Nintendo racer “Mario Kart 8” launches for the Wii U today, 22 years after the original “Super Mario Kart” for the Super Nintendo reached racing game fans. We were fortunate enough to gain access to “Mario Kart 8” prior to its launch. Before you decide to buy it, here’s what we think about the highly anticipated racer.

martio-kart-8 Anti-gravity racing in "Mario Kart 8." Photo: Courtesy/Nintendo

“Mario Kart 8” is gorgeously crafted and challenging. Yes, it’s loads of fun, but it’s also difficult -- I often found myself on the edge of my seat while playing, my heart racing -- would I get the Bullet Bill, which catapults you past players ahead of you if you're in last place? I’m in sixth place. Can I stay there? Ugh, I just fell off the track. I’m so behind everyone else. Can I catch up? Wow, this course is beautiful.

First, the basics. There are 32 courses, with two Rainbow Roads. There are 16 mainstay characters, with 14 unlockable characters.

Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Toad, Koopa Troopa, Daisy, Shy Guy, Wario, Waluigi, Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Baby Peach and Baby Daisy are the 16 mainstay characters.

The 14 unlockable characters are Rosalina, Toadette, Metal Mario, Lakitu, Larry, Morton, Wendy, Iggy, Roy, Lemmy, Ludwig, Pink Gold Peach, Baby Rosalina and your own Mii.

mariokart8preview1 Yoshi in "Mario Kart 8." Photo: Courtesy/Nintendo

There are also 26 vehicles, from karts to bikes to all-terrain vehicles.

The 32 courses vary; some are partially underwater, some allow you to soar over brief breaks in the tracks, others defy gravity as you find yourself driving upside down. Like previous “Mario Kart” games, each character possesses various strengths and weaknesses. Some have faster accelerations speeds, while others have quicker driving speeds.

original Donkey Kong in "Mario Kart 8." Photo: Courtesy/Nintendo

On a superficial level, “Mario Kart 8” is a visually stunning game. I found myself “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” along with my gamer friends as we experimented with each track. Some tracks are more difficult than others and some are more fun, but each was enjoyable in its own right.

There’s also several throwback courses, such as “Donut Plains 3” from the first “Super Mario Kart,” “Royal Raceway” from the Nintendo 64 version and “Donkey Kong Jungle” from “Mario Kart 7” for the 3DS.

One of the best things about “Mario Kart 8” is that anyone can enjoy it. It’s a game that unites the casual gamer and the hard-core gamer, the young and the old, the old-school “Mario Kart” players and the pre-teen just being introduced to the popular franchise. Nintendo is well-known amongst gamers for not fixing what isn’t broken. The “Mario Kart” formula has worked for more than 20 years -- yes, the graphics are better and the mechanics have improved but the basic premise of the series remains steadfast.

Like previous titles, there are three engine classes: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. Each gets progressively faster and more challenging. Even at the lower classes, the gameplay moves swiftly. There are 12 racers per course, and I know this because I came in last place several times. “Mario Kart 8” is not a slowly paced game; you’re racing against the AI and your friends -- and the races move fast.

My only complaint about “Mario Kart 8” is the character roster. I’d love to see Nintendo mainstays like Link and Princess Zelda hop into a kart, instead of baby versions of popular characters. Still, it’s a small complaint for a nearly flawless and extremely fun game.

Have you played "Mario Kart 8?" What do you think? Leave a comment or tweet me.