It’s like clockwork. Every new Nintendo system inevitably sees another iteration in the Mario Kart franchise, and each time, we eat it up. The venerable series continues to be solid, colorful and most importantly, fun. Mario Kart 7 is actually the first game in the series to feature a traditional number (unless you count “64” as a number) and once again, remains a solid outing that is a blast to play with others. Still, power-sliding around Rainbow Road for the umpteenth time doesn’t come without the feeling that we have been here and done this plenty of times before.
Explaining a Mario Kart game to someone who has never played it is nigh impossible, mainly because I can’t honestly think of anyone who hasn’t. That said, the formula remains pretty much the same. Pick a character and kart, choose a circuit and fight for the win. Grand Prix is once again broken down into eight circuits, each one hosting a handful of races. The first four play host to the new tracks, while the latter four combine tracks from previous outings in the series. This formula has been standard for a while, and MK7 doesn’t deviate from that setting.
Nintendo has added some spice to the mix by allowing you to glide and go underwater for the first time in the series. These new features also have been mixed in with the classic tracks, so you can now see them from a fresh perspective. I will be honest, it doesn’t exactly change the dynamic of the game, but it does open up some neat new mechanics.
First person mode has also been added along with motion control using the 3DS’ gyroscope. You can switch to this mode at any time by pressing up on the d-pad. It is a little off-putting at first, but once you get used to it, it is actually pretty cool. I couldn’t find myself switching to this mode exclusively, but it is fun to switch to it sporadically for a new perspective. It is also worth noting that you can use the circle pad for traditional controls while in first person mode making it easier to play when 3D is enabled.
Blasting through grand prix is much like it has always been. There are 32 courses to and the 50, 100 and 150cc cups continue to pad the difficulty, but you will still find the unbalanced power-ups and annoying AI posing more threats once you get up to the 150cc. For anyone who has ever played an MK game, picking up first place in the later races is frustrating, as you can be way out in front only to be nailed by two blue shells right at the finish line of the third lap. This is how Mario Kart works. It can be infuriating at times, but again that is the nature of the game.
Speaking of power-ups the game does add some new ones into the mix. The Tanooki leaf gives you the ability to spin attack enemies, while the fire flower gives you fireballs to toss at your enemies. The Lucky 7 gives you seven power-ups that you can use at will. It is like the blue shell, where obtaining it comes mostly when you are in dead last, but it has a downside. Get hit once by a banana peel and all the items are gone. It is a deadly, but fragile, power-up that should be used wisely.
In addition to the grand prix, you also have the return of balloon battle and, of course, your standard multiplayer racing experience. MK7 gives you the opportunity to play locally or online and even features game sharing for playing with just one cartridge. Everyone without a game will have to play as a Shy Guy, but it is worth it nonetheless. Playing against others is the defining aspect of MK games, and 7 is no exception. Online battles are lifeless, honestly, even if they are smooth. Once you manage to get into a room with friends, though, the fun can begin. Local play is where it’s at.
Having someone in the room when you blue-shell them at the last second is still superbly satisfying. Nothing comes close to the thrill of screaming in someone’s face when you beat them at the last second, and no game does it better than Mario Kart. You can race on any track, but as I mentioned earlier, you are limited to playing as Shy Guy if you do not have a cart. It is also worth mentioning that load times here are pronounced and to be wary of physical abuse if you happen to lose.
Visually, the game looks great, and could possibly be the best looking Mario Kart to date. Now, that isn’t saying a whole lot considering that Nintendo isn’t known for their hardware specs, but the game is pretty nonetheless. The 3D effect actually works really well here and makes the tilting controls even more irrelevant, as you will actually want the slider turned on for this game. Frame rate is solid most of the time, and the tracks are, as always, extremely well designed. Music is fitting and characters sound great, outside of the new voice they chose for Donkey Kong.
Mario Kart 7 is exactly what you would expect from a 3DS chapter in the series. For better or worse, you likely know exactly what you are getting into before even breaking the cellophane. Still, if you enjoy Mario Kart and have friends to play with, this is a must buy for 3DS owners. If you plan to take it solo, I might recommend waiting it out to see if anyone decides to take the plunge down the line. The game doesn’t re-invent the wheel, or even try to, but what it does, it does well.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.