Mario Kart 7
Developer: Nintendo, Retro Studios
System: Nintendo 3DS
Release: December 4, 2011
There's no doubt that Nintendo has milked Mario brand name for all its worth – and why not? Mario is the most recognizable figure in the gaming world, to hardcore gamers and casuals alike. The character has appeared in over 200 games along with countless pop-culture references. Out of all the Mario spinoff and sports games, however, Mario Kart is by far the best, and has been ever since the original Super NES outing. Nintendo's 3DS already has its Mario Kart title, creatively named Mario Kart 7, but does it bring enough to the table to make gamers put down Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Wii?
The core gameplay of the Mario Kart series has been virtually unchanged. In Nintendo's defense, there isn't a whole lot to be done here: Mario Kart is a kart racer, and the series is the definitive kart racing experience on the market. Four game modes are available to players: Grand Prix, Time Trials, Balloon Battle, and Coin Runners.
Grand Prix is the same as the last few Mario Kart titles before it. There are eight different Cups, four of them with all new tracks and four of them featuring remade versions of older tracks. What Mario Kart 7 does so well with these retro tracks is that instead of just porting them over and upping the visuals, Nintendo actually tweaked them to make use of the new Glider and Propeller mechanic. Various tracks will have blue speed boosters that shoot players into the air, activating a Para-glider that lets them fly through the air for a short period of time. The Propeller allows players to drive underwater, giving some more variation to track design. Unfortunately, these two mechanics don't really change a whole lot with the game and, in the Propeller's case, aren't used very often.
Time Trials lets players compete against ghost times, as previous Mario Kart games have done. Using the Mario Kart Channel – a menu players can get to from the game's main screen – gamers are able to download ghost data via SpotPass and StreetPass to race against. It's a nice way to test your skills, but there isn't really a reward for doing these other than self gratification. Balloon Battle is the classic mode made popular by Mario Kart 64, and plays virtually the same as it has in past iterations.
Coin Runners makes use of another new feature in Mario Kart 7: coins. Players can collect up to ten coins in any given race, and these coins add up and go towards unlocking a random kart customization at every 50 or 100 coins collected. These parts include different kart bodies, wheels, and Gliders, and through careful planning with the various characters in the game, players can create the perfect kart for their racing style.
Online gameplay returns in Mario Kart 7, and it is a step up from the fantastic mode seen in Mario Kart Wii. The same VR skill tracking system is in the game for worldwide and friend races, but the best addition is Communities. Through Communities players are able to join groups of friends and strangers and compete against them, compiling a ranking specific to that Community. It's essentially a league system seen in recent sports games that lets players create their own league and invite – and compete – against their friends in them. Joining a friend is also very easy this time around. Players can either join a game within Mario Kart 7, or click the "Join Game" button in their 3DS friend list (welcome to 2011, Nintendo!) and they'll instantly join that friend's game.