Is it a shell-out or just full of bloopers?
Mario Kart has become a staple series for any new Nintendo console, being the best example of how much online support Nintendo can put into a game when they put their minds to it. However, recent reiterations have started to show the series’ age with the game re-using the same format and- while new features are included- they don’t always go down well with long time fans. So, with the latest game in the series boasting some of the biggest new features since the series’ introduction on the SNES, have Nintendo managed to balance making the game fresh enough while staying true to its fans? It’s an enormous task and Nintendo might have just pulled it off… The lack of a story is highly un-surprising, instead replaced with the usual Grand Prix mode. Eight cups: four cups with new tracks, four cups with classic tracks from past games. These are available in 50, 100 and 150cc (basically different difficultly levels) and- when these are all completed- a mirror mode which flips the tracks to further increase the challenge. Races consist of eight CPU competitors (not a frantic twelve) with points being rewarded for the place you finish after three laps. Your points are totalled after four races with gold, silver and bronze trophies being awarded for the top three places. Completion of a certain cup in a certain cc results in a new character being unlocked and each cup has a star rating reflecting how well you have done. All very familiar. Other modes also make an un-surprising return. Time trials allow you to race around any of the tracks without opponents and items to set the fastest time possible around the track, while the battle modes return with a choice of coin battles or balloon battles. Well… that’s it! If you only plan on playing Mario Kart 7 offline unfortunately there is not enough to totally ensure your money’s worth; it’s online where replay value comes in. Nintendo are always reliable when it comes to delivering good local multiplayer experiences and Mario Kart 7 is no exception to the rule. You can play local multiplayer with four friends who can either have the game or not. There are a plethora of options to deliver the optimum experience and getting a group of friends together to play locally is as fun as ever. This is not the mode that most people will be worried about though, the mode they will want to play is the online multiplayer. This is usually where Nintendo will fall flat but Mario Kart (especially the Wii version) is famed for having a surprising amount of online content and Mario Kart 7 lives up to this. The game supports eight player races with either strangers or friends. There is an option for random match-making with players being able to vote for tracks in a pre-match lobby after each race. This is pretty bog standard, but Nintendo have introduced a very interesting new multiplayer mode called communities. Players have the option to create a “community”, setting the name, icon and rules (no items etc.) of the community. Each community (when set up) has a code that- when players enter it- will allow people to join a lobby in that community. When two or more people are present in a lobby the players have the option to start the game. It consists of four races in which you can earn points in each race for finishing. These points are totalled up and whoever has the most points in that community is the leader and is shown when anybody goes to join a community.
This is finally the chance to customize your stats and the choice of combinations is endless
Considering the lack of any kind of friend only modes, this is a very welcome addition with a multitude of uses that simply boggles the mind. Battle modes are also available online and Nintendo have not only given you the ability to see recent wins and losses with friends and what mode they are currently playing, but this is also available with recently faced players, allowing you to reface an opponent who might have given you a great race or a noob you want to thrash again. Other multiplayer features are also used very effectively, stapling this game as the best online multiplayer game on the 3DS. Streetpass is used as expected with you being able to trade ghost data times with people you meet. However Nintendo has also added the ability to create your own grand prix- allowing other players to see and play on your favourite tracks- as well as the ability to see and join that player if they are playing online. Spotpass, though, is where this game really starts to shine. Every day you receive ghost data for four different tracks, with each track having seven other random people’s ghost data to race. Some are hilariously slow and contain some comical gaffs from players who obviously haven’t played time trial a lot, but some are very hard to win against and give an immense amount of satisfaction when beaten. You’re probably asking yourself how Mario Kart differs at all from past reiterations and while the format may have remained the same, the racing itself has been advanced dramatically. One of the biggest new features is the inclusion of underwater racing and the ability to glide. The former pretty much explains itself, when you enter any water your kart will sprout a propeller and allow you to keep on driving where previous titles would respawn you on the track. Underwater physics are perfect with your kart being slightly