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.
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.
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