Also available on: N/A
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Mario Kart 7 races onto the dual screens of the Nintendo 3DS within touching distance of game of the year contender Super Mario 3D Land. With two such highly sought after games arriving in such a short space of time, 3DS users are suddenly spoilt for choice, with the system's slow start beginning to feel like a distant memory. But is Mario Kart 7 all it's cracked up to be? After all, the franchise hasn't changed much since the Super Nintendo original almost two decades ago. Digital Spy gets to grips with the go-karts for the umpteenth time to see whether or not Nintendo's racing franchise is still up to speed.
At first glance, Nintendo hasn't tinkered too much with the classic Mario Kart formula. It looks like Mario Kart, plays like Mario Kart and sounds like Mario Kart - not that we're complaining, mind you. The single-player experience is still dominated by the Grand Prix mode, which contains the same tried and tested 50 through 150cc races. As per usual, 50cc is so easy that it's barley worth playing, save for familiarising yourself with the tracks, while 150cc can be screen-punchingly frustrating, especially when bombarded with the series' renowned and let's face it, cheap, power-ups.
Unfortunately, the power-up system is still one of the more frustrating aspects of the Mario Kart gameplay experience. It's irritating not being able to dodge and repel certain attacks, resulting in a game that sometimes feels less about skill and more about luck. The new power-ups, meanwhile, aren't particularly innovative or exciting and include the Fire Flower - a simple but effective multiple projectile attack - the Tanooki Tail - which enables players to swat rivals and certain obstructions, though it doesn't last long enough to make much of a difference - and the Lucky 7, which essentially grants players access to the majority of the game's weapons all at once. This, fortunately, is very rarely unlocked.
Of course, many will be used to the game's power-up system by now and items are only really frustrating in the hands of the computer. The game's new racing mechanics, thankfully, offer a much more welcome change, especially the gliding. Certain courses feature speed ramps, which propel players into the air. Whilst in flight, players can attempt to stay airborne for as long as possible, dodging ground-based players and obstructions, as well as reach new areas. Alternatively, a quick swoop will see racers hit boost pads or land on coins and items. It's all quite strategic and a lot of fun. Underwater sections aren't quite as welcome - who wants to be slowed down? - but are effectively combined with gliding sections and shortcuts to increase the sense of strategy and variety.
As for the courses, Mario Kart 7 once again features 16 classic tracks selected from past games in the series, and 16 brand new ones. Shy Guy Bazaar notwithstanding, the new tracks are all of a very high standard, containing plenty of shortcuts, alternative routes and secrets. We're particularly fond of Wario's Galleon, Koopa City, Alpine Pass and Bowser's Castle, although the classic tracks unlocked via the Lightning Cup are probably the best in the game, featuring slight tweaks to incorporate gliding and underwater racing. Unfortunately, despite a strong lineup, we still can't help but feel that underwater and gliding sections could have featured more frequently, but this is a small gripe.
Once again, it's multiplayer where the game really shines, and in Mario Kart 7 more than ever. Local coin, balloon battles and races prove exciting, but the inclusion of a comprehensive online mode is where Nintendo's latest racer really stands out. Players can race against seven other opponents in all of the game's locales quickly and easily, with no lag and bugs to speak of. The community option, meanwhile, allows players to create groups featuring customisable racing conditions. It's a really well executed idea, let down slightly by the inability to change things on the fly - instead you'll have to create a new community. This is undoubtedly the best online Nintendo game that we can think of, however.
StreetPass also features, enabling players to download strangers' stats and ghosts, making the already enjoyable Time Trial mode all the more fun. Time Trial also gives players the option to race against ghosts from players they've encountered online, as well as members of the Mario Kart 7 development team. Admittedly, we would have preferred a slightly more comprehensive leaderboard, but with friends showing up in-game, Time Trial continues to display a personal touch.
Visually, Mario Kart 7 is also superb. The 3D works extremely well with racing games, giving players a better sense of perspective and a greater sense of speed. Sprites are solid, while courses are colourful and brimming with activity, especially the new tracks, which put the likes of N64 course Kalimari Desert to shame - it looks very bland. The machine's gyroscopic capabilities are also utilised to produce a visually impressive in-kart racing view. This bonus control system works well, with players steering the kart by moving the handheld. Unfortunately, it produces a blurry 3D effect and, quite frankly, isn't as enjoyable as using the face buttons.
Despite a few issues with some of the courses and the somewhat frustrating power-up system, Mario Kart 7 continues to be a genuine jewel in Nintendo's crown. Its online options, in particular, ensure that as a competitive experience, Mario Kart 7 is up there with the likes of Bomberman, Street Fighter and GoldenEye as one of the all-time multiplayer greats. And while the game is starting to show its age and display a slight lack of imagination, it's safe to say that there aren't too many Nintendo 3DS games that can match the enjoyment derived from Mario Kart 7.
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