unstable and floaty. The latter is a little less brilliant than it sounds; you don’t get the ability to take off at any time. Instead you can glide when you hit blue boast ramps. Your glide only lasts a limited time but you have full control, leading to some very nifty shortcuts. Your karts stats have an effect on both these features with a heavier kart not gliding for so long, but being quicker in underwater sections, so you have a much tougher decision when choosing your kart this time around. Another feature (this time making a welcome return) is coins. Coins can be found along the track and- when collected- can increase the max speed of your kart. The extra speed is not a key part of racing, but it can be a nice advantage over your opponents and can help all karts to reach their maximum potential. Of course one of the key features of the Mario Kart series is the item boxes strewn throughout the track. The items this time are a lot less powerful compared to the Wii version, with an introduction of some of the more common Mario items rather than the more obscure ones. The most niche is the racoon item which gives your kart a racoon tail. This can be used to hit other nearby players or deflect nearby items, but has a very lengthy use time. A further common item is the fire flower item which (unsurprisingly) graces you the ability to throw a sizeable amount of fire-balls either forward or backward at your opponents and can be rapidly fired for maximum effect. The last new item is the “Lucky 7” which gives seven different items for you to use when you want. The items vary from potent (star, red shell, mushroom) to weak (banana, green shell, blooper) and completes the balance that these three items bring. All other regular items return, but this time some of the more powerful items have had their effectiveness reduced (Bullet Bills are very much slower and Blue shells fly lower) resulting in this being one of the best item selections in the series. So far, so good. But one part that Mario Kart 7 struggles to beat the Wii version
at is the character roster. Mario Kart Wii had a fantastic character selection: introducing the Mii, Dry Bowser, King Boo and even Funky Kong! The usual selection of characters appear (as does the Mii and Rosalina) but the game struggles to add anything more fantastic than that. Wiggler makes a surprise debut to the series as does Mario’s metallic alter-ego; Metal Mario as well as Lakitu, but all good characters stop there. The final character (yep that’s it) is the Honey Queen from Super Mario Galaxy 2. She is decidedly smaller than her last appearance (Mario could climb all over her) and her appearance is an obvious attempt to further merge the Mario Galaxy titles with Mario’s other appearances. She’s an undesirable character to end an undesirably small roster. Characters are only half of your options as a player and as many steps back Nintendo took with the character rooster, they took treble that amount of steps forward with the choice of karts. Instead of a choice of set karts set to a theme this time YOU get to choose the wheel, kart and glider type- the choice of which is astounding. This is finally the chance to customize your stats and the choice of combinations is endless. These parts are unlocked by the collection of coins which also means that parts can be unlocked in multiplayer modes as well. However these parts do cause one minor issue; certain character- kart combinations can be quite commonly seen, but with a selection that suits you they can be easily beaten. Tracks are also a major part of what makes Mario Kart unique and as ever the new tracks are fantastic. With the new features tracks are far more tactical and fresh than before with multiply routes to take and a nice spread of coins to reward you for taking them. Another addition is three tracks that are a race from A to B and have three checkpoints instead of laps, another interesting development that hopefully will return again. However this time it’s the selection of old tracks that are the most interesting. The new features have been implemented into these tracks, making them much fresher than other retro tracks have been in past titles; this essentially makes the game feel like it has thirty-two new tracks instead of sixteen and makes the best selection of tracks the series has seen. There is nothing bad to say about the rest. Graphics are lovely, getting rid of the blocky look of the DS version but retaining its cartoon style. 3D is used effectively and-while not essential- is still a very nice effect to use. Controls are bog standard although the usual graft of gyro controls are shoved in; you should know not to use them. Music is also as amazing as ever, with a beautiful soundtrack with each track having a seemingly perfect theme. While these are not the main reasons to buy the game, it’s still nice attention has been paid to them. Mario games on a whole always do well whatever, but the question is do they deserve to do well. With past titles that was always true, but recently (*cough* Mario Tennis Open *cough*) the games have been too much of the same thing, a point often referred to other series’ (*cough* Call of Duty *cough*). However with Mario Kart 7 the answer to that question is a definite yes; this game takes the series to a whole new level. A worthy purchase.
The Bad: STILL THE SAME; disappointing character roster.