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Mario Kart 7 review

Astonishing
AT A GLANCE
  • Best showcase yet for 3DS' 3D screen
  • Full of fan-service gold
  • Snaking has been fixed!
  • We'll always want more tracks
  • Should have been a launch game
  • Err... the cartridge sticker isn't very colourful?

If you haven't bought a 3DS yet, you need one right now. Mario Kart 7 is single-handedly worth the asking price, especially if you have friends with one too. It's the best showcase yet for the console's 3D screen, plays better than the home console versions have since N64 and makes 90% of the rest of the machine's catalogue look downright shoddy. It's full of fan-service gold, yet also attractive to those with zero gaming experience. 

The perfect Mario Kart? Could well be…

Above: Wa-hoo! Mario's back behind the wheel and everything's right with the world

First things first – the game takes 3DS by the scruff of the neck and shakes it until it damn well lives up to its potential. Pilotwings Resort may have looked lovely whether in 3D or 2D mode, but Mario Kart 7 is a huge leap forward over even that benchmark. It's easily as good-looking as Mario Kart Wii, only with 60fps 3D graphics that look so solid, it isn't an effect any more. This is a window into a 3D world and, incredibly, every time the 3D's off, I want it back on again.

Above: Massive draw distance, sublime effects, silky smooth frame-rate and unbelievable 3D

But enough about the graphics. How does it play? Thankfully, the answer is a definitive "NOT like Mario Kart Wii". Or Double Dash, for that matter. In fact, it's most like Mario Kart DS, which is a good thing as that's easily the best version of the modern era. Races are close without being too dense and chaotic, thanks to superb weapons balancing that hands out appropriate power-ups depending on where you are in the field.

Of course you still get that horrible sinking feeling as you approach the finish line in first place, because you just know a Blue Shell is coming to blow you up mere inches before the line. But while these frustrating blows do come every now and then (it wouldn't be Mario Kart without them), they're pleasantly infrequent, especially compared to the Wii version.

Track and squealed

The first half of the new selection of tracks are superb, particularly Melody Motorway and Cheep Cheep Cape, with several "whoop" moments per lap. While the latter half isn't quite as consistently amazing in terms of looks, the track design itself never falters, making carefully-crafted balancing seem easy to design. Rival devs take note. Here are some highlights from the first two cups in the game. And believe me, the game looks way better in person than it does in video.

 

Shortcuts are balanced to reward not just clever thinking or memory, but clever kart control too. For the first time in ages, driving your kart well is the greatest key to success – and that's a major leap forward.

The three tiers of kart power are back, acting as beginner, medium and expert difficulty levels. The first couple of tracks are wide and gentle to ease newbies into the game, and Mario Kart veterans will likely blaze through the first two difficulty tiers. The third, however, is going to keep even hardcore fans busy for a very long time. If you get golds on all the cups, you get one final tier which is as hard as Expert, but with mirrored tracks. Plenty to do, even if you're on your own.

There are even multiplayer-styled single-player modes for the friendless (or multi-cartless), complete with the series' classic balloon popping minigame, which sees you trying to pop your opponents' balloons while trying to preserve your own. Of course, it's more fun in multiplayer, which is available in local or wi-fi flavours. We've only played local multiplayer so far as the game's not out yet at the time of writing, but it's rock-solid and just like the single-player game, only with an extra competitive edge.

Above: Did I mention the fan-service? Look - it's the SNES multiplayer arena on your 3DS

There's also a very enjoyable time trial mode complete with saveable ghost cars. Considering the game is all about accessibility and outward simplicity, there's a surprising depth to the controls that makes Time Trial a mode worth returning to time and time again.

Snake? Snaaaaake!!!

Which brings me to the snaking issue. For those who didn't play Mario Kart DS extensively (or take it online), "snaking" is the term given to drifting down straight sections of tracks at an angle as if you're cornering, earning fresh boost every time. Race someone who's using this technique and not even the Blue Shell will stop them – they'll be so far ahead they can take the loss on anything you can throw at them, thus breaking the game.

In Mario Kart 7, it's gone. The boost technique is still the same, though. Hold the jump button and turn as you approach a corner and your kart will skid. After a while (or a few waggles of the analogue stick), blue sparks will appear around your rear wheels, then red ones. 

Above: Sparks! This is the visual indicator that your drift has earned you some boost

At this point, release jump to boost away. But, crucially, the time it takes to get these sparks to appear now depends on how tightly you're cornering. Meaning? It doesn't work on the straights. With this wonderful new tweak, the playing field is level at last, leaving everyone to have fun once more.

