As much as Nintendo dropped the ball with the launch of the 3DS, they certainly knew how to pick it back up. After months of releasing 3D-enhanced remakes of classic titles, "Super Mario 3D Land" established that Nintendo was back in the game. And just to keep up some of that momentum for the 2011 holiday season, they also decided to throw "Mario Kart 7" into the mix. The "Mario Kart" series always seems to do a good job of pushing systems, and I don't imagine that changed with "Mario Kart 7." While I'd previously played several "Mario Kart" games before this, "Mario Kart 7" was the first game in the franchise that I really fell in love with and sunk an extended amount of time into. It helped me fall in love with the series, and to this day, I still love it.
"Mario Kart 7" does a lot of things that the series has always done right: the controls are tight, the track design is excellent, the visuals are superb, and the racing mechanics are very fun. Nintendo has nailed how "Mario Kart" should feel, and no matter whether you are facing human or AI opponents, there's a good amount of challenge and plenty of excitement. What also elevates this game for me is a number of the new features that it adds in comparison to previous games: the gliding ability is executed excellently, the ability to drive underwater is a great concept (and it also gives way for even more great visuals), and the fact that you can now customize your kart is amazing, and certainly an addition the series benefitted from.
I guess in terms of negatives, I do understand some of the critiques surrounding the cut characters, but just for me, the core gameplay was so damn good that I was able to forgive that.
Overall, "Mario Kart 7" was the first "Mario Kart" game I truly fell in love with (sorry, "Super Circuit"), and it really turned me into a massive fan of the franchise. Even if the game might be moot today, given that "Mario Kart 8 Deluxe" can be taken on the go and is a better game, "Mario Kart 7" will always hold a place in my heart for how it got me into the franchise.
Final rating: 10 out of 10 "Fantastic"