Mario Kart 7 Review: More Tracks, More Fun, More Blue Shells

With the initial announcement of Nintendo’s 3DS, there was a flurry of obvious guesses as to what franchises would be brought to the new, revolutionary console. Chief among those was the Mario Kart series, which has leapt from one platform to the next with popularity and success. When the trailers first started pouring out for the latest game, titled only Mario Kart 7, fans were not disappointed. Having spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel, I can say that – while blandly titled – Mario Kart 7 lives up to all the hype built around it.

Platforms: 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Retro Studios, Nintendo EAD
Genre: Next Generation Karting
Release Date: December 4, 2011
ESRB Rating: Everyone

There’s not much that’s different here from other Kart games – you’ve got your standard characters, typical karts, and the same kinds of courses. There are four new circuits and four retro circuits, each of the latter fitted with levels from previous Kart games. As you ace the races, you unlock more and more characters, but you also unlock karts, wheels, and gliders, which are by far the coolest addition to the game. With the gliders, you can now launch off of specific spots and glide your way to the other side, manipulating the kart up and down and left and right to pick up your speed while picking up coins.

Collecting coins allow you to unlock characters (including Shy Guy and my favorite, Lakitu) and parts for your kart, while also making your kart go faster during the race. Once you’ve collected ten coins, you’re maxed out at your fastest base speed. Getting hit or falling off the course makes you lose coins, so you need to be extra careful.

You’ve got all the items you’d expect to pick up here – blue shells to create a cacophony of cursing, red shells to hone in on your target, and the near-useless banana peels to muck up the track. My favorite new item in Mario Kart 7 has to be the raccoon tail, in which you can hit the players around you as well as swat away incoming items. It doesn’t last very long, but it’s a lot of fun while it’s swinging.

I thoroughly enjoyed the new glide mechanic, though it does take some getting used to. At first, I didn’t realize exactly how much I could manipulate my kart with the glider, assuming instead that I was stuck with the path I had when I first launched myself into the air. But as I started to get used to it, it was easier to pick up coins and avoid obstacles and enemies in my way by moving side to side but also up and down, catching the air by tilting forward and then pulling back. Getting launched in the air is more fun than it’s ever been in a Mario Kart game! Maneuvering through the water was also a lot of fun, especially trying to drive through clam shells to pick up coins and items before they snapped shut on me.

The best part was the new tracks themselves, which were creative and fun. I was worried that there would be no way they could prevent the series from going stale, but there’s a perfect mix here of new tracks and remade tracks from previous games. I loved playing through some of the tracks from Super Circuit, and I have a soft spot for anything that comes from Double Dash!! But some of the new levels, including Music Park and Neo Bowser City, are full of that Mario Kart magic that makes the tracks fun and exciting.

The multiplayer is loads of fun, especially sitting in a room with a bunch of your friends. Being up close and personal to see the reaction when you ink everyone is only beaten out by hearing the curses when you blow someone up with a blue shell. And I was stunned when a friend stabbed me in the back after agreeing to gang up on an AI player. “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” I shouted across the room.

One of the best aspects of this game is the fact that the 3D is subtle and not as distracting as it’s been for me in other games. Some of the 3D in other 3DS games can be overwhelming at best, headache-inducing at worst. In Mario Kart 7, it feels just right, bringing the background in gently without making you feel like you’re constantly scrambling to understand the perspective.

But while there is much to praise about this addition to the series, there’s just not much really that’s all that original about it. While it’s exciting to play a Kart game on the 3DS, I can’t say it’s much different than (the also blandly named) Mario Kart DS. Don’t get me wrong – I love Mario Kart DS, and could play it for hours on end. The same goes for Mario Kart 7. They’re both delightful and entertaining, as only games made by Nintendo can be. There’s just not much here that’s really all that new or different.

Even in spite of that last paragraph, I would still recommend Mario Kart 7 to any and all 3DS owners, considering it is easily one of the best games currently available for the young system. Kart fans will be delighted, as always, and the most hardcore most likely had the game pre-ordered the moment it was announced. This game has huge replayability value and is a blast to play with friends, keeping you entertained for countless hours.

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Mario Kart 7 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

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Nicole Kline is Warp Zoned's Senior Editor. She first began preparing for the job by climbing a milk crate to play Centipede in an arcade. You can find her on PSN under the name toitle or you can email her at nicole AT warpzoned DOT com.

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