It’s easy to say that if you’ve played one Mario Kart, you’ve played them all. Though some iterations of the game have been a little more daring than others, for the most part that’s true. Mario Kart is the the same as it ever was; 3 tight laps around a colourfully complex courses with the multiple branching paths, with an angry mushroom firing shells behind you as you race to glory.
Mario Kart 7 sticks to the tried-and-tested formula – adding embellishments instead of an all out revolution. As such, Mario Kart 7 is short on innovation, but does it really need much to be a great game?
The biggest reason for that is that it’s big on fun. Mario Kart 7 takes a mix-and-match approach to taking the best features from previous instalments, tweaking the formula to provide an experience that’s concurrently wholly familiar yet delightfully fresh. You select one of 17 characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, then compete against the computer (or should you have them, friends) to win various cups across three levels: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc – each increasing in speed and difficulty. Your goal is, naturally to win – using whatever means necessary. Mostly, those means come in the form of weapons, 14 items of ranging efficacy. Old favourites like the red turtle shells, speed-boosting mushrooms, slippery banana peels and -ugh- that damned blue turtle shell make their return, bolstered by three new armaments from the world of Super Mario.
The classic Fireflower makes its Mario Kart debut, allowing you to unleash quick balls of fire at our opponents. The Super Leaf from Mario Bros 3 – and returned in Super Mario 3D Land – gives your Kart a tail, allowing you to smack other players or rebuff enemy attacks. The new Lucky 7, should you be fortunate enough to get it gives you 7 power ups to use in rapid succession – or have stolen by your opponents. Unlike Mario Kart Wii (which let’s face it, sacrificed accuracy for fun) most races are won by skill, though of course there’s still the chance that you’ll be belted by a blue shell followed by a flash of lightning just as you near the finish line. Such is Mario Kart though; instead of the traditional rubber banding you’ll experience in other racing games, Mario Kart gives players in the rear access to stronger weapons and faster power ups – while giving the race leader a scant selection of items to help maintain the lead.
The biggest addition to the game is the new, more vertical hang-glider sections and sub-marine areas. Gain sufficient height off of a jump, and wings sprout from your customisable Kart allowing you to soar over the track – skipping sections of it at the sacrifice of time, or nose-diving forward for speed. These aerial stunts are also immeasurably cool looking in 3D. The under-water bits add less to the game, slowing it down unnecessarily – but such is every water-section of just about every game. Everything else? Much as you remember. Powersliding is back – but is less dependent on rocking the d-pad left and right and more on the angle of the drift. It is still possible to snake – exploiting the game’s mechanics to hop in and out of boost – though, so expect online to matches to eventually devolve in to case of who snakes best.
Speaking of online, Nintendo seems to finally be realising what it is that people want and expect out of online functionality. Though still a far cry from services like Xbox Live or PSN, this is indeed the most robust online seen in a Nintendo game. All the online modes you’d expect are there; local wi-fi play that allows 8 players to play off one cart, online play with strangers (without the need for friends codes!) that’s quick and largely lag free. The ability to create communities of users with custom rules is welcome, but the functionality is pretty limited – and still requires a code (In case you’re interested, here’s a group for South African Mario Kart players: 12-5155-3470-4887). You can even see a list of people you’ve played with before, and hop in to open games with them.
The tracks – 16 brand new ones and another 16 repurposed from Mario Karts past are a mixed bag. The new tracks -including a brand new, single lap A-B reimagining of the classic Rainbow Road and a return to Wii Sports’ Wahu Island are sublimely and expertly crafted. Their brilliance is made all the more apparent by the retro tracks – which while nicely retooled to include aerial manoeuvres, under-water bits and collectible coins just don’t quite match up to the exhilaration of the new ones. The coins you collect are used to customise your Kart; collect 50 and a new bit of gear in one of three categories is unlocked; Chassis, tyres and hang-glider. They’re not just cosmetic either; experimenting with the correct, balanced builds can be the difference between winning – and eating 7 players’ dust.
On top of it all, Mario Kart 7 is gorgeous. In fact, it’s probably the best looking and most technically accomplished 3DS release to date, the action never wavering from60fps even in 3D. The image depth is subtle and easy on the eye, but adds flair to the game’s impressive graphical fluidity. Another addition that surprised me is the first person mode; a quick tap on the d-pad shifts the perspective, allowing you to control the Kart using the gyroscope. It won’t replace the standard view and you’ll switch back to old faithful soon enough, but it works.
It all comes together to bring you quite probably the best Mario Kart ever – certainly my favourite since the SNES original – and quite possibly the 3DS’ much needed killer app. If you’re looking for something to show off your 3DS with, you needn’t look any further.
It’s Mario Kart. What more do you want? There’ve been some subtle changes to the gameplay – as well as some not-so subtle ones like the hang-glider and the submarine – but the core gameplay is intact.
Design and Presentation: 8/10
It’s probably the most technically impressive 3DS to game – and shows that off. The tracks are all beautiful, and beautifully designed – and the whole thing runs at a wonderful, constant 60FPS.
Three levels of difficulty (with a 4th when you complete the hardest level) over 32 tracks. Coupled with the robust online and the superflous modes like coin battles and time trials and you’ll be playing this for ages.
It doesn’t innovate – but it hardly needs to. Some may see it as Nintendo playing it safe, but it results in the most polished, refined and fun Mario Kart to date.
Last Updated: December 6, 2011
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