Mario Kart 7 preview hands-on with online multiplayer

In case you missed our last hands-on preview, we covered the racing side of Mario Kart 7. New tracks like Cheap Cheap Lagoon, Shy Guy Bazaar and Toad Circuit were introduced as well as some old classics from previous Mario Kart games like Koopa Beach, Mario Circuit 2, and Waluigi’s Pinball. With this one we’ll concentrate on battle modes and online features.

We started off with the balloon battles, playing some familiar arenas like Sherbet Rink, Wuhu Town, and Palm Shore. Balloon battles come standard in the Mario Kart series, and are seen once more in Mario Kart 7. For newcomers to the Mario Kart series, Balloon Battles take place in arenas and players are given three balloons on the backs of their go karts. A timer goes up and you then drive around trying to hit other players with items from question marked blocks placed throughout the arena, causing them to lose a balloon each time they’re hit. The good thing is that if you lose all your balloons, you won’t be eliminated entirely; it’s more about how many times you hit opponents to get more points. The winner is the player who popped the most opponent’s balloons during battle.

Among other things in Mario Kart 7, Coin Runners will also be making a comeback. Just like in the balloon battles, these can also be played one on one; however these are more concentrated on getting the most coins (which are limited) that are placed around the stage. Don’t worry, there are still blocks you can get items from to hit other players, causing them to lose all their coins. The player with the most coins by the end of the level wins.

Both Balloon Battles and Coin Runners, like regular races, will have arenas that include speed ramps to catch some air and use your glider on your car. You can use these to cut across the arena, or if you want to dodge an enemy that’s on your tail. Some arenas do have hazards to look out for, like lava you can easily fall into if you’re not careful. If you do happen to fall into these and die, if playing a Coin Runner, you’ll lose all your coins you have. Some newer items that you can use in battle are the fire flower, which allows you to shoot fireballs at opponents, and the leaf, which gives you a raccoon like tail on the back of your kart, allowing you to hit other players if you get close enough to them or more importantly to deflect blue or red shells that are coming your way.

Online multiplayer was touched on lightly in our last time around with Mario Kart 7. This time, we got more details on this newest feature for the series. Like the Wii channel, Mario Kart will have a Mario Kart Channel, providing players with new info found with Street Pass.

Another added feature is being able to create groups of friends’ circles, called Communities. Though not meant to be exclusive, they’re more of a way to play with other like-minded racers you’ve played online with. Street Pass also plays a big part with building your community as well. Once you’ve synced with someone, you can see which community they’ve played in last, in case you want to join (along with other stats like their number of wins/loses and coin data). You can also select their ghost data on your Street Pass list and race an AI version of them in single player mode that's based on the player's stats. Spot Passes will also be available every day and you’ll be able to have a race with up to 7 different ghosts.

Before we left Nintendo, we decided to give the racing a try just for kicks. Apart from almost everyone choosing Toad as their driver, we got to play on some familiar tracks like the snowy Sherbet Land and Bowser’s Castle. Our final race was a real treat though, held on the classic and colorful Rainbow Road.

As more and more racing games acquire multiplayer and online capabilities Mario Kart 7 is fitting in pretty well and definitely puts its own spin on it. With what we’ve seen up until now, it looks like Mario Kart 7 is on the right path to becoming more than just a clone of past Mario Kart games.