Mario Kart 7 is not the most exciting name for a game; we can tell that it’s the seventh game in the series, but not much else. In reality, I should be more excited. It got a surprise full announcement for 3DS right around the price drop, it’s in full 3D, it’s one of the first AAA first-party titles on the new console, and it is making a huge effort to establish itself as the most aggressive online game the 3DS has seen. I can ultimately say that… some of that is true.
At its core, it’s all the same Mario Kart. There are 16 new tracks, 16 old tracks, a few brand new features (more on that soon), balloon and coin matches (which is as fun as its ever been), Rainbow Road, some new characters, online, and… you get the idea. Although the formula remains generally the same, playstyle is what gets the biggest change in direction this time around. Instead of relying on boost pads to get you over gaps, Mario Kart 7 now offers gliders to fly over areas. Another key addition is the underwater propeller, allowing racing to continue in underwater areas (which would traditionally result in an instant death (or, falling-off-the-course, rather). These open up courses (I especially love how old courses even implement these to some extent), but they can only be used at certain times, and they are gimmicky and unfortunately not-so-consequential to the overall experience.
The tracks also get a revamp. Although the old ones have a new life on the 3DS (made by Retro Studios!), the biggest draw is in the newer 16. A lot of them are just really neat, but my favorites are new types of races in which the tracks are broken into three segments (making for an entirely unique race) rather than having you race around the same track three times. There are only a few of these, but they are really creative none the less. There are also three new items joining the fray among many old ones: Fire Flower, Super Leaf, and the Lucky 7. Tanooki Leaf just allows you to swipe at enemies from close range while Fire Flower allows you to shoot fireballs at the opponents. Lucky 7 is absolutely nuts, because it grants you the ability to spawn seven different items at once.
The other efforts in enhancing the player experience are the new kart-customizing feature and the revamped online. Karts can now be made custom to specification using various parts unlocked by playing the game. The idea is interesting, but it adds little to the experience. There is also a new community aspect in Mario Kart online allowing you to form communities with friends and like-minded players. Of course, this only complements the lag-free 8-player online.
On the topic of modes, it’s fairly standard. There are the never-changing motions of going through cups on different difficulties, and it does get fairly monotonous by this point. I wish there was some story to sink my teeth into rather than a group of races against the CPU, already outclassed by the aforementioned online. There is also single-card download play, multi-card play, and StreetPass functionality allowing you to play the ghosts of players you meet.
Besides what I have already mentioned, the only other new stuff is expected. Of course the game looks great on 3DS, and of course the 3D adds to the experience. The game also sounds good, but it sounds like what you would expect in Mario Kart. And of course, since there is a gyroscope, the game obviously requires the option to steer with the gyroscope in first person. It’s expected, and it doesn’t work as well as I’d like it to (but as much as I would expect).
When I finished playing Mario Kart 7, I felt as if I had played not a brand new experience, but a checklist of features. Yes, everything is more-or-less competent, and yes, there are some new features, but it feels like there are new features for the sake of new features. Will you get a good experience if you purchase it? I’m sure, to some extent, that you will. With that said, my best way to summarize the game is to reiterate something I said at the beginning of the review: we can tell that it’s the seventh game in the series, but it’s not much else.