At a Glance: Mario Kart 7 combines the best elements of its predecessors with silky-smooth online play, excellent track design, a wealth of customization options and improved gameplay into a game that rises well above its few faults.
Mario has done it all. He has starred in countless spinoffs from Tetris clones, tennis, soccer and many more. Some say that his greatest detour from saving Peach is the Mario Kart series. Mario Kart was the sole inspiration for other go-kart racing games starring video game characters from Crash Bandicoot and Diddy Kong to SEGA’s legendary characters. Mario Kart has fundamentally stayed the same since the very first game, Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo. Characters drive around the track in cute go-karts and use items to sabotage others or aid themselves. So, why should you buy Mario Kart 7? Simply because Mario Kart 7 is the strongest game in the series and a natural evolution of Mario Kart DS, which has now taken a backseat. It combines all the best features from the past games, takes out some of the “cheap” elements and rolls it up into one incredible experience.
Gameplay is largely the same as it was in Mario Kart Wii and DS only with some new elements and a few added tweaks. First thing that you’ll notice when you start up a race is that you can now customize your go-kart in three different areas: body, wheels, and glider. You can unlock 20+ parts by collecting coins during races. This is a nice addition to the series but nothing too drastic. I miss the character-specific carts a little bit but it’s not a deal-breaker. Collecting all the car parts will sure to be a hit with completionists. Speaking of the glider, that’s one of the new additions to the franchise. The tracks have big jumps and you glide down huge vistas similar to the hang gliding in Pilotwings Resort. Alternatively, there are sections of tracks that will take you beneath the waves with your go-kart. These new sections are well executed and help to add some variety to races.
The tracks themselves are all great. There’s a total or 32 tracks (16 new, 16 classic) and they all play well. Nintendo did a fine job in converting the classic ones for this new version. The other modes like battle mode are virtually the same as Mario Kart Wii only with a few changes. It is now everyone for themselves like in the earlier games and with a two minute time limit. There’s also a mode to see who can collect the most coins but it’s not all that exciting. These extra modes are fun for a bit but not as fully fleshed out as they can be. The meat of the game is still the racing. New to the series is the option to play behind the wheel in a first person view and control using the 3DS’s gyroscope. This is a cool novelty but if you’re playing in 3D it ruins the effect.
Anyone who has played the past games will be right at home and newcomers can jump right in with ease. Nintendo has brought back snaking and drifting like in Double Dash, which is a small but welcomed addition. Nothing in this game is cooler than getting a short speed boost at the last second to avoid a red shell. Nintendo has taken out some of the annoying power-ups from Mario Kart Wii including the POW Block and the Mega Mushroom, and the blue shell is changed so it can hit almost every player and not just whoever is in first place. New power-ups have been added like the Fire Flower and the Super Leaf which is a tanooki tail for your car to smack other racers.
Rubberbanding is still present in Mario Kart 7 but frankly, it’s not really an issue anymore. There have been races where no one has thrown a blue shell and most races consist of only one or maybe two of them. The typical class of characters are present with new additions such as Metal Mario and Lakitu and the added option to play as your Mii. Nintendo has taken out all baby characters and some fan favorites like Waluigi.
Nintendo is known for usually lackluster at best online play which makes the fact that the online play in Mario Kart 7 is actually quite impressive rather shocking. Online supports up to 8 players instead of 12 like in Mario Kart Wii but the game is better for it so races don’t become incredibly hectic. The biggest aspect of online play in Mario Kart 7 is the ability to create Communities. In these Communities, you can adjust which items will appear in races so if you don’t want to play with that pesky blue shell, you don’t have to. The ability to choose which items appear in offline races isn’t available, which is odd. An “Exhibition Race” mode with customized item selections seems like a no-brainer to include in the game so I’m baffled at why Nintendo opted out of this.
But, most importantly in terms of the online play, it’s as smooth as velvet. Of the 50+ races I’ve played, I haven’t experienced any lag whatsoever. One small flaw that I found is during races you don’t know who is who. The player’s name doesn’t show up above his or her head like in the Wii version so if everyone is playing as Mario, it’s really difficult to tell who is who. A small issue but, again, I’m baffled as to why this was taken out. The game also has StreetPass and SpotPass functionality letting players download ghost data from others. Download play is also available for up to 8 players but the ones without the game are limited to Shy Guy and a default cart.
Presentation-wise Mario Kart 7 exudes high-quality. Graphically, it can compete with Mario Kart Wii and Double Dash. Some of the effects such as falling leaves, water, gentle breezes, and the lighting effects are incredible. The fact that the game also runs in smooth 60fps in both 2D and 3D mode is a testament to Nintendo’s ability to get the most out of their hardware. Mario Kart 7′s use of 3D is subtle but goes a long way. Turning 3D on adds depth to the races and the effect is really cool. On the other side of presentation, the game’s audio isn’t up to snuff. This brings me to the only real issue I have with this game: the soundtrack. Maybe it’s because I grew up with SEGA’s arcade racers or the fact that the Mario Kart series never really had great music but it definitely shows in Mario Kart 7. None of the game’s tunes are catchy or memorable and definitely not something that I would listen to on my iPod. Regardless, the presentation is still top-notch for a handheld title.
All in all, Mario Kart 7 is an amazing experience and one that all 3DS owners should pick up. I was stunned at how much they improved every major aspect of an already high-caliber series. This begs the question, where does the series go from here? I honestly have no idea. Nintendo has made it almost impossible to top themselves but this makes me even more excited to see how they will improve on the series next.
- Extremely tight and fun gameplay
- Great set of online features
- Customizaton options add replayability
- Superb graphics for the platform
- All the tracks are great
- Not as obnoxious in terms of rubberbanding as previous games
- Music ranges from mediocre to annoying
- Battle mode isn’t as fun as it can be