Daddy's never taking this T-Bird away

Fun. That's the word I would use in annoying, Beach Boys-esque repetition to best describe Mario Kart 7. My colleagues mock me as I sit playing the game in the office, grinning from ear to ear and making little noises like "oh ho!" and  "aah" every minute or so.

What would cause such noises to come from a grown man in his place of work? Things like the new hang glider sections. Or falling into the water on GameCube's Daisy Cruiser and realising that it no longer kills you, but gives you access to an entirely new underwater section. You'll laugh at Toad's voice, tut when you get blown up by your own stupidly-timed bomb throw and gasp in awe at the ripple effect on the new Rainbow Road.

Above: Oh, Giant Toad, thank goodness you're only a balloon. I don't think I could handle real Giant Toad

The game is split into eight cups, each with four circuits. As is becoming tradition, the top four contain exclusively new courses, with the lower four cups containing retro classics. But they're more than straight ports. I mentioned the new sections underwater, but they're also augmented by the new flying ability. It only triggers when you hit key ramps, but there's plenty of time to be made up from flying well. Needless to say, the flight physics are as good as in Pilotwings Resort.

Above: I know the '2D image of a 3D game' disclaimer is annoying, but this bit is amazing in 3D

Best of all, the flight and underwater racing are underplayed and don't feel gimmicky, which is something you couldn't say of recent Mario Karts. There's only one character in each kart here, unlike Double Dash. There are no bikes, which is Mario Kart Wii out of the window. Gone too is the emphasis on stunts (though as the video on the previous page shows, a few remain), replaced with clean, simple driving. It puts the Kart back into Mario Kart.

You can upgrade your ride with new body shapes, wheels and glider attachments as you unlock them (by collecting the coins that litter the track), but at the end of the day, they're still just karts. Perfect.

Above: For some reason, bigger wheels seem to equal faster top speed. Snuh?

Weapons-wise, there are a few noteworthy additions. There's a super-rare "7" that appears on the spinner that gives you seven weapons all at once. You feel uber-powerful while these are swirling around you, and you start spouting fire, throwing off shells and turning invincible, all at the same time.

Above: Don't let her princess-perfect looks fool you - Peach is armed to the teeth right now

Fire? Yes, the fire flower is in too, giving you a limited time to throw as many fireballs as you like. The golden mushroom returns to grant you several speed boosts in a row if you're struggling, and I'll never tire of seeing Bullet Bill fire me clear past the mid-field and up to the leaders. Green shells and red shells are familiar, and while there's no ghost to steal items from your mates, you will see the old inky splodge several times every race.

But the best power up is the tanooki tail. Mario's gone tail-crazy of late, but seeing a tail appear on your kart, waving around in gloriously animated 3D, is a real "I love this game" moment. You use it to attack your opponents like a furry baseball bat - even to deflect incoming shells.

Above: "Hey, get-a off of my tail!" Or so he seemed to say

While all of this is happening, the music is reacting to your game. You still get the classic "final lap" fanfare, but it's the more subtle touches that make the experience so enjoyable. Going underwater pulls the old trick of muffling and muting some of the instruments to give you an underwater filter of the theme you're listening to. The same goes for flying, as the music falls away and you instead hear the whoosh of the wind through your hair.

Bad points? What's supposed to go in this bit?

There doesn't seem to actually be an options screen, which means (unless there's some weird button combination in the manual that we didn't receive), you can't delete your save game once you've started. Apart from that… it would have been nice to have even more tracks, but if you don't enjoy the ones there are enough to happily play them again, there's A) something wrong with you and B) a good chance you just don't like Nintendo games.

Above: Luigi's Mansion returns from the DS game, only with ramps for hang-gliding

As a gamer who grew up hating Nintendo, it's quite a personal revelation to love one of its games as much as this. But I'm on board with everything the game is trying to do. Sure, all the tricks here have been done before and the core of the game is the same as it's always been. But yet again, it's been packaged and delivered in a way that makes it feel fresh.

It's a cast of likeable, cartoony characters getting powered up by magic boxes and enchanted flowers, then doing things that simply can't be done in real life, like drive under the feet of a stamping dinosaur or race down the keys of a keyboard while a graphic equaliser pumps out bright colours all over the walls. When other companies try the kart racer formula, it often feels tired and cheap. This feels fresh and deluxe.

