Mario Kart 7 ReviewJanuary 8, 2012
Despite still having A.I. and item balancing issues, Mario Kart 7 is a return to form in one of the most fun 3DS titles.
As you should probably know by now, with each new Nintendo video game console comes a new version of Mario Kart. Now that the Nintendo 3DS has been on store shelves for nearly an entire year, it makes sense that Nintendo finally released Mario Kart 7 to finish off a less-than-stellar first year for its 3D handheld. However, is this game just another retread of past releases or is this a revolution of Mario Kart?
In my opinion, Mario Kart DS still is the best game in the series since it had amazing tracks, incredible multiplayer, and some of the best gameplay in series history. Its follow-up, Mario Kart Wii, took many wrong turns but still managed to be extremely fun when playing online. With this in mind, I feel like Mario Kart 7 is actually more like what would happen if the DS and Wii versions had a child, and that child had special qualities of its own. There are many different reasons why this is so, which I will discuss later.
Fun, fast-paced racing gameplay has always been a staple of the Mario Kart franchise, and as far as that is concerned, this version is one of the absolute best in the series. The game plays in a very similar fashion as Mario Kart Wii, but the superb controls from the DS make a comeback, making the races much more fun and intense. Races have reverted back to the old formula of 8 racers instead of 12, and thus the races have become much more contested. Pretty much every mechanic from the previous games has transferred over to this one; you race down Mario-themed tracks in a go-kart, using crazy items, shortcuts, strategies such as tricks and boosting (driving behind another racer until you boost forward).
There are several major changes to the gameplay, though, which greatly shift the playing field here. The most notable change is the fact that when jumping across huge gaps, your kart now activates a glider, allowing you to fly for a short period of time and gain speed across gaps as you glide to the next section of the race. Also, that fear of falling behind when driving into deep water should be thrown out the window from now on, for in this game your kart will also activate a propeller device that will allow you to drive underwater at basically the same speed as you would on land. Another major addition is the ability to drive in first-person. It might not sound like much, but believe me, first-person Mario Kart is awesome. The reason why is because in that case, steering relies on the 3DS gyroscope (although you can turn it off at any time and play with the Circle Pad, as you would in third-person), allowing you to play like you would with a Wii Remote, and the races become much more intense (if that’s the right word to call a Mario Kart race) due to a heightened sense of immersion which the 3D helps with as well.
Mario Kart 7 wouldn’t be a Mario Kart game if it didn’t feature new items, and thankfully this game delivers. Three new items make their series debut; first is the Fire Flower, which allows you to throw fireballs at your opponents for a short period of time. The second, the Super Leaf, is a sort of offensive/defensive Golden Mushroom since it lasts for a short period of time, but it can be very useful. When you press the item button, a Tanooki Tail pops out in the back of your Kart, and then you can use it to attack other racers and defend yourself from shells, bananas, etc. since it spins around your kart. Finally, we get the almighty Lucky 7. When used, a whopping seven items pop out and swing around your kart, but all can be dropped if you are hit by the infamous Blue Shell (which has returned to traveling on the ground, taking out all racers in its path). As you might expect, the addition of these awesome new items also add to the fact that there are still many balancing issues with item usage, along with ridiculously unfair A.I. at times (a problem that plagued Mario Kart Wii). I have driven up to the finish line quite a few times, only to be hit by a Blue Shell and take second place. Situations like these occur a lot in this game, so prepared for a bit of frustration.
Still, the game succeeds at being more entertaining than its console predecessor. Its new items thankfully replace the far-too-punishing ones from the Wii version, a first-person mode and new gliding/underwater mechanics are added, along with the return of a gameplay mechanic last seen a decade ago on the Game Boy Advance version: coins. Coins momentarily boost your kart, also increasing your kart’s top speed (a maximum of ten can be collected each race) and go towards unlocking customizable parts for your kart. Kart customization is neither revolutionary or complex, but I believe it also adds to the more personal experience found in Mario Kart 7 since it allows for one to adjust top speed, acceleration, handling, etc to their liking.
