It’s like coming home again to find your parents have not only redecorated, but made additions to the house. There are new rooms to occupy, as well as a better TV than you ever had when you were living with them as a child. You almost wish you had grown up with all of these new bells and whistles. That’s what Mario Kart 7 feels like.
We didn’t know anyone was counting Mario Karts, but the number in the title helps to get a grasp on where this series started and gives us an understanding of how far it has come. Mario Kart 7 reintroduces features from older installments, alters game play in exciting new ways, and keeps the core fundamentals intact.
You aren’t going to be getting out of your vehicle, and your kart’s engine won’t overheat in this game. There is no radical redesign of what you do here, and there shouldn’t be. Nintendo are the masters of tweaking IPs enough to make them feel fresh without destroying what made them so good. You won’t find ninty minute cut scenes about how Donkey Kong’s father returned from the dead to tell him that winning the Mushroom Grand Prix saved the planet. If you’re already tired of the proven Mario Kart formula than do not invest your time or money. It does what it does better than any other action-racer on the market, so long as you understand what it is and not fault it for what it isn’t.
There are 32 tracks in total, 16 new and 16 retro tracks outfitted to blend with the underwater and gliding segments. The new tracks are amazing and provide two to three alternate routes many times and they never get boring. The lanes you drive in are narrow enough to allow snaking but at the same time make it more of a hassle to be abused. The very few straightaways are too small to snake from side to side, but there are plenty of tight turns where snaking gives you a great boost.
Biggest additions to Mario Kart are clear from the get go: gliding and underwater. Driving underwater changes physics a bit, and it does make it harder to drift. The transition underwater looks great in 3D and is effortless.
Gliding takes some getting used to but once you understand how to use it properly you’ll love it. Often, spots where you can glide have a secret shortcut hidden somewhere nearby. These shortcuts can give you a serious advantage on putting distance between you and your opponents.
Beating all the cups on every speed will unlock almost all of the characters and a good amount of parts for your kart. Completing all the cups should take players a varying amount of time from person to person, it took me about 15 hours to do so. You unlock new parts to customize your vehicle by collecting coins during Cup races or online.
No, the coins you collect in time trials do NOT count towards your overall coin counter. Initially you are rewarded with new parts every hundred coins, but after you cross the 1,000 coin mark you will start seeing them less and less. All parts are unlocked at random, so you aren’t guaranteed to get the bad ones early on or the awesome ones later. Since you can only collect up to ten coins per race, and forty overall per cup you will have to sink a good amount of your life into this game to unlock all the parts, which stop around 10,000 coins. After 18 hours of mixing single player and online racing I reached 1,300 coins. You can see how long it will take you to get all the unlockables.
Mario Kart is one of those multiplayer titles that I enjoy for its lack of frustration and embarassment. While it never feels less infuriating to get blue shelled just before you were going to finish first, there is no way for player to degrade one another. You could say the lack of voice chat in a game like Mario Kart is apalling in 2011 as most online games come with voice chat as a standard feature. I don’t see the need for it in this game, as it would boil down to people complaining about the lack of balance in a game that is always trying to level the playing field for those near last place. I’m not fearful of some nut job camping in a corner waiting to kill me only to teabag my lifeless corpse. This is Mario Kart.
If you feel like you got screwed by that last second red shell hit than you simply keep playing. No one has to worry about whether they should quit out of a game to leave a session that is filled with whiny players who are team killing. The playing field is either fairly leveled, or fairly unbalanced but it is the way for everyone. I don’t worry about random grenades hitting me from some guy who threw it fifty feet in a random direction. If the game is playing out in a particularly angering inducing way then I know it is happening to everyone else too, and that makes me ok with the chaos.
The online multiplayer is head and shoulders above every other competitive online Nintendo game when it works. Communities are a terrific feature and it helps narrow down the type of game you want to play. You want no items and just eight people snaking to the finish line? You got it. Matchmaking is mostly quick, though it is a boring affair waiting for your Mii to find someone as the earth spins in the background. I have experienced a slew of error codes and communications errors since release. I contact Nintendo’s support and tried fixing the issue by tweaking my wireless router’s settings but to no avail. I don’t see this as a huge flaw for the game as it does seem to be an issue with my internet rather than with the game itself.
Nintendo has perfected snaking instead of getting rid of it. It takes long enough to get blue or red sparks that you have to be patient, and with the narrow straightaways it is harder to abuse them in areas that shouldn’t be snaked.
All in all, Mario Kart 7 is far and away the best Mario Kart to date. There will be many stories years from now when I’m jaded with my friends and we mock the addition of an open world to Mario Kart 13 by saying that all we wanted was fresh new ideas like gliding and underwater segments in Mario Kart 7.
You should be able to net twenty hours or more just unlocking all the single player content, and the multiplayer has endless replay value. It wouldn’t surprise anyone here at Gimme Gimme Games if Mario Kart 7 is as much as a massive success at retail like Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii. By all accounts it should surpass those titles as Mario Kart 7 is the superior installment.