Released this past December for Nintendo’s 3DS portable system, Mario Kart 7 is the newest title in the popular racing franchise. For those new to the series, Mario Kart is a long-running Mario spin-off, beginning with Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo, which began a videogame sub-genre known as the “cart racer”. Unlike traditional racing games, such as the Forza or Gran Turismo series which function as realistic racing simulators, cart racers bring to mind the old Hanna-Barbera Wacky Races cartoon in that they are racing games that don’t obey real-life physics but rather feature colorful cars, characters, and courses. Mario Kart created and perfected this formula in 1992 and, arguably, has yet to be matched.
In Mario Kart 7, players take the role of Mario, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, and twelve other classic Mario characters as they race through 32 fantastical courses including a flying air-fortress, an Arabian-style bazaar, an icy wonderland, and even atop a rainbow travelling through space. To aid each racer there are multiple items for them to use to help win including projectile turtle shells, slippery banana peels, and mushrooms that provide a player with a turbo boost of speed.
While the last Mario Kart, Mario Kart Wii, attempted to invigorate the series through the inclusion of motorbikes and having each race feature twelve racers as opposed to the usual eight, 7 goes back to the basics by removing the motorbikes and switching back to eight racers per match. However, 7 does have a few tricks up its sleeve to differentiate itself from previous Mario Karts, notably through the inclusion of transforming karts with three different modes. There is the normal vehicle mode, an aquatic mode allowing the kart to travel beneath the waves, and a gliding mode allowing the kart to launch off ramps and soar through the air. This adds a new level of strategy to each race as courses feature multiple paths designed to take advantage of each of the three modes, allowing players to decide which path will be the most beneficial. Furthermore, by collecting coins scattered around each race course, players obtain new bodies, wheels, and gliders for their karts that they can mix-and-match in order to influence their speed, acceleration, and handling.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of Mario Kart 7, however, is its upgraded multiplayer mode. While you have the usual local multiplayer mode, allowing you to race, or compete in the frantic battle mode, against friends, there is also a Wi-Fi multiplayer mode allowing you to race people around the world. The Wi-Fi mode of 7 is Nintendo’s strongest effort yet in online gaming, featuring lag-free online for the most part, as well as getting rid of the maligned “Friend Code” system that’s plagued Nintendo’s online system in exchange for allowing players to meet and race people around the world. Nintendo’s often been criticized for falling behind Sony and Microsoft as videogames enter the internet age, so 7‘s upgraded online capabilities is certainly welcomed.
Overall, Mario Kart 7 does not shake up the Mario Kart formula but instead sticks to its guns and provides a solid racing experience. It is certainly not a game to buy a Nintendo 3DS for alone, especially if you already own one of the previous Mario Karts, but it is a solid addition to the 3DS’ slim portfolio.