Mario Kart 8 is the first Wii U game. Before you swing violently around to look, aghast, at your last 18 copies of ONM, wondering what twisted hell-verse they sprung from, we mean to say that it's the first of Nintendo's next generation that feels as though it needed the new console, and the new outlook that's come with it, to exist.
Super Mario 3D World was a sumptuous thing, so rich in cartoon terrain, built from such shapely HD parts that you felt as though a solid punch through the TV screen would land you arm-deep in cake-turf, but its playstyle came from any number of older sources, like 2013's most entertaining patchwork quilt. Nintendo Land used the GamePad to create events - both in-game and out - we couldn't possibly have had without that new round-edged circuit-brick, but its mini-game menagerie was born out of Wii-era thinking, prioritising moments over the solid experiences the developer's truly best at.
This, however, feels like a release, a screaming, gleaming rush of impulses, improvements and innovations that producer, Hideki Konno, and his team seem to have been itching to introduce for years. From its looks to its approach to online interaction, even the refinements it makes to the series' signature style, Mario Kart 8 is a very new game for Nintendo. Let's get this out of the way: it's quite probably the best Mario Kart ever made, and it's certainly the best game on Wii U.
There's every chance you could come to that conclusion within a few scant prods at the A button. Press A to start, enter single player, choose Grand Prix mode, select the Mushroom Cup, choose a racer and their kart, see opening track Mario Kart Stadium appear, rippling with fanfare and fireworks, and, finally, press A to accelerate. What follows isn't the sedate test track we've come to expect from the opening course to each game, rather a rush of neon light, blacktop arcing away into a fizzing sky as drivers abandon their usual standoffish personas and career into one another, hoping for a boost.
It's literally overwhelming. Almost every first-time driver we've played with has crashed catastrophically at least once because they were distracted by what was going on around them. The tracks, tightened after their unnecessary widening for Mario Kart Wii, buzz with activity almost constantly (not least because we're back up to 12-kart races, with the four grid spots jettisoned by Mario Kart 7 reintroduced), while the graphical boost the Wii U offers helps make backdrops almost as busy. Sunshine Airport's terminal boards glimmer with new departures (if you look closely enough, they're all trips to other tracks), themed adverts flicker by on the scuffed sidings of Toad Harbour, and you'll be fascinated by the shaky science of kart drifts carving out strings of marshmallowy cumulus during the course of Cloudtop Cruise.
Yet while those tracks act as the glitzy chassis Mario Kart 8 parades around, it's the dynamics of racing itself that feel like the fuel that pushes the new game feeling along. Drawing heavily on ideas from both Mario Kart Wii (hopping drifts, bikes, trick boosts) and 7 (transforming karts, a more precise handling style), it's a compromise at first glance, but in time-honoured style, the game only truly reveals itself when that glance becomes an hours-long stare.
Drifts are now incredibly sensitive, moving from boost-building crescents into screeching scimitars, perfect for claiming a quick racing line, at a nudge of the left stick, and slipstreaming now only comes after seconds of close-quarters tailgating, making it as dangerous as it is useful. Outside of the racing itself, the return of bikes within MK7's weighty customisation menus raised some eyebrows, especially in our office, where using one in the old days became akin to war crimes. Luckily, Nintendo's rethought its style, actually helping offer the game a new-found extra layer of pre-race intrigue.