When I think of content, I feel slightly cheated with this latest rendition of the Mario Kart franchise. The challenging yet fun Mission Mode from Mario Kart DS sadly does not return, curiously enough, and individual VS races can no longer be played with bots in single player. What is ultimately the most disappointing about Mario Kart 7 is the character roster. This version includes 17 racers when including the 9 unlockable characters, which is 5 more than the DS version but 8 less than that of the Wii version. Many characters from those have been removed- series mainstays such as Waluigi, Bowser Jr. and Diddy Kong are not in this game, which will disappoint many people. Only two new characters from the Wii version, Rosalina and Miis, return. What makes this more disappointing is the fact that a few of the newcomers are, in my opinion, pretty lame. Honey Queen (a character in the Super Mario Galaxy games), Wiggler, and Lakitu make their debuts in this game, and I must admit that I will never be interested in playing as them. However, Metal Mario is a cool addition, and Shy Guy is now a fully playable racer instead of just a character one uses in Download Play.
The track roster is definitely not disappointing- in fact, the tracks of Mario Kart 7 are probably my favorite of the whole franchise so far. As has been the case for the past two games, Mario Kart 7 features 32 tracks, with 16 being original and 16 being updated races from past titles. There are two key reasons why I love these new tracks the most; first of all, they’re simply fun as heck. Second of all, the new gliding and underwater mechanics surprisingly add a new level of strategy to the gameplay, opening up many new opportunities to take advantage of shortcuts and pass other racers, especially in old tracks such as the nearly-impossible shortcut in N64 classic Koopa Beach, which is now much easier to take advantage of through gliding. A new type of course is introduced in the game because of the new gameplay mechanics, in which you complete a race in one long lap, but instead you complete three individual sections and can take multiple routes. This year’s iteration of Rainbow Road along with Mario Kart versions of Wuhu Island (the setting of Wii Sports Resort and Pilotwings Resort) are those kinds of races, while the rest of the courses are designed in the traditional sense.
The VS mode may not be available for singleplayer, but there still is plenty to enjoy nonetheless. As usual there are a total of 8, four-race Cups you can race in with four difficulty settings; 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror Mode once you win each cup in the three previous difficulty settings. Time Trials also make a return, although this time you can actually race against 7 other ghosts simultaneously to allow for a complete 8-player race, and Ghost data can be retrieved and sent through Spotpass (Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection), Streetpass and from friends.
As everyone should know though, the real bread and butter of the Mario Kart franchise has to be the multiplayer. Believe me when I say it doesn’t get much better than Mario Kart 7 , even though there is something slightly disappointing about the multiplayer package this time around. Balloon Battle has undergone a major change: instead of being about strictly survival, this time around it’s mainly a free-for-all struggle for the highest score. Hitting opponents with an item will grant you a point, but if all three of your balloons are popped, you will lose a point and then subsequently respawn seconds later. In actuality this is the same version as the Balloon Battle from Mario Kart Wii, but since playing this game mode with bots was one of my favorite things to do in Mario Kart DS, I’m rather disappointed that the element that made Balloon Battle so addictive has essentially been taken away from this game. Even so, it’s still a lot of fun to play online or off, and so is another mode called Coin Runners. Another mode carried over from Mario Kart Wii, it’s basically a scramble for all players in a game to collect as many coins as possible before the time runs, and if hit by an item, a player will drop a few coins. Wireless multiplayer can be played with up to eight people in close range with each other, and only one Game Card is needed for Download Play; however, players that aren’t using a Game Card have to use Shy Guy. Multiplayer sessions with players using their own, individual cartridges will be able to access their customized karts and unlocked characters.
