Mario Kart DS still continues to sell well, considering it was released more than five years ago. Because of its success, there is a lot riding on the upcoming Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS in terms of continuing the strong kart racing tradition on this new platform. There are a lot of new things coming to the franchise this December, and we recently had the opportunity to experience some of what the game has to offer.
Racing online and with others was a big part of what made the last game so successful. It was easy to get into a match and race for hours. For Mario Kart 7, Nintendo is implementing a new feature called Online Communities, which should make racing with friends a more streamlined affair. Creating a community is simple: create a group, set up the parameters, and then pass off the group's unique code to those you want to include. They enter the code on their 3DSs and then begin racing.
Communities allow you to create race-specific scenarios that you and others can race at any time. If you and your friends enjoy 150cc races with only specific power-ups, then you can create them. Leaderboards will also be in place to let you see how friends race against each other. You'll be able to share and compare statistics, ghost times, and other features with friends within the community. There is no limit to how many people join a group, so it can involve a small handful of people or an entire school of friends.
Online integration doesn't simply involve Online Communities. Mario Kart 7 will take full advantage of both StreetPass and SpotPass functionality in a number of different ways. The StreetPass feature will let you share data with people, including your ghost times, record, favorite course or cups, and coins. It will even allow you to easily invite others into your online community. With the SpotPass features, you can send out ghost times of the best races from around the world and even get new time-attack challenges.
Playing with others, we had the chance to sit down and race in four of the eight available cups in local multiplayer. There will be four modes available in multiplayer, and we got to try out Grand Prix. It was pretty straightforward; it had four races in a particular cup challenge, with the best racer after the four races declared the winner. The initial four cups were mushroom, flower, shell, and banana, with the other four being unlocked as you progress through the game. Multiplayer was a blast to play and there were a few situations where we exchanged some foul languages after races.
As in previous games in the franchise, kart customization is available and factors heavily because courses do vary. The new kart add-on is a glider, and there are a few courses that use it quite prominently. After riding off a very high ledge, your kart will trigger glider mode and be able to sail in the sky for a certain amount of time. Gliding can be short or long, depending on how you decide to use it. In a lot of races, if you manage to stay in the sky long enough, it gives your car a slight advantage over those on the ground; thus, knowing the courses and taking advantage of flight can really make up time.
In terms of racing, there are also a couple of new features. There are three new power-ups available in Mario Kart 7. The tanooki tail acts as a defense mechanism that allows the racer to deflect oncoming shells, which may cause damage. If you're leading a race, it can't prevent a blue shell, but being able to swat away red and green shells can be quite helpful. There is also a new flower power-up that gives you a moment to shoot fireballs at racers in front of you; if you time these correctly, they offer good range but last a brief amount of time. So shoot as many as you can before they disappear.
The last new power-up could be viewed as the one that significantly changes the course of a race. The lucky 7 gives the racer access to every other power-up; you'll get a red shell, speed mushroom, banana, and so forth. If used correctly, it can cause serious problems for the other racers. Getting the lucky 7 is extremely rare, and in our many races, only one person managed to take advantage of its power.
One thing a lot of racing gamers enjoy is racing inside the cockpit of their vehicles. Past Mario Kart games haven't included this feature, but Mario Kart 7 finally offers the ability to race from inside the kart. First-person kart racing is done using the gyroscope to steer, and surprisingly, it works really well. It takes about a minute or so to adjust to the new perspective, but the cars handle really well and only a slight tilt to the left or right is required to steer. To power slide, all you need to do is tilt a bit more aggressively. Although the gyroscope works well for steering, it isn't mandatory; you can still use the circle pad to control your kart if you wish.
Mario Kart has always included a lot of treats, and we've only touched on a few of them, which fans of the series can expect this December. The ability to create online communities with friends, share data easily with strangers and race inside the kart only touch the surface because there is a lot more that hasn't been revealed, or there just wasn't enough time. Thankfully, though, Mario Kart 7 arrives for the Nintendo 3DS on December 4.