At first glance, Mario Kart 3D seems like "Requisite Sequel #247," with much of the same content we've seen in prior games. The usual racers are present, the items are holdovers from past titles and the music is the same indistinguishable bounciness that's taken over the series since Double Dash!! on GameCube. But nestled among all the sameness are a few additions that set MK3D apart from its many predecessors.
Above: Flying! But watch out for those pipes!
Most notable is the inclusion of hang gliders that are tucked into each kart. When you hit specific ramps and gain sufficient air, a glider will pop out and enable you to glide across large gaps or troublesome parts of the track. It sounds utterly superfluous (and to be honest, it kinda is), but Nintendo's brought over some Pilotwings sensibilities to make that controlled descent feel natural and fun. It's also integrated into each track quite well; most of the time you're power-sliding and tossing red shells at each other as you always would, then suddenly all eight racers are thrust into the air and now must avoid dangling objects (like branches or signs) before touching down and seamlessly continuing the race.
Above: Land, sea or air - Mario's gonna race no matter what the terrain
As silly and borderline unnecessary as it sounds, I enjoyed soaring past opponents in the air, and especially liked the satisfying bounce you get when coming in too hot for a landing. I don't think it's possible to botch the landing, you just lose a bit of speed for each hop. I also look forward to finding all the hidden ramps in each course, as they let you glide over areas that can really slow you down. For example, one glider ramp is placed on a precarious ledge overlooking the water. Most racers will just drive right into the lake (triggering the kart's new underwater mode) but eagle-eyed players will spot that ramp and fly right over their heads as they trudge through the water.
Above: The 3D effects are quite good, adding a real sense of depth to each track
MK3D also allows for a small bit of kart customization. After choosing your racer, you can then select a body type and size of wheels, and then the third slot only contained the aforementioned hang glider - maybe there will be different versions that affect descent? As for wheels, picking hefty monster truck tires reduces your turning radius, but also makes you something of a battering ram, capable of jostling other karts off the track. Opting for tiny wheels, on the other hand, lets you turn on a dime but leaves you open for said jostling. There are more options in each category, but in this early build these choices were all that were available.
I gotta say, I rather enjoyed the demo. The courses, while definitely familiar, felt a little faster and more drift-friendly than Mario Kart Wii, just without the motorcycles and needless trick system the latter introduced. The racing was tight, the power-ups were silly but not ridiculous and the effortless transition from land to sea to air made each course constantly entertaining. Here's hoping the rest of the courses (as well as power-ups and kart parts) all come together to make MK3D as long-lived and fun as Mario Kart DS.