Basics first. Analogue stick steering? Fine. It sits somewhere between Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash - there’s none of the sluggishness of Dash’s fattened karts, but it’s got more grip and presence than 64’s pseudo-3D floaty-mobiles. And drifting? Really solid. Instigated by performing a hop, a drift boost is no longer gained by steering in and out of the slide, but is now dictated by the length of the slide. Drift for long enough and the blue sparks turn to blue flames, before flaring a bright, super-boost-coloured red.
Boosting is a case of less is more. Despite being easier to pull off than the old waggling technique - you literally just hold down the hop button and steer into the bend - the boost is harder to trick and manipulate. Is this the end of snaking? We certainly hope so. Sure, you can hop and force a drift along a straight, but the game doesn’t like giving you boost power unless you’re on a corner. It may be technical witchcraft, but we won’t send it to the ducking stool.
Having to hold the drift for as long as possible actually makes for a riskier game. Do you try to drift through multiple bends in one maneuver for a mega boost, or chop it into more manageable pieces? It also calls for reevaluation of the retro tracks included here, as strategic slides question your tried and tested racing lines, and best times once thought unbeatable are soundly trounced.
Not only are you attempting to cultivate a zen-like appreciation of corners, but you have a stunt boost to chase, too. Whether launching off a ramp or passing a minor bump in the road, a quick remote shake activates a trick and rewards you with a turbo upon landing. There’s no way to mess it up and no tricksy angled landings a la Excite Truck. It’s as pure and obvious as Mario Kart has ever been.
Not all courses offer ripe openings for both abilities. Bumpless tarmac tracks focus more on smooth drifts, while others are so bump-fat - racing over the knotted roots of Maple Treeway, for example - that you rarely touch the ground, let alone drift. Trick spots are even sparser in the four retro cups - it’s quite obvious where ramps have been shoehorned in. The inconsistency isn’t game-ruining, but it’ll surely help some tracks find stardom quicker than others.