If one were to hark back to the release that kick-started this best selling spin-off series, he or she would find a surprisingly inaccessible experience. Super Mario Kart was a particularly difficult to master affair when it came to actually steering your vehicle around a SuperFX-generated track, as the game was deliberately stapled with some of the most difficult to deal with handling in a racing game, even more so than the likes of WipeOut many years later. Of course, players could get 'in the groove' and become trapped inside a mind state of 100% focus - Focus on winning a race without allowing poor manoeuvrability to get in their way. Skip past several releases and you'll find that, by the time Mario Kart Double Dash!! on GameCube was released, this difficult to master gameplay was modified to become a much more accessible engine, soon after which a more varied mass of casual and 'core crowds got into the series. Many of you should know how much I oppose the phrases casual and hardcore and both terms' stereotypical effect on gaming, but in the context of this argument they simply have to be implemented. You see, the more recent Mario Kart experiences have forced many into two different, separately opinionated pigeon-holes. Using the boycotted Mario Kart Wii as a fitting example, many absolutely loathed the game for its undeniably unfair gameplay elements and outrageously difficult cups in the later stages of the solo experience (ironic, considering this particular release was more aimed at casuals than anyone else with its abominable advertising campaigns). Others, however, saw the strengths of the game and proceeded to ignore its unfair nature and simply have fun. So, this leaves us with a question, one that was already answered last December but will continue to be satisfied by yours truly: How does Mario Kart 7 on 3DS hold up? Rather well, actually.
One could describe Mario's third handheld karting experience, not to mention his seventh altogether (if you exclude the supposedly awful Namco-developed arcade game) with many words, but broken is definitely not one of them. The core racing found in this stereoscopic release is quite possibly as tight as you'll get with the series so far, even when compared to the DS iteration, the typical favourite amongst fans. But how does it hold up against its predecessors altogether? Yes, Mario Kart 7 features what is easily the most balanced gameplay in the series, a true god-send for those who loathed the Wii iteration's unfair nature, but that's not to say it's the best Mario Kart game ever. Keeping in mind that I haven't played the Nintendo 64 or GameCube versions, the lucky seven finds itself perched just a few branches below Mario Kart's Wii and DS experiences in my opinion, or for a more fitting analogy, in third place winning a bronze medal in the cup to decide the best game in the series. While I loathed Mario Kart Wii's unfair approach to what Nintendo thought was balancing the experience, I must admit that I had a lot more fun with it than the most recent karting effort available at this time.
The main reason for the seventh instalment's peak position of third place in my view is its surprising deprivation of content; It's almost as if Nintendo, even when paired with famed co-developer Retro Studios (Metroid Prime, Donkey Kong Country Returns - You should know these guys by now) forgot to pack some meat into an otherwise tightly balanced incarnation. Mario Kart Wii may have been frustratingly unfair, but its production value is admittedly leagues above what is available on 3DS. Still, when I conduct a synopsis what Mario Kart 7 does have to offer, I hope to show that it is definitely worth picking up if you don't already own it. In fact, I believe that racing around crazy courses with Mushroom Kingdom veterans is even better than partaking in stereoscopic platforming in the form of Super Mario 3D Land when it comes to 3DS-exclusive Mario titles, as you'll know from the score at the bottom of this review.
|Up to seven other Mushroom Kingdom veterans join you in a typical Mario Kart 7 race. Fitting, but also impressive considering the frame-rate never drops in a race against CPUs.|
Brand-new in Mario Kart 7 are the two new methods of transport you'll find your vehicle transforming into in most of the game's 32 tracks. While they take a page from the book of N64 racer Diddy Kong Racing, these all-new additions to Mario Kart are more than welcome and serve as another contribution to more strategic methods of navigating each course, as if the re-introduction of Coins wasn't enough. Most prominent of the two alterations is the glider, a mounted contraption much like the one found in early 3DS release PilotWings Resort... Only attached to a kart. Particular boost ramps serve as path into flight, as your kart activates its gliding capabilities soon after making the leap. Full 360 degree control while airborne is made all the more satisfying and effective with the Circle Pad, making you truly feel like you're making all the decisions when switching to this method of travel.
Before this sounds like a cheesy non-sensical description of an Andrex roll (although the Circle Pad really is brilliant), let's move on to Mario Kart 7's other new method of travel, the subtle yet welcome addition of the propeller activated when underwater. Yes, we've seen underwater segments in past titles, but only in the series' seventh is the handling of your kart shaken up a little when beneath the sea. Basically, the propeller only alters the drifting of your kart. In fact, it makes the handling feel exactly like the lightweight bikes found in Mario Kart Wii, which is no bad thing. It's true that the underwater segments in this release are a little underused, which is understandable considering half of the tracks are from past titles as per usual, but they're better off here than not and offer a welcome change of physics on the tracks they appear in. All three of the elements analysed in the last two paragraphs make for a much more strategic Mario Kart experience, which truly adds to the balancing. No one shortcut is better than the other, and players won't simply be following one given path this time around. Here's hoping these elements are included in future Mario Kart releases.
|It's a shame that the glider feels like it's going to be a one-off for the series, because it's an incredible strategic addition to a franchise that has relied almost solely on luck in past releases. The underwater propellor holds up nicely, too.|
|Sprouting out of Mario's standard kart is the Tanooki Tail, a new item that allows for both offensive and defensive action. It can block oncoming items (including, if you get the timing perfect, Blue Shells) and trip up rivals. Handy!|
Speaking of which, let's move onto the multiplayer mode found in Mario Kart 7. Players who are familiar with Mario Kart Wii's excellent online will find a relatable experience in this handheld release; albeit one not quite as stable. Unfortunately, Mario Kart 7's worldwide racing is hindered slightly by animation lag and frame-rate drops, ones that don't occur too often but are a step-down from the near-perfect stability of the aforementioned Wii release. Still, if you can ignore these minor annoyances, everything you'd expect is in here: Various racing options, support for battle mode and points systems for both. Brand-new are Groups, which allow you to create guild-like communities with their own internal scoring, perfect for tournaments. All in all, stability issues aside, Mario Kart 7's online is what's going to keep you coming back for more upon finishing the bare-bones solo experience, even though I personally found Mario Kart Wii's functionality to be more enjoyable.
Sadly, it's the little things that leave a big mark on Mario Kart 7's exterior. It's lacking in content and the smaller aspects of the game, such as the character roster, let the scope down. However, there's more positives in this package that neatly iron out the negatives: 32 of the series' best track designs old and new, a number of excellent new additions to the already thoroughly enjoyable formula, and most importantly, the fairest, tightest racing in a Mario Kart game to date. It's just a massive shame that all you can do in this release is race offline and online. The presentation is stellar and it's difficult to fault the gameplay, but when there's little to a release that by default has to improve on its predecessors from a content standpoint, not take a step backwards. All it would've taken to shoot the score I've awarded this title up to golden levels is a re-hash of Mario Kart DS's awesome Mission mode. All this said, you should definitely purchase Mario Kart 7 if you enjoy the series, especially if you have access to an online setup. The multiplayer is thoroughly enjoyable despite a few technical issues, and as I noted in the previous paragraph, it's what's going to keep you coming back to the game. I'll end this review by re-establishing my response to a hefty question: Is Mario Kart 7 the greatest game in the series so far? Simply put, no, but if the next Mario Kart release packs the same racing as found in this instalment only alongside a satisfying heap of content, it will be. Until then, the seventh in the series offers a truly ace if a little flawed experience, one that you should check out if you can and haven't already.