Review in Brief
Game: Another handheld instalment into the Mario Kart franchise, this game takes some great leaps in certain aspects, and stumbles in other efforts.
Play Time: 5-10 Hours of offline, nearly unlimited online play.
Good: Great course variety, engaging online play, catchy musical score, addition of gliding, and subtle graphics.
Bad: Lack of content; no single player VS, disappointing roster, removal of certain online features.
Verdict: One of the best Mario Kart games to date with great innovations in gameplay, yet a lackluster effort in sheer content leaves something to be desired.
Recommendation: A great addition to your 3DS game collection IF you can play online, or with local friends. Otherwise (unless you're a die-hard Mario Kart fan), you shouldn't buy it.
Wow, the 7th Installment! By videogame standards, that's impressive. The Mario Kart franchise has been a staple of Nintendo since arguably the Nintendo 64, and with each subsequent game has come more success and popularity. The videogame series as a whole has sold well over 40 million copies, and such success is highlighted by Mario Kart 7's immediate predecessor, Mario Kart Wii. Chances are that most of you have played this critically acclaimed and financially successful series. If not I'll give you the basic rundown of the game: Mario and Company decided that they needed to settle their differences by racing with Go-Karts, so a whole bunch of them got together and constructed large, obstacle-ridden race courses that represent many of said characters. They race in groups of 8, and use items to attack other racers so they can get first. Further gameplay mechanics and such will be discussed later. Without further adieu:
Most of you are probably wondering, "What's substance?" Well, I invented this category to encompass the characters, courses, and items which are vitally important to Mario Kart; the game utilizes such content to create interesting gameplay. I believe that the main content of Mario Kart 7 warrants its own category, with its own analysis. Substance will simply focus on the quality of the content, and its overall "balance," not on how it affects gameplay.
Mario Kart 7 comes equipped with 16 new courses, of which 4 are astounding, another 8 are great, 2 are average, and the last 2 are mediocre. Overall, this is the best set of new tracks out of all previous Mario Kart titles. They are innovative and engaging, and while many of them are easy to drive (with the notable exceptions of Rainbow Road and Bowser's Castle), they have many subtle intricacies that keep the game interesting. Even after playing the tracks multiple times, you can still discover new shortcuts and better ways to drive the course. Certain tracks are also precariously dangerous, and shortcuts can be especially punishing. Even experienced drivers can be challenged by this set of tracks. [9.5/10]
The 16 retro courses are dull in comparison to the new tracks. The developers chose tracks from previous Mario Karts that they thought would best demonstrate some of the new mechanics within the game, but some choices were questionable at best. Many of the changes feel forced and clunky for most of the tracks; however, there are a notable few that are classy and nostalgic with their updates. Overall, the retro courses are a mixed bag; some courses have been ripped to shreds in Mario Kart 7, and others have had new life breathed into them.[5.5/10]
The characters that made it into Mario Kart 7 were few and far between, which is disappointing for a follow-up to a game with 24 characters. It's not as if the 3DS could not handle extra characters, but rather Nintendo decided not to put them in. However, said reductions are not game-changing, and characters should not define a game. The characters in Mario Kart 7 are a motley bunch that represent forced picks (Mario), pleasant choices (Shy Guy), and questionable choices (Honey Queen). Some characters are downright annoying though, and can detract from the game: the male Mii character sounds like a dying Yoshi, and can get cumbersome to play as, and play with. [5/10]
Another category that Nintendo made strides in was the item choices. Mario Kart 7 axed terrible items (thunderclouds from Mario Kart Wii), added some interesting items (the fire flower and tanooki tail), and failed to add some great items (the Boo from Mario Kart 64, and Mega Mushroom from Mario Kart Wii). The only truly bad decisions were the removal of the Fake Item Block, and the addition of the truly broken "Lucky 7" item. However, the items in the game come together to create one of the more balanced Mario Karts to date. 1st place only has to worry about the dreaded blue shell which actually isn't that bad, and red shells which are practically impossible to "wall" or break using the corners of the track. Last place also isn't handed a free pass to 1st, though it is easy to move back up the ranks if items are used correctly. Overall, items make a strong performance in Mario Kart 7. [8/10]
The gameplay is what made Mario Kart famous. While racing in the Indy 500 for 500 laps in a videogame would get quite dull, Mario Kart focuses on the creativity of its courses to enhance the gameplay. Gameplay encompasses how the substance above comes together to boast a great experience, and how the specific mechanics fare.
