In the Grand Prix mode, there are eight cups comprised of four races, each playable in 50cc, 100cc or 150cc classes. The number increases difficulty and overall speed of the karts. Once you complete 150cc, Mirror Mode is unlocked which flips the courses for a new challenge.
There's 16 new tracks and 16 reimagined retro tracks from the previous Mario Kart games. The new hang gliding and underwater mechanics are added to the retro courses. The blue ramps deploy a hang glider from the kart that lets you temporarily take to the skies which can bypass small sections of the course or avoid grounded obstacles. When underwater, a propeller is deployed which changes up the driving physics.
When selecting your kart, you choose a base, wheels and glider. Each part affects a number of attributes such as acceleration, speed, weight, handling and off-road. The characters are the main contributor towards attributes, with heavier characters having low acceleration but higher speed, and the lighter characters having higher acceleration but low speed.
The character selection is interesting. The initial line-up is as you expect, with the roster consisting of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Toad, Bowser, and Koopa. Additional characters are unlocked by achieving first place in the 150cc cups. These eight extra characters are mainly a strange inclusion. Aside from Daisy and Wario, you unlock Metal Mario, Honey Queen, Shy Guy, Lakitu and Wiggler. The 7 CPU opponents in each cup are chosen from your unlocked character roster, so as you unlock the extra characters, you are more likely to face a B-List line-up.
The majority of weapons are the usual staples such as banana peels, green and red shells. There are a few new items such as the Tanooki Leaf which places a Tanooki tail at the back of your kart that swipes projectiles or opponents. The Fire Flower dispenses numerous, but weak fireballs. There's a Lucky 7 that surrounds your kart with an assortment of items. This sounds overpowered but is ultra rare and is normally awkward to unleash.
You can earn boosts by power-sliding, drafting behind opponents, or leaping off ramps. Coins have made their return, being absent since the Game Boy Advance's Super Circuit. These give you a minor speed boost, contribute to your star rating, and unlock the extra vehicle parts. There's plenty of karts and wheels, but the glider selection seems lacking. The star rating gives you a big incentive to replay the Cups as you aim to achieve that 3 star rating.
Mario Kart 7 features both local and online play. Even though I'm several years late to playing this game, I did manage to join a few online games. The game also uses StreetPass and SpotPass to send ghost data to beat in the Time Trial mode.
I played this game after Mario Kart 8, and going backwards makes this version seem underwhelming since I already have seen the improved graphics, customisable karts, the return of coins and good online play.