Being ahead of the pack in Mario Kart makes me uneasy. Even when I'm winning, I'm never really comfortable. I know that a blue shell — that unstoppably powerful missile that seeks out the first-place racer — is likely only moments away, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U finally provides some hope. If I get lucky and grab the new super-horn, a box that emits a stunning pulse strong enough to knock back other racers and negate the explosive impact of the blue shell, it'll all be okay. It's a rare item and I've only collected a handful after playing hours of the game over the past two weeks, but that hope is enough. Yes, a blue shell is coming. But maybe, just maybe, I'll be ready for it.

Mario Kart 8 isn't drastically different than past games in the series. The structure, controls, and items are all largely the same as the Mario Kart games you played on your DS or Nintendo 64. But a few seemingly small additions and tweaks, like the super horn or the new anti-gravity feature that lets you drive on walls and ceilings, have a surprisingly big impact on the experience. Mario Kart 8 is full of life and ideas — and it might just be the best game in the series to date.