It wasn't too long ago that we called Mario Kart 7 the best kart racer the genre had seen, but after getting hands-on with the Wii U sequel (and it is, indeed, a sequel, as you can tell by the name), we're thinking that title might be short lived.
If you've played a Mario Kart in the past decade you'll immediately find yourself at home on the controls. You still go from blue sparks to red and then get a boost, you still do a little trick if you jump after hitting a ramp, and you still get a head start by holding down the acceleration when the number "2" is biggest on the countdown to start. Motion controls are optional, and when you're looping around the tracks with an analog stick the feeling is recognizable and enjoyable. Being able to ride on walls (marked by blue, glowing zones) adds some nice verticality the series has never had, and we didn't find it as dizzying as we thought it would be after the initial reveal.
Most surprising, however, were the visuals. A dazzling display of next-gen prowess, the style was slick, looking more like a true "next-gen" game than an HD version of any previous Mario Kart level. The framerate was fast, the character models were beautiful, and the levels themselves were more detailed than we expected. There's even "Mario Kart TV" implementation, allowing players to upload videos of their gameplay to the Miiverse--this is, truly, the next-gen Mario Kart we hoped for, and we can't wait to play more.
Check out the following slides for additional images and more information.