Mario Kart 7 hands-on preview: Multiplayer on tracks both old and new

Nintendo made a strange and rather gutsy choice naming it 3DS racer Mario Kart 7. It's the first numbered entry in the series and serves as a reminder that people have played games similar to it six times before. However, it also shows Nintendo's faith in one of its highest-selling franchises, as the number reflects almost 20 years of success, a trend the publisher intends to continue on its somewhat troubled handheld. We recently took Mario Kart 7 for a few dozen laps and can say that tradition of quality seems to be continuing.

If you don't know already, Mario Kart 7 has a few new rules you need to get used to. Most courses have launchers that give you a chance to hang glide for as long as it's strategically valuable, with underwater sections adding to the variety as well. The concept of collecting coins to increase your base speed is back too, and you lose coins for taking a hit, making items more dangerous than ever. In our short time with it these new rules succeeded in making the traditional Kart experience more exciting.

Our first race was in the 50cc Mushroom Cup, which introduced us to our first set of new tracks. We started on the very standard raceway of the Toad Circuit, remarkable mostly for the creepy/cute giant Toad balloons. Daisy Hills is a sunny speedway with bumpy wooden bridges and hot air balloons. Cheep Cheep Lagoon was a nice introduction to the underwater mechanic and was filled with its fishy namesake. And finally, Shy Guy Bazaar closed the Mushroom Cup with a dimly lit Super Mario 2 inspired course that had a very Arabian nights feel to it.

The next set of original tracks, the Flower Cup, began with the Wuhu Loop that took place on the Mii's home island and a giant bridge as the centerpiece. Next came Mario Circuit, which was more pastoral than expected, including falling cherry blossom leaves. Music Park (our favorite of the day) followed that with giant musical notes and a melodic patch of road over with humongous piano keys. Rock Rock Mountain finished the race with sharp turns and one very steep incline up said mountain.

After those races we got to enjoy the classic tracks in the Banana and Shell Cups. We loved returning to Waluigi Pinball (DS), Mario Circuit 2 (SNES), and Koopa Beach (N64). For Mario Kart veterans each course fit like an old glove, with each turn and item placement immediately familiar, only now they looked better than ever and implement the small updates found in this 3D entry. Though there was a definite lack of Double Dash tracks in what we saw, though there are tracks we’ve yet to see, and the Nintendo reps told us about half were new.

Both tracks old and new were great fun to play and reminded us why we’ve given so many hours to the series, and Kart still has some new tricks. When we were introduced the new first-person mode, we were a little hesistant (and you probably are too after rolling your eyes at this steering wheel), but we changed our minds pretty quickly. When in first person you can control the kart with the pad or gyro controls, and even though you can’t see the whole kart, important info like who’s behind you and blue sparks are communicated well. We’re not sure how much we’ll use it in the final game, but it’s not as gimmicky as we feared.

We also got introduced to the games online and Wi-Fi capabilities. Not only can you take your kart online for simple races, but you can also start building a community with online friends, with stat tracking of things like races won and coins collected. You can also exchange that info with StreetPass, should you walk by another player, and there’s even plan to implement SpotPass to share ghost data, including the surely impossible to beat times from Nintendo employees.

We may have come in worried that Mario Kart 7 would be a repeat of the too easy Mario Kart Wii, but it instead reminded us in the best of ways of Mario Kart DS. We’ll wait until the game actually comes out in early December before we feel certain about, but certainly looks like Mario Kart 7 is on the right track.

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.