Mario Kart 8 preview: First play of Wii U racer, due 2014

There's something charming about Mario Kart. It's one of those games that always puts a smile on people's faces. And Mario Kart 8 for Wii U is no different.

Mario Kart 8 had to be shown off at this year's E3 expo in Los Angeles California. Nintendo is trying to claw back some of the gravitas awarded to both Sony and Microsoft in light of the PS4 and Xbox One announcements. And the Nintendo title was more than shown off - a playable demo was on hand and Pocket-lint grabbed the giant Wii U Gamepad control and got stuck in.

Momentarily the PS4 and Xbox One were forgotten as we were transported into the twisty, turvy, uber-happy Mario world. This is familiar ground, of course, as this version of Mario Kart feels a lot like the earlier games in high definition. But then Mario Kart HD is no bad thing, is it?

That's a lingering question that will fall under part praise, part criticism really. If Mario Kart felt any different from its predecessors then there'd be uproar. But Nintendo is playing it safe with its latest racer, resting on its laurels to ensure it garners the attention needed.

Mario Kart 8 does offer up a new dynamic during play: when we say twisty and turvy we mean that - quite literally. Roads bend upside down where anti-gravity wheels come into play; columns of water appear suspended in the middle of castles that can be floated through much like a normal road; and paraglider-like auto-deployment shifts the fast-paced dynamic to require a defter touch.

Controls can be handled using the Gamepad's thumbstick or full tilt-action controls feel much like the earlier Wii title's steering wheel. Drifting is a key component to the game too: you'll need to hit the right trigger to glide around the corners at pace and acquire the boosts to ping you forward.

Weapons are - from what we've seen - the norm too; red and green shells meet mushroom boosts and slip-sliding bananas. Perhaps there'll be new devices in the finished game, which is due in 2014, but there's no final word just yet.

But at this early stage all the happy-clappy graphics and familiar gameplay just feel a bit slow. Like really slow. Wide roads plod on by - presumably because this is the beginner's cup - in a fashion that came as a bit of a surprise. We trust that Nintendo will get Mario Kart 8 right given its previous experience and this demo is likely reflective of the entry-level cup races - but no information was available about these at this time.

Mario Kart 8: a formula that's much of the same with an HD twist. That makes us pretty darn happy, so we have high hopes as to where this Wii U essential title will go come its 2014 release date. One to watch.