Adam Riley, Senior Editor
As has been the case with a lot of the current Nintendo 3DS line-up since launch, Mario Kart 7
is not actually being solely handled internally. We have seen Monster Games tackle Pilotwings Resort
, Q-Games spruce up Star Fox 64 3D
, Grezzo give The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
a new lick of paint, and Vitei, Inc. wave its magic wand over Steel Diver
, along with the upcoming Luigi’s Mansion 2
being looked after by Next Level Games. Therefore, it is no massive surprise to learn that the reins of Mario Kart 7
have been handed over to another close Nintendo partner, this time Retro Studios, the drivers of the Metroid Prime
series, plus the huge success that was Donkey Kong Country Returns
. However, it should be noted that so far it has only been confirmed that Retro has lent a helping hand to the creation of some new tracks. When the full game is released it will be made clear exactly what the development split was between the two companies.
There are several new elements, or at least a couple that appear to have been regurgitated from past entries, as well as plenty of familiar aspects to keep long-term fans content. On the routine side, there is the return of fan-favourite weapons to utilise, such as the red, green and even blue shells, whilst in terms of characters the standard clan are back, with Donkey Kong, Wario, Toad, Princess Peach, Mario, Luigi, et al, except this time with the re-inclusion of Koopa Troopa. As for complete fresh additions, there is the paragliding ability that has been added to karts, the opportunity to drive under water thanks to propeller attachments, and a feature dragged back from the GameCube iteration, namely the customisation option whereby vehicles can be tweaked in numerous possible ways to change their appearance considerably.
On the one course I had chance to test out, selecting Yoshi as my character of choice, I had the fortune to witness both the paragliding and underwater elements on the same track. The former definitely reminded me of when hitting the boost section on DK’s Jungle Parkway in Mario Kart 64 and being shot into the air, almost hanging there, moving in slow motion before crash landing and zooming off once more along the set pathway. It will undoubtedly add a whole extra level of strategy to races, with the player able to careful manoeuvre their karts in mid-air thanks to the automatically opened gliding apparatus and the accuracy of the Circle Pad for control.
As for the underwater sections, whilst the customisation element is meant to allow for different tyres to be donned in order to successfully navigate submerged areas with the greatest of ease, using a standard kart underwater did not feel much different from above ground. There was no resistance from oncoming currents, loss of tractions when moving from side to side, or other aqua-related issues. In the end it came across as a purely aesthetic extra rather than a gameplay-changing one, although perhaps more differences are noticeable when using several different types of kart through the main Grand Prix mode. Finally, visually this is on par, if not slightly crisper, than the Wii edition, and the added 3D brought a whole new level of depth to racing, similar to how it was used to great effect in Ridge Racer 3D.
Mike Mason, Reviews/Features Editor
Indeed, visually Mario Kart 7
is extremely impressive - from my time with the game, a single playthrough of the Grand Prix on offer, it appears to be one of the best looking games on Nintendo 3DS. Effects are thrown around plentifully, with weapons like the Blooper spitting out ink that rests above the screen, obscuring the action much more effectively than in previous titles. Dipping into rivers and lakes is particularly convincing despite the liquid appearing cartoon-like from above - to be expected given Nintendo’s previous prowess with water.
Of course, with the addition of vehicle modifications, touching water no longer necessarily ruins your race; it’s actually essential to drive through it, a propeller popping out from the back of your kart to push you along as you do so. As Adamnotes, there is a disappointing lack of traction changes in this new environment, but it does allow for the exploitation of wider, multi-levelled paths. While the majority of drivers might stick to the sand right on the ocean’s bottom, a sneaky player can slip onto rock ledges and cruise along hassle free. It will be interesting to see how far this is taken in other courses.
The vehicle alterations feel very much inspired by Monster Games’ Excitebots. Boost up special ramps and you are catapulted into the sky, only for a hang glider to burst out of the kart, allowing you to soar through the air wherever you please. Rather than the uncontrollable cannon air sections found in previous Mario Kart stages, the hang glider can be gently adjusted and steered. By moving the nose of the glider up and down you can command acceleration, either deciding to rapidly descend to get back onto solid ground post haste or remain airborne for as long as possible, avoiding the traffic below. Hold your position well and it’s possible to cut out large sections of the course - I skipped out on two or three curves by floating around peacefully as other karts tussled beneath me.
I feared that these changes would affect Mario Kart negatively, but they invigorate the series, freshening up races and giving more opportunity for different strategies. The core driving action that the franchise is known for is still as tight as ever, however - Mario Kart 7 handles well, power sliding and all. The courses shown off were all good fun too, including a Donkey Kong Country Returns level scattered with Tikis. It will be interesting to see the final mix of courses and find out how big a role the new environments play in the game as a whole, and whether they incorporate more obstacles specific to them, such as bubbles underwater, or birds in the sky.