Mario Kart 7 Review
It’s the seventh go around for Mario Kart already? I still remember just getting out of high school and making my first few rounds with the original Super Mario Kart on SNES, playing well into the night with a group of friends while taking in the advanced (well, at the time) Mode 7 graphics and terrific gameplay. We’ve certainly come a long way since then, with the introduction of new tracks, improved drifting, the dreaded blue shell and, most importantly, networked play, both online and off. Now we reach another pinnacle for the series, as Mario Kart 7 – foolishly renamed from its more intuitive Mario Kart 3DS – has gone 3D.
Granted, that’s not the only thing that Nintendo has changed for the series, but this is probably the most primary addition, as the graphics literally jump right out at you. Each track has a new layer of depth that really springs the game to life like never before, especially when you’re whooshing through the air or dodging a dreaded Bullet Bill that’s flying right at your face. Mario Kart pulls off a neat trick. It executes said effects while retaining a pretty high frame rate, keeping the action smooth and enjoyable. To innovate while still sticking (mostly) with what works is the way to go, and Nintendo follows that path straight and narrow.
Likewise, the music and sound effects haven’t changed much either. It’s still a bouncy collection of upbeat tunes, stuff you can bop along to while you’re listening with your headphones; Mario and the gang still have plenty of say, whether they’re getting thwacked by a blue shell or cheering their first place victory.
As for the gameplay, here’s where you might notice a few changes. Some are good, others not so much. Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Mario Kart 7 doesn’t let you use the D-pad for gameplay. Instead, you have to rely either on tilting your 3DS or steering with the thumb pad. That isn’t to say the game’s not controllable, because it certainly is, but it would’ve been nice for all of the options to be on the table, rather than yank one away when some folks might’ve preferred it. (Look what it did for Mario Kart Double Dash.)
Secondly, the difficulty is bumped up. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but the “rubber band” style of AI has been replaced by more aggressive drivers. Pro racers who thought that Mario Kart was too easy in the past will absolutely love this, but some kids might be frustrated by the barrage of incoming special attacks. It can be a bit much to bear, especially in the 150cc later circuits.
There are some useful power-ups introduced this time around, including a much more helpful fire flower and the Tanooki tail, which doubles as both an offensive hitting weapon and a defensive shielding tool. It would’ve been nice if it were more effective against spiked shells, but for the most part, it’s great to see in action.
Nintendo also introduced some new tactics in racing. You now have the option to modify your vehicle with new parts and tweaks, and it really does make a difference with performance. We especially like the new ability of flight. When you hit a special ramp, you’ll find yourself soaring in the air for several seconds, either staying afloat to collect airborne coins (which you can turn around for precious upgrades) or hit the ground running for a speed boost. Flight also proves useful when it comes to reaching otherwise inaccessible hidden paths, which could help give you a first place lead.
There’s also underwater racing, and while we’re not too fond with how your vehicle performs compared to flying, it’s pretty cool. You actually have to modify your style when you’re under the sea, including drifting, and it adds a neat little strategic element that could – or couldn’t – give you a push into first.
Finally, there’s a first-person perspective, in which you can control your kart and see things from your driver’s viewpoint. It’s interesting, to say the least, but not entirely helpful due to the limited range of seeing what’s on the track. Plus you can’t really see much of what’s happening behind you. It's worth a try for a couple of races, then go back to the normal view.
The track selection is superb, with a few old favorites returning and being combined with new ones. The characters, however, need some work. There are 17 Mario favorites here, but we’re still trying to figure out why Metal Mario and Wiggler got the nod instead of more obscure Nintendo types. Maybe next time around, Nintendo will give us the option to create a better driver for the road. Just saying.
Where Mario Kart 7 really shines is multiplayer. The AI will put up a hell of a fight, but you don’t have much else to do in single-player due to the sore lack of a Mission Mode. (Why?! It worked so well in Mario Kart DS!) You can link up to eight players at once during races, creating a league of friends and going at it in various circuit races. It would’ve been nice to have better random match-up options that tracked our progress, as well as time postings, but overall, the online racing component remains a huge part of this racing universe. Kudos, Nintendo.
Some imperfections keep Mario Kart 7 from hoisting the flag in victory for the racing series overall, but spiffy 3D visuals, great customization options, (most) new gameplay quirks, and online multiplayer make this entry worth revving up for. Here we goooooo!