It's hard to believe that it's been almost two decades since Nintendo first unleashed the original Super Mario Kart on gamers back in 1992. Since then, we've seen a Mario Kart release on just about every game system Nintendo has released. Mario Kart 7 marks the debut of the series on Nintendo 3DS and while there are a host of new twists and features, at its core it's still very much the same experience gamers have grown to love over the years.
The biggest thrill of Mario Kart has always been racing around and collecting power-ups to bombard your opponents with and MK7 carries on that tradition perfectly. Not only does the game offer up 16 brand new tracks to compete on, but 16 retro tracks are brought over from various games that long time fans of the series are sure to appreciate, as well as a combination of old and new power-ups.
Another major new feature is the ability to customise your kart. You can choose between a bevy of different body styles, wheels and gliders in order to create the perfect kart for your particular taste and current type of track. As you collect coins from around the race and battle tracks you'll unlock new kart parts that can give you even more of a competitive edge against your fellow racers. You'll even find that the new gameplay touches of driving underwater and gliding play a key role in how effective you are on the various tracks, especially when you take the time to upgrade your kart with parts that are specifically designed for these two new terrains.
When it comes to racing modes, Mario Kart 7 comes chock full of modes to choose from, both from a single and multiplayer standpoint. Grand Prix mode is the meat of the package and pits you and up to seven other players against each other in individual cup races, consisting of four tracks each. You can even go online and race players from around the world or just stick with your own group of friends or select communities to fit your own unique tastes and driving skills. Of course, if you want to skip the full-blown cup races and just take a spin around a specific track against another racer, you can take the VS. mode for a spin, even using Download Play to share the track with a fellow player who doesn't have his or her own game cartridge.
For those times when racing just isn't enough, there are two battle modes for as many as eight players to tackle. Balloon Battle should be familiar to any long time Mario Kart fan, and it's back and better than ever: three balloons are strapped to your kart, and you have to grab power-ups and use them against your opponents to burst their balloons. The player that has the most balloons left after time expires is crowned the winner. Coin Runners features a similar look and feel to Balloon Battle and uses the same six battle tracks, but this time it's a race to collect the most coins, still using the power-ups to rattle your opponents long enough for you to quickly scoop up coins.
The 3DS itself brings a host of new features to the table, so it's no surprise to see Nintendo making use of a few. Although most long time and competitive players will likely stick with the Circle Pad steering controls, the developers have put the system's gyroscopic controls to work, allowing you to use the tilt controls in order to steer your kart while in first-person view. And before you quickly dismiss this as just a gimmicky add-on, it's worth noting that these tilt controls are extremely responsive and add a nice level of realism to the experience for those who are up for something a little different. StreetPass is also used to transfer various player data, which includes sending out and receiving new ghost data for you and other players to compete against in Time Trial mode.
With tons of tracks to blaze around, exciting additional game modes and a wealth of hidden characters and kart parts to unlock, you'll certainly never be at a loss for things to do. Handling is smooth and responsive, giving you everything you need for a nearly limitless amount of kart racing action, whether you play solo or use the flexible and smooth online mode to take on players across the globe.
Then you've got the machine's 3D display; not only does it give the surroundings a much higher level of realism and depth, it also makes judging distances far more intuitive. The various tracks in the game look absolutely amazing and show a level of detail that we just haven't seen from the portable releases in the series. Individual racers themselves look great and animate fluidly, even when the action on screen becomes intense. And for those who prefer a more heightened sense of speed, the first-person viewpoint does the trick quite nicely.
There are a host of brand new musical compositions to go with each new track, most showing a surprising ability to perfectly fit the specific track they're playing behind. Some audio tracks are obviously better than others, but there's not a bad tune in the entire game and some of the pieces will likely have you singing along to them in your head long after you've climbed out of your kart. And it wouldn't be a Mario Kart title without a host of cute segments of voiced dialogue to further charm things up.
No one does kart racing quite like Nintendo and this seventh release in the beloved series really shines with its masterful track selection and impressive online package. The addition of the underwater and gliding sections inject a nice layer of freshness to the now trademark gameplay mechanics, and with a host of unlockable characters and the depth of surroundings offered up by the 3D display, it ends up being as flashy as it is fun. We've seen some amazing Mario Kart releases over the years, and Mario Kart 7 sits right up there with the best of them.