|Dev: Nintendo/Retro Studios|
|Pub: Nintendo Studios|
|Release: December 4, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Amanda L. Kondolojy
Mario Kart is one of the few franchises that have been able to hop back and forth between handheld and home consoles without losing a whole lot in translation. Whether the last Mario Kart you played was the Wii version or the DS version, you were treated to an excellent game with plenty of tracks, characters, and multiplayer modes. Though it's easy to gloss over handheld iterations of any major series as auxiliary, Mario Kart 7 is the best put-together Mario Kart yet. And if you think it's because of the 3D, you'd be mistaken.
In fact, the 3D is so understated that sometimes it's hard to notice that it's even there. There are some decent 3D effects including sun flares and water effects, but if you are looking for a game with a lot of "pop," you won't find it here. It's actually quite refreshing, as a game like Mario Kart doesn't need flashy 3D effects. After playing in both 3D and 2D, I can confidently say that the 3D is not necessary for the game, and doesn't come close to being a selling point.
What actually is a selling point, though, is the new content. Mario Kart 7 has 16 new courses and several new characters for you to unlock, in addition to 16 "throwback" tracks taken from earlier games in the series. The new courses take advantage of a new multi-level track system that lets you take to the air with a glider or dive underwater. Although some of the places where you can use these abilities are pretty obvious, part of the fun of the game is finding secret areas where you can jump into the water or take flight to clip past your opponents. The new tracks in Mario Kart 7 are extremely detailed, and the more you play on them, the more you'll discover about the tracks and the secrets they hold.
The throwback tracks have also been done extremely well, and all of them seem to have been given a bit of graphical polish to bring them more in line with the new levels. The retro levels also feature new underwater and aerial areas, so you can explore some new areas of these familiar courses.
Another element that comes as a bit of a throwback is the reappearance of coins. For the last few iterations of Mario Kart, in-track coins have been strangely absent. However, the coins are back, and you can collect up to ten per stage to increase your maximum speed. You can also collect coins to unlock content, so even if you max out the amount of coins for speed purposes, you'll still want to continue collecting coins throughout each level.
Aside from all the new track content, Mario Kart 7 has taken a new approach to the vehicles this time around. You start by picking a base vehicle for your character (initial offerings include a kart, buggy, and birthday car) and then outfitting it with tires specialized for speed, handling, or off-road driving. You can then pick a specialty glider and go forth with your own custom vehicle. The vehicle customization isn't unlike that of Mario Kart Wii, though it's taken a bit further in Mario Kart 7, and again provides some much-needed depth to a system that may otherwise have been a little too simple.
There are some new power-ups as well. In addition to the various shells, mushrooms, and stars, Mario Kart 7 also includes a fire flower that lets you burn nearby enemies, a deflecting tanooki tail, and a bomb-omb that lets you blow up enemies that are a medium distance away. These power-ups are all quite useful, but there is one overstuffed power-up among the bunch that might annoy you even more than the accursed blue shell. It's called Lucky 7 and gives you all seven of the standard power-ups, (green shell, red shell, mushroom, inky, etc.) for you to use at your discretion. Any player who is lucky enough to get this power-up basically has "God Mode" on for a few minutes, and the effects on what might have otherwise been a close game are devastating. Aside from this annoyance, however, the new power-ups are a welcome addition to the Mario Kart roster.