Mario Kart like you’ve never seen it before
Mario Kart has always been a fun, colorful game and with each iteration, Nintendo finds weird and wonderful ways to improve the arcade racer beyond its previous offering. Mario Kart 7 is no different and may well prove to be the most innovative Mario Kart yet.
The first thing you will notice playing Mario Kart 7 are the game’s stunning graphics and its vibrant tracks. The gameplay videos found on various sites really do not do the game justice, and that’s not just because those videos can’t show the game in 3D. Seeing the game in action with your own eyes will show you the game’s wonderful cartoony graphics which are hard to describe. It is as if they have been ‘fluffed up,’ making them both soft and crisp at the same time. Fan-favorite maps make a return but only after having been brought up to date to make full use of the 3DS’ power.
A major new feature is the introduction of the hang-glider which unfolds when karts drive off of solid ground, usually by being propelled into the air after hitting a speed-boost section in the road. From there, you control your gliding path with the analog button/stick. As the gliders are unpowered and there’s no wind, the flight does not last indefinitely but there are ways you can extend the flight a bit.
Look mom, bubbles!
The hang-gliding definitely brings more variation to the racing as they add a vertical element that offers more control than being ‘shot’ into the air like in some maps of older Mario Kart games. Yet Nintendo has ventured to add not one, but two new dimensions to the gameplay of Mario Kart 7. Apart from taking to the air, racing also takes place underwater. Not all water found in the game is suitable to race in but underwater sections are featured in many tracks. As your kart submerges itself under the water surface a propeller pops out at the back and a blue haze replaces the clear skies. Bubbles and a slight delay in your actions being translated into movement on the screen complete the sense that you are indeed driving underwater.
Most power-ups and other items appear to be available when driving on the bottom of a stream or lake, but they too seem to move a bit slower. That slowness also adds a new layer of strategy to the game. Many track sections that include water offer a choice to continue driving along a narrow path at full speed or to dive into the water and perhaps get some power-ups instead. The power-ups may offset the loss of speed, or they may not and cost you valuable time. So is water always safe to take a dive in? We weren’t able to try this out, but the lack of a clear way out of the water in some of the tracks leads us to believe that it is not.
The last big new feature is the ability to modify your cart before starting a race. Using a slot-machine like selection tool, you browse through different body, wheel and glider types to put together the kart you would like to use. Each of these parts have a distinct impact on how your kart handles. Bigger wheels, for instance, will be better in muddy terrain but will decrease your maximum speed.
The new features will do a lot to refresh the franchise and have been implemented in such a way that fans of the series will quickly be able to pick them up and make them their own. Racing in Mario Kart 7 felt every bit as natural as it always has and I am sure it will continue to reign supreme as the king of arcade racing for the foreseeable future.