Mario Kart 7
The 3DS is starting to live up to its potential, with a great selection of quality games being released over the last two months. Mario Kart 7 hopes to continue this trend but can the glider and underwater sections - two bold additions to a series so committed to a formula - make it the best title in the series so far, possibly even one of the best games on the handheld? Absolutely!
Mario Kart 7 keeps it simple and familiar with games modes. The Balloon Battle mode has players dash around a course avoiding each other to keep their set amount of balloons intact. Coin Runner sees players dash around collecting coins until the time expires. Time Trail pits you against ghosts of Nintendo staff and friends; meanwhile Grand Prix makes up the meat of the experience.
Featuring the series standard of three engine sizes and eight cups, Grand Prix offers leaderboard jostling play over an impressive roster of 32 tracks. However, what seems like a lot of content on the surface actually takes very little time to get through and the majority of the tracks are reworked classics. Fortunately excellent design mitigates any feelings of repetitiveness despite how quickly you'll see all the tracks on offer.
Whilst the selection of 16 unlockable characters are for aesthetic purposes only, your car can be customised to subtlety adjust elements like handling and acceleration based on the chasse and tyres. Winning cups will unlock more Mario characters whilst new tyres and chasses can unlocked by collecting coins strewn across each course when you race. It adds a nice element of purpose to each race, giving you something to work towards other than the finish line.
The biggest additions to Mario Kart 7, however, are the two new mechanics and how they've affected the track designs. Gliding is an excellent addition that adds a nice slice of strategy to your races. At pre-determined points you'll have the option of driving up a ramp and flying off it through the use of your glider, but there's a risk reward element to how long you stay airborne. At times you'll want to extend you flight to avoid obstacles despite taking a hit to your speed, whilst at other times you'll want to maintain speed and get back onto solid grounds as soon as you can.
The underwater sections are far less successful in improving the Mario Kart experience. They feel superfluous, adding nothing to the experience other than sections of sluggish controls that soon become a bit of chore to drive through. They do offer an opportunity for overtaking on certain maps if you can avoid the worst of the water, but still theses sections don't impress overall.
The new gliding mechanic paired with the classic power-sliding makes for some great racing. Add to that some brilliantly designed tracks with tons of short-cuts and you're in for a real treat as you race through each. Even the old tracks have seen nuanced changes to make them compatible with the new mechanics and for new shortcuts to look and feel natural. The news tracks certainly benefit from a less restricted design however, and run away with the show. Their creative layout never fails to impress with some of the best tracks in series history making their debut here.
The power-ups return from the Wii version and offer the same frantic fun and tactical edge to racing, along with a few new additions that compliment the package. The Fire Flower allows you to chuck fireballs for a limited time. The Super Leaf grants you a Tanooki tail which acts as a defensive or offensive shield spinning around your car, and the Lucky Seven grants you all power-ups but can be stolen by other players if they bump into you.
Some of the power-ups can feel a little cheap when you get hit by one moments before crossing the finish line but there are plenty of opportunities - thanks to generous power-up placement - for you to get your own back and so it seldom ruins the fun.
Multiplayer mirrors the Wii version. It's just as accessibility and other than a reduction from 12 total players to eight it remains a great online system for racing friends or random opponents from across the world. There is a lack of lobbies but a useful track voting system between races helps to keep things fresh and the Mario Kart channel allows you to create your own customised Grand Prix to share with others.
Indeed Mario Kart 7 does a great job of bringing the series forward with new mechanics and new tracks whilst maintaining the original charm veterans love so much. The return of generous AI rubber banding is certain to grate on some peoples nerves and many of the sound effects are showing their age but Mario Kart 7 is unquestionably as full with content and as fun as any of its home console iterations. In fact, thanks to changes to the formula with the gliders, Mario Kart 7 is the best in the series so far.