by Matthew Thompson
It took me a while to get around to Mario Kart 7. As much as I love the series, it is so much about local multiplayer with friends for me (something this version isn’t conducive to) that I just kept pushing it off. I have finally taken the opportunity to put the game through its paces and found it to be another solid if unspectacular entry in the series.
They have really nailed the controls for the first time on a handheld in my opinion. This was in large part due to what a huge improvement the 3DS circle pad is over the DS d-pad for steering. It also helps that Mario Kart 7 released in a post MKWii world where the boost mechanics have been changed for the better, no longer requiring the back and forth motion of the steering mechanic that was so annoying and allowed for the plague that was snaking.
Weapons don’t seem to affect the races in as big a way as recent entries which is another plus. It’s the expected mix of standard shells and banana peels to go along with more unique items like squid ink. Weapons can be held out behind you for defensive purposes and well if you’ve played Mario Kart you kind of know what to expect. While I would prefer they get rid of the dreaded Blue Shell altogether, I thought it made a little more sense here since it goes along the ground giving it a chance to hit other racers besides just the one in first place. Which means it might actually help the person who threw it instead of just those close on the leader’s heels. Also worth noting is that the Blue Shell only cost me one race in my time playing Mario Kart 7. It seems like a stupid thing to mention, but it might mean they have tuned the game to not give this item out late in races as often which is another step in the right direction (or maybe I just got lucky!).
Mario Kart 7 adds a couple of truly new features to the series to mix things up a bit. The first is the ability to fly off certain jumps with the aid of a new hang glider. This is especially cool when it leads to alternate routes through different tracks and sneaky shortcuts which makes for some of the game’s better course designs. You can also go underwater during certain segments, but I’m kind of indifferent towards this aspect. But I suppose as another way to add more routes in some cases it doesn’t hurt.
The other big addition is the ability to customize your kart. It is not a particularly deep component. You can choose between various bodies, wheels and gliders which slightly tweak the different attributes of the vehicle. It is hard to complain about as it will let people get closer to their ideal racing attributes as well as giving something else to unlock as you play. It just isn’t really a game-changer in any way.
My biggest gripe with the game is the set of new original courses. Just like most Mario Kart games, MK7 has four cups of four new tracks each, but I feel like they just don’t stack up with most games in the series, particularly the recent editions (Double Dash, DS and Wii). My favorite tracks are probably a new version of Bowser’s Castle with all the fiery obstacles you’d expect from that classic area, Maka Wuhu which is the best execution of the new sprint type track that eschews the typical three lap setup in favor of just dividing one long loop into three segments, and Music Park which exhibits some of the creativity that exudes from the best Mario Kart tracks. But overall I found it lacking in the kind of standout tracks that I have come to expect from the series.
They did do a fantastic job picking the 16 classic courses. The Wii and DS selections are particularly great including excellent levels like Maple Treeway, Koopa Cape, Airship Fortress and Waluigi Pinball. I also appreciated them finishing the final classic cup with a Rainbow Road variation. This challenging SNES track isn’t one of my favorite iterations of “The Road,” but it is nice to have another version of it in the game.
Battle mode is pretty standard stuff for Mario Kart vets. There is a good amount of options among the two modes, Balloon Hunt and Coin Runners. New tracks seem good enough, but the omission of Block Fort in the classic selections is disappointing. It really should be a requirement to include in every future Mario Kart game.
My internet has decided I will not be playing the game online and with no friends locally who own a 3DS, I didn’t get to test out the most important aspect of any Mario Kart: the multiplayer. So these became impressions instead of a full review.
My experience with the solo modes finds Mario Kart 7 to be a great controlling portable MK with a few new tweaks to keep things fresh, but one that let me down a bit in the new track department. And I think that puts it behind the three most recent entries to the series that came before this one. It’s definitely still an enjoyable game in its own right though.