People seem to like Mario Kart. No, scratch that – people definitely LOVE Mario Kart, as Nintendo’s mad-dash, banana flinging racing sensation has become one of the best-selling franchises in videogame history, and that infatuation isn’t likely to change with Mario Kart 7, which brings all of the chaotic, Nintendo-franchise fun to the 3DS (with some help from Retro Studios). After twenty years the mechanics have remained largely the same, with Nintendo’s finest zipping through detailed and wildly imaginative and hazardous courses, power-slides, and the usual armory of power-ups that’ll spring you to victory one moment and cause your destruction the next. Those with fond memories of past games don’t need to be told that the action remains as fresh as ever, yet chaotically familiar, especially if you’re coming from the Wii or more closely-related DS version.
True to its “7” moniker skill and luck go hand in hand, especially where the most seasoned players can be victim to game-changing spiky shells or the new, but equally radical “7” power-up (you get seven items in one) by more ‘inexperienced’ racers. Obviously, this means mood swings of excitement followed by bursts of flared tempers with light sprinklings of rewarding joy in-between; it’s a “balance” has been a staple of recent Mario Kart games where each race can be won by anybody no matter how much technique is involved. If I wasn’t already acquainted with series’ subtle nuances I would’ve thrown my 3DS after a few rounds (and I haven’t gotten to the online part yet).
While the bulk of the game is familiar, there’s plenty new here to keep things interesting. There’s over 16 different Nintendo characters to choose from, with all the main cast staples joined by newcomers like Honey Queen, Lakitu, Wiggler, Metal Mario, and even your 3DS Mii. Another big addition are the vast customization options now available to tweak, upgrade, and trick your kart out to your heart’s content. Some tracks even require the use of air maneuvers using new items like hang gliders and parachutes to explore fully, which gives them even more replay value than ever before.
Those expecting variety within the Mario Kart formula won’t be disappointed as the assortment of tracks, a healthy mix of new and classic favorites, should find favor among the faithful and newcomers alike. Most are pretty good and live up to the high standards of Mario Kart’s best, with plenty of Mario-themed characters and shortcuts to memorize and exploit to your advantage. There’s even underwater racing for the first time, and new extended courses replace the standard three-laps with sectionals, such as on Wuhu Island and the ever-perilous Rainbow Road – these are welcome additions and the changes feel long overdue. The retro (classic) courses are equally entertaining and bring a wide-eyed sense of nostalgia to the mix, though some can feel slightly flawed when trying to accommodate some of the newer kart modifications like tires and air gliders.
To make use of that nifty gyroscope you can now control your kart in first-person mode, where you tilt your 3DS left and right similar to motion-controls on the Wii. For me, it’s an interesting approach to racing but only just, and unless you want to challenge yourself or simply play unlike everyone else you’ll probably want to stick the buttons and slider pad.
But the game truly shines when taking the action online with up to 8 humans battling it out. Its no secret that Mario Kart is the only franchise Nintendo manages to do well with online multiplayer, as far as options are concerned, and this game is no different. Matches were consistently smooth and responsive even in the most extreme situations…at least until those “balancing” issues jump to into the forefront during close races and/or battle modes. Anyone who’s spent time with the Wii version will find much to love – and hate – here as the experience is largely the same, with rubber band AI and no voice-chatting between players amidst all the chaos. It’s not perfect, but still worlds better than the barebones Mario Kart on the original DS, and the fact that we’re playing a comprehensive Mario Kart (in 3D!) online where WiFi is available is still an accomplishment in itself.
Matchmaking through communities and StreetPass is another milestone where players you’ve raced against are saved for reference and potential friendshipss later on, and you can even gather like-minded individuals to create races with custom rules. It’s actually a straightforward approach that makes me wonder why Nintendo even bothered with those god-awful Friends Codes of yore.
If you needed a good case for the benefits of stereoscopic 3D then Mario Kart 7 makes a compelling case. With obstacles zooming at you and the occasional green shell bouncing around many will appreciate the added depth that helps discern environmental hazards in vivid detail. Truthfully, it’s still gimmicky, but well-thought out one when it works; having the extra dimension isn’t mandatory but why not turn it on when it looks this good? Outside of the 3D effects, Mario Kart 7 is easily one of the best-looking handheld games in recent memory with detail and color in healthy abundance, it’s not mind-blowing if you’re graphically spoiled but pretty good overall.
We’ve probably been bagging on the 3DS more than we thought, but Mario Kart 7 has changed our perceptions quite a bit, it isn’t perfection either but for Nintendo’s latest handheld it’s definitely one of the best entries in the series. If you needed a compelling reason to consider this game will probably sway you.
There’s nothing quite like flinging a few turtle shells and power-sliding to victory with a few old friends, and that’s exactly what you’ll get in Mario Kart 7, which brings Nintendo’s finest to the 3DS in style. The game looks great, plays great, and easily remains the best casual racing experience you’ll play. True, it’s more evolutionary than revolutionary, but a healthy mix of new and old tracks, customizable karts, new characters and weapons, and the best online multiplayer experience you’ll find on a Nintendo console make this a must-have for the Mario Kart faithful. Old issues like questionable AI and some of the most infuriating ‘balancing’ issues aside, that the game manages to remain competitive between the hardcore faithful and newcomers alike is remarkable, and for millions of fans that’s more than enough.
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