There are many people on the internet who would look at a review of Mario Kart 7 and immediately ask “Why do people need a review of Mario Kart? It never changes!”
Those people would be wrong in the case of 7.
There are usually some small tweaks that occur from Mario Kart to Mario Kart, but they’re really never massive (besides the ill-advised double drivers in Double Dash and the awesome addition of bikes in Mario Kart Wii) and they usually never really affect the gameplay that much. Nintendo added customizable karts, hang gliders, and propellers to the usual kart based racing formula, but also changed around how courses work with the inclusion of rally races and even changed up the balance of items by trimming some of the fat and adding some really spectacular new items.
The karts are really the main focus of the tweaking in this game. Now you have a choice of different chassies, wheels, and hang gliders to mix-and-match in order to find your personal kart to complement your play style (my kart is made up of the B Dasher, Standard Wheels, and the Super Glider, all of which help me to make my car fast but with decent acceleration, but is a drifting monster). This works considerably better than just picking a pre-made kart from a list mostly due to the fact that Nintendo doesn’t have to make 50 karts with slight modifications in order to accommodate as many people as possible, they can just make a bunch of parts that when combined can make more karts than Nintendo ever would have made on their own. You get these parts by picking up the coins on the racetracks, which is something that has not existed since Super Mario Kart, and like Super Mario Kart, when you collect 10 coins the top speed of your kart is enhanced. You lose coins when you’re hit by items, but there are always more on the tracks.
Unfortunately for me, the bikes from Mario Kart Wii did not return, but with the inclusion of customizable karts, it’s something that I can forgive. There’s always Mario Kart Wii U for them to make a return.
Speaking of items, there’s been a bit of a shift. Fake Item boxes were removed from the game (which I love, as they have never really served much of a purpose) along with Mega Mushrooms, POW Blocks, and Thunderclouds. In their place, Fire Flowers, the Super Leaf, and Lucky 7 have been inserted into the item blocks. Fire Flowers allow you to shoot out fireballs for a set period of time that bounce all over the place and if one of them hits an opponent, they drop a coin. The Super Leaf puts a Tanooki tail on the kart that works like a shield, but unlike the Super Star, the Super Leaf’s Tanooki tail has to be activated. When it is, it spins the tail around you once and can destroy an item or hit opponents. The Lucky 7 is the biggest item in the game and works kind of like the Special Items in Double Dash, but instead of giving each racer set an individual item, it gives them a green shell, red shell, a banana, mushroom, Super Star, Blooper, and a Bob-omb that all rotate around the racer and can use them at will. It’s a very rare item, but when you get it, it can change the course of the race.
Unlike other Mario Kart games, the AI in the game does not flat out cheat. In previous installments in the series, if you got really far ahead, it was inevitable that you would be hit by multiple Blue Shells and Lightning Bolts until you lose the race in fourth place. This doesn’t really happen too much in Mario Kart 7 (much to my enjoyment). Instead of the other racers inevitably getting whatever item they need, Nintendo actually seems to have boosted their intelligence and race skills. This makes the game much more fair and much more enjoyable, as instead of getting frustrated when the game intentionally screws you over and costs you the race, you can get frustrated when the game beats you because you just aren’t good enough (which is my problem with 3 star-ing all of the 150 CC cups and beating Mirror Mode).
The new tracks in the game are some of the best in the series. Like all of the games since Mario Kart DS, the game is divided between 16 new cups and 16 cups returning from previous games. Now there is another subdivision between the tracks: the standard 3-lap tracks and some new 1-lap, super long, rally race style tracks. These rally race tracks are amazing, tracks like Wuhu Loop, Maka Wuhu, and the new Rainbow Road really help to break up the usual formula of the Mario Kart games and has ended up making some really interesting and fun tracks. Another thing that has broken up the formula is the inclusion of propellers and hanggliders. The hanggliders are activated by going off a blue jump, and through some skill and air vent boosts, you can actually use the hanggliders to glide over the other racers. The propellers are activated when you enter water and don’t really change the game like the hanggliders do, but your kart does end up handling considerably looser than it would normally.
Character weight classes are now divided up between 5 different classes: feather, light, medium, cruiser, and heavy and the pre-existing and new characters have been shifted around. The stat breakdown between characters has been streamlined in that instead of each character having 1 individual stat boost along with the division of stats between weight classes, it’s now just the weight class. The addition of the two extra weight classes is something I personally enjoy as I usually end up racing as heavy class characters, but I really don’t like their inherent stats, so with the inclusion of the Cruiser class and the customizable karts, the game is more customizable than it has ever been. That being said, while there are a number of new characters (Metal Mario, Shy Guy, Wiggler, Honey Queen, and Lakitu), a number of characters did not return for this installment. Characters like Waluigi, King Boo (my personal favourite besides Rosalina, Metal Mario, and Mii), and even Diddy Kong were not brought back. It’s odd that some really well known and loved (well, not in Waluigi’s case) were not brought back, but it’s something that just happens with series that have gone on for this long and with such large character lists.
The graphics in the game are amazing. Everything is crisp and colourful and there are even some special effects on the tracks, such as falling cherry blossoms on the new Mario Circuit. Like Super Mario 3D Land, this game is one that definitely should be played with the 3D on. Seeing the actual depth between you and the racer in front of you is something that can help your game exceptionally well, and having the Blooper’s ink actually fly out and hit the closest level is pretty cool. There is also a new first person mode that places you in the kart and allows you to control the kart through the 3DS’ gyroscope. It works surprisingly well, especially when compared to the Wii Wheel in Mario Kart Wii.
People have been saying that with the 3DS, Nintendo has finally figured out online play, and there is no game that has shown off their new online prowess like Mario Kart 7. The online play is as smooth as butter and has both racing and battle modes to play against people all over the world. The track selection is done by a randomized process where each racer chooses the course they want to race on and the game chooses a course out of the choices. The system works well and being able to play Mario Kart against people when ever you want is awesome. The game also uses StreetPass in a fun way by allowing you to make your own Grand Prix out of the available courses and send it to people where they can race against their Mii.
Mario Kart 7 is easily the best modern Mario Kart game (I still contend that Mario Kart Super Circuit is the best). It’s a massive step forward in the series that seems to continuously get better with each installment (excluding a few small missteps along the way) and shows that Nintendo still has it when it comes to making games that are both familiar, but still feel exceptionally new and fun. This is easily the best game on the 3DS right now and is definitely a system seller. Be sure to play this game, it’s one of the best of 2011.