Here we go!
It’s back! Mario Kart returns on a handheld console with the latest release; Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS. It has difficult footsteps to follow in, coming as it does after Mario Kart DS; one of the biggest selling Nintendo games ever, and with good reason. The gaming community was promised something special, with commercials and teasers showing off the graphics and the latest features including new weapons, characters, tracks and karts. Did it deliver?
While it is apt to consider this game in its own right it is nigh on impossible not to view it in the context of its predecessors, and with the exceedingly high standard set by the DS version and Mario Kart Wii, this instalment had to offer something different. On face value this appears to have been successful with the introduction of new characters such as the lovable Wiggler and the strange choice of the Honey Queen all adding to the existing cast of regulars we have come to love. In addition to this there is now full customisation of karts rather than a simple choice of 36. Furthermore, as has been extremely well documented in the advertising campaign there are now areas in races where the player will have to fly or drive underwater; another feature which sets Mario Kart 7 aside from its predecessors.
The gameplay itself is elegant and the 3D effect adds a certain grandeur to all of the tracks from the most adventurous (Rainbow Road) to the most ordinary (Toad Circuit). The use of the 3DS’s Circle Pad allows for an extremely sensitive driving experience, for the first time on a Mario Kart game I did not feel like I was at risk of making a mistake due to the lack of responsiveness of the hardware. Nintendo EAD and Retro Studios have done an excellent job in selecting the tracks which make the best transition from the Wii to the 3DS. Coconut Mall, for example, looks fantastic and plays as well, if not better, than its home console counterpart. The developers have also introduced new weapons into the frame, the highlight of which is undoubtedly the Lucky Seven; an item which gives you seven weapons all at the same time. The simplistic beauty of this item is the fact that as the items spin round the player’s kart, the item located at the front will be fired upon command, this adds a further aspect of strategy and timing to the game, which is somewhat lacking with other weapon options.
For all of the positives that the new Mario Kart undoubtedly has, it is not entirely original. I don’t mean simply that it is Mario characters racing, but when the game is examined, it has clearly taken inspiration from the 2007 game Diddy Kong Racing DS. The similarities are noticeable, in both games the player has the ability to collect coins which can be used to upgrade and customise the vehicle being driven and both have the ability to fly and drive underwater. In a way, it would appear that Nintendo and Retro have looked to another racing franchise in order to find new features to set Mario Kart 7 apart from Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart DS. To be clear, I do not think that this is a bad thing, Diddy Kong Racing DS was an underrated game, which never achieved the acclaim or success that it deserved, but it does seem somewhat odd that the developers of Mario Kart 7 saw the need to borrow ideas from another game. Are they running out of original ideas? I really hope not.
My only real issue with a new feature of the game comes when we look at the first person driving mode. The idea is solid, press the ‘up’ button on the D-Pad and enter the kart, from this point on you turn the 3DS to turn the kart, a good idea. The problem is in the execution. What the developers appear to have forgotten is that one of the major draws of the game is its 3D graphics which undoubtedly add a sense of depth and realism to the game, and this effect is created by the top screen projecting several images from different angles onto the screen at once, the point at which they line up is defined by the slider on the side of the console; it is this that gives the illusion of 3D without glasses. For the most part this is excellent in Mario Kart 7, until you enter first person mode where upon turning the wheel the 3D effect appears to flicker to the user and can become not only irritating but also ruins the experience. The only option is to turn off the 3D effect and play the game in standard resolution. A disappointing result for what should have been an excellent feature.
Overall, Mario Kart 7 is an excellent addition to the franchise, the new features (whether or not they are entirely original) work extremely well, new characters and tracks are a welcome addition. The graphics are outstanding and the gameplay ensures that any lost races are entirely down to the player’s lack of skill or errors. The AI has a happy knack of creating rivalries in each Grand Prix, as a result I am eternally convinced that Rosalina is out to destroy me! There are issues with the game that have been previously discussed, and the reduction in single player options such as Missions do detract from the overall experience. That said Mario Kart 7 is a very good game, one which has challenges aplenty, but in my opinion it does not surpass the exceptional standard set by Mario Kart DS.