The most important part of Mario Kart is the racing itself, and Mario Kart 7 delivers. While racing, the dual screens give you two different views of the course: an actual view of what's in front of you, and a small layout of the course with the placements of the racers, and what items they are holding. While the bottom screen with the layout is useful, it doesn't depict certain obstacles (such as the pinballs on DS Waluigi Pinball). Such detail is necessary so that the pinballs don't come up behind you, and bowl you over. The removal of the rearview only exacerbates this problem; there is no way to see behind you. Button placements aren't awkward and don't feel forced, though they do take some getting used to. Also, prolonged use can hurt the hands if the 3DS isn't held correctly. The layout of the buttons and screens is good but not great. [7/10]
The actual racing is amazing to say the least. The tracks and items are interesting enough to keep the game fast-paced and exhilarating. The placements are dynamic and fluid, and 1st place can't expect to keep their 1st, and last shouldn't expect to stay last. Overall, the game can give a feel of adrenaline, especially in the fastest setting (150cc). [9/10]
Mechanics in Mario Kart 7 are a mixed bag. Of course, Nintendo errs on the side of fantasy with the additions of underwater racing segments, and gliding monster trucks, but the gameplay mechanics themselves range from not-so-good to great. The great encompasses the addition of gliding which feels like it should have been added years ago in the Mario Kart series. Underwater segments fall somewhere in the middle; while they are fun to drive in with their overexaggerated physics, driving underwater is just plain slow, and should be avoided at all costs. Item hits are exaggerated in certain instance (did that blue shell really make me roll over the barrier into the lava?) and underexaggerated in other instances (seriously, that bomb only made him spin around once!). But the racing physics are Nintendo-esque; they are captivating and intriguing, but not always good. Overall, they leave you feeling in the middle. [6.5/10]
Nintendo has retained the same 3 modes that have defined its series: Grand Prix, Time Trials, and Battle Mode. Grand Prix are stellar, as always. They combine different courses, and get progressively difficult. Of course, Nintendo still has not taken the time to add more Grand Prix which is disappointing, but acceptable. Time Trials is especially good this time, with the ability to SpotPass with other people. After exchanging ghost data, you can race with 7 predetermined ghosts (with a similar time as you), or race with individual ghosts. This feature makes Time Trials much more engaging and interesting. Battle has been returned to a Free-for-All, which is a great revision regarding Mario Kart Wii's mediocre battling system. You can still battle with teams, though online play is FFA regardless. The lack of other modes is disappointing though; a Mission Mode, or story mode would have been a great addition. [8/10]
Finally, the dreaded rubberbanding AI makes its return. While 50cc is a joke, 150cc can be infuriating with the CPU making inhuman shots, getting ridiculous item luck, and just plain cheating. However that isn't all bad; with a smarter AI, Mario Kart 7 is one of the most difficult Mario Karts to date, especially on 150cc. It can be quite a feat to pull off a perfect 40 in the 150cc cups, partly because the CPU is so good. The AI can hit you with a green from miles away. It can take sophisticated shortcuts. However, it's also what the AI does when you're not exactly paying attention that makes the game annoying. While you're cruising in 1st, the CPU behind you in 2nd can repeatedly get reds and fling them at you. The CPU in 2nd may even slow down (if it doesn't have a red) to let his buddy in third throw reds at you. Also, the AI targets you specifically; that CPU in 5th will chase after you with a star. It is also inclined to target you while you're down. Finally, the AI rubberbands, which is a fancy term to say that it makes the CPUs behind you go faster than is actually possible to catch up to you and make the game "interesting." This also does work in reverse; if you're dragging up the back of the pack, the CPUs in front of you will slow down for you. This can lead to infuriating losses, and surprising wins. Overall, the offline gameplay is a mixture of really bad and really good, though the bads often outweigh the goods. [6.5/10]
Ok, so Nintendo is not famous for its graphics. In fact, I believe Nintendo couldn't care less about graphics, but for a Nintendo game on a Nintendo console Mario Kart offers graphics that are pretty amazing.
