Nintendo is infamous for producing the Mario Kart series over the years and many love the franchise to this day. Offering fun racing action for the entire family that sometimes can make you want to toss the controller at the wall (curse you blue shell!) but you still come back to for one more round. It is a legacy series for Nintendo and many systems get one Mario Kart per generation.
Early in the 3DS’s life cycle, we saw the release of Mario Kart 7, adding new elements and mechanics to the series. Do these changes help create a better kart racing experience? Lets find out!
The Gameplay & Design
Mario Kart is known for being quite simple; you press the A Button to move forward but you can press the R button to break. If you press R while turning you can enable a ‘drift’ and as you start curving around, you get sparks behind your kart. Different colors indicate your speed level, as once you let go of the break button, you dash forward with high speeds. This description of the kart racer is simple but it works as Mario Kart is one of the most simple ones on the market control wise.
New additions to the formula include kart customization which allows you to add new parts to your kart. These change the stats of your kart, giving you the ability to play how you see fit. Like the heavy racers but want better drifting? You have a combination of parts that works for that! You earn them through coins you collect as you play through the game and feel like a fun reward even though it’s randomized which ones you earn.
Track design is strong using carefully placed curves, ramps and other obstacles; your racers will have plenty to keep an eye on during the race. Favorite tracks of mine include the latest take Rainbow Road (series stable race track), DK Jungle and a level where you enter the iconic warp pipe to race inside the sewers. Visually they are varied with set-pieces that can be quite fun.
Added elements to the core gameplay include ‘transformations’ where your kart can retract a hang-glider to hover in the air after you leap across blue ramps or a propeller that lets your kart race underwater. While they offer minor changes to controls, they don’t change the core gameplay drastically. This is a good move, as it ensures you have complete control over your kart and know that the controls never change no mater were you are in the race.
But it wouldn’t be a Mario Kart game without power-ups and they return in full force. The iconic Mushroom for speed boots and Banana Peel to make other racers spin-out return but you have the coin item which makes it’s return from the original Super Mario Kart. This item is linked to level progression in not only boosting your base speed but also unlocking kart parts and new racers. You can find them on the race track but they are also an item you can find in item boxes. Another new item is the Super Leaf, which makes your kart have a little tail that can be very useful in both offensive and defensive maneuvers. Older items are re-balanced to be more fair, specifically I’m referring to the Blue Shell. I loathed this item in other Mario Karts but here, it is far more manageable through careful boosting and clever item usage.
Regarding general game modes, it is really basic; Grand Prix has over sixteen cups (half of them being mirror modes of existing tracks), time trails that you can play on your own or use ghosts from online and street pass, multiplayer online and locally. This is fine but I would have liked more content for the games single player.
Mario Kart 7 as an overall package is great with strong gameplay that is timeless and continues to be enjoyable with new features/gimmicks that don’t lessen the core racing action.
The Lasting Appeal
You will have a lot to do in Mario Kart 7, as despite the modes not offering much content, you will still be very busy unlocking all the racers and kart parts. Getting all the kart parts will take a long time, as they unlock after you earn a lot of coins. Completing every Grand Prix will also take a while, as getting through sixteen cups (even if half of them is you playing through the same content you just experienced) does take a long time.
Mario Kart 7 is one of the 3DS’s best looking racing games thanks to strong art direction, 60FPS performance that never dips (even in 3D) and enjoyable music. The overall visuals are great as the various Mario-themed worlds pop off the small 3DS screen, more so if you have 3D enabled. Some tracks feel ripped right out of the games they come from and the 16 Retro tracks hold up remarkably well with the updated visuals they received.
Performance of this game is top notch, with the game never dipping below 60FPS. Considering the 3DS hardware and the fact MK7 maintains this high frame rate even when 3D is enabled is quite impressive. This results in a game that not only looks fantastic but plays just as much too.
Music is iconic Mario, with returning tracks from past Mario games sounding great and new themes being really catchy. My favorites include has DK Jungle for offering a great remix of an iconic DKC theme that I fondly remember and Piranaha Plant Slide offering a track blending the underground theme of SMB with an original melody. The sound design is strong too, with screeches from tires and other effects standing out.
The presentation as a while is high quality thanks to Nintendo pushing the 3DS hardware in offering a great looking, sounding and playing Mario Kart experience.
Overall: 4 out of 5
While Mario Kart 7 is lacking in a few areas (the roster of racers has glaring omissions) and the game does feel like it’s treading old grounding, it still is Mario Kart. Despite a clear lack of modes for single player gamers, I spent hours upon hours playing this game. Mastering every race track, listening to the fun musical score, and enjoying the strong presentation resulted in my time with Mario Kart 7 being a great experience. I highly recommend Mario Kart 7 to any 3DS owner looking for a fun racing game to play.
This game was played on a Nintendo 2DS using a copy I purchased.