The thought of a Nintendo system without a Mario Kart is like Happy Days without The Fonz, Cheech without Chong or, err, PJ without Duncan. In fact, since Super Mario Kart first debuted on the SNES all those years ago, the only platform to not receive its own iteration was the ill-fated Virtual Boy, so intrinsic to the success of the Japanese giant’s ambitions has the arcade racer become.
Mario Kart 7 signals the 3DS’ turn, as Nintendo look to bring another of their big boys to the 3D party. A cross between Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart DS, MK7 retains the Wii versions motion controls – albeit with mixed results – while continuing the tradition of featuring retro tracks from previous games. Added into the mix are brand new – and slightly gimmicky – hang gliders, sub-aqua sections, the fire flower and Tanooki tail power ups and a couple of new racers.
Upon start up it’s the vividness of the colour which is most striking, the kaleidoscopic psychedelia assailing the player from all directions as the added 3D effect combines with sounds and visuals. In fact rarely has the series looked so good, this version pushing the Wii and GameCube outings in terms of detail on screen. The new Donkey Kong-themed track for example sees frogs and more leaping out of – or rather into – your way, while tours through the industrial Koopa City (now where’s that in the rest of Mario-lore?) and Rainbow Road are enough to make you go cross-eyed.
In some ways it’s hard to see MK7 as its own game, so steeped in history is everything from the boost-heavy handling and bonus items to the use of coins for the first time in a long time – used here to not only make your kart go faster but to unlock new wheels and chassis, etc. Then there’s the series of retro tracks, though retro here does tend to mean Wii and DS versions which for us is barely retro enough. That said, recreations of the Daisy Cruiser and Waluigi’s Pinball tracks do make for rather lovely 3D shenanigans.
Through the eyes of a veteran I could point out a series of flaws. The difficulty for one is on the low side, with only the 150cc mode posing any serious challenge – and even then one conquered reasonably quickly. Then there’s the use of blue shell as the great leveller, deployed whenever you’re pulling away from the pack to devastating and frustrating effect. There’s also the superficial feel to hang gliders and underwater sections, whose actual useage is largely one of cosmetics.
Despite those criticisms, perhaps all that really matters is that the game retains the series’ sense of fun; Nintendo having understandable catered to the diverse audience created by Mario Kart Wii’s wholesale popularity. Who can blame the publisher for creating a version which allows those newly acquired fans to seamlessly jump the gap between home console and handheld? Doesn’t it make perfect sense that this Mario Kart delivers all that its Wii brother does without rocking the boat or overly hindering progress?
That said the multiplayer side of things ratchets up the challenge immeasurably providing your friends have the skills, or if you’re fortunate enough to come across equally matched racers online. While being race leader is still almost a disadvantage – yes Mr. Blue shell, I’m looking at you – multiplayer is, as ever, a blast and, so far, largely lag free.
Ultimately you’re buying Mario Kart 7 knowing exactly what to expect, it’s the best racer of its ilk, it’s completely predictable, but it’ll serve to make journeys fly-by.