Previous Mario Kart games have proven to be what Nintendo themselves call ‘evergreen sellers’ – games that keep on selling even years after being released. Obviously, then, it makes sense from a financial point of view for Nintendo to release a Mario Kart game early in a system’s life. Having Mario Kart 7 ready for the 3DS’s launch though perhaps made a little too much sense to Nintendo.
Mario Kart 7, a name which seems even more rubbish after hearing Mario shout it out on the title screen, has a very similar look and feel to Mario Kart Wii. Motorbikes are no more but there are gliding and underwater sections.
Gliding is far better than we expected. Weapons can still be used while airborne and you’re free to manoeuvre in every direction. Some tracks also have gusts of wind you can fly into to remain in the air for longer. The underwater sections give you altered physics to contend with – the karts struggle to stay on the ground and a single projectile hit can send you way off track.
Like Mario Kart Wii the tracks are a mixture of old and new. New track Piranha Plant Pipeway has been made to look like a level from the original NES Super Mario Bros, while Wario’s Galleon has lots of underwater sections to splash in and out of. A few tracks are set on long winding roads with checkpoints instead of lapping back round, including two set on Wuhu Island (last seen in Pilotwings Resort) and Rainbow Road. The shortcuts are brilliantly placed – we didn’t even notice some until we’d driven past them several times.
The old tracks have been given a new lease of life with a few large ramps placed here and there to get you airborne. The tracks lifted from the GBA and SNES Mario Karts do look a little sterile though when compared to the likes of Coconut Mall and Maple Treeway from Mario Kart Wii.
The weapon selection has had a significant shake up. Being given a mushroom when you’re already way out in front of the pack is now an uncommon occurrence. The two new weapons may give you a pang of nostalgia as they take the form of a fire flower and a super leaf which gives your character a Super Mario Bros 3-style tanooki tail. The fire flower gives you a handful of fireballs to lob which bounce around the track. Like the rest of the projectiles these can be thrown backwards. The tanooki tail meanwhile can be used to sideswipe rival racers and repel shells. Just to illustrate how good a job Nintendo has done with the notably sharp visuals, even with the 3D off, we still flinched the first time the screen got hit by blooper ink.
At first the map on the bottom screen doesn’t seem particularly helpful but over time it soon becomes invaluable. Not only does it show you what weapons rivals are carrying but it also the weapons that are on the track, such as roaming green shells, and thus gives you a better chance of avoiding them. It’s also helpful for lining up projectiles to be thrown backwards and while playing the coin runners mini-game your rival’s location is shown.
There are also coins on the track to collect. A maximum of ten can be held at once. These are used to unlock new kart parts which improve handling, weight and acceleration. Winning cups on the other hand unlocks new characters. Both provide good incentive to keep on playing. We all enjoy showing off freshly unlocked characters and karts online, don’t we?
The menus for online play are very similar to Mario Kart Wii. You can play against random people or join in with people on your friend list who are already playing. You can also create a community where you can change rules and view a leaderboard. Like before there are pre-selected sentences you can use while waiting in the lobby – “Let’s wait for more people” and the like. We didn’t experience any lag and the fact that our first online race was against four Japanese players suggests that the software doesn’t try and find players in your own country before searching further afield. Just an observation, there.
It’s evident that Nintendo has listened to the criticisms of fans – Mario Kart 7 feels more balanced than previous Mario Karts and the snaking tricks, which gave players an unfair advantage, have been eradicated. As we said in the opening paragraph this is a game that’ll keep on selling. And that’s something we have no problem with whatsoever – it’s chuffing brilliant.