The 3DS certainly seems to be on a bit of a hot streak lately with Super Mario 3D Land and now Mario Kart 7. While the franchise has been a Nintendo staple for almost two decades, we were curious to see if MK7 had enough fuel in the tank to impress us all over again.
We've taken our laps with the game and rounded up our final thoughts:
Other than the brilliant use of 3D in Super Mario 3D Land, I'm not sure there's a better genre to show off the illusion than racing games. In Mario Kart 7 the effect is fantastic, but perhaps not as vital to the experience like it is in other games. Regardless, MK7 is the next game to buy behind 3D Land, successfully delivering the one-two combo punch the Nintendo 3DS has been so desperately seeking.
Sixteen new and 16 vintage tracks make up the game's playable areas, which comprise all the familiar settings in the Nintendo universe, though now the Mario Kart clan can race underwater and hang-glide.
Also new to gameplay seems to be more of a focus on driving skill than necessarily grabbing the right power-up in a key moment. Don't get me wrong, you will be blue-shelled to death on occasion, but MK7 definitely feels like it rewards the skilled driver as much as possible.
There a few new weapons in the game as well, like the tanooki tail and flower fire-shooter. Players can also make some tweaks to their kart by customizing a few areas of their vehicle's performance.
Taking the game online is mostly a positive experience, but quite frankly I'm just glad it works. Nintendo has had such a dicey reputation when it comes to online play that even getting into a race felt like a grand achievement. That said, there are a few issues with matchmaking and limitations with how much you can customize a race. But overall, online play will give players the most replay value of all the game's features.
Sure, there's enough tweaking here for die-hard fans of the series to fall in love with the franchise all over again, but casual players may be a bit more critical. In no way is MK7 a bad game, but I do wonder how much more room the series has to evolve.
You could count the number of good online-playable Nintendo games on one hand, and still have a finger or two to spare. Mario Kart is one of the top, and my memories of Mario Kart DS still are warm and fuzzy. The only problem is, Mario Kart DS came out in 2005.
The Nintendo 3DS needs good games to justify its existence. Mario Kart 7 is, without a doubt, one of them, and alongside Super Mario 3D Land it's an excellent game with tight controls. Mario Kart 7 feels like a direct sequel to Mario Kart DS, and adds 32 tracks with surprisingly good online play and a variety of modest new additions, such as hang-gliding and underwater racing. I'd have given up those perks in exchange for, say, 10 more tracks (Mario Kart DS also had 32 tracks); despite how many tracks 32 sounds like, the game gets repetitive fast once you've raced through them all.
The 3D effect applied to racing is so seamless, so smooth, I'm shocked more racing games and flight games haven't been released on the 3DS. It's also somewhat unnecessary; unlike Super Mario 3D Land, I can't remember Mario Kart 7 being in 3D after I've played. Mario Kart 7 is an excellent demo of the potential of the 3DS; it feels like a GameCube game. Kids will go nuts for years playing local wireless racing on car trips, provided they own a 3DS. Of course, you could also go out and buy a used copy of Mario Kart DS and dust off your old DS and get an experience that's less pretty, but not all that much different.
As for the future of Mario Kart games, I'd really love to see downloadable track packs. Nintendo only releases one Mario Kart per hardware platform, and I'd rather play this game a lot more. I don't have a friend in the family who will play with me, and online racing has its limits without a deep set of play modes and leaderboard challenges (Coin Battle and Balloon Battle are the two extra modes besides straight-up racing, but those have been in Mario Kart games for years). I wish this Kart had invented some new modes of play, additional wrinkles to extend the life of the title. After my handful of fun hours, I feel like I'm already starting to tap out.