There is little arguing that the software lineup of the Nintendo 3DS handheld has been somewhat lacking but, Nintendo has begun a salvo of software releases that they hope will help the system begin to gain traction with consumers. The first wave of this new attack came in the form of Super Mario 3D Land, the second is Mario Kart 7. While Mario Kart does not date back as far as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda do, its existence is nearly as important to each new piece of Nintendo hardware that comes out.
The success of the Mario Kart series has always been due to its simplicity. Anyone can pick up the game and have fun with it. This is because the core concepts at play in Mario Kart are easy to understand. Mario Kart 7 does not change any of this and it delivers 32 purely whimsical tracks, 16 of which are completely original, to be raced around with our favorite Mario characters.
Of course once you have raced around all the tracks, Mario Kart 7 offers very little in terms of reasons to keep playing by yourself, which you will be doing a lot of unless you know other people that own a 3DS or are near a wireless access point in which you can play others online. Simply put Mario Kart 7 is a bare bones release that is just more Mario Kart.
While more Mario Kart may be fine for some gamers, for me, it is the most disappointing aspect of Mario Kart 7. It is the same game we have been playing religiously for years now, only with a new, shiny coat of paint. Its lack of depth may have been excusable if it was a launch title but it is not one. Mario Kart 7 comes nine months after the system launched and worse still, almost a month after Super Mario 3D Land, a title which fully validates the existence of the 3DS as a system.
Sure, Mario Kart 7 looks wonderful, it may even be the best looking Mario Kart game to date, but it also does little to validate the main drawing point of the 3DS, the 3D. Levels are colorful and the addition of gliding to the series really makes some of the levels pop in 3D, but these instances are tragically short and worse yet the 3D does not enhance the gameplay. In fact, it may actually detract from the gameplay.
The 3DS is very fickle about how it delivers its 3D to players. Users must hold the system a certain way for the delivery to work and deviating from that will cause the 3D image to be lost and the screen to appear blurry. This is not a giant problem in a game like Ocarina of Time 3D or Super Mario 3D Land because it is easy enough to readjust without too many issues, however losing your position in Mario Kart 7 could very well leave you driving blind and put you in the back of the pack. Thankfully the 3D slider can completely eliminate that issue; unfortunately, there is no slider to fix what was my biggest detriment to my enjoyment of the game, the actual design of the 3DS itself.
There are a pair of game mechanics that are required to be used if one wants any sort of success in Mario Kart, those of course being power sliding and using items. These two actions are mapped to the left and right shoulder buttons and due to where the buttons are, and how big they are, using them consistently over the course of a Mario Kart 7 play session left my hands feeling cramped and sore. I’m not talking long stretches of gaming either, but rather quick hits in the 10-20 minute range. I physically dreaded going back to playing the game for this review because it actually hurt to play the game.
Eye strain and physical torture aside though, Mario Kart 7 does offer a couple new and improved aspects to the stock formula though. Now players can glide over long jumps and submerge themselves in underwater levels. These two new aspects may seem like game changers but neither actually changes much of anything. Gliding looks cool but aside from a couple of instances where huge patches of track can be skipped while doing it, it is nothing more than a cool gimmick. Submersion is even less of a game changer as the karts handle nearly identical underwater, with only a slight amount of water resistance applied.
While the new additions may not be anything to write home about, the online play is much improved and should be celebrated. Mario Kart 7 offers the best online multiplayer of any Nintendo game to date. It is easy to use and lightning quick, provided you have a strong access point. Online has long been a struggle for Nintendo and it is wonderful that they finally got it right, with a title that needed to have it right.
Sadly, the fantastic online is not going to be available to all people, at all the times, and the game offers far too little to do outside of the multiplayer. It is even sadder when one looks back on Mario Kart DS and sees how Nintendo understood that a lot of players would have to play that game solo and offered them more depth than in any previous Mario Kart game before it. It is a shame because the Mario Kart formula still works and Mario Kart 7 can be fun, provided one has the right assets at their disposal. But as a handheld game it fails on a lot of levels and doesn’t offer the depth such a system requires.
Pros: fun, looks great, 16 original tracks, 16 classic tracks, 9 unlockable characters, fantastic online
Cons: same old Mario Kart, no depth to the core game, 3D does not enhance gameplay, online not always available
3* out of 5