I didn't have to spend a lot of time with Mario Kart for 3DS to realize that Nintendo's playing it pretty safe with the formula. Sure, there's a couple neat new touches, like context-sensitive hang-gliders and sub transformations, but in the end, it's still Mario Kart.

In fact, some of this 3DS Mario Kart installment is kind of a look backward. Coins on the track have returned from the old Mode 7 outings, and the show-floor consensus is that collecting more of them does indeed make you go faster. Widespread dissatisfaction with the drifting mechanic in Mario Kart Wii seems to have led to a return to the old wiggle-the-stick mini-turbos. And, of course, holding the accelerate button down at the right time during the countdown will give you a turbo boost to start the race.

The transformations are the new thing in 3DS Mario Kart. You'll pop out a hang-glider during certain situations when you're launched into the air, switching you to a slide-pad-navigated gliding mode where you can either choose to nose-dive for the ground to get back down faster or hold back on the stick to drift farther. Sub mode is triggered whenever you go underwater (you can even drift underwater, up on two wheels) and one of the courses in the demo let you continue racing in sub mode if you dropped off while the rest of the racers continued on land—there were actually a number of branching paths, even if some were simplistic, in the courses in the demo.

There's also the opportunity to customize your kart before you race a little. Additional hang-gliders weren't available to choose from, but different sizes of wheels were.

This new Mario Kart has a good feel to it, not at all awkward—it was hard to lose if you didn't try to use the d-pad like I did in the first few seconds. Though the courses in the demo were all-new to show off the transformations and features, the trailer Nintendo showed today had a few familiar-looking courses, likely in the vein of the retro courses that have been a staple since Mario Kart DS. Mario Kart is one of Nintendo's bread-and-butter franchises; this installment is clearly comfortable in that role, and series fans should, in turn, be quite comfortable with it.