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.
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.