Release date: December 2011
Developer: Nintendo, Retro Studios
Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical cart
Other platforms: NA
Price: ~$50 AUD
Though I had a Nintendo 64 back in the day, one of the games all my friends had but I didn’t was Mario Kart 64 (I had Diddy Kong Racing instead, which IMHO was just as good and I’ve always been disappointed it never got any sequels). I also had Mario Kart DS, but for some reason I never got around to playing much of it. Other than that, I never really played a lot of racing games (I’ve always been more into RPGs and platformers), so I wasn’t going to bother getting Mario Kart 7. After joining a local Nintendo 3DS meetup group where most of the other members had the game, I figured I might as well get it too, so I didn’t have to rely on Download Play.
For those who have played any Mario Kart game before, this handheld iteration will feel familiar in a lot of ways. There are 8 Cups to choose from, each with 4 tracks, giving a total of 32 tracks. 16 of these are remakes of tracks from earlier games in the series, while 16 are completely new. Not all of these tracks are unlocked to start with, but as you race through the Cups against the other CPU players, you’ll eventually be able to access the extra tracks.
Between the old and the new courses, there’s a wide variety of track designs, and they are all memorable and fun, from the dense foliage of DK Jungle to the neon lights of Koopa City to the colourful but challenging Rainbow Road. The music in each course complements the environment design nicely, and the upbeat melodies provide an extra push to put in your best effort. In addition to items and speed boosters, tracks are peppered with various obstacles and enemies, which keeps you on your toes; you don’t just have to keep an eye on the other racers, you also need to be wary of the course itself. Most tracks have hidden paths which can shave seconds off your time, but some are tricky to access and can cost you time if you don’t manage to pull it off.
At the start of the game you have access to 8 characters, with another 8 being unlockable by completing the various cups in 150cc. Completing all cups in any class will also allow you to use your Mii character as a racer. Also, while older games in the series made you pick from a set of pre-designed karts, you can now customise your own vehicle, choosing a body, tyres and a hang-glider. The variety available when you start the game is quite limited, but as you play through the game and collect coins during your races, you’ll be able to unlock more vehicle parts.
Most of the Mario Kart items we’ve all come to know and love are back in their little ? boxes, just waiting to be picked up and used against your enemies. There are Mushrooms and Stars (which give you a speed boost or make you invincible, respectively), Shells (including the dreaded Blue Shell) and Bloopers, Lightning Bolts and Bullet Bills, giving you a good variety of offensive weapons. This game also introduces a few new items, such as the Fire Flower (which allows you to shoot fireballs at other racers), the Super Leaf (which gives your kart a tail that can be used to collect coins or whip nearby enemies) and the Lucky 7, which gives the player 7 items (including mushroom, star and shells) that rotate around their kart. As with the Blue Shell, though, you generally won’t get the Lucky 7 unless you’re doing quite badly in the race, but it does provide some more balance for less experienced players to catch up.
It’s worth pointing out that the game is pretty well-balanced in terms of difficulty and fairness, for the most part. The 50cc tracks are very easy (almost ridiculously so), while the 150cc tracks pose a decent challenge and the enemy CPU racers actually make you work for that coveted 1st place finish. Item distribution also strikes a happy medium; though sometimes I did get slowed down by attacks from other racers, I was just as often able to get ahead after launching attacks of my own. There were a few times I was in 1st place through a whole race only to get hit by several Blue Shells and a Lightning Bolt near the end and come 4th or 5th instead, but it happened infrequently enough that it didn’t really feel unfair (unlike in some other Mario Kart games).
One new feature in Mario Kart 7 is the 1st person racing view. Simply by hitting Up on the D-pad, you can switch your view from the standard 3rd person to right behind the wheel. You also have the choice of controlling it with the circle pad or by tilting the system and using its gyroscopic controls. I didn’t really use it much as I like the 3rd person view but I know a lot of people would love the 1st person option.
Other new features include the hang-gliders and propellers. Many of the levels feature sections where the player is launched into the air and has to glide over gaps or obstacles, with the hang-glider opening up automatically once the player is airborne. Unlike in previous games, where going into the water would result in the player going out of bounds and losing several seconds while waiting to be lifted back onto the track, underwater sections are included in several tracks, with the exhaust pipes on the car turning into a propeller.
In addition to the standard Grand Prix mode, Time Trials allows you to race against the Ghost of your fastest time for each course, or to exchange Ghosts with other players through the Nintendo Network. There is also a Vs mode, where players can choose everything from the order of tracks to the specifications of the CPU players’ carts, but this is only available in Multiplayer Mode.
Mario Kart 7 includes two Battle modes, with the option of fighting in two teams of four or just going up against all players in a free-for-all. Balloon Burst starts all players off with three balloons, and you have 2 minutes to pop as many enemy balloons as you can using items found in the arena while trying to keep your own balloons intact; players who lose all three balloons get half of their points deducted. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t use the same system as older Mario Kart battles, where once you lost your three balloons, you were out. I suppose the new system is aimed more at younger players who might get frustrated if they kept getting knocked out of the game early. Coin Battle matches also last for 2 minutes but players need to collect as many coins as they can (up to a maximum of ten), with the player who has the most at the end winning.
Multiplayer is where this game really shines, especially if you can play Local Multiplayer with your friends. When I go to meetups with the rest of my Nintendo 3DS-owning friends, we almost always end up playing Mario Kart 7, and there’s always laughing and swearing as we get more and more hyped up throughout the races. Though Single Player is fun, I felt that the solo campaign was a bit short, and once I’d completed all the Cups in most of the classes and unlocked several vehicle parts for each category, I didn’t feel a huge incentive to keep playing unless it was with my friends. Though I didn’t play a lot of Mario Kart DS, I do remember that it had a fun Missions mode, where you had to complete specific tasks while racing, but there’s nothing like that in Mario Kart 7. That being said, those who love racing games will find plenty to keep them entertained in this game.
If you have a Nintendo 3DS, Mario Kart 7 is a must have title. The Single Player mode may be a bit short for some, but it’s a great game for those who do a lot of Multiplayer gaming. While the Download Play mode has its limitations, it still allows you to enjoy some racing fun with friends who don’t own the game.