Once more ’round the track
Out of all of Mario’s extracurricular efforts—tennis, refereeing, health-care industry—kart racing’s always been the most fun. Something about taking a spin around the Mushroom Kingdom in a race against Mario’s friends and foes always puts a smile on my face—and Mario Kart 7’s no exception.
As in previous games, you choose from a roster of classic Mario characters, including Luigi, Toad, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Princess Peach. Each character’s got their own skills and attributes along with their choice of vehicles, tires, and other upgrades. Even after unlocking all of the available characters, the list is a little short this time around, with only 17 drivers. This was only a minor disappointment for me, though, since I usually play as Mario, Donkey Kong, or Yoshi anyway. But if you’re into competing with some of the more obscure characters, you might be a little disappointed.
Those missing characters are about the only thing left out, though. The pint-sized cartridge packs in 32 tracks’ worth of dizzying fun: 16 new tracks and 16 lifted from past Mario Karts. All of the tracks—old and new—look great on the 3D screen, with the effect used just enough to enhance the game without coming off as gimmicky or overly harsh. The crisp graphics and smooth animations show off the power of the system and are sure to please any fan.
Every track’s loaded with multiple paths and secrets, rewarding exploration, and skillful driving. Additionally, the game includes glider wings for floating after big jumps and a propeller for driving underwater. These open the tracks up even more, as racing over or under the main track’s frequently a viable option. In fact, even the tracks from the previous games are tweaked to include these features, which makes them feel like an integrated part of the game, rather than something that was just tacked on.
The kart extras aren’t the only additions, though. Several new weapons increase the racer’s firepower: a fire flower (fantastic when you’re at the back of a pack), a super leaf that give your cart a Tanooki tail to swipe with, and a lucky number 7, giving the racer seven offensive objects to use at will. Unfortunately, the game’s still too predictable in doling out power-ups. Get too far behind, and you’re sure to pick up a triple-boost mushroom; stay at the front, and you’ll have to content yourself with green shells and banana peels.
This leads to my other complaint: Cheap AI.
When racing the single-player Grand Prix, you’ll inevitably get nailed with a blue shell or bolt of lightning at exactly the wrong time. Sure, the weapons exist to keep the races close, but getting hit in midair, right after an awesome jump can be infuriating, and it happens all the time. After seven games, it’s about time to implement a dodge mechanic that allows racers to get out of the way of an incoming blind attack. Just sayin’.
The Grand Prix mode, with its eight cups and 32 sets of races, is only a small part of Mario Kart 7, though. A full complement of multiplayer modes—both local and online—provides hours of gameplay, including the ever-popular Balloon Race and the return of Coin Runners.
Locally, the game supports download play, so only one player has to own the cartridge—a nice feature I’d like to see supported in more games of this caliber. Online players can customize the match settings to limit weapons, course types, and so on. The game features the best matchmaking and community support in a Nintendo game—and should definitely be used as a model for how things should function on the Wii U. Nintendo even includes Street Pass support, allowing players to share stats and ghost data on the fly.
Overall, Mario Kart 7 is one of the strongest offerings on the 3DS. Despite the familiarity of its overall design, the old racer’s still got plenty of juice left.
SUMMARY: Mario and pals return to get their race on. Featuring great graphics, amazing tracks and some hilarious new power-ups, the game shows that the series is a long way away from running its course.
- THE GOOD: The new courses are fantastic and use the 3D to great effect
- THE BAD: It’s easy to plow through the Grand Prix mode in a night
- THE UGLY: The awesomely redesigned Rainbow Road almost made me hurl