Take a long piece of paper, give it a twist and connect both ends into a loop. Hey presto: you've just built yourselves a Möbius strip! It's a single-surface, figure eight-shaped object that, coincidentally, Nintendo has appropriated both for the signature track in Mario Kart 8 and the game's logo. It's emblematic of the series itself: every time Mario Kart seems in danger of going around in circles, Nintendo throws in a twist that changes the rules.
This time the twist violates the laws of physics themselves: it's anti-gravity. Karts and bikes have wheels that automatically reorient themselves, allowing Mario and chums to stick to the track, no matter which way up they are. You'll pass an upside-down castle before realising it's actually you who is resisting gravity's insistent pull and not those pink-tipped towers.
You'll race across the walls of a haunted mansion, looking up to see rivals perpendicular to you. It's utterly dizzying stuff and is potentially disorientating, but for the fact that Nintendo keeps the camera fixed on your kart while rotating the track around it. For this reason, the effect isn't quite as dazzling as it looks in replays, at least until you look trackside and see the rest of the world pointing in a different direction.
But with wider tracks to accommodate 12 racers it's not always easy to appreciate if you're racing on the floor or on the ceiling.
It's worth noting, however, that the three tracks that have been showcased so far are likely to be among the simplest courses in the game, the ones before Hideki Konno and his team of track design aces really start confusing you with tricksy surface-swapping shenanigans.
Besides, at first you'll be too busy gawping at the graphics to notice. Super Mario 3D World looks lovely in its bright, chunky way, but Mario Kart 8 comfortably has the edge as eye candy. This is the first big step up for Wii U, a real visual showcase, running in 1080p at 60 frames per second (and goodness knows we've waited a long time to say that).
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It's impossibly colourful, gorgeously lit and shaded and is absolutely crammed full of lovingly rendered detail, from the seams on Mario's dungarees, through to the wonderfully strokeable fur on Donkey Kong and the roaring exhaust flames of a corner turbo. This is, dare we say it, Nintendo's first proper next-gen title.
If it looks like the future, it (mostly) plays like the past, which is really no bad thing when it comes to Mario Kart, even if it's a shame that anti-gravity's the only thing that sets it apart from the most recent entries. It nabs Mario Kart 7's gliders and underwater racing and puts them alongside the bikes, ramps and stunts pinched from Mario Kart Wii. Once again, you collect coins to go faster, with 10 taking you up to top speed. So far, so safe, though we fully expect the roster of characters and power-ups to increase from the demo.
Onto the tracks, then. Peach's Castle (our name) is, as mentioned, a figure eight with a Möbius twist and is more spectacular to look at than to race around. A haunted mansion offers a little more to sink our teeth into, sending us speeding along walls, darting between razor-toothed bonefins in an underwater stretch, dodging crushing blows from hammers wielded by possessed suits of armour and negotiating a short tunnel shortcut over rocky ground.