I think I need to start this piece off with a little bit of a rant. Mario Kart 7 seems to be getting a lot of hostility for two reasons. The first is that it’s essentially just more Mario Kart, which I mean, I can kind of get behind that. If you are not in the mood for more Mario Kart, this one won’t do a thing for you. I can understand that. The one that is bothering me a little more is that, now that Nintendo has shown their hand and “revealed” that this is indeed the seventh installment in the Mario Kart franchise, people seem to be dismissing it. As though if it were just called Mario Kart 3D it would be ok, but because of the ‘7’, well fuck it who cares. I really don’t get it. The first game came out in 1992! Seven entries in just under 20 years is pretty god damn sparse. Some have even called it “the Call of Duty” of kart racers. How does that make any sense?! Call of Duty has had more entries in less than half the time! It’s weird; I really can’t wrap my head around where this is all coming from.
Anyway so yea Mario Kart 7 is pretty good.
This is actually going to be a pretty easy review to write overall because who in the hell doesn’t already know what Mario Kart is? The same core concept hasn’t really changed since the first iteration, albeit a few tweeks here and there. So instead of rehashing everything you already know, let’s get into what is actually new here.
The biggest gameplay tweek that Nintendo has been putting out there is the introduction of paragliders and undersea propellers so you can race both in the air and under the water. The under water driving does not make much of a difference. Aside from having the propeller on the back of your kart, the mechanics are still basically the same. The paraglider fares a lot better. When you get some good air off of a jump the paraglider comes out and you can glide yourself through the next portion of the track. The flight mechanics are very reminiscent of the hanglider in Pilotwings Resort so if you played that title you will feel right at home here. It feels great and is integrated seamlessly into the game play. It’s by no means a revolutionary feature, but it’s a very fun inclusion.
Of course for Mario Kart 7 we have a new batch of tracks to race on, 16 in total. As with any Mario Kart game they can’t all be winners and I personally feel that overall, this is one of the more rudimentary course collections the series has had to date. There are definitely a few highlights such as Music Park (probably my favourite), Piranha Plant Slide, Wario Shipyard and a well-done Rainbow Road. I also liked the Wii Sports Resort stuff but did they really need two tracks that take place on Wuhu Island? I still haven’t sank the kind of hours into this one that I have in the previous titles so it’s almost certain that I’ll start to warm up to just about everything. For example, Baby Park in Double Dash was a track I was pretty meh on at first but quickly became a multiplayer favourite. So for now I will say that none stand out as weak tracks, but there are only a handful that I find myself racing over and over again.
This one also continues the recent-ish trend of including 16 tracks from previous Mario Kart titles as well. With so many to choose from of course not everyone will be happy with the selection here, but I was quite pleased. For me it’s usually about which SNES tracks make it (yes, still my favourite Mario Kart) and the fact they included the SNES Rainbow Road makes me so god damn happy you have no idea. Not only my favourite Rainbow Road, but one of my favourite Mario Kart tracks in general and probably containing my favourite piece of Mario Kart music, this one’s inclusion here is a fucking delight. I will admit I was quite happy with the selected Wii tracks as well, since both Coconut Mall and Mushroom Gorge were a couple of my favourites in that game. They’ve also done some work on the tracks to make use of the paraglider and propeller, which of course they had to do but it’s still neat. All in all it would be very easy to call out the tracks they didn’t include, but why bother when they put in so many damn good ones?
Kart customization is once again featured here and my memory may be hazy of the past titles but it seems like it is a little deeper here than in previous titles. Please don’t verbally eviscerate me if that’s not the case though, it’s been a long time! You choose your kart, your wheels, and your glider, each one having an effect on your statistics. I mean it’s not crazy deep or anything but for a kart racing title there are a lot of different options. You also unlock new customization options for every 50 coins you collect while racing.
You start out with eight selectable characters but by the time you wrap up the 150cc cups you will have a grand total of 17. I won’t spoil any of the unlockable characters since much of the fun is seeing who you get as you go along, but I will say that for the most part, I was kind of unimpressed. I realize that may taint the fun I told you that you would have unlocking them, but perhaps you’ll feel differently. Again, it’s very easy to fall back on complaining about the characters they should have included, but I think in this case it’s just a tiny bit more justified. There are at least two characters I can think of that after unlocking them, I couldn’t help but just wonder “what why?!” I can’t imagine too many people were clamoring for some of these guys but I tend to stick with Yoshi anyway so I can look past it.
There are only a couple of new power-ups and only one is really worth discussing. The first and much more common one is the Tanooki tail which is none too impressive. You can swing it around and hit people but only if they are in very close proximity and other than that, it will prevent an item from hitting you from behind, which you can already do with damn near every other item. I can’t think of a single time where this item popped in and I thought “oh thank god! Just what I needed!” Usually I use it immediately to make room for something useful. The other new item is the elusive “7” item which I believe I’ve only received twice up until this point. This one fares better, taking every single item and putting them in a circle around you. It takes some strategy to use them effectively but it’s a welcome addition.
That about covers it for new content and as you can see it, it’s hit and miss. If those additions sound like enough for you, or if you’re just ready for a new Mario Kart, then you’ll be happy to know that the core experience is relatively the same. Naturally this also means that along with the fun, comes the brain crippling frustration.
I don’t think it’s any real secret that Mario Kart relies just as much on luck as skill, if not a little more. As crucial as it is to effectively use your items and the drifting mechanic, you often have to cross your fingers and hope to god that nothing happens to screw you over. Few things are as frustrating as finishing 1st in the first three races of a 150cc cup, then being nailed by a blue shell on the last lap of the final race, finishing in 8th and losing your gold cup status. This has now happened to be on at least three separate occasions. Oh and how about being in last place and desperately needing a quality item, only to receive a single green shell? Or my personal favourite – getting hit by a blue shell, then before you can recover you are hit by a green shell, then by an opponent using a Mushroom speed burst, then a red shell, and then a bullet. This happened in my last session before sitting down to write this review. This is all of course a Mario Kart staple so we’re all used to it but get ready to deal with more than a few urges to break the 3DS in half and then set it on fire.
In addition to a fairly robust single player mode (going for three stars in all of the CC cups will definitely take me some time) you have what I would call the real draw here – the online. I loved Mario Kart Wii’s online and what worked there is on full display here. Friend codes? Fuck off, nope. All you have to do is connect, hit Race, and within a few seconds you’re in a match. To date I have had no lag issues with any of the races I’ve done, it all runs incredibly smooth. You can also race with friends/recent opponents and there’s also the ability to start or join a community where you can set the individual rules (no blue shells)! I can get lost for a real long time in some online battle mode and I know I put dozens of hours into Mario Kart Wii’s online, so this is a title that has some legs.
For a review that opened with “there’s really not much to say” that was real fucking long. I can sum this up easily though – do you like Mario Kart? Awesome, buy Mario Kart 7. There’s just enough new stuff here to keep it interesting but the simple truth is that the core game is still really really fun. There’s lots of single player content and incredibly addicting online play, making for a very robust package. Plus I mean – what else are you going to play on your 3DS? Jaws? Well fuck you because that’s what I’m playing so watch your tone!