Nintendo has released nine brand new screenshots for Mario Kart 7, the next entry in the Mario Kart series set to release this holiday for the Nintendo 3DS.

Within those screenshots was a glimpse at a new, and yet old, power-up. Making its appearance for the first time in a Mario Kart title is the Raccoon Tail. This is the second of the upcoming Mario games set to feature the tail, as Nintendo’s made an effort to call back to the retro item with Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS.

Mario lovers will instantly recall that the Raccoon Tail item showed up in Super Mario Bros. 3, back in 1988, for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Players earned the upgrade by snagging a leaf. The tail gave Mario, or Luigi, the ability to fly after a running start or strike enemies or blocks from a horizontal vantage.

What it will do in Mario Kart 7, however, has not been announced. There was no press release to accompany the assets portraying the tail, so anything you hear regarding its functionality may as well be guesswork.

That won’t stop us from taking a stab. This item could be used to ward off approaching turtle shells, to strike fellow racers lined up directly next to you or to glide slightly after a quick hop.

What doesn’t make sense for the power-up, however, is out-and-out flight. Flight in Mario Kart 7 is happening by way of the new hang glider. This kart add-on engages during specific course segments. Being able to use the Raccoon Tail to enter flight at any time, thus negating the new hang glider sections, probably wouldn’t serve this franchise’s balancing efforts.

Mario Kart 7 will release for the Nintendo 3DS on December 4th. Will you folks out there be snagging it on release? How about those without a 3DS, is this the game that will give you a reason to spring for the system?