Returning to Mario Kart is the flying or gliding mechanic, which engages during certain jumpoffs. Speaking of jumps, your character can perform a trick on any jump that will result in a speed boost once you touch the ground.
Speed boosts can also be activated by successfully drifting around turns, which proved difficult to master in the 150cc class. Mario Kart 8 also brings back coins to the equation, meaning you'll have better performance with the more coins you can hold onto. Remember, getting bumped or attacked by another racer will cause you to drop some change.
During the course of a race you'll find your vehicle entering a hover mode after passing over blue pads. Hovering doesn't do much, but it does appear to cause your vehicle to experience an exaggerated drift.
At the end of any race, players can enter a highlight reel that lets you slow down the previous action and relive devastating attacks and artful tricks. It's not much beyond some serious eye-candy, but worth checking out nonetheless.
If there's anything to skip, it's probably the new Battle Mode. Whereas in previous Mario Kart games this would be played in an arena-like environment, battling in Mario Kart 8 is done on regular tracks. There's no real rhyme or reason why this is, it just makes for an awkward experience. Sure, I never spent much time dabbling in Battle Mode in previous games, but this new approach is sure to keep that unchanged.
Finally, multiplayer in Mario Kart 8 is finally realized to its full potential. Online players have a gracious amount of options for online competition, and the experience is at the level of smoothness modern multiplayer games have trained us to expect.
CNET verdict: On the fast track
Mario Kart 8 is a blast to play and is easy enough for almost anyone to pick up and enjoy. Its brilliantly designed tracks, inclusion of new weapons, and online refinements make it a no-brainer for Wii U owners.
Be sure to check out what GameSpot has to say about Mario Kart 8.