Above: Know what I wish I was doing instead of captioning this picture? Playing Mario Kart 7

Better still, it doesn't resort to ridiculous motion control steering or touch screen selection of weapons. You play it with the buttons and analogue stick (though, surprisingly, not the d-pad, which instead just switches between 3rd person and 1st-person camera modes), like you have done for forever. With go, stop, fire and jump buttons, it's easy enough that anyone can play it. Instantly enjoyable, infinitely accessible but as deep as you want to make it.

Above: Want to go ultra-hardcore? Strive for faster laps - you'll be amazed how much faster you can go

This really should have been a launch game, no question. But it's here now, and must surely mark a turning point for the system. Mario Kart 7 sets the graphical bar so high, it doesn't even look like a 3DS game, which means everyone else has a new standard to follow. Suddenly the platform feels new again. 

Is it better than…

Mario Kart Wii? Yes. There are no balancing issues and somehow the team has managed to take 80% of the frustration out of the game. Graphically, the two are pretty much identical in terms of quality, but Wii can't do that incredible 3D effect, making this the best-looking Mario Kart ever.
     


      

Ridge Racer 3D? Yes. No technical troubles, no dubious cornering mechanics, and vastly superior presentation (and gameplay) makes Mario Kart 7 the clear choice for your racing fix on 3DS. Oh, and even if you like sims, you'll still enjoy this more than F1 2011 on 3DS. But that's another story
        

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing? Yes. I do maintain that SASASR is a fine example of the genre, let down only by some frame rate issues and unoriginal weapons and power-ups. But the cast is strong in each, the levels are suitable larger-than-life, and the drift mechanic is great in Sumo's effort. However, Mario Kart just exudes effortless quality, AND it's handheld. Nuff said, really.

For those who skipped straight to the end

Mario Kart 7 is THE game the 3DS has been in dire need of. Sadly, it raises the bar so high for almost everything else, most 3DS games don't even look like they belong on the same system. Get it now.

More Info

Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Racing
Franchise: Mario

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111 comments

  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - July 16, 2012 7:23 p.m.

    I recently just got the game, and while I really enjoyed it, I did notice some major flaws between Mario Kart DS and 7. First of all, you can no longer just pick a track and play that one, you have to play the whole Grand Prix. Balloon Battle is nowhere near as good as it was on the DS, while the maps are still good, you were able to set a score limit/time limit, and you're unable to do that. There's also a surprising lack of characters. My favorite on the DS was Dry Bones, and he's not in this game, neither is Wario, (another of my favorites) WaLuigi, and Daisy. Probably my biggest problem, however, is the absence of missions. I loved those in Mario Kart DS, and the lack of them in 7 is very disappointing. These might not seem like very big issues, but if I were reviewing the game, I definitly would not give it a perfect score.
  • jdoggie0837 - February 10, 2012 6:16 p.m.

    4 words ALL CUP TOUR MODE
  • SparkleDevon - January 1, 2012 8:59 p.m.

    Like: Hang Gliding, Wuhu Island Levels, customizable online communities, beautiful 3D, smooth framerate. Dislike: Loss of Mario Kart DS Balloon Battle Mechanics, shortness of a round in battle, lack of Missions, lack of Missions. Sidenote: I saw snaking as more of a technique in Mario Kart DS, not a game-breaking flaw. Even Staff Ghosts used it, and it is pretty simple to learn. I wish they left it in. :(
  • SteelCity - December 13, 2011 11:23 p.m.

    Seriously, a ten? All Nintendo has to do is keep on making the same old, tired games. (Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, Super Smash Brothers) These games do not look or play much differently than the N64 versions. (only difference online, and 3D gimmick) They keep re-hashing the same games over and over, but Nintendo fanboys keep eating it up and dishing out their hard earned money. If any other franchise makes more than a couple of sequels to an awesome game people say oh, its getting old, time for a new idea. With Nintendo's games, it doesn't seem to matter to you people if it is the 52th time "saving Princess Peach", it's not a re-hash it's "classic". I have heard from many Nintendo fans asking for more games to play on their systems and innovative games on their systems. You will not get the number of great games or the new innovative games on Nintendo's systems if you keep buying re-hash after re-hash like it is the best thing since sliced bread.
  • OHMYGODIMONFIRE - December 25, 2011 6:10 p.m.

    if it ain't broke don't fix it
  • shawksta - January 4, 2012 12:23 a.m.

