To anyone who has grown weary of or doesn’t care about Mario Kart to begin with, stop reading this review. For people who love Mario Kart and want to know how this new game is, continue reading. Why did I give that little disclaimer? Because this game is a Mario Kart game. It’s on a new platform, it has one or two hooks to it that differentiates it from past games, but by and large, Nintendo made another Mario Kart game. And it is a good one, too.
Since this is Mario Kart’s debut on the 3DS, how is the 3D effect for start? It works really well. Like any game that uses 3D well, it focuses more on showing depth in the background than the cheap gimmick of throwing things at the screen (although the blooper item fills that quota, I guess). It isn’t very crucial to the experience unlike something like Super Mario 3D Land. There’s no performance difference between playing in 3D or 2D, so whatever you pick, you can’t go wrong.
Following the past few Mario Kart games, Mario Kart 7 has 32 tracks split up into 8 cups. Four of those cups contain all new tracks and the other four are reserved for tracks from previous games. One of the game’s hooks is that sections of the tracks have areas where you will drive under water or go off a ramp that activates a hang glider or other device that lets you fly briefly. Kinda like Diddy Kong Racing, but only temporary changes in the kart’s form for brief periods. The old tracks don’t make use of these features, for obvious reasons, but you still see your hang glider when you go off a ramp that essentially warps you to another part of the track in front of you.
Another part of the game, although a much lesser one, are coins. Like Super Mario Kart, there are coins scattered across the track and you can collect up to ten to increase your top speed. Getting hit with an item or falling off the track will cause you to lose three coins. Personally, I didn’t see a major difference when I collected the coins, but besides increasing your top speed, there’s an incentive to collect the coins so you can unlock additional options for customizing your karts.
Some of the tracks are actually set up as one giant loop with check points acting as its three laps. There’s a track that takes you around WuHu Island from Wii Sports Resort, another one on the same island (except it’s a long stretch instead of a giant loop), and Rainbow Road gets the same treatment at the end of the Special Cup, as is the Mario Kart tradition. These tracks were some of my favorites, especially Rainbow Road, and as for the selection of previously existing tracks, they’re good. The new tracks are always more interesting, but the old ones they’ve selected are good in their own right. Plus there’s also Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart so you get double Rainbow Roads!
The game plays like Mario Kart as you would expect. You accelerate, brake, get blue sparks that turn orange when you power slide, and items that are more effective when you’re behind and not as helpful when in the lead. And of course, everyone’s favorite the Blue Shell is still there, and is ready to ruin your day at every possible moment. There are new items in the game such as the Tanooki tail, which can let you knock away shells that are coming at you, and the Lucky 7, which gives you a circle of seven different items around your kart. Of course, none of those will help you survive the Blue Shell.
Single player in Mario Kart 7 serves its purpose as giving you something to do when for some reason you don’t feel like play with other people. I only went through all the Grand Prix stuff once on 50cc, and even with it being the easy difficulty, it’s clear that the item balancing still has the potential to screw you over (I can say that on multiple times, I got hit by the lightning bolt and seconds after got hit by a blue shell). A much better environment for Mario Kart is in multiplayer, and because many people play games with people online, how well does Mario Kart’s online work.
Again, it works well. Mario Kart Wii had a good online structure, surprisingly so considering how there’s next to no online structure on the Wii. Mario Kart 7 has its own Mario Kart channel which will inform you about ghosts you picked up via spot pass as well as community recommendations. Communities are there as an option that fits in between play with friends and play with anyone. You can select a community from a recommendation and you’ll join automatically, but if you’re looking for a specific community, you need to input that community’s code. It’s like a friend code, but more like a password that automatically puts you into the community. I spent my time online by playing with people in a community called Mario Cup, which from the amount of players listed in the group I assume is the largest. Online play was fairly stable, a few moments here and there where some lag happened and players jumped around. It was a lot of fun, but it was unfortunate I couldn’t find anyone locally that I could play the game with.
Mario Kart 7 is not doing anything radically different or reinventing the formula. All it is is a Mario Kart game, and if you love Mario Kart, then you’ll most likely love this game too. The tracks are well designed, the kart customization and flying bits are neat addition, and there are plenty of hard swings to be had from the item balancing. Nintendo made another one of those games, and it still works.