Mario Kart 3DS gameplay preview

Hands-on: CVG experiences a new Mario Kart in glorious 3D...

Not only do we get our first glimpse of a new Nintendo console - and an incredibly impressive one at that - but we also get a surprise peek at a brand new 3D Mario Kart. What an E3.

Of all the 3DS games on show floor, the Mario Kart demo is the most impressive and that's not just our words - that's the message resonating across the show floor.

Nintendo strayed away from showing off 3DS game footage during its press conference because, understandably, a 2D projector screen wouldn't do 3DS games justice. But we'd have thought a bigger deal would have been made of this.

The Mario Kart demo was amazing, showing off the incredible 3D capabilities of the 3DS' upper screen and allowing us to drool desperately over Mario and Luigi powersliding their way through Mario Kart courses we'd never seen before.

There were three tracks that we counted. The first was a tarmac racecourse lined with pink cherry blossom trees, with falling petals really showing off that 3D effect as they flutter through the air towards you. This course looks similar to Mushroom Gorge, with ramps that throw racers onto a giant red mushroom platform as they charge towards Princess Peach's iconic castle avoiding giant Goombas (the mushroom dudes, for those not up on their Mario enemies).

We see Mario race through a giant green pipe, and get a glimpse at the first weapon - the Blooper Ink which blocks your view with a temporary splat of black slime on your screen.

Moving swiftly onto the second of the four courses, we see Mario and Luigi racing over a grated, see-through road above the lush green Mushroom Kingdom below that resembles the pipe-filled world of Super Mario Bros. 3. They blast through a cave, which has holes in the roof through which beams of sunlight shines through, and bats that fly at the racers and then towards your face.

After the cave comes the most spectacular demonstration of the 3DS' magic we say all day - a giant ramp high up in the air made of that see-through grating we mentioned earlier. Below your wheels you can see a dirt path in the forest far below you, literally. Moments later you're launched into the air and plummeting through the air, the 3D effect heightening that sense of falling as the course that was distant a second ago now rapidly draws closer to your eyes before you slam down to earth. Truly amazing.

As if that wasn't enough, you swing around the next corner to be faced with a path that takes you up the side of a huge mountain, with speed pads to boost you up as you dodge large boulders that are tumbling down the mountain path towards you. Again, the 3D here is awesome.

The first glimpse of the third course sees Mario and bro race over a stone bridge and along another standard-looking asphalt course. We spot a few Mii characters and a blimp overhead with the Wii logo on it, which hints at this being a course set on the island in Wii Sports Resort, which is cool. Although the very brief appearance of this track leaves us with little else to say about it.

Although the demo was running in real-time (and moving the analogue 'slider' shifted the camera around slightly), the demo was unfortunately unplayable - Mario and Luigi raced around themselves. And there was no HUD either. But from what we could tell the handing resembled that of Mario Kart DS, with hops on powerslides and those blue and red sparks under the tyres that signify you'll get a kick of speed as you release your slide on the exit of the bend.

It looks great, too. Not the near-PS3 standard that rumours touted, but the worlds looked up to par with the better-looking PSP games out there, only smoother. The screen on the 3DS is super sharp, which makes the colourful environments that stretch far into the distance a gorgeous spectacle to behold.

Close ups on the two racers revealed their square hands, owing to a PSP-like polygon count we guess. But let's not forget that this demo is so early it's not even playable. And despite the considerable extra grunt required to process everything twice in order to achieve the 3D effect, the 3DS does it all at a silky smooth frame rate.

We wish we could show you this game in proper 3D. The issue of not being able to take and display 3D screenshots on the internet will haunt us from this moment on, but take it from us, the 3D alone will be reason enough to call this the most compelling entry into the Mario Kart series since it went polygonal on N64.

And with this in our hands, we can't imagine going back to 2D portable gaming ever again.