Before I get into the meat of this review, let’s clear a couple of things up. The 3DS needed two games this year. Nintendo needed two games this year. Those games were Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.
It’s no secret that for the first 6 months on sale, things were looking shaky for the Big N’s new handheld. From the lacklustre launch line-up to the ridiculous amounts of ports and remakes that have bombarded the system since it’s release. Nintendo knew that had to do something drastic. Reducing the RRP of the 3DS was a great start, then introducing the Ambassador Programme for those, like me, who invested in the 3DS right from the jump, to give away 20 free games of select titles from both the NES and GBA library was a nice touch. However, what they really needed was games, and Nintendo brought out the big guns.
I believe there was a huge sigh of relief at the announcement for both the fantastic Super Mario 3D Land and for Mario Kart 7. For good reason too, because both games finally justify the purchase of the 3DS system.
For anyone who has played a Mario Kart game before, you are going to feel right at home with this new release. Nintendo have stuck to some familiar mechanics but tweaked certain aspects of the game slightly to make it feel fresh and for the most part they have succeeded.
For the Single Player, there are 4 game modes; Grand Prix, Time Trials, Balloon Battle and Coin Battle. The meat of the Single Player experience comes from the Grand Prix, where you race for first place in the different Cup competitions. There are 8 Cups to race in altogether, each one having to be unlocked by winning the previous. The first 4 Cups feature brand new tracks made especially for Mario Kart 7. They feature familiar locales but are brand new nonetheless. Then the next 4 Cups are made up of a greatest hits of tracks taken from different Mario Kart games in the series, from the SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, DS and GBA. So there is a lot of nostalgia tossed in with the new which is a really nice touch and it gives the game some longevity to the Single Player.
Each Cup contains 4 tracks, bringing the total number of tracks to 32. There are 3 difficulty levels, 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. Beginners are going to want to start on 50cc to familiarise yourself with the layout of the tracks.
Before getting into a race, you get to choose your racer from a host of Characters from the Mario universe. There are 8 characters to choose from initially, with the ability of using your 3DS Mii becoming available after winning all the Cups in 50cc. Beating the different cups again on the harder difficulty settings unlocks an additional 8 characters to choose from, bringing the total roster to 16, which isn’t too shabby.
After choosing your racer you then have the ability to customise your Kart, from the body, wheels and even the newly added glider. There is not much to choose from at the start of the game, but collecting coins during each race will unlock different vehicle parts, which help towards the speed and handling of the Karts.
Then it’s finally time to race.
In typical Nintendo fashion, they have created some amazing tracks to race on. From the design, to the detail, Nintendo have succeeded once again. One of the highlights for me was the newly envisioned Rainbow Road. It looks fantastic. I’d be racing past the different Planets In the galaxy and get distracted by the detail on them, from the craters on the surface to the general stars in the sky.
I had fun on all the tracks really. Obviously there are a few that are better than others but I wouldn’t go as far to say that some were downright horrible and didn’t deserve to be in there.
Some tracks are made up of the usual 3 lap course, but then others are broken into 3 sections, so it’s one big level instead of seeing the same thing 3 times. Again it’s another nice touch by Nintendo because it’s able to break up that monotony of doing laps.
Gameplay wise, it’s just as you remember. You race around each track aiming for first place, whilst collecting different Items that you can use against the others players to help you progress. Unfortunately, this is where the game can get frustrating, and it’s been the same in Mario Kart for years. You pretty much get different items for different positions you are in. If you are in 1st place, you are most likely going to gain an item of less value to you like a Banana Peel or a Green Shell to use on opponents that are nowhere in sight. Whereas if you are in last place you are going to get the best Items, such as Lightning, Red Shells or even the infamous Blue Shell, which will whiz all the way to the front of the queue and take out the person in 1st place. On the lower difficulties it can become quite infuriating how often this happens. It’s difficult to lose a race on 50cc as your opponents are so slow, but that means for a good 98% of the race you are going to bombarded with Lightning and Blue Shells that harm you and break up the flow of the gameplay. On the harder difficulties you probably won’t be in 1st place as often but Red Shells and Lightning still strike you so it can still become irritating. It’s just one of those things though. You can live with it, and like I said previously, it’s been in Mario Kart for years and despite the frustrations some players may have with it, there doesn’t appear to have been any world-wide outcry over it that have made Nintendo change things around.
Some different additions to the gameplay and design this time around is that you can now race underwater. I’ve heard quite some talk about these sections being rather underwhelming and don’t really fit the game, but I didn’t find them a problem. Your speed slows down a bit but not a great deal.
You can also now use the Glider which is attached to your Kart. These come into use after big jumps where you then have to glide over a canyon and avoid obstacles. There is some strategy to this, as you can choose to gain a bit more air-time if you are in a position that affords you that luxury, or you can choose to nose-dive to the ground and gain some distance on your opponents if you feel you are lagging behind just a little.
For those of you interested, you can also race in 1st person, although I found this quite disorientating because of the bumpy nature of some of the tracks. Think Motorstorm in 1st person and you will get what I mean.
The 3D effect seems a lot more subtle in Mario Kart 7. Whereas in Super Mario 3D Land you could either choose to have the game create a lot more depth or experience the feeling of having things jutting out at you. In Mario Kart, Nintendo have done the wise thing and decided that creating the effect of having a lot more depth was the best thing to do. In my opinion it definitely was. It’s better to have depth in a Racing game so you can judge turns and distance between other racers more accurately, because if you constantly had different parts of the environment and particle effects jumping out at your face it would awfully distracting and would most likely cause you to crash. It still looks great though.
Infact the graphics as a whole look great. I’ve already mention the level design, but added to that Nintendo’s signature use of colour and the really nice draw distance and it’s definitely one of the best looking games on the system. It’s a treat for your eyes.
After getting as much from the Single Player as you could possibly hope for, you can then take the game Online. This works much like that on Mario Kart Wii. You have the over-world map and then during match-making you see your opponents pop up on the different continents of the world depending on their location.
You can easily get into games with friends using the in-game friends menu which will allow you to join them. You can also create and join different communities to make it even easier for you to team up with your friends.
When facing different opponents around the world you can either choose Race or Battle. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an option to race an entire cup online which is a bit disappointing but it’s so easy to get into a race that it never feels like a problem. Plus you can earn VR points which I guess are your skill points in order for the game to match you with players of similar level.
Even though you can’t race through an entire cup, each player has the option to choose a track at the beginning of each race and then the CPU will cycle through the options and select one. The game is a lot of fun whilst playing online, because it’s a lot more competitive and I didn’t notice any lag or slow-down even whilst havng the 3D on at Maximum.
It would have been nice to have the players name above the heads of the racers, so you know you are racing against real people though because you can at times forget and feel like you are just racing against the CPU, because obviously there is no voice chat either.
Another nice touch to the online is when you are waiting to get into a game, you can actually spectate on the game that is already in progress. You can’t choose which player to focus on, it just happens at random and can’t be switched but it’s still a nice way of tackling the boredom of waiting for your turn.
It’s still really well done though and the most important part for me like I said is just how easy it is to get into games with friends.
For those not connected to the internet though you can always race against your friends in local multiplayer as well, so you won’t feel like you are missing out.
Overall I think Mario Kart 7 is a strong addition to the 3DS library and one of my favourite games in the series. It has it’s issues, but it’s also still a lot of fun. There are still a load of tracks, tons of unlockables, different difficulties that will test your skills, and your patience, and then a really fun online mode. More could have been added to the Online portion to make it feel a lot more fleshed out, but what’s there works, which is the main thing. The 3DS is finally starting to get some killer titles and I’m loving spending so much time with it lately.