I've finally gotten around to giving this game a spin, and as someone whose never really been a Mario Kart or racing fanatic, I'm surprised by how enjoyable I've found the game thus far. I've played a bit of Double Dash, but the bulk of my Kart experience lies in the SNES original; the game's evolved quite a bit. Despite my tendency to resist change in games, the numerous upgrades aren't as daunting as I thought they'd be.
The graphics and sound are fantastic. Of note is that the jaggies I mentioned earlier aren't really noticeable to me now; they're there, no doubt, but sitting a few feet away on my couch versus standing directly in front of the screen at a store demo makes a big difference. The live music recordings sound excellent. Even the voices aren't terrible--in that you don't hear them too often. I don't think I'll ever understand their casting/voice directions, though.
I feel like the items can be very intrusive. Back in the day, the items' potency seemed a bit conservative and took a little skill to use effectively. Now they're just ridiculous, with screen-obscuring Bloopers and the once-rare Lightning Bolt now striking at least once per race. I wish there was a way to toggle them a la Smash Bros.
Playing with the Pro Controller left my hand a bit cramped/fatigued; I'm not sure, but it might be the button placement. I too was disappointed to see not button configuration options. I'll try the old Classic Controller Pro and see if that's any more comfortable. That all said, maneuvering your character is easy--like Angela, I don't think I've ever been able to drift this well before.
By the way, have you heard of the overblown and somehow controversial Fire-hopping technique?