    Maybe because its still good? If they truly were rehashes, dont you think it wouldve died already? It would, but did it? No, you need to learn your Sh*t about Gaming before opening your Dirty Mouth.
  • brickman409 - January 16, 2012 2:25 p.m.

    true, but nintendo makes a lot of consoles, theres just one game in a series per console(except mario galaxy). not a lot compared to others I mean Microsoft only has 2 consoles and look at how many halo games are already out and theres one more on the way! If microsoft keeps making this many games per console in 20 years we'll be playing halo 40!
  • Schonberg - December 5, 2011 3:40 p.m.

    OK, I know I might get some flak for this, but I want to give an honest opinion. The game looks amazing. It is great, it fixed the flaws of the near-perfect DS version. I am so excited for it. However, 1 thing annoys me about the game. The characters. Now, I do like all of the classic characters, and Shy Guy's upgrade to a full character. But honestly, quite a few characters from previous games were cut. I enjoyed racing as Dry Bones and King Boo in the past. I was especially perturbed by the lack of (PREPARE THE FLAME SHIELDS) Waluigi. I know pretty much everyone except me hates the guy, but he's been a Mario Spinoff Staple for over a decade now, and to see him replaced by Wiggler, Metal Mario, and the Honey Queen (Seriously, what the hell was with the Honey Queen) made me feel bad inside. Not that this will stop me from buying it, the rest of the game looks pretty much perfect.
  • needles - November 30, 2011 11:36 a.m.

    What's up with the Gameboy Color graphics? I think you should give this one a pass.
  • shawksta - November 30, 2011 11:58 a.m.

    Your STILL Trolling? Dude, quit it, your making a fool of yourself!
  • needles - November 30, 2011 12:28 p.m.

    What? I'm just saying the graphics look all blocky and ugly is all. Why do you think all those army guys enlisted and got their balls blown off in the Middle east for? To preserve the first amendment...and the amendment about bearing fully automatic assault rifles with grendade launcher attachment and extended magazines. You know for protection and hunting.
  • SveedishFeesh - November 30, 2011 1:13 p.m.

    If we've got past the point of where you're trolling and this is actually your honest opinion, that's fine. But you still seem REALLY un-informed, regarding both possible options.
  • shawksta - November 30, 2011 1:21 p.m.

    "Why do you think all those army guys enlisted and got their balls blown off in the Middle east for? To preserve the first amendment...and the amendment about bearing fully automatic assault rifles with grendade launcher attachment and extended magazines. You know for protection and hunting." What the hell does that have to do with Mario Kart's looks? The pictures are blocky because their expanded to be bigger, otherwise they look awesome up close on a 3DS.
  • needles - November 30, 2011 2:26 p.m.

    Oh so it looks better when looking at it on a small screen? Makes sense. It's still has frumpy graphics.
  • SveedishFeesh - November 30, 2011 4:03 p.m.

    How would you know, failure troll? It doesn't come out until; Sunday. Point is, we all know you're trolling, much a less, a horrible fucking job at it.
  • needles - December 1, 2011 11:12 a.m.

    I'm just saying the grafics are not very good from the pictures I'm seeing. Have you heard of MW3? It's the shizzle my nizzle. Multiplayer. Not the campaign. I played about 20 minutes of the campaign and threw up.
  • SveedishFeesh - December 1, 2011 3:39 p.m.

    Bro. I. Play. MW3. Too. But sometimes, it's nice to take a break from the holy-fuck-I'm-gonna-get-shot-run-quickly-bdfbdf moments. And besides, is there something WRONG with nostalgia?
  • needles - December 1, 2011 3:52 p.m.

    True that. I like mixing it up with something other than military shooters. But their is something so childlike and nerdy about the mario and nintendo thing that really makes me embarassed to be a gamer. If I tell someone that doesnt game that I occasionally (23hours a day) partake in video games the only thing they are thinking is that I'm some virgin that lives in my mothers basement and eats slimjims and mountain dew all day. You aint getting laid telling chicks your still playing mario. At least Mw2 is something that is considered mature.
  • SveedishFeesh - December 1, 2011 6:49 p.m.

    Oh yeah, and MW2 is what made a bunch of high school whores think that they're "gamers" because they "play it". If you were serious, I'd tell you that any girl who had half a brain wouldn't give a shit what you played. But you're not. You're a troll. A horrible one.
  • jennyleezy - December 1, 2011 7:18 p.m.

    dude, you win the award for the most fucked up troll ever. Oh I'm hell sure talking about your loadouts and K:D ratio is NOT FUCKING NERDY AT ALL. You ain't getting laid with that attitude of yours.

Showing 1-20 of 111 comments

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