Mario Kart 7 does not follow much of a story. The inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom have all gathered to race one another for fame and fortune! Mario Kart 7 takes place in a wide variety of locations: from Peach's Castle found on the Mario Circuit, to the DK Jungle, and always traditionally finishing on Rainbow Road. With a whopping 32 tracks to race on, divided down into 8 different Cups, there are a lot of tracks to work with! 16 of these tracks are brand new, while the other 16 are from previous games, such as Koopa Beach from the N64, and Daisy Cruiser from the Gamecube. Mario Kart 7 offers the usual 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Mirror Modes for its difficulties, and the ability to earn a 1, 2, or 3 star rating based on your performance throughout the entire Grand Prix. Keeping it classic, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
The racing in Mario Kart 7 has not changed much from its previous installments. If you have ever played Mario Kart DS, you will feel right at home. Hold A to accelerate, B to brake, R to drift, and L to use items. One thing that's worth mentioning is that only the Circle Pad can be used to control the direction of the car. It's a shame, because some people might prefer to use the D-Pad to accommodate their transfer from the DS to the 3DS, or maybe because they are more comfortable using the D-Pad. Either way, the D-Pad should have been implemented for control.
Now, what makes Mario Kart 7 different? The first feature is what I like to call racing by "Land, Sea, and Air." In older Mario Kart games, all racing was done by land (unless for example you were getting shot out of a cannon). Now, there are certain tracks that feature underwater segments of track and a propeller will deploy out of the back of your kart to push you forward. There are now also ramps that have blue speed boost arrows rather than the traditional red speed boost arrows that shoot you high into the air. Once airborne, your kart releases a parachute, and you can navigate yourself through the air! Racing by sea and air don't really change much in terms of gameplay, but it's a good mix-up in environmental features. Be careful though, if you're flying through the air when another player has a lightning, you're going down!
Another new feature of Mario Kart 7 is kart customization. Now as you all know, I'm big when it comes to customization, so this was an immediate plus. Once you select your track and one of 16 playable characters, you are at the kart customization screen. Here, you have the opportunity to pick your kart's Body, Tires, and Glider. There are many options to choose from in each category, and each part has a different effect on your karts performance in each of 5 areas: Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling, and Off-Road. So if you wanted to build a kart that would go completely Off-Road, you could do that! However, having one area super-high reduces the other area appropriately for balancing purposes. Some combinations of parts look absolutely ridiculous but could end up being what's right for you! Now how do you unlock all of these customizable parts? Coins!
Coins are another new feature in Mario Kart 7. Every track now has Coins on it which serve two purposes. First, as mentioned before, Coins are used to obtain customizable parts for your kart! Each race you are allowed to collect a maximum of 10 coins, and the coins are added to your overall total at the end of each race. Once your overall total of Coins reaches a certain number, you unlock a random custom part! The second benefit of Coins is that they provide a very small speed boost when you collect them. So even if you already have 10 coins, it's worth it to keep collecting them to maintain your maximum speed. Now on the downside, every time you get hit by a shell, a fireball, or even fall off of a ledge, you lose 3 coins, so it's an even bigger incentive to not get hit by enemy projectiles.
Mario Kart 7 has kept things simple with its items. There are the classic bananas, bombs, bloopers, bullet bills, shells, stars, and mushrooms that we all remember. Surprisingly, Mario Kart 7 only added 3 new items: The Fire Flower, which gives the user the ability to spam fireballs either forward or backwards. The Super leaf, which gives the user's kart a tail, similar to the Tanooki Suit, that can either absorb a hit from an enemy projectile, knock obstacles out of your way, or knock other players out of your way too! Finally, there is the the Lucky Seven, which gives the player a Banana, a Green Shell, a Red Shell, a Mushroom, a Bomb, a Blooper, and a Star. That sounds a little overpowered right? I mean, seven items at once? Well, it comes up as often as a blue shell so there isn't too much to worry about.
Mario Kart is the most fun when you play it with other people! As always, Time Trials are alive and well. But with the StreetPass feature built into the 3DS, you can actually obtain other player's Time Trial data and see if you can beat it! This makes Time Trials an actual multiplayer function!
The other local and online multiplayer functions are standard racing, and the chaotic battle games. Like Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7 has the feature of DS Download Play. So you could play Mario Kart 7 with one of your friends, even if they don't own the game! That's a huge plus! I've already talked a lot about racing in Mario Kart 7, and I can say I'm very pleased with the quality of online multiplayer. I've played with people all around the world and I've experienced little to no lag. There's a disconnect every once in awhile, but racing online is very satisfying and fuels that competitive edge! With the battle games, there is Balloon Battle and Coin Runners. Balloon Battle is similar to the older games, but now it's about getting the highest count of how many balloons you made your opponents lose, rather than being the last one standing. Coin Runners is a new game where the goal is to have as many coins as possible by the end of the time limit. You can collect coins on the track, or hit your opponents with items to make them lose coins. If you've ever played Headhunter in Halo: Reach, it's very similar.
I always love Mario Kart games because they are so colorful and vibrant, and Mario Kart 7 is no exception. One minute you'll be racing on a paved racetrack, the next through the creepy atmosphere of Wario's Shipyard, and the next through the darkness of Neo Bowser City, which contrasts the darkness with the use of neon lights. What I also love about Mario Kart games is the creativity put into the tracks. Bouncing on mushrooms, racing on the moon, so awesome! Even though 16 of the tracks are retro tracks from previous games, they have a fresh new look on the 3DS. With the 3D functionality, it makes it feel as if the tracks and environments have depth. On Cheep Cheep Lagoon for example, when you emerge from being underwater, the glare of the sun hits you right in the face! Another example is on Mario Circuit, there's a section of track where you drive through a grove of cherry blossom trees. The use of particle effects to make it look like the cherry blossoms are falling all around you is great! I would highly recommend that this game be played with the 3D Slider turned all the way up!
In terms of audio, the music is what you would expect of a Mario game. All of the music is happy, cheerful, and you'll be humming the tunes a week later and say, "Those catchy Mario Kart songs are stuck in my head!" One track, Music Park, you actually drive over piano and xylophone keys that play music as you drive over them. The first time I heard that, I thought it was awesome!
Mario Kart 7 is a great game for anyone! Being that the 3DS is still young, and there are only a few good games on the market, I would recommend this be your first or second buy. If you are a fan of Mario Kart, you'll like this game just as much as the others. The game is short and can be completed rather quickly, but there's replayability value with kart customization, time trials, and online multiplayer. Mario Kart 7 takes a classic series and keeps it in the fast lane!
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