It's a time honoured tradition that every Nintendo console is graced with one new entry in the venerable Mario Kart series, and for Nintendo 3DS owners that time has come exceedingly early in the handheld's lifespan. If there was ever a franchise that rigidly adheres to the old adage if it ain't broke don't fit it, it would be Mario Kart, with each installment marginally incrementing upon its predecessors. Seeing as though seven is the luckiest number, have we been fortunate enough to get some much need innovation injected into this aged go-karting series?
The Mario Kart series has always had some key elements that make up its composition, including richly detailed race tracks set in iconic Mario environments, an array of power-ups to aid your racing, and an element of luck weaved firmly into its fabric. To this degree, Mario Kart 7 will feel instantly familiar to fans of the series since all these mainstays are present here as strong as ever. Practically every element -- from the 50cc, 100cc, 150cc race types to the class Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special Cups -- will make it clear that this is as true of a Mario Kart experience as the series gets.
What is innovative in this new entry is the ability for players to race underwater or through the air, in addition to land, thanks to the new underwater and air features possessed by each kart. Launching off a ramp will automatically deploy the glider, enabling you to take flight and navigate the skies as you change your pitch for a fast or soft landing. Likewise, plunging into water will automatically deploy a rear propeller that keeps your momentum until you resurface back to land. Each of these new terrains have a unique feel, with air feeling graceful and fast, and underwater floaty and subdued. While it's nice to experience some new racing elements, it feels a bit hit or miss since the air sequences are exhilarating with their speed while the underwater areas are so muted that they only serve to slow down the pace.
There are a total of 32 courses packed-in, spread across 16 new and 16 remastered retro courses, including all-new shortcuts and areas utilizing the new abilities to glide through the air and drive underwater. The majority of the newly introduced courses were designed with the new racing abilities in mind, such as the Cheep Cheep Lagoon which includes long stretches of underwater racing, and Rock Rock Mountain with its precipitous drop-offs that lead to some serious air time. The retro courses receive the same treatment with the N64 Koopa Beach now possessing a pair of ramps close to the finish line that send you flying through a gap in the mountainside and the GCN Daisy Cruiser featuring a crack in the main deck that plunges you into an underwater passage.
Perhaps due to the comparative quality of the retro courses, I found the new courses to be a bit lackluster overall, with many raceways too wide and uninteresting to keep my attention. There are a few standout courses such as the Music Park with its distinct brass palette and full-sized keyboards that play notes as you race over top, as well as the Neo Bowser City which its industrious backdrop and blue/green neon hues. Retro courses fair much better, with many excellent remastered classic courses including Coconut Mall (Wii), Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo DS), Kalimari Desert (N64), and Daisy Cruiser (GameCube).
Another welcome addition in Mario Kart 7 are the kart customizations available for tires, chassis and gliders to tailor your vehicle to match your preferred racing style. Each customization will affect the five factors that affect the control of your vehicle, which are Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling and Off-Road. Further altering these stats are the character you choose, so for example if you choose Donkey Kong expect to add some Weight at the sacrifice of Handling. While you begin with only a handful of customizations for each type, there are plenty of customizations that unlock as you collect coins during races. These kart modifiers range from the practical (e.g. the Blue Seven race car) to comedic (e.g. the Tiny Tug, literally a miniature boat) and they add a lot of diversity to racing -- especially given that CPU racers will use a random mix every Cup.
The cast of characters are, for the most part, what you'd expect from a Mario Kart game. Of course there are the usual suspects with Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Bowser and Toad present; however, there are also some surprises with Metal Mario, Lakitu, Honey Queen and Wiggler being the most notable. Rounding out the cast of characters is your customized Mii, which gets unlocked after you acquire a Gold standing in all eight racing Cups.
Weapons are plentiful in Mario Kart 7 and new additions to your repertoire are the Fire Flower, Super Leaf, Lucky Seven. The first of the bunch enables you to unload a salvo of fireballs, either in front of you or behind you, which cause players to spin out and lose coins if struck. A Super Leaf outfits your player with a Tanooki Tail which can be spun to knock down your opponents or to deflect oncoming projectiles. Finally, the all-power Lucky Seven is the most interesting of the bunch as it gives your player access to seven different standard power-ups: Red Shell, Green Shell, Bob-omb, Banana Peel, Blooper, Super Star, and Mushroom. Should you get hit before deploying all seven power-ups, the remaining items get scattered across the race track which adds a heck of a lot of strategy. For instance, if you can successfully knock down a player who deployed a Lucky Seven, you could steal their power-ups and use them to your advantage. For those who are wondering, yes the much-hated and unavoidable Blue Shell does return in Mario Kart 7, but thankfully its appearance seems to be much lower than it was in Mario Kart Wii.
Rounding out the features in Mario Kart 7 are a set of online multiplayer options which allow players from around the globe to compete using a wireless internet connection. Communities of interest can be set-up for racers with similar play styles and rule preferences to come together, for example I joined a community where the only weapon available for use were banana peels. There is also local multiplayer available for up to eight players to join a room and compete against one another. Finally, the Mario Kart Channel lets you exchange ghost data or receive community recommendations from other players.
Mario Kart 7 without a doubt toes the line with a familiar presentation and many features we've seen time and time again with the series. Despite an overall lack of innovation, the new racing terrains of sky and underwater add a surprising amount of novelty to a series which has practically remained the same since its inception some 19 years ago. This game is absolutely packed with content, combining 32 courses, 16 playable characters, dozens of kart customizations, and local and online multiplayer. If you're a Mario Kart fan you know what to expect, and this version is as faithful as the franchise gets.
For more information on Mario Kart 7 be sure to check out the futureshop.ca product page here.
You must be a registered user to add a comment here. If you've already registered, please log in. If you haven't registered yet, please register and log in.