Mario Kart 7
Developer: Nintendo EAD & Retro Studios
Series: Mario Kart
Released: December 1 2011 (Japan), December 2 2011 (UK) & December 4 2011 (US)
Mario Kart 7 is often considered to be one of the very best MK titles to date. This was the one version from the main series that I had never played, and so I had high expectations for MK 7. As it turned out, I felt a small sense of disappointment, but that isn’t to diminish the fact that Mario Kart 7 is still a highly enjoyable portable racing game.
Continuing the usual formula, Mario Kart 7 brings a chaotic and colourful racing experience featuring Mario and friends. The Nintendo 3DS delivers stronger graphics than the previous handheld DS, and for the original version, this includes 3D effects without the need to wear glasses. This can reduce the suggested play-time since continuously staring at a static 3D screen sans shades can prove stressful to the eyes, but even so, it’s a very cool feature for those who bought MK7 upon release (Nintendo subsequently released a 2D version of the platform, thus meaning MK7 could only be played with 2D graphics at that point). In addition, the two DS screens are of varying sizes and offer varying controls, which places a greater emphasis on the main racing action but also allows for intriguing additional features by using the stylus.
In terms of the gameplay itself, the big change for MK7 was the introduction of hang-gliding, with various attachments linking onto karts to allow for racers to fly over cliff edges, bridges and more. The game also brings back some fondly-remembered elements such as the integration of coins on the track (thus giving drivers an extra boost of speed, as well as being built up to unlock additional content) and several new items: the Fire Flower, the Super Leaf and the Lucky Seven (the last of which is generally only earned when you are at the back of the race, as it provides you with seven times all at once). The core game modes remain the same, while the crew of available racers totals in at 16 once everybody has been unlocked; amongst the debutants are Wiggler and Lakitu, and they of course join the familiar faces like Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Toad.
I always consider the tracks to be the aspect that makes or break a Mario Kart game, and that is once again true here, with some very cool courses amongst the 32 on offer. As was the case in Mario Kart Wii, there are 32 tracks, 16 new and 16 retro, and all squeezed into eight Cups. The Mushroom Cup has Toad Circuit (yes, Luigi Circuit is not the opening course for a change), Daisy Hills, Cheep Cheep Lagoon and Shy Guy Bazaar, which has a pleasing and soothing night-time backdrop. The Flower Cup provides Wuhu Loop, Mario Circuit (which lets us drive through Peach’s castle in a cool moment), the awesome Music Park (which would reappear in Mario Kart 8) and Rock Rock Mountain, which has a fast-paced rock anthem that made me feel like I was in an F1 race. The Star Cup offers Piranha Plant Slide, Wario Shipyard (one of the more unique courses in the game), Neo Bowser City and Maka Wuhu. And the Special Cup gives us DK Jungle, Rosalina’s Ice World (which may be my favourite track of the game), Bowser’s Castle (which is as fiery as ever, and which has a slight remix of the Bowser’s Castle theme from Mario Kart: Double Dash) and Rainbow Road, which goes beyond the galaxy more than ever by allowing drivers to bounce along the moon at one point!
As for the retro courses: the Shell Cup has Luigi Raceway (the Mario Kart 64 version), Bowser Castle 1 from Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Mushroom Gorge from Mario Kart Wii and Luigi’s Mansion from Mario Kart DS (where the mud is thankfully easier to trawl through compared to the first version). The Banana Cup provides Koopa Troopa Beach on MK64 (which has received a major revamp on the original), Mario Circuit 2 from Super Mario Kart, Coconut Mall from MKW and Waluigi Pinball from MKDS (which looks superb due to the enhanced graphics). Meanwhile, the Leaf Cup offers Kalimari Desert from MK64 (where the train now has a bell upon arrival), DK Pass from MKDS, Daisy Cruiser from Mario Kart: Double Dash (a personal favourite of mine) and the gorgeous Maple Treeway from MKW. And finally, the Lightning Cup gives us Koopa Cape from MKW, Dino Dino Jungle from MKDD, Airship Fortress from MKDS and lastly Rainbow Road from SMK.
If you’ve played Mario Kart before, then it won’t take you very long to get familiar with this version, and to enjoy it to maximum levels. The high-octane racing, the madcap distractions (such as dancing Piranha Plants within Music Park), the feel-good music (Rosalina’s Ice World is a great example of this), the drama of attempting to finish ahead of all competitors when racing at 100CC or 150CC and the sneaky yet hilarious tactics of opposing players to get ahead (such as Toad striking your character with a shell so that he can drive right past, and with him literally laughing as he does so) are all strong core elements of the series that remain as prevalent as ever in this edition. But while all of these are warmly familiar to longtime fans, these are the traits that will capture the attention of any new gamers too; someone who has never played any of the previous Mario Kart titles before will get a huge kick out of the truly exciting, fun and joyful experience that this game provides.
The introduction of the glider attachments changes things for the better and opens the door for possibilities that were previously unthinkable. As cool as it is to travel along the likes of bridges, there are still some course restrictions for the likes of an island, a mountain or even a beach where you can take a dip and drive underwater. Thanks to the gliders, though, you can now fly between areas, and the visual of seeing the glider itself shaking with the wind as the sunlight shines on the edge of your kart is an awesome one to see, especially in 3D on the original version. It also allows for even more ludicrous props, amongst them the bellowing pillars in DK Jungle that will bring a smile to your face every time they exhume. The courses themselves have some real gems, and as usual it’s those that seem like real one-offs that leave the strongest impression on me. That being said, this game has arguably the best Rainbow Road of any Mario Kart title since the mid-2000s, and the version of Bowser’s Castle featured here is one of the most exciting as well.
The biggest issue I had with playing Mario Kart 7 concerned not the game itself, but the control scheme. Moving around the course is handled by the Circle pad, which is a nifty button on the 3DS console and, at times, it makes for a refreshing change on using the D-pad, as it more closely resembles an analog stick as seen on major home consoles. Unfortunately, though, a combination of limited rotation and user fatigue means that it can be very tricky to swerve around tight corners, turn sufficiently to capture coins, and at times even to simply move around. There have been numerous times where I fell off the sides of bridges or staircases not because I went the wrong way, but because the Circle pad wasn’t responsive enough (this is particularly an issue during Neo Bowser City where you’re also having to dodge puddles). I don’t mind its implementation, and it is cool to use the Circle pad to tilt how your glider flies and lands, but having the option to switch to the D-pad would be nice. This was also the first Mario Kart to remove the on-screen clock during races, which I personally would have preferred to have been retained, and it’s also the first game where some courses are divided into sections rather than laps, which makes it feel like those tracks are a bit on the short side. And on a personal level, I should have played Mario Kart 7 prior to purchasing Mario Kart 8, because the biggest innovations that made MK7 stand out upon release were included and perfected in MK8, which was first released back in 2014 (and on that note, when are we going to hear about Mario Kart 9, which at this stage is long overdue, even when considering that MK8 Deluxe remains a top seller on Nintendo Switch?).
As noted, I was really looking forward to playing Mario Kart 7, but a combination of the nine-year gap before finally checking it out, along with dicky controls and the expansion of its best features on the subsequent Mario Kart 8 meant that while I still really enjoyed the game, it didn’t quite match my expectations. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Mario Kart 7 is a terrific and highly entertaining racing game, as well as a worthy successor to Mario Kart DS. It may not be the best of the series, but Mario Kart 7 is still well worth purchasing and a vital chapter in the lineage of the Mario Kart series.
Target Audience: Children Aged 3+
Content: No Content Likely To Offend
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding