I am a very biased Mario Kart fan. There, we got that out of the way. I’ve been going on and on about how excited I was to finally get my hands on Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS, going so far as essentially promising that I’d love it. Now that I’ve had a chance to play through and get a gold trophy in all eight cups in both the 50cc and 100cc divisions, plus a bunch of battles both on and offline, I have a lot to say. So is Mario Kart 7 perfection? Here’s my review.
An important side note, I read a handful of reviews from other sites, specifically Destructoid, so when Jim Sterling gave his impressions of Mario Kart 7, effectively waggling a disapproving finger and deciding it was underwhelming, my first and only reaction was overreaction, claiming, “Well he just doesn’t like the series! There’s no way he’d give it a 5 out of 10 if he were being fair and actually knew what he was talking about! Hurdy gurdy bur!” This was all internal of course, but now I can say, very politely to Jim, “I disagree…to a point.”
Mario Kart 7 is a fine game. It’s a fine Mario Kart game. It’s a fantastic game for the 3DS and demonstrates its capabilities wonderfully. And it is indeed a franchise that’s showing its age in places, which I’ll get in to momentarily. But before I nit-pick and complain, I’d like to cover what the game did right.
Graphically, Mario Kart 7 again proves that the 3DS looks great and plays smoothly. Everything looks technically sound as you peel around corners and select through menus. The controls are tight and driving feels good. However, as a protip, make sure you’re aware that you can use both the L button and the X button for items. It took me a while to realize that X works just as good, so I’ve had quite a cramp in my hand from holding the system awkwardly.
I keep hearing over and over again that the real stars of the series are the tracks, and once more they don’t disappoint when it comes to new environments, for the most part. The coolest new addition is the use of sectional tracks rather than just circuits, meaning instead of just going around three times, you move through three checkpoints until you cross the finish line, allowing for a much greater sense of variety within the same race. I love that, but it sadly only happens three times. I would have gladly taken more.
Also new is the ability to hang glide at certain points, a welcome gameplay change that just feels right, plus a propeller that kicks in once you’re submerged that controls slightly differently than the other two kart forms. I found myself enjoying the underwater portions just as much as the rest, though they won’t be for everyone.
Finally, the new items are worthy of the game and mix things up appropriately. There is a fire flower powerup that allows you to hurl a bunch of fireballs at opponents, similar to Mario and Luigi’s signature weapons from Double Dash!!, as well as the tanooki tail, a powerup that takes some getting used to but that fits right in and works great in the harder races where everyone’s neck-and-neck.
But things aren’t all perfect. Despite the fluid controls, fun tracks, pretty graphics, and outstanding online modes (all there is to say about them is that they work just as well as the Mario Kart DS’s online modes worked), there’s a lot to be desired. Mario Kart 7 feels rather short, even though it’s the same length as the other Mario Kart games. It has eight cups with four tracks each, totaling 32 tracks, 17 characters, dozens of kart pieces to customize your play style, six battle maps, and four gameplay modes, but something still feels extremely lacking, and it may be because the title touts the fact that it’s the 7th game in the series.
See, when playing the new tracks, I thought, “These are great, but sadly there aren’t enough to really sink in.” While there are some standouts, such as the aforementioned sectional courses, we still waste time with the usual simple circuits early on or the uninteresting throwaway levels. But then you play the cups that revolve around tracks from past games and scratch your head, asking “Why this one?”
I’m greedy, but I don’t think it’s unfair to want everything and more. I want a Mario Kart game with every previous track on it, every playable character, every item, every possible bit from the past. Why no more two-player kart action? Why no more bikes? Why only three new battle tracks and three fairly dull returns? Why not more, more, more?
But the biggest, most broken aspect of the games is the Blue Shell. I debated with myself on this one since it’s such a staple of the series, but now it’s just become a problem. Leading a race way out in front is not enjoyable because you become such a target for cheap shots from the computer. You’ll be absolutely killing in a race, zooming past the competition and just playing great, when all of a sudden you’ll hear the painful sound of the Blue Shell flying to get you and you’ll just get annoyed because there’s nothing you can do to avoid it short of stockpiling a Starman powerup, which you’ll never get if you’re in 1st place.
I get that the purpose of these super items is to allow other players a chance to catch up, or give you the ability to really stick it to the computer in the event that you’re losing, but the Blue Shell, the lightning, the Bullet Bill, all happen far too frequently to really feel like a hail Mary. Instead, they just come off as the computer punishing you for playing well. Nothing is worse than closing in on the home stretch, only to be blasted by a Blue Shell, then hit by lightning, then bumped off the track by other racers, and ending up going past the finish line in last place when you’ve been solid in 1st the entirety of the race. That’s broken and it should have been fixed by now, or at least given the option to turn it off.
That may be the heart of what I want here: I want a Super Smash Bros of Mario Kart. I want the ultimate compendium with races, battles, challenges, and full player control. I want options to nix certain items, or even build custom courses. When will we get that game? Perhaps not for a while, and that’s a shame.
To cap this off, I’ll give you a rundown of the order I place the Mario Kart games. Way out in first is Mario Kart DS, followed closely by Double Dash!!, then Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart Wii, Super Mario Kart, and finally Super Circuit. I suppose that means I’d place it right smack-dab in the middle of things then, huh? It’s not the best, it’s not the worst, it’s just there. Mario Kart 7 is a placeholder until something better comes along. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait forever.