I'm not one for Mario Kart Wii. I honestly hated the game. I've played every entry in the series, but I couldn't stand Mario Kart Wii. I thought it was terribly floaty and that the weapon and CPU balancing were the worst the series had ever seen. Needless to say, I was a little worried about Mario Kart 7.
Thankfully, this 3D-enabled outing actually more closely resembles Mario Kart DS than it does the console spawn of Kart-racing Satan. Mario Kart 7 represents a return to form for the series, whether or not you find that form a little stale after six previous outings.
Obviously the biggest addition to the Nintendo-racing stalwart is the inclusion of submarining and hang-gliding. Tracks take racers under the sea and up into the air for a sense of variety. Of course, it's entirely superficial, but there's something to be said about the way it has opened up track design for Nintendo's time.
Mario Kart 7's new tracks are as inventive as Mario Kart 64's and the slight changes to the classic selection of tracks open them up to fresh eyes and old-hands alike. There's enough graphical oomph to make each beautiful in its own right and the 3D effect is icing on the cake. Sure, it doesn't add much to the experience, but small touches like the first-person mode and certain twists and turns make the added depth more than worthwhile.
Of course, that says nothing of the game's buttery smooth online experience. As much as I'd like to say I've got a full list of friends on my 3DS, I don't and I can't pretend to assume many gamers do, but matchmaking in Mario Kart 7's online mode works almost flawlessly and the races remain lag-free throughout. I never thought I'd have an online experience like this in a Nintendo game.
You can also join specific racing communities to matchmake against regional opponents or fans of specific games and characters. Mario Cup is currently the most populated, but the selection will quickly grow. Regardless of what cup you're racing in or whether you're playing Battle or Grand Prix modes, I'm completely surprised by the game's excellent netcode. Even in a game populated by Japanese players, I found little to no lag.
So what's wrong with the it? Why am I not giving Mario Kart 7 a full-speed 'A'? It's too safe. This is the system-seller. You still can't find a copy of Mario Kart DS for much less than $30. This game has to stand the test of time... or at least... the test of a handheld generation.
I'd like for there to be more tracks, both new and old, and I wish there was more variety in the game's online modes. There's still plenty of rubber-banding in races against computer opponents... and human opponents. Mario Kart is Mario Kart is Mario Kart. This entry does little to change that formula.
Regardless, you've got to own this game if you've got a Nintendo 3DS. If you find a shiny new 3D handheld under the Christmas tree, don't hesitate to pick this game up. It'll surely prove to suck hours and hours of your system's diminuitive battery life away, but once you plug in, you won't want to put it down.
Copy provided by the publisher.