Mario Kart 7 3DS Review

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an excuse often used for games that don’t really change over the years. As excuses go it’s not a bad one, but some developers abuse it, pushing out the same thing year after year with little or no improvements. It’s a criticism brought against Nintendo quite frequently, but to be fair they are far from the worse for it. So it’s been nice to see some changes to their latest instalment in the Mario Kart franchise.

Some fans may not be pleased to hear this though, as last time Nintendo made changes to Mario Kart we ended up with Double Dash which didn’t go down too well. Change can be a good thing when done correctly, and this time they have done it right. At least I think so, but then again I liked Double Dash as well. The most obvious change – before you even insert the cartridge into your 3DS – is the name. They could have just called it Mario Kart 3DS, and maybe they should have, but the seven does have some relevance, other than it actually being the seventh game in the series, but we will come to that later.

Once you get the game started, and choose your options to race, you will then come to the game’s next change, the karts. This time around you don’t just choose a kart, you choose the parts that make up your kart. First pick a chassis, then some wheels and finally something else new: a glider attachment (more on this later). Your options to start with are quite limited, but more kart parts are unlocked by collecting coins in the game. Yes, coins are back, and this time they actually serve a purpose. The caveat? You can only collect a maximum of ten per race, so don’t go expecting to unlock all the kart parts really quickly.

As I just mentioned, your kart now has a glider attachment, which means it can now fly (sort of). When you hit a blue (as opposed to yellow) speed mark on the track you will not only speed up, but take to the air too. Once up there you can use the glider to either dive back down quickly to keep up your momentum, or glide back down at a more leisurely pace to collect coins and power-ups in the sky. It’s not as big a departure for the franchise as it may sound, but fits in well with the standard Mario Kart gameplay. In fact it fits so well, you’ll be wondering why they didn’t do it years ago. Another new environment for your kart is underwater. This isn’t as exciting as the gliding and is a bit pointless to be honest, but I suppose it’s an excuse to stick some giant clams in the game.

Other additions to the gameplay are some new power-ups, well ‘new’ as in “never been in Mario Kart before” anyway. Traditional Mario platfomer power ups Fire Flower and Tanooki Leaf make their series debut, and do exactly what you would expect them to: throw fireballs and tail whip respectively. There is one other new power-up, and this is where the seven in the title comes in, The Lucky Seven. Seven different regular power-ups all at the same time that spin around your kart just like the triple red and green shells do. Just hit the item button to use the one that is in front of your kart. At times I’ve noticed it can be quite tricky to select a specific power-up though.

Other than that you’ll find that this is your standard Mario Kart. Eight racers blast through 32 tracks: 16 new, 16 from previous games. Add in Grand Prix, Battle Mode and Multiplayer. Local multiplayer can be played with just one game card, which is perfect if your 3DS-owning friends have been silly enough not to buy their own copy. But online is where the most effort has gone. The structure is very similar to Mario Kart Wii, but there has been a couple of additions to improve the experience.

You get three options online: ‘Worldwide’, where you play against random people from around the globe. Then there’s ‘Friends and Recent Players’, where the game keeps track of everyone you’ve played and tells you when they and your friends are online. This is a great idea, and bypasses the limitations of Nintendo’s friend code system, albeit only in this game. Finally there is ‘Communities’, here you can play in groups, either the ones already set up by Nintendo, or you and your friends can set up your own and invite others by password. You can also set rules for games in the groups; maybe you want to play a race with only green shells, or if you like you can just have battles with bombs, it’s up to you.

One last thing, motion control has been carried over from the Wii and this is the game’s only real failing, as it just doesn’t work. If you don’t turn off the 3D you’ll be getting severe double vision every time you take a corner. When the 3D has been done as well as it has in Mario Kart 7 it’s just criminal to switch it off. It’s just a visual feature, but it really does help draw you in to the game, not that much help is needed when the gameplay is so addictive.

This was always going to be good, it is Mario Kart after all, but I think Nintendo has exceeded expectations this time. The additions really do add to the game’s format, and the improvements to the online system make it a joy to play. Best Mario Kart yet? Well that’s a matter of opinion, but it’s certainly up there near the top.

9 out of 10