Mario Kart 7
December 1, 2011 (JP)
December 2, 2011 (EU)
December 3, 2011 (AU)
December 4, 2011 (NA)
Where there’s a new Nintendo system, there’s a guarantee of a new Mario Kart – often within the first year or two of release. And true to form, Mario Kart 7 raced out to 3DSes everywhere less than nine months after the system’s launch. The series is known for its frantic racing action, rubberbanding AI, and constant bombardment with a multitude of items and weapons – something that jumped into the realm of cheapness in recent entries, especially the Wii installment. Does the seventh entry in the venerable racing series continue this spiral of frustration, or has it learned from past mistakes?
The big touted “feature” of Mario Kart 7 is the ability to go underwater or take to the air. When you do so, your kart will magically sprout a propeller or a hang glider, respectively. While there are many courses designed around these new gimmicks, they are little more than just that: gimmicks. Yes, there are some areas which can only be reached by hitting a big boost jump and gliding, but they’re few and far between and give you very little advantage against the opponent racers. Most of the time your reward for venturing into these shortcuts is a stash of coins – which make their return in this game after a long absence and can be collected to give yourself a max speed boost. Overall though, the addition of air and water travel is definitely not a game changer like Mario Kart Wii‘s bikes.
The game will require no introduction to anyone who’s ever played a Mario Kart game before. The main single-player mode comes in the form of the Grand Prix – in 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc difficulty classes. Each Grand Prix consists of 32 tracks: 16 new creations and 16 retro courses from past installments. Advance past these and you unlock mirror variants of the same tracks. As with all Mario Karts, expect much item douchebaggery and rubberbanding, especially in the 150cc class – but thankfully, such cheap shots are drastically toned down in Mario Kart 7. Victory in this game is more about skill and less about sheer luck than in recent installments: a welcome change.
There are some true standouts in the selection of new tracks: Music Park, Rock Rock Mountain, and the new Rainbow Road are among the best tracks ever designed. Better still are the retro tracks. Nintendo truly picked some of the best-loved tracks in the series’ history to revisit in MK7, from MKDS‘s Waluigi Pinball (possibly the most creative track in the series) to MK Wii‘s Maple Treeway and Coconut Mall. These retro tracks have been modified a bit – many of them feature underwater areas or areas where you can glide, and courses from the Wii installment have been narrowed a bit to accommodate MK7‘s 8 racers (as opposed to MK Wii‘s 12).
Kart customization is another new feature introduced in Mario Kart 7. Before starting a race, you can customize your kart frame, wheels, and glider. Each part has various stats for speed, acceleration, handling, and the like. It’s very basic, but still provides a level of customization and control over your kart that wasn’t in previous installments. You’ll spend some time tinkering to find the best combination for your play style and situation. Parts are unlocked by collecting coins: at certain amounts of coins collected, you’ll unlock a random kart part.
Items have been stripped down to the basics. Shells of various colors return, including the infamous blue shell, which now travels along the ground rather than in the air. At first that sounds really annoying, but it actually makes things more fair for the person in the lead, since it doesn’t solely target them and has the potential to take out other drivers. New items include the fairly “meh” Tanooki tail, which can bat away other drivers and items, and the Fire Flower, which lets you fling fireballs in every direction. As far as characters, MK7 is lacking, to say the least. The game has cut back from 25 characters in Mario Kart Wii to 17 in Mario Kart 7. Gone are Waluigi, the babies, and Diddy Kong, and in their place are some surprising (and disappointing) unlockable characters. Okay, I can understand Rosalina or Wiggler, but the giant bee from one level of Super Mario Galaxy, or Metal Mario? These characters are unlocked solely by beating the 150cc Grand Prix courses, so once you’ve beaten all the Grand Prix you’ve unlocked the entire roster.
By many rights, Mario Kart 7 is a back-to-basics approach to the series. You’ll find very few gimmicks, and it’s basically a return to form for the series. Gone are many of the newer, cheaper items in favor of more balanced racing action, and techniques such as snaking are no longer possible thanks to a more basic boosting system that depends solely on how tight you take corners. One thing that does remain, however, is the ability to pull off a stunt by tapping the R button when you take off a ramp or jump, giving you a speed boost. Otherwise, Nintendo has stripped much of the extra “fluff” from the series and tried (mostly successfully) to return to the core Mario Kart gameplay.
Online, however, is where the game really shines. Mario Kart 7 is quite possibly the most feature-rich online game Nintendo has ever released. In addition to random races over wifi, Nintendo has implemented a Communities system, where players can create their own communities and invite their friends. Each community has its own online rankings and leaderboards, and races can be customized with a host of rules (no items, shells only, etc.). Friends can find and join your community by entering a specific code unique to your community. It’s a great system that marks a new high in Nintendo’s online efforts. Add in the addition of online Battle Mode and you’ve got quite a competent online package that will keep you occupied for a while.
MK7 also supports offline multiplayer, as well as DS Download Play – meaning you can play with friends using only one MK7 cartridge. Of course, playing offline is more fun than online simply because it’s fun to see and hear other drivers’ reactions when you nail them with a shell or come from behind at the last minute and win the race. In a baffling decision, Nintendo also neglected to include a voice chat feature for online racing, so there’s a slight impersonal feel to online multiplayer.
The soundtrack for the most part is standard Mario Kart fare, and the music fits each stage perfectly and sets the mood for speeding through the various environments. Some of the voices are groan-inducing, as in any Mario game, but they’re not as offensive as in some other entries in the series. The graphics are some of the best on 3DS, looking almost on par with Mario Kart Wii, and the game runs at a brisk clip at all times. The 3D effect is just enough to add to the visuals but subtle enough not to be distracting.
Less successful are the attempts at integrating the gyroscope: the game can go into a first-person mode at the tap of a button and be controlled with gyroscope controls. As with most gyro control options, you’ll have about as much of a chance of successfully controlling your kart as the Honey Queen does of ever getting a starring role in her own game. The game also supports StreetPass, allowing you to view stats and records of any Mario Kart players you pass on the street. You can also collect ghost data and try to beat their best time and coin collection records.
Mario Kart 7 is the most balanced, purest racer the series has seen in a decade. While you’ll still have rage-inducing moments where you’ll get knocked back to last because of sheer bad luck, items have been balanced to the point that those moments are much fewer and farther between than in recent entries. Overall the game relies more on your skill as a driver than your luck with items, and it’s a better game because of it. The character roster is pretty bad, and there’s still a bit of a “been there, done that” feeling. But Mario Kart 7 is a really good game regardless, and it’s the premier online title for the Nintendo 3DS (and the most feature-rich online mode Nintendo has ever produced), so unless you have a strong aversion to the series, it’s a must-have for every 3DS owner.
More balanced racing.
Less item spamming.
The best online yet in a Nintendo game.
Good track designs.
Lackluster character roster.
No voice chat