky and what follows nails the joy of flight in a fashion similar to the PilotWings games. The canvas wing flutters in the wind as the aerial moments offer a brief and tranquil respite from the tarmac chaos, the music dimming as you pick a landing spot somewhere amid that thicket of cartoon trees.
Some typically canny track design plays to the gliders; one of the airborne sections sends them through a cavern coursed with stalactites, while elsewhere a little aerobatics and a keen eye reveal a handful of devious shortcuts.
Going underwater is another soothing change of pace, the karts picking their way through clamshells and fluttering reeds. Here, the karts take the corners in gloopy arcs, popping up onto two wheels as their weight languidly rolls around.
As additions go, then, Mario Kart's aerial and underwater sections are slight yet assured, and they're piggybacking on a game that's been well matched to the 3DS hardware. It's another portable collection of the series' finest moments, and this one looks more than capable of producing a few of those itself.