As the years have gone on, it seems like a fair amount of reviewers have begun to get tired of Mario Kart. With all the other Nintendo series getting regularly changed up and gimmicks being thrown in all over the place, the Mario Kart series has begun to seem like a series which merely makes evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes to the core formula in every game.
But forget that. Mario Kart 7 is a good game not because of any crazy gimmicks or massive ‘innovation’, but because the timeless formula works perfectly. It’s improved on the past games in every way that actually matters, the graphics and music are arguably better, the track design and choices are much better, the online is better and the gameplay itself is much fairer than the almost party like free for all that Mario Kart Wii turned into with twelve players.
For one thing, the graphics are fairly good. Are they perfect? No, they look a bit less clear than those in the Wii installment. But they have far more charm than many other recent Mario games do, and the tracks look amazing due to it. There’s no overwhelmingly bland New Super Mario Bros styling here, each track is filled with personality and actually looks top notch. You can see this best with Wario’s Galleon/Shipyard (which looks as eerie as possible), and Bowser’s Castle, which actually looks sort of menacing for once (especially those windows)
Plus, all the retro tracks look at least as good as in the source games (there’s nearly no difference between the Wii versions and 3DS versions), or much better in the case of anything from Mario Kart DS or prior.
Music is pretty good too. Bowser’s Castle has some nice music for instance, which even remixes parts of the theme from the Gamecube version into it! Other notable examples of good music include the theme from Rainbow Road (obviously), Donkey Kong Jungle (a remix of the Jungle Japes theme from Donkey Kong Country), Neo Bowser City (which actually mixes in part of Toad’s Turnpike from Mario Kart 64), and some of the retro tracks (Airship Fortress especially). At worst some music is a bit bland, but nothing gets grating or takes away from the atmosphere, and there’s thankfully no tunes that could be described as anything worse than ‘good’.
But where this game truly shines is the track design. Gone are the generic concepts that Mario Kart Wii and Double Dash adored, every track in this game is Mario styled to a tee. Rainbow Road alone is amazing, being a three section race to the finish rather than just a loop around a small piece of track done three times. You even go onto planets this time around! Other notable examples are Wario’s Galleon, which actually seems to be a Wario Land reference, complete with a remix of a tune from Wario Land Super Mario Land 3! Yes, I was also shocked when I learnt of this, usually the Mario Kart series disregards the Wario series entirely. Adding to this is Donkey Kong Jungle, which is one big homage to Donkey Kong Country Returns, as well as being an excellent track! It has the style, the enemies, the music, heck, it was even designed by Retro Studios (who designed much of the rest of the game too!) Considering this is a game which references everything from New Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Galaxy to Super Mario Bros for the NES, needless to say the track design is the best yet.
As is the retro track selection. Airship Fortress and Waluigi Pinball are in. That’s probably already worthy of a purchase alone, those were two of the best tracks in the series and the ones fans were desperate to have return in a new Mario Kart game! Heck, there’s even the SNES Rainbow Road, ending a long tradition of not bringing back old Rainbow Road tracks!
As a track list, this is as close to perfect as you’ll probably get in a Mario Kart game.
Another major change is the improved gameplay, with a few changes that make the game much more enjoyable and far less annoying. For one thing, remember the ranking thing with the GPs and trying to get star ranks? That was a nightmare in Mario Kart DS and Wii, since the system picked the most pathetic, annoying reasons to raise or lower the rank possible. Not in Mario Kart 7. Here it might as well be ‘win all four races, and you’ll get a triple star ranking’. At worse winning the cup at all will get you just a star rank, so you’ll unlock those golden wheels (a prize for getting a star on all cups) in no time and without much hassle.
They’ve also made it so there’s only eight karts again, turning the game from something akin to Mario Party with go karts to an actual racing game. Without twelve people, you won’t see Blue Shells more than two or so times a race, and annoying items in general are far rarer to the point you can actually go a while without encountering one.
Talking of items, the aggravating and overly useless ones have generally been removed again. Gone is the POW Block, the Mega Mushroom and the Thundercloud, and in their place are three new, more balanced items. Namely the Super Leaf (gives you a tail which can be used to block or deflect projectiles), the Fire Flower (shoot fireballs, like Mario and Luigi’s special in Double Dash) and Lucky Seven, which is seven random items. However, the last itself is rare enough you won’t encounter it more than three or four times in the game unless you’ve been playing for a fair while, so it’s nowhere near as over powered as it could be. The items just fit well enough you’ll never think they seem out of place like some of the Wii or Double Dash ones.
Customisation also seems to have made it in, with karts being possible to ‘build’ from body, tires and gliders, and every character being usable with every vehicle. It’s like a hybrid of the Mario Kart DS and Wii systems, and while the variety isn’t perfect, it works quite well.
Finally, the main features emphasised in the game, namely the gliding and underwater racing, work well. Indeed, they add a significant amount of choice to how you can approach any of the tracks, seeing as all the new ones have at least one route for each. Not to mention the older tracks have been retrofitted with areas where gliding and underwater driving can come in useful (Daisy Cruiser is most notable here, it’s had the below decks section turned into a proper undersea adventure, with clams and eels all over the place). It works well.
But for many people, the above likely isn’t high on their priorities list. No, the big question people are going to ask is ‘how good is the online in this game?’ Answer: Excellent in general, although still a tad flawed. Yes, there is still a sort of friend code system, but hey, it’s one per console, and you can find peole merely by racing them rather than necessarily sharing friend codes (they come up as opponents, and you can choose to join them very easily). The other big change is the addition of communities, custom groups which anyone can create and join with differing rules. For example, you can choose what cc it is (or if it’s mirrored tracks), what game mode (vs or battle), what items are allowed (to a limited degree) and it even shows who’s registered and who’s won the most races/battles. More to the point, while you get a code to share with people, you don’t technically need codes to join communities, since people you add as friends or go against will ‘share’ communities as recommendations and you can just pick them from the list and join. It’s a really useful feature, although somewhat limited.
Unfortunately, the game’s not perfect. It’s great overall, but there are some areas where it could be better. For one thing, the character roster is extremely poor, with characters like Queen Bee and Metal Mario taking spots from classics like Waluigi, Dry Bones, Diddy Kong and Bowser Jr. It’s not the end of the world nor a reason not to buy the game, it’s just infuriating how bad some of Nintendo’s character choices are this time around.
There’s also the fact this game isn’t really one with a good single player mode, with the game modes available being pretty basic. No 1 player vs mode, no missions, no tournaments/competitions. If you don’t have many people to play against or don’t play online, unfortunately this game probably won’t last you particularly long and might not be the best choice of purchase. More to the point, considering a fair number of bonuses seem to be given for stuff like StreetPasses and VR from online (or an obscene amount of coins), it seems like the game is very much stacked in favour of those people who do play online (really, 100 StreetPasses? 10000 VR for golden kart parts?)
A few problems with unfairness still exist too, like the item distribution being fairly broken (the AI epecially get good items nigh on every time, and the powerful ones are still a bit too common). Not to mention there’s definite rubberband effect going on in the GPs, with AI opponents appearing to accelerate faster and faster the further you end up in front of them (to the point slower karts with less coins can apparently still overtake the faster ones or those with more coins just by driving in a straight line).
Never the less, the game is excellent, and if you’re playing online, that’s worth the purchase price alone. If you want what’s arguably one of the best Mario Kart games yet, and to help the online community at the same time (remember, the more who people buy this game, the easier it’ll be to find opponents on worldwide or in various communities), then buy this game now.
It will be the 3DS’s first real killer app, mark my words.