Mario Kart 7's graphics are nice and polished. Nothing distracting, nothing outstanding. The background is wonderful eye candy, though you won't be admiring the scenery while you're driving for your life in some of these tracks. The characters' sprites have depth, and react to the changing environment (whether you're losing or winning). The 3D is a mixed bag, though. On one hand, it highlights the polished graphics, and can be subtly pleasant. The 3D is also very distracting when held at the wrong angle, and the wrong angles are far more numerous than the right angles. If you want the 3D, you have to play with the game exactly 6-12" directly in front of your face. If not held at this angle, the game gets very blurry, and at points, impossible to see. It can be very distracting moving your 3DS back into the promise range while racing, since your hand move subconsciously to a more comfortable position. Playing Mario Kart 7 requires all your attention because you can't do anything else but hold it directly in front of you. Of course, you can always play without the 3D, which easily deals with this problem. Overall, the graphics are great for the 3DS, but the 3D itself can be distracting. [8/10]
In Mario Kart, sound really only comes into effect while racing. There is an overall song that is unique to each track. The musical score, however, is accompanied by sound effects of items hitting and character interjections.
The musical score is quite good. None of the track's songs are repulsive, though some may get on your nerves eventually. At certain points, it sounds like the composer told all the instruments to play at once on Daisy Hills. However, these exceptions are few and far between; new courses offer a wide variety of upbeat, happy tunes to soothing, elegant scores. There are no tracks with distracting or out-of-place tunes. The character interjections are annoying in general, but the other sound effects are fluid, and are nice touches. [8.5/10]
Another category that Nintendo has been...lacking, to say the least. Mario Kart Wii excelled in respect to other Wii games with its functional and playable online gaming. Mario Kart 7 offers many new features such as communities and StreetPass and SpotPass features.
The online is relatively lag-free and the competition is challenging. You are paired up with people who are at a similar ranking according to your versus rating. However, the gauge through which the versus rating is determined by is disappointing at best. Your versus rating (VR) can only go up unless you get last, and the rate at which it goes up is constant. This means that even if you beat 7 other more experienced players that are supposedly "better" than you, you would earn the same amount of points playing against 7 less experienced players. This fixed system drags out the process by which the rating goes up. Nintendo is almost scamming you to keep you playing to get from the starting VR (1000) to the highest VR (rumored to be 99999). Also the battle rating was completely eliminated, so VR is used for everything. Even if someone is absolutely terrible at battle, they can have an amazing rating due to their racing skills. However, the addition of customizable communities is welcome. Perhaps the best addition is the "Friends/Opponents" tab which includes all people that you have played with. You can join that room you just got disconnected from, or play the pro you've been hoping to play with. Overall, the online is great for actual racing, but mediocre regarding any actual rating system. The online itself is amazing for replayability; you can keep playing Mario Kart for years to come if you have the right community. [8/10]
All in all, Mario Kart 7 is a great game that has some detracting factors, but nevertheless maintains an entertaining environment. It is definitely one of the better titles for the 3DS thus far, and is worth the $40 to buy it. If you're worried about some of the mechanics, borrow it from a friend, but don't let this great Mario Kart installment pass you by!
FINAL SCORE: 8/10