However, where the multiplayer of Mario Kart 7 truly shines is with its extensive online component. As I said earlier, Ghost Data for Time Trials can be retrieved from global data via Spotpass and online friends, and the online leaderboards make the Time Trials mode a rather addictive and compelling feature this time around. What really impressed me is how smooth this game plays online; in every match I’ve played through thus far, even when the player cap was reached races and battles were played at 60 FPS with virtually no latency (lag) issues. Likely due to the improved item balancing, lethal item spamming and hacking has been reduced, allowing for a more enjoyable and downright fair experience in matchmaking.
A lot of what made Mario Kart Wii fun to play online inspired the letter of Mario Kart 7 ’s online design, for in both racing and battle matches, points are either added or subtracted from what is known as a VR (VS Rating), depending on one’s performance in an online match. An individual VR is the way in which a player is ranked among other players worldwide, and it alleviates player stress since VR is used to match up players with those of similar skill. Although VS, Balloon Battle and Coin Runners are the only modes in matchmaking, online multiplayer in Mario Kart 7 is still extremely fun and hitch-free. The Mario Kart Channel that was used in tangent with Mario Kart Wii makes a return in this game, which uses Spotpass and friend information to access Ghost Data, Mii and player name exchanges, and a glorifying new feature Communities. This is the last major addition to Mario Kart 7 , and in a nutshell it’s Nintendo’s first true approach to clans and player-based games online. Users can organize small or large communities to play matches based on customized rules, which adds to the already personal gaming experience on Mario Kart 7 s online component. In short, Mario Kart 7 not only boasts the best multiplayer options out of all of the games in the series (oh I forgot to mention, the Battle maps old and new are really fun), it is also the best multiplayer game available on the 3DS.
As far as the audio/visual presentation goes, Mario Kart 7 mostly excels. I’ll note all of the negatives first: as usual, much of the musical pieces sound like they were composed for hotel elevators, but then in contrast many actually sound pretty epic (old N64 musical tracks? Heck yes). Sound mixing is great, but as usual the vocal quirks and grunts are mediocre at best, especially with the Mii characters. Mario Kart 7 ’s graphics are much better than its sound, though. Where actual detail is concerned, the visuals of this handheld iteration are basically on par with the Wii version, although some areas of the game are definitely more artistic, beautifully, and overall better than that of its console predecessor. This is best noticed when playing the game in 3D. I have mostly positive feelings about the game’s use of 3D since Nintendo seems to always know how to fully take advantage of its hardware, but the game can be played just as well with the 3D mode off; oftentimes it helps to keep 3D mode off if you’re playing while riding in a car or in a similar situation, for the constant movement of the vehicle will eschew the 3D image, causing double images to appear in your eyes (this can also happen in first-person mode if using gyroscope controls). However, when playing in a proper environment, Mario Kart 7 ’s 3D effects greatly enhance the visuals. The resolution is sharpened offering a crisper picture quality, and the 3D can be used to judge distances between you and other racers, although this is not exactly necessary to gain the upper hand in gameplay. Similar to movies such as Avatar, Mario Kart 7 uses 3D most likely to immerse players into the world, and it certainly works. The visuals of this game aren’t the best seen on Nintendo’s young handheld, but it’s rather impressive that this title packs so much detail onto a small cartridge and consistently runs at a frame rate of 60 FPS. Not many handheld games out there have accomplished that.
Mario Kart 7 is by no means a revolutionary game, and old problems of the series such as the rubber band A.I. (watch out, n00bs), item balancing (albeit improved), along with upsetting reductions in content, this latest version of the long-standing kart racing is another example of the fact that the Nintendo 3DS is finally making its mark in the global video game market. Gameplay is tighter, more fun, balanced and fresh (mostly due to the gliding and first-person mechanics). Map design is some of the best in series history, the graphics/3D are excellent, and the multiplayer is also the best yet. If you are someone who is addicted to online multiplayer but is sick of playing online shooters, this game is a nice alternative for a good change of pace. Otherwise, buy Mario Kart 7 anyhow. Your 3DS deserves some well-needed play time, and this game is a great reason for it to stop gathering dust on your shelf. Get ready to start your engines, guys!