Mario Kart is one of those games where "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" type of deals. For over 15 years since Super Mario Kart, this point has been proven true but the series also proved it can't hurt to change things up a bit while sticking to the formula. Between the two players kart gimmick in Double Dash, the bikes in Mario Kart Wii, and a slew of items added like the Bullet Bill, each kart game feels different from the rest. Mario Kart 7 takes all the good from the series and cuts out the bad that made the games not so pretty to endure.
Mario kart 7 basically builds upon what made Mario Kart DS so good. The map screen returns and remains useful as ever as it shows what items are active in the field and what turns are coming up. The drifting and mini turbo mechanics take a nod from Mario Kart Wii so players will have to maintain the charge instead of snaking all over the place like Mario Kart DS had, making the races much more close and fair. The biggest feature of Mario Kart 7 is the ability to pimp out your ride with custom parts for the body, wheels, and air glider. Each part changes the stats of your kart so you will spend time trying to find a set up that suits your needs. While this is a new change and it doesn't change the outcome of the game too much, it is only a matter of time until people find out what the "ultimate" sets up are and you will people using just that. The game also reverts the amount of racers back to 8, making the item cluster storm a bit more bearable compared to the 12 player storm in Mario Kart Wii.
The tracks themselves are simply pretty too look at and while the graphics are not as close to the Wii in terms of power, it comes pretty darn close. Every track is based on a theme and are executed quite well in its visuals. Between the lush grass in some tracks and the flashing colored lights in a few others, Mario Kart 7's tracks is quite pleasing to the eye. Tracks that take place underwater are probably the best visuals ever seen in a Mario Kart game. The textures are nice and crisp as well, but the characters themselves still have "glossy and shiny" look they had in Mario Kart Wii, making them stand out like a sore thumb. The 3D effects are a nice touch, but they are not that good compared to Super Mario 3D Land's 3D effects and it seems to be more of an afterthought. Luckily, the game can be easily enjoyed with 3D on or off.
The online is a lot smoother compared to Mario Kart Wii. The matchmaking has improved and communities can be formed, which are perfect for clans and the like. Since the 3DS adpots only one friend code per handheld instead of per handheld and per game, joining a friend's game is a lot easier now. However, each community that you create has its own code, but it is a small price to pay to prevent random people from joining groups uninvited. Each community group can also have its own settings, such as what game speed to play on or what types of items can be used, which makes games a lot more flexible.
Balloon Battle and Coin Runners make a return from the Wii game and they are as fun as they were back then, but Nintendo dropped the ball when it comes to team battles; friendly fire can happen at any time, so it is possible to wind up hitting your team members and lose points for it and Mario Kart is unpredictable enough. The problem gets worse when you have the AI in your team since they are careless in their attacks. Speaking of the AI, they are still cheap as ever. Between rubber banding their way to the top and using their items mostly on you and only you, expect getting a 3 star rank on 150cc to be a nightmare as you can have a perfect race be completely ruined by one or two attacks in the final lap.
Between the local multiplayer and the online, Mario Kart 7's tracks will keep you busy for quite a while, but playing alone, they can get boring fast. 32 tracks are nice but it would have been better if two more cups were added to keep people coming back for more. Mario Kart 7 improves upon the other games and trims down on the bad stuff while still clinging to some flaws that many fans have long complained about.