Pure, unadulterated, chaotic fun. That has always been the identity of the Mario Kart series. Each new Nintendo system after SNES has received a Mario Kart installment, and each has been known for just how fun it was, despite all its faults. Mario Kart 7 is just as fun as everybody would expect it to be, if not more, with all new additions that refresh the formula, much needed tweaks that make the unbalanced gameplay more balanced and excellent online play.
The structure of the game is similar to previous entries in the series. Grand Prix races, divided in 8 cups, each having 4 tracks, are available off the bat when you begin the game in three difficulty levels- 50cc (easy), 100cc (medium) and 150cc(hard). You can also play mirror tracks. The game boasts of 32 tracks, with 16 of them returning from previous games with adjustments and additions made to their design to incorporate the new features of Mario Kart 7, and 16 are all new tracks.
You choose from 8 characters, and as you progress, you unlock more. The full character roster includes 17 characters, including basics like Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and others, while unlockable characters include Lakitu, Metal Mario, Wriggler, Honey Queen etc. While all these characters are great (though some of them look really goofy while driving a kart), the size of the roster is a little disappointing. Mario Kart Wii featured a total of 25 playable characters. To see so many baffling exclusions is a little disheartening.
Racing is still as fun as ever. The mechanics are awesome and work really well, and the circle pad works rather well, though it’s disappointing to know that there’s no option to use the direction pad to steer your kart. The chaotic, kiddish giddiness you got when you played Mario Kart games in the past is still here. What makes the racing even better is the excellent track design. Old timers like Rainbow Road and Maple Treeway are back, with adjustments made to their structure, and we also get to see some brilliantly designed new tracks, like Music Park and DK Jungle. Traps and obstacles are cleverly placed, and the tracks look visually stunning too.
The items in Mario Kart 7 are also much better than what you will see in other games of the series. Not only are they cleverly built (a few like the tanooki tail and Lucky 7 come to mind), but they’re also highly rebalanced this time, focusing on both, offense and defense. Gone are the times when you would be miles ahead of all opposition, and just as you’re about to win the race, you would get knocked out by thunderheads piercing the sky or other ridiculous happenings that would make you scream profanities at the world. The items are much more balanced now, and a semblance of fairness has returned to the racing. The blue shell is still here, though, and it’s frustrating as hell. I once got hit by three blue shells in a matter of five seconds while playing online. The fact that the rest of the items are so balanced makes this even more annoying.
However, enemy AI has been perfectly improved. Previously in Mario Kart games, you could win races without much difficulty. This time around, the enemy AI actually gives you formidable competition, and it’s almost as much fun the play the game offline as it is online. The rubber band effect has also been removed, adding more balance to the gameplay.
Probably the most innovating additions to Mario Kart 7, however, are the hang gliding and underwater driving sections. They actually lend strategy to the experience, and it’s fun to see how well they’re implemented. These should absolutely become staples for Mario Kart games from now on.
Coins, last seen in Super Mario Kart, are also back. In a race, you can collect 10 coins. The more cons you collect, the higher your top speed becomes, and the more items you unlock with which you can customize your kart. These also add a unique twist to the racing- do you go out of your way to collect them, or do you carry on normally and not reap the rewards?
Ah, that reminds me of kart customization, a great new addition. As you play the game, you unlock many goodies to use on your kart and make it optimal for your use. You can shape your karts the way you want them, placing all sorts of bizarre accessories on them that don’t just affect them visually, but also performance-wise. It lends depth and replay value to the game, as you want to keep unlocking more stuff to play around with on your kart. You also unlock several characters and tracks as you progress through the game, and that definitely adds to the replay value of the game as well.
Cockpit driving is another addition to the formula. Any time during a race, you can hit up on the d-pad to switch to cockpit view, or hit down to switch to normal, third person view. In cockpit view, you use the 3DS’ gyroscopic controls, tilting it from side to side to steer your kart (though you can use normal, traditional controls). I was surprised at how fun this was and how well it was implemented. The motion controls weren’t at all clunky, and felt very comfortable and smooth. They did not give as good a view of the surroundings as I’d like, but it’s still a neat addition.
The replay value of the game is sky-high, making it that much more worth the money. Unlocking items, tracks and characters is a ton of fun, not to mention the fact that the game is just so enjoyable even without those things. You also have a few extra single player modes to toy with, and the online adds so much more replay value to the game. It was a bummer that there’s no Mission Mode included- it did give us a lot of fun times in the past, and we’ll surely miss it, but it didn’t affect the experience much.
Speaking of online, Mario Kart 7 has to have the best online in the entire series. It’s a given that it’s more fun when played online than off, but there’s just so much Nintendo has done with the MP component this time around. Local multiplayer is definitely better than online multiplayer, but both are awesome. Going head to head against human players is a ton of fun, and new features like the community features and Street Pass functionality lend a great deal of depth to the online experience. It isn’t without faults, and the online infrastructure could have been much better built and more user friendly, but that doesn’t make the online component of the game any less good.
The visuals of Mario Kart 7 are, of course, great. The tracks, as I already mentioned, are very well designed, and the art style is amazing. Every single track and character in this game is a piece of eye candy, and the fluid animations make the visual experience that much better. The soundtrack is also awesome. Not only do you get a great kick out of hearing the characters’ reactions to the goings on, but some of the themes are very well composed.
Mario Kart 7 is a great game. It’s fun as hell, it’s addictive, it has loads of replay value and it has a great online component. It does have a few faults, but when you look back at the experience you had with the game, you do not remember the somewhat iffy online structure or the disappointing character roster. You remember the insanely fun races, the awesome new innovations and the addictive online. If you own a 3DS, by all means, get this game. If you don’t you should buy it and Mario Kart 7 anyway. That’s how good this game is.
This game was reviewed on the 3DS.
Gliding and underwater sections are great new editions; Racing is as fun as always; New items are awesome and rebalanced; Enemy AI is brilliant; Gameplay is much more banalced; Wonderful visuals; Variety of tracks; Excellent track design; Kart customization is a great addition; Cockpit driving is fun at times; Collecting coins is fun; Online play is super addictive; Infinite replay value; Great soundtrack
Character roster is smaller compared to Mario Kart Wii; Online infrastructure could have been better; Blue shell is frustrating as hell; No mission mode
Boasting of incredible, innovative additions, addictive online play and just flat-out fun racing, Mario Kart 7 is a game that all 3DS owners absolutely must buy.