Back in 1992, Mario took a break from rescuing his beloved princess in order to race her around tracks in his dainty little Kart. Since then, he’s jumped into the hands of millions of gamers, destroying numerous friendships with brilliantly timed red shells. Mario Kart 7 follows the same premise of its older brothers, just with a handful of new additions and gimmicks, so anyone who has spent countless hours behind the steering wheel will feel at home in next to no time.
One of the main new features in this game is the (near) complete customisation of your karts. Before, you could choose which vehicle you wanted to drive and hope that the stats would be enough to win you the race. Now, you can decide on the body, wheels and your glider, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. It allows for a more detailed set up of the race though the differences are only very slight and really, you end up just picking out the coolest looking ride you can to show off to all of your speeding buddies. Whether you prioritise acceleration or handling, with the right amount of concentration on coin-collecting, you can still easily win the cup you’re fighting for. I suppose to the more avid racers amongst you though, this will be a godsend.
That’s just one problem of the game though; there isn’t really much of a challenge presented to you, especially if you’ve raced your way through all seven instalments. You can usually get from last place to first in the matter of one lap as the CPU feel as if they’re little children who have picked up daddy’s noisy machine and are bashing buttons to make funny things happen. So maybe this is only really a problem for the veterans of racing and Nintendo have aimed this game to a wider audience of both casual gamers and the people who dwell in their basement, emerging only to pick up their new package to play, except it’s aimed more so to the people who pick up a controller about once a year, which is always a good thing if you need to entertain your younger relatives for a while.
Another selling point of Mario Kart 7 is the brand new gameplay features. No longer do you just drive along the typical, expected tracks of a racing game, now you can take to the skies or lurk beneath the waves. Although not necessary, it is a nice addition and you can’t help but feel a burst of excitement when you see a blue pad, knowing that in a few seconds, you’ll be gliding like a bird. Then that excitement drops back into reality as you realised that you’re back on the road. Yes, it can give you that all-important edge over your opponents, both in the water and in the sky, but it could have been longer. At the most, you spend about four seconds in these new locations and just as you begin to enjoy the new control style; it drops back into classic racing. It’s a shame if you blink too, because it could be a whole new track before you get launched or make a splash once more. It’s a nice idea but obviously created in order to look new and spectacular to returning players who are weary about forking out £30 for a few new tracks.
Speaking of half-hearted gimmicks, the 3DS allows the player to enter first-person mode and control the kart by tilting the console rather than using the analogue stick. Great! Or not so, as it seems… Remember how the 3D only works if you’re facing it straight on? Apparently Nintendo didn’t, or they’re at least in denial that it does. Sat at the starting line, it all seems flawless and as if a lot of time has been put into this feature, but then you start moving. As soon as you start turning corners, the 3D goes in and out of focus at alarming rates, depending on how much you actually bother to tilt and get immersed in the game. By the end of one race, your head starts pounding and you have to give up, turning it back into just another Mario Kart.
Of course, as well as all of the new ideas based purely on the technology available, Nintendo have made the expected changes such as the addition of new tracks and implementation of the traditional ones, including the dreaded Rainbow Road. In total, there are 32 tracks stretched across eight cups and half of them are never seen before areas. It’s hard to imagine how special a new track really can be, but each of these areas make sure to bring their own little charm along with them, whether that be the constant rain or the feeling of such vast landscapes that you wish with all your heart you could just drive into the horizon to discover a whole new world. The graphics are a large part of this charm and you can tell that they’re really showing off the power of the tiny little lump of plastic in our hands and boy is it powerful. Apart from a few small mistakes such as pixels that aren’t supposed to be there, you could mistake each area for jumping straight out of the bigger brother that is the Wii.
Characters racing around alongside you are all recognisable to every Mario fan, which is important, as well as the feature of bringing your own Mii into the game, making you feel even more like a part of the game as your mini-you bashes into Bowser, knocking him into the endless abyss. There are 16 playable characters overall, including new drivers such as Lakitu, which doesn’t quite work when you’re counting yourself down to the start of the race. What? My mind hurts. In true karting fashion, these aren’t all available from the word go and you have to work hard in order to get the complete collection but hey, who doesn’t like a challenge?
As well as new and old characters, you also get the same theme with the items. Of course, there are all the old familiars, including the annoying-as-anything blue shell which can ruin your mood in a few small seconds and the cheat that is Bullet Bill, but also new items available for you to collect. One of which is the Super Leaf, allowing you to attack nearby players, though you never get the chance to do so. Others are Lucky Seven and the Fire Flower, the former equipping seven items at once and the latter allowing you to shoot fireballs in front and watching as they bounce straight into a wall, or maybe that’s just me. Dotted along the road are coins, which old fans will know increase your maximum speed, allowing you to zip right past the finishing line at a not very alarming speed as they don’t really seem to have much of an effect until you collect enough to buy a small house with. It’s always fun to watch as your item knocks them out of the person in front of you though.
Although Nintendo has made sure that enough has been added to this game to attract the old fans back as well as making it seem innovative to new gamers, when you experience these firsthand, you can’t help but feel disappointed. They’re either a small, rushed taster of the features that were bigged up months before release or just the old stuff dressed up in a new pair of jeans and given a new name. The game itself is enjoyable and by all means, buy it as it will pass the time and you probably won’t put it down until you’ve raced your way to victory, just don’t expect anything much different from the rest of the series. It feels more like the lovechild of the Wii and DS version with a fun-loving, inventive nanny, but it isn’t really good enough to be classed as ‘new’ or ‘original’. For these reasons, Mario Kart trundles along with a 6/10.