While Mario Kart 7's mechanics are mainly solid, so much prevents the game from being anything truly special.
I'll admit: I hated Mario Kart Wii, and when I saw gameplay of Mario Kart 7, I was not impressed. Due to the hype bandwagon though, I went to GameStop day one of release and traded in a tower of games that allowed me to buy Mario Kart 7 as well as a few other things. As I played through the game, I felt like the game was greatly improved over Mario Kart Wii in some aspects, but several other things hold it back from being special.
Mario Kart 7 has two different types of play you will be most often visiting: Singe Player and Online Multiplayer. To series veterans, this is nothing new, and is no big surprise.
Single Player essentially offers you the usual: there is always the new Grand Prix that offers sixteen old tracks, as well as sixteen classics. Time trials as well as the two battle modes from Mario Kart Wii (Balloon Battle and Coin Runners) return as well of course. For GP, you're initially given 50cc through 150cc to play through, with the pace of the game being either faster or slower depending on the class. Eventually, like always, you also unlock Mirror Mode which makes things far more difficult if you have yet to memorize the tracks.
Multiplayer returns with no significant changes. What has changed, is that your VR now begins at 1000, with no known cap, if there is one at all (that means you can go over 9999 VR this time around.) This would mean that losing a race when your VR is very high would be critical, but this time around it seems as if it heavily depends on what position you end in at the end of the race. This time around, you are no longer forced into teams when it comes to battle mode, which was something I found to be at least a pet peeve in Mario Kart Wii.
Playing online with friends though, is a mixed bag. In order to play online, you need to make a lobby with a code, and give the code to your other friends online. This is actually pretty nice though, as not only do you need to not add someone on your 3DS to have to play with them, but you can also set up your own rules (like Mirror Mode Bob-omb fests.)
The Mario Kart Channel returns, despite it not necessarily being a channel anymore. It really feels as if it has been dumbed down in comparison to the Wii version (but with handheld game size restrictions, I suppose that's something that is to be expected.) Mainly what it is used for, is to download other people's ghost data via Spotpass. What's disappointing though, is that the leaderboards for Time Trials are gone. Therefore, in order to see who the current World Record holder is for the track, is to go on the more devoted Mario Kart message boards.
One of Mario Kart 7's new gimmicks is the inclusion of kart customizations, which works rather nicely, actually. New parts are activated with the returning coins (which, like older games, boost up your speed the more you collect, the cap being ten.) with random parts being unlocked every time at fixed caps. There are a few items that have a requisite that may seem out of some people's reaches (such as obtaining 10000 VR online,) but really the only reasons to use those are to simply show off that you even have them.
Another introduction to the game is the inclusion of gliders. These can be activated on certain pads, and can become quite fun to use. Never have I felt was there at any point a part of a track where they seemed like they were being used to death, or not being used enough, which is a nice move on Nintendo's part. The game also introduces underwater segments which alter the physics for a change of pace. Since your vehicle's stats have different impact underwater, it might make you consider your kart setup in the event of.
The new track designs are quite interesting. With the gameplay changes, Nintendo was able to open up the opportunities of what they can do with the new tracks. One of the big changes happens to Rainbow Road, which is now one huge course that spans out for one lap, with multiple different changes of scenery as you progress through the course. My favorite course, however, is probably Wario's Shipyard; a track that is mostly underwater.
The game features two tracks from the Wii Sports universe, and unfortunately they're pretty broken. Both of them have shortcuts that let you cut absurd time, with the one for Maka Wuhu being very easy to do. Fortunately, Nintendo was actually able to patch the Maka Wuhu one, with the Wuhu Island glitch being too difficult to pull off to be even worth considering trying online.
The character roster is rather surprisingly small for a new Mario Kart game. With as massive of a character roster the Wii game had, it was rather obvious to anticipate a bigger roster. The unlockables are interesting too, as for the most part, Nintendo opted for more obscure characters to be unlockable such as Lakitu and Queen Bee instead of more known characters like Toadette and Waluigi. Personally, I welcome the diversity, but a lot of people seem to not.
Unlike Mario Kart Wii, the kart gameplay offered here actually feels very solid and well-polished. The game overall feels very nice, and the trick system is a little more doable than last time. I don't think I can say the same for the first person gyroscope controls however. Drifting just feels so awkward, and if you have the 3D on, I can assure you will probably get motion sickness.
The item balance though is simply terrible. I will say that it blows Mario Kart Wii out of the water, but that does not mean that the item balance is indeed consistent. I feel like in turn the blue shell has become even more cataclysmic than it ever was before, taking out racers that get in its path on its way to first place while being just as frequent as it was on Mario Kart Wii. Like the Wii game, Mario Kart 7 very much feels it punishes you for being in first place, as you can easy get hit my more than one blue shell in a race, and dropping your position is guaranteed.
The graphics have a lot of eye candy to go around. Like you would expect from a Mario game, the tracks are all bright, colorful, and beautifully detailed. The 3D effect, however, is almost entirely cosmetic, but it does bring an enjoyable amount of depth into the experience. I will praise, however, that the game can keep its framerate with no problems online with 3D enabled while bringing back the lag-free online play that was offered in Mario Kart Wii.
The new music is often rather nice sounding, but I don't personally see it as anything memorable. Sure there are some pretty neat tracks here and there, the only one that really sticks with me is the new music for Rainbow Road. If you hated the character voices in Mario Kart Wii, you're in luck here… kind of. While the characters can get annoying after a while, not as often do they 'talk' like they did in Wii.
Like every other Mario Kart in the series, the lasting appeal will primarily be based off of whatever you happen to make of it. Easily, the cups alone will take you a little while to complete, even more if you have intentions on getting three stars on every cup. Online play can be fun, but it lacks the other diversions that Mario Kart Wii delivered to keep it mildly fresh. If you like time trials though, you might find that's there's enough to like about it to keep you coming back.
All in all I do not know if I really like Mario Kart 7 or not. Sure, its controls are splendid and there's a good amount of features to go around, but I feel like there is just so much holding it down from being the game that it could had been. If you're looking for a more casual kart racer that doubles as a competitive/diversion hybrid, then MK7 is great. However, if you didn't like Mario Kart Wii, I highly doubt Mario Kart 7 will change your mind, but it's at least worth a rent if doable.
Presentation - 7.5
Gameplay - 6
Graphics - 8
Sound - 7
Lasting Appeal - 7
Overall - 7.3/10