Super Mario Kart 7 brings the fun of a pick up and play weapon based kart racer to the 3DS. The big new inclusion to Mario Kart 7 is the glider when you drive off blue ramp. The glider adds a new dynamic, especially to the remakes of the classic levels. It manages to offer freedom, while not being confusing like a full airplane that’s allowed to go anywhere. I’d love ported to a console that can be played on televisions with a better controller than the 3DS, because it feels like the 3DS is an issue once in a while for what could be a better game than Mario Kart Wii.
The production feels on par with Wii quality, but on a smaller screen, so a few visuals have sharp edges. The game performs smooth, has local multiplayer and even online multiplayer. The spot pass feature will download ghost runs of other players that you can compete against in ghost races that stack you against 7 time trial ghosts.
It plays good, it looks good, its for both kids and adults. The weapons let kids keep up, even if adults or better players will hate being an easy target. There are a diverse array of tracks across land, sea and air. You’ll drive through happy woods, haunted woods, mansions, castles, airships, dive under frigid water, glide through colorful vistas, through jungles, get launched up shafts and drive down giant pinball tables. Most courses are closed circuits, while others have you getting to the bottom of a rainbow road, or to the top of a mountain.
Driving under water and gliding never feel like a hindrance. They just have different physics, but you’ll maintain about the same speed. The music filters make it sound different and you might have a bit more air time underwater if that makes any sense. In one of the final tracks, Rainbow Road has a moon that will affect your kart’s physics when driving on a crater filled moon.
Since this is a cart racer, driving through an item box will give you a weapon and the selection for Mario Kart 7 feels wonderful. There are more defensive weapons like the raccoon tail to whack other racers and shells that get near you. The fire-flower will let you bleck a few fire balls forward or backward until it expires. Other weapons from previous entries make their return, green shells bounce around, star men make you invincible and much faster. Super mushrooms will boost you forward. Bloopers will cover opponents vision with ink, which can lead to imprecision. Red shells seek the nearest opponent, spiny blue shells will seek out the leader, bombs go a short distance but have a wide detonation range. Lightning will shrink everyone else, causing them to drive slower. Bullet bills will send a last place racer into the middle of the pack. Bananas become road hazards and there is a new Lucky 7 that grants the player one of each item in a circle.
On the subject of weapons, the bottom screen shows off a map of the area with other racers and more importantly, weapons that might be coming after you. It’s a big help to have a map, but since it’s on an entirely different screen, I didn’t use it that much through my hours of playing. You can touch the lower screen to display an overall track view to see where each character is located.
For those who are more into skill based racing, your skills can get you far ahead of the pack. You’ll jump heading into a turn, hold that turn while accelerating to gain a mini boost when blue sparks appear. Turn harder and you’ll get red sparks for a longer boost. Hitting zippers will send you rushing forward. Doing jumps and hitting the jump button as you drive off will let your character taunt and lead to a boost once you land. Properly timing your acceleration from the starting line will give you a boost. Getting behind another kart will get you a drafting boost. These are all great systems that are easy to use to give you an edge, but if you get too far ahead, someone will always have a blue spiny shell to hunt you down.
Mario Kart would be nothing without the characters and you start with 8 racers to choose from, each with different stats. Racers like Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi are more balanced while characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser are heavier, accelerate slower and have a higher top speed. Toad and Koopa weigh less, accelerate faster and have a lower top speed. Beyond the eight racers, there are others to unlock.
To tweak your stats, you can modify your kart by selecting different bodies, wheels and even gliders. Some wheels are better for off-road, some bodies offer a higher top speed or better handling. Off-road is anywhere off the track and even doing a boost, you’ll come to a crawl, unless you have the proper gear. Collecting coins during races will lead to unlocking new parts for your vehicle.
There are eight cups, each with four unique tracks making for thirty-two courses in all. The first four cups offer new and never before seen content, while the latter four cups have enhanced classic tracks from the SNES, GBA, DS, Game Cube, N64 and Wii. The big twist with each of the classic courses is the fact you can glide from blue ramps and go underwater to make these feel like a step above their predecessors.
Each cup has three difficulty speeds like previous Mario Kart games. 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. 100 and 150cc will reward you with unlockable characters such as your Mii and Lakitu. Collecting coins on the tracks will eventually unlock vehicle parts, so there’s always a reason to play a relaxing 50cc.
Beyond the typical grand prix cups and time trials, Mario Kart 7 offers a battle mode and a coin rush where it’s either every cart for themselves or you can get dumped into one of two teams. The battle mode adds diversity and replay value with smaller tracks geared more toward combat. The coin rush feels like battle mode where you get coins on the same tracks as battle mode. Weapons will hinder opponents rather than scoring you points. The battle and coin rush modes can be played online, but for those without an Internet connection, there are three difficulty levels.
There are two ways to control Super Mario Kart on the 3DS, controls only and a first person mode with tilt controls that will emulate a steering wheel. Pressing up on the D-pad will put you into a first person mode that lets you tilt the 3DS to steer. While I don’t feel this is a better way to play, it’s an interesting inclusion that some might prefer.
The 3DS doesn’t feel as precise or comfortable as other Mario Kart games. Making sharp turns with the analog stick doesn’t always feel like I’m actually turning. I assume I’m pushing too far up on the stick rather than left and right. The acceleration is relegated to A or the Y button. The Y is fine, but as an adult, using the A button gets to be painful. I only used the A button so much because the confirm buttons in the menu use the A rather than the Y so forgetting the Y can be used for acceleration is an easy mistake. This could all be a problem with the hardware itself and since there are so many versions of the 3DS and 2DS, your experience may vary.
Super Mario Kart 7 was well worth the $20 I played for it. Since it’s been out for so long and Nintendo runs 30% off sales. There’s so much that calls me back to the game. Everything from unlockable characters, keeping track of stars and stats for each cup, to the simple spot pass ghosts that get downloaded to your game. It feels like a worthy successor to the Wii entry with improved weapons and mechanics to make it a step up.