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Mario Kart 7 Review

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On 12/09/2011 at 08:00 PM by Nick DiMola

A blue shell at the finish line knocks it out of first, but you can't complain about finishing in the top three.

Mario Kart fans will find plenty to love here. If you see the series more as a fun diversion, you might want to wait on a price drop – any other Mario Kart will likely suffice in the meantime.

After seven entries, it's perfectly understandable to start feeling the fatigue of any series, especially one like Mario Kart where very little changes from entry to entry. However, it's hard to ignore excellence. While Mario Kart 7 is only slightly different, it's so well-executed it should not be overlooked.

The fact of the matter is, despite the similarities, each Mario Kart succeeds in distinguishing itself from the last game in the series. Truthfully, I went into Mario Kart 7 expecting disappointment. Mario Kart Wii just didn't connect with me, especially after following Mario Kart DS, my favorite in the series. Replacing the bikes (which were the worst part of MK Wii) with the gliding mechanic gives it a pretty unique hook.

But it's not just another gimmick; extended use of the glider proves that it brings a fresh new set of strategies and depth to the table. Though automatically deployed when hitting a special blue ramp, you often have the option of whether to follow the branching path that leads to one. If you choose to ignore them, there are benefits and drawbacks and often it will depend on the landscape of the race. Furthermore, how you glide adds yet another layer to the depth of the mechanic. Like the cape in Super Mario World, you can drift up to gain more distance or dip in to pick up speed. Do you glide over a bend in the track to cut distance or do you drop fast, pick up speed and power slide around it? You'll have to answer these questions on the fly as you make your way around the track.

Another great new feature involves executing your jump at the top of ramps or simple bumps in the road. This will trigger a short boost that's crucial to winning the tougher races. While in past games you'd look to avoid these bumps, here you'll be on the hunt for them, which drastically alters how you approach the tracks. The returning coins also play a part in how you make your way about the tracks, as they will help maximize your speed. These concepts are most interesting when you approach the game's classic tracks, as they really give them a fresh feel.

The classic tracks have also been retrofit with all of the trappings of Mario Kart 7, including new ramps both for boosts and gliding and even underwater segments. It's clear that Retro Studios who handled these tracks had a solid grasp of how to convert old classics and make them fresh again. Rainbow Road from the original game sticks out the most to me, as the thwomps on that stage now cause ripples in the track, which can be used to jump and boost off of, adding an entirely new layer of depth.

Item distribution has also seen much improvement this time around. I've found in the past that if you hold the first place position throughout the race, you're often given the short end of the stick when it comes to power ups. This time, you'll see the likes of red shells, boosts, and tanooki tails fairly often. This is a huge step up from the constant green shells and banana peels that were mostly used for defense in order to hold your position. This too provides further depth as you have to decide how and when to use these power ups. Do you hang on to them and risk losing them to a blue shell or deploy them immediately for a short term benefit? These types of choices are what define each of the games in the Mario Kart series and 7 is no exception.

Outside of Grand Prix, there's still plenty to enjoy. Time Trial now brings not only Staff Ghosts, but shows you a bell curve of worldwide (online) race times and places you accordingly after you chart a course. It's a great incentive to keep you playing as it gives you something else to work toward after defeating the challenging staff ghosts. They've removed the ability to check out ghosts of top-placing online racers, but it leaves a certain amount of ambiguity that allows you to experiment at your own pace to find what works. It's not something everyone will like, but I didn't mind the simplified presentation from Mario Kart Wii.

The online mode is also quite functional and worked consistently without a hitch. At times you could sit through two-thirds of another race before getting a go at it yourself, but this is mostly a fee for entry. Once you get into a race, you'll be able to go from race to race without skipping a beat – unless of course you choose to quit in order to get a fresh batch of opponents. Again, this mode is mostly akin to what was found in Mario Kart Wii, which fans should be excited to hear.

It's not all roses though. Grand Prix races can become quite frustrating after you tackle a number of them. I'm not sure whether it was coincidence or not, but seemingly every tournament I raced would result in me being bombarded by projectiles in the third or fourth race in the set. As such, I'd end up in first for 3 of the 4 races and anywhere from second to last in the final one. It wouldn't be uncommon for me to be hit with upwards of three blue shells in a single race with a subsequent set of lightning bolts or red shells to follow them up. Achieving a 3-star score is made artificially hard by this unrelenting wave of attacks in a single race. It's made extra frustrating by happening in the second to last or last race in the set.

Many of the new courses in the game are also completely forgettable. I had the most fun racing through the tracks lifted from past games in the series. This is no surprise as they are choosing from some of the best across six games, but aside from a select few, most of the new tracks aren't particularly good. The brand new underwater segments are also pretty lame in general. Unlike the gliding, there's very little strategy around them, so they simply slow down the race.

Choosing the various kart parts didn't resonate with me either. Experimenting with kart and character combinations was more than enough; this extra level of customization seems excessive.

Something that won't likely bother most players, but possibly the hardcore Mario Kart fans out there -- the game forces you to use the circle pad to control the kart, which I found awkward at times. For whatever reason, I find that the circle pad doesn't always slide smoothly and will get stuck, which can result in badly missed turns. Had the game allowed me to use the D-pad this would be a non-issue, but as it stands, especially in 150cc races and online, this problem crops up frequently enough to be noticeable.

Thankfully, the core mechanics of Mario Kart 7 are sound, which more than makes up for the shortcomings of the new track designs. Combine this with the new strategies that 7 brings to the table and you're left with one of the most compelling reasons right now to own a 3DS. If you enjoy kart racing and already have a 3DS at your disposal, Mario Kart 7 is a no-brainer.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




12/09/2011 at 08:53 PM

I am looking forward to getting this once I get a 3DS. The gliding sounds like a nice addition. Shame to hear that the new tracks are a mixed bag. Sounds like a solid new entry though. I enjoy pretty much all the Mario Karts to some extent so this should be fun.

Nick DiMola Director

12/10/2011 at 12:47 AM

Yeah, it's a great game overall. It has its drawbacks, but they aren't anything too drastic. I expect it'll spend a few months in my 3DS before being supplanted by a newer release. Whenever I get my mitts on Super Mario 3D Land, I'll put MK7 on hiatus. After I finish that, it'll likely find its way back into my system.

Matt McLennan Staff Alumnus

12/10/2011 at 12:52 AM


Angelo Grant Staff Writer

12/10/2011 at 10:06 AM

This is one of the perks of having kids. They've been begging for 3ds systems, Mario 3d land, and Mario kart, and guess who gets to play those games when they aren't around :d

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