Game Rant's Riley Little reviews Mario Kart 7
Every Nintendo console is graced with the presence of a single Mario Kart title, and that tradition has held true since the SNES. Now we're finally on Mario Kart 7 — excluding those Japan-only arcade machines — and it aims to be a catalyst that propels Nintendo 3DS sales through the roof this Holiday season.
Nintendo has a lot riding on the success of Mario Kart 7, but does it provide karting veterans with the content that made them fall in love with the series?
There should be no concerns regarding the game's quality, because it's still the same Mario Kart experience that fans have always enjoyed — with a few minor tweaks that make the game even more enjoyable. Of course, that doesn't make it a flawless experience, but it's still a great game for the handheld.
The core mechanics that are essential to any Mario Kart game have made a smooth transition onto the 3DS. For those who have never played any game in the franchise's long history, it throws a handful of residents from the Mushroom Kingdom into a series of races. Characters from Super Mario fame such as the iconic pudgy plumber himself, as well as Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Bowser — all of which are playable right from the get-go, with several other racers waiting to be earned. Eight separate racers will face off against one another in a series of four races, with plenty of unlockables up for grabs to any player that can capture the golden trophy in one of eight different cups in the 'Grand Prix' mode.
In 'Grand Prix' there are a total of eight different cups in Mario Kart 7 that can be played, and each one contains four maps. A grand total of 16 tracks are brand new, and they are obviously one of the main appeals for fans of the series looking for new content. Tracks such as Wuhu Loop and Maka Wuhu ditch the old method of doing three laps around a single track by providing racers with a simple 'Get from point A to point B' routine. These maps are obviously larger than regular tracks and are divided into three separate points that indicate how close the player is to completing the race. Everything from the notes that play while drifting down the keys of a piano in Music Park, to the exciting environment of Retro Studios' DK Jungle are sure to become instant classics, and several of the new courses are some of the most enjoyable ever found in the franchise.
Accompanying the 16 new tracks are 16 retro tracks from past Mario Kart titles, ranging from the SNES to the most recent game on the Wii. The longtime fans who enjoyed these raceways in the past will notice that the layout for each map has been slightly fine-tuned to accommodate the new features that Mario Kart 7 brings to the table. Areas that were once water hazards, can now be driven through, and places where cannons were placed are now jumps that make use of the new glider.
Obviously the two biggest enhancements are the additions of gliding sections and under water segments; both of which mix up the gameplay quite a bit, and make for a refreshing change of pace and racing dynamics. Gliding in particular adds a lot to gameplay, and flying through the air with complete control over where the kart roams is an absolute blast. There are often obstacles that will be encountered mid-flight, and it's up to players to avoid them in an effort to not to lose their current position in a race. The under water portions, however, only slow down the action, and are more often than not some of the least exciting portions of a track. From time to time, there are areas in a course that will create a fork in the road, and racers will have to decide if they'd rather fly to get to the other side as quickly as possible or enter the water to grab a few submerged coins. Simply having these options is exhilarating and makes racing all the more cerebral when trying to capture first place.
Coins have also been reinstated after being placed on a long hiatus after their debut on the SNES. These trademark Super Mario collectibles are scattered across every single racetrack in Mario Kart 7, but the coins have a greater purpose than they did in the original Mario Kart game. The coins will give their owners a temporary speed boost, and increase the maximum speed of its owner, both of which are crucial in last minute scrambles for first place. The coins have another purpose, however, and that is to unlock and then provide players with new parts to build karts with.
For the first time in the fabled franchise's history, players can tweak their kart's stats and create a vehicle that best suits their style. Every kart part will alter the five different stats, which forces players to find a perfect balance that will help them dominate races. New parts are unlocked by gathering coins on the racetracks, but the game restricts racers from being able to gather any more than 10 coins per race. For every 50th coin that is collected a new part is unlocked, that trend continues until nearly every kart, wheel, and glider has been collected. The ability to customize and alter the performance of your very own kart is a welcomed addition in Mario Kart 7, but it's disappointing that there isn't a shop that gamers can exchange the coins for parts of their choosing — instead of being dealt items that the developers have chosen.
Kart components make the game interesting, sure, but gamers really care about who is behind the wheel of the vehicle they've customized. There are a total of 17 different racers to choose from (including your Mii), and eight are available from the minute the game is booted up, while nine are unlocked by completing races in 'Grand Prix'. Mario Kart 7 introduces a lot of new characters who make their karting debut such as Lakitu, Metal Mario, Honey Queen, Shy Guy, and Wiggler. These characters are great, but the roster itself just doesn't feel large enough. Fan-favorites like Waluigi, Dry Bones, and Diddy Kong are all M.I.A., and their absence is truly noticed after being spoiled by Mario Kart Wii's 25 character roster.
Mario Kart 7's lineup may not be as bountiful has many had hoped, but where it lacks in playable characters, it more than makes up for in multiplayer. Head-to-head racing with friends has always been the main appeal of any Mario Kart title, and whether or not your pals are in the same room or on the other side of the world, you'll be able to race each other — and have an absolute blast doing it too. Those with the game can meet up online, play some local racing, or even let friends with a 3DS who are without the game play through the power of the 3DS' download play feature.
Acquaintances also have the ability to create online communities to compare stats with friends, and the option to create an entire cup based off of the rules established by the community leader. A lot of attention was poured into the online capabilities of Mario Kart 7, and it is a strong example of just what the Nintendo 3DS is capable of in terms of online functionality. The classic 'Balloon Battle' and 'Coin Runner' modes also return, and can be played online with up to eight other players.
Choice seems to be the reoccurring theme for Mario Kart 7, and that's what makes it so refreshing. It still has everything that fans want from a portable Mario Kart experience, and even though the roster is lacklustre it's still a fun game that anyone with a 3DS handheld would be more than satisfied with. The graphics are some of the best that can be found on the portable, but the 3D feels unnecessary and can be left off without any repercussions to the experience. The new weapons such as the fire flower and tanooki tail are great additions, but the Lucky 7 power-up is more distracting than enjoyable and first place-seeking blue shells still appear far too often. All that aside, Mario Kart is one of the few games in the world that anyone can pickup and play; it's just one of those games that never loses its appeal, making the seventh installment in the Mario Kart franchise a must-own. Now, what are you waiting for? Let's-A-Go! Oh yeah... it's not out yet. Soon though!
Mario Kart 7 is available on December 4th, exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS.
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