With every new Nintendo system comes a new Mario Kart. It’s a statement that reflects one of life’s absolute truths; like that happiness eventually comes after the loss of a loved one or that everyone poops no matter how attractive they are. But unlike those two truths this one involves cartoon animals, princesses, and plumbers racing across fantastical tracks to catchy music.
After seven games you might be wondering whether Mario Kart 7 stands up to its racing predecessors. The answer is not only yes, but this new foray into the Mushroom Cup and beyond manages to set itself as arguably the best Mario Kart since the Nintendo 64.
I’m sure I don’t have to go too in depth in describing what Mario Kart is. It’s death race but far more brutal. The game features four cups with four sets of brand new races and four cups with refreshed tracks from the older games. You race against Nintendo characters and a lot of cursing is involved. It even comes with a the traditional battle mode and time trials as well as a coin gathering challenge to keep you busy. Now that that’s out of the way we can talk about what makes MK7 amazing.
The two biggest additions are the hang glider and submarine. Honestly, these are a give and take. The submarine does almost nothing for the Mario Kart formula except open up the tracks potential for new shortcuts. I found myself dreading some of the levels that required me to drive primarily underwater. But the hang glider more than makes up for it. There’s nothing better in this world than nailing a hang gliding portion of the track and barely taking the win from someone on the ground (totally happened and completely awesome). The physics are fairly spot on and I can barely think of something more thrilling than that first time you take off. It really makes up for so many Mario Kart mistakes: forget motorcycles; forget team karts – hang gliding is where it’s at.
More innovative in my opinion are the singular tracks. It’s something so simple that I can’t imagine why they didn’t do it sooner. Instead of one track you race for three laps, MK7 has a few races where you run one long track separated into three sections. While few and far between, the effect is instantaneous. These races constantly felt more epic in scale and are designed to utilize far more of the tricks that define Mario Kart. Rainbow Road is one of these and is, by far, the best Rainbow Road in the franchise. I actually found myself in awe as I flew down that technicolor final race.
What’s Mario Kart without rage inducing weapons? All your favorite ways to screw your friend’s return for 7 with the addition of a few new tricks. First, there is the tanooki tail that can swipe at your opponents and deflect attacks. Next, there’s the fireball which gives you essentially a machine gun to take down competitors, and finally there is the Lucky 7 which gives you seven weapons at once which will either make you a karting god or blow up in your face (the ladder more often than not).
It’s also important to note that the rubber banding has been toned down from the Wii version as well as the blue shell spamming. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still get hit with 3 blue shells right before you cross the finish, but it will happen marginally less.
The music is great as per usual, and when you’re in first place there’s a special percussion beat that amps up your energy. The old levels that return from previous games have all been optimized for 7’s style. I, personally, nostalgia’d out at seeing the original NES Mario Circuit track complete with hang gliding section.
Your car stats are handled differently here too. The game has a collection of car parts and characters to unlock and part of the fun is experimenting with the vehicles to find the kart that fits you best. It also brings back the power-slide from the DS version, but now your boost is judged on how long you take a corner rather than how well you can slide. This eliminates the annoying “snaking” abuse that plagued the DS version. Along with this, coins make you go faster and jumping off ramps will give you a slight boost when you hit the ground. Teamed with the huge amounts of short cuts the game provides countless hour of trail and error racing before you can call yourself a master.
Here’s what I wanted to talk about most. Since the 3DS’s release I’ve had a grudge against the system’s main feature. I’ve found the 3D to be a painful abomination that not only hurts the eyes but also lowers framerate and diminishes the overall quality of the games. That is, until I played Mario Kart 7. This game makes 3D look good. It creates an exciting depth without resorting to gimmicks, and I prefer to play with the 3D on.
Another miracle is the online system. Dare I say Nintedo got it right? It’s easy to join a game and even easier to join a friend’s game. There was never any lag and there’s a interesting dynamic when your USA friends get competitive about taking the top spots away from the Japanese and Europeans in your lobby. You can jump into battle mode against a group of strangers and ghost data is uploaded regularly making time trials interesting. They even added a community mode that lets you set the rules of your races and keep track of individual’s scores.
More than everything mentioned above there is one big plus to MK7. It’s proof that better times are coming. Sure, Super Mario 3D Land came out first and provides a great experience but it doesn’t prove everything Nintendo has been saying since the 3DS’s release. MK7 shows us that a game can have a comfortable 3D experience, it shows us that the can pull off a comprehensive on-line system, and most of all it shows that they haven’t forgotten how to make a game for casuals and hardcore alike. MK7 means hope for those of us that love handhelds.
Mario Kart 7 is arguably the best Mario Kart game to date. It expertly utilizes all the 3DS features in a way that no other title has yet to accomplish. With a ton of races and a robust online system, it’s a 3DS title that will keep you busy for years to come. If you have a 3DS, buy Mario Kart and I’ll see you on the track.
Name: Mario Kart 7
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Developed by: Nintendo/Retro Studios
Published by: Nintendo
Release date: December 4th, 2011
EG Score: 5 out of 5 / “Worth Buying”