Mario Kart 7 (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Sam Turner 04.12.2011

Review for Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo are nothing if not consistent. Their reliance on licenced characters and franchises to sell consoles for decades has, for some, formed a list of personnel and titles that should have bit the dust long ago. For others, picking up a Nintendo unit wouldn’t be the same without the gleaming faces of Link, Mario and Bowser looking back at them. It is predictable, but it’s an inevitability tinged with the thrill of innovation and novelty. Not knowing how characters will react to the next generation of graphics or how gameplay will be affected by the different ways of interacting with your console is an endearing prospect, but also slightly worrying. If you had any concerns about how Nintendo 3DS would handle the latest iteration of the precious Mario Kart series then you shouldn’t distress, because even with the promise of upgraded graphics and gameplay, Mario Kart 7 is just another Mario Kart game.

For those with a long history with the titles, Mario Kart 7 doesn’t make too many changes to the formula, but it does do enough to keep racing just as interesting and compelling as it was nineteen years ago. Mario Kart 7 still has a familiar colourful roster of Nintendo characters and the expected three levels of difficulty: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc. All of this is combined with the similar mix of openly arduous and delicately intricate courses. Mario Kart 7 has 32 tracks to race on, with time trials, coin dashes and balloon battle modes to boot. It’s all been seen and done before, but Mario Kart 7 does seek some benefit from its rich heritage.

All of it is instantly recognisable for a start, even more so for those experienced with Mario Kart Wii. Fans of that game will be reminded, through Mario Kart 7, of its simple menu design, the snappy sound and even the lens flare as the camera pans across the competitors at the start of every race. It is good to see the quality of the Wii release come through in Mario Kart 7. Nintendo have borrowed just enough assets to make Mario Kart 7 share the overall level of excellence of the series without being too incestuous with previous versions.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS

Be assured that Mario Kart 7 does deliver the Mario Kart experience in spades. Split between 16 classic and 16 brand new courses, the fast and elegant gameplay of gathering speed by drifting around corners and avoiding obstacles is mixed beautifully with the art of maintaining pole position under a hail of weapons from any of the seven other racers behind you. If this wasn’t enough then the new abilities to glide through the air and propel your vehicle underwater add adequate reinvention and verticality to keep you on your racing toes.

Both the new additions are certainly well implemented, with even classic tracks easily embracing the flying and submerging mechanics. They are no great overhaul of the way you’ll play, and in some places they have been ingrained so well that you’ll hardly the notice the difference between gliding through the air and being shot out a DK Barrel, for example. There is a certain tactical advantage that gliding can give. However, just like the propelled sections underwater it can feel sluggish, and there’s often an eagerness to touch down or resurface as soon as possible to get to grips with the graphite once again.

Mario Kart 7 makes another smart innovation by reintroducing coins into the series. When collected they not only boost your maximum speed but also unlock several customisable items for your kart. Dotted around all of the tracks the coins become an essential part of racing. Not only are they an easy way to pick up speed after a spill, but the coins will also invite you to explore other areas of the map. Easily won and easily lost with a smack of a shell or a slip on a banana, picking up coins soon becomes part of your racing creed. This, alongside a new first person mode and gyro controls that effectively turn 3DS into the Wii steering wheel, are without doubt the best mechanics that have been introduced into the game.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS

Of course, much of what has been added to Mario Kart 7 is entirely optional when it comes to the core experience. Using weapons to gain advantage at the back and protect you at the front is the bread and butter of the previous six titles, and it remains so in Mario Kart 7. As with every other Mario Kart game it is a system blighted by inequality. Racing well can often be a punishable offence, and it is common to have a race ruined by Mario Kart 7’s penchant for rubber banding. The inclusion of three new weapons embellishes that experience to a certain degree, being a pleasure to wield but a pain to receive from a gleeful rival. A Tanooki Tail lets you swipe at passing drivers, a Fire Flower throws forth a constant stream of deadly flames and the Lucky 7 gives you seven weapons in one. It can feel unsatisfying to see hard work slip away by the game ‘deciding’ that someone who is struggling should get a better chance. It’s a shame that nothing in Mario Kart 7 has been tweaked to try and smooth over what commonly feels unfair and excessive.

Mario Kart 7’s 16 new tracks are also without that much needed attention. They suit the bill and add a gradual difficulty curve, but they pale in comparison to the 16 ‘retro’ tracks. Even the Wii courses that have been included feel like classics in the midst of the new tracks that fail to offer much variety or originality. It’s a surprise to see that even the obligatory Bower’s Castle and Rainbow Road feel a little old and jaded, their esteemed lineage not enough to stop them from drifting into the background through unimaginative design.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS

Some of the music in the new stages also feels uninspired when played in the shadow of the four classic-tracked grands prix. It is not that it has been rushed or even badly composed, but it just doesn’t have the same polish as other tracks in the Mario Kart canon. The 3D effect fares in a similar fashion; it does its job and nothing else, not really adding to the gameplay or providing much tactical value by adding depth. They are both just other parts of Mario Kart 7 that seem to be happy enough ‘getting by’.

Even the inclusion of online multiplayer, which is by far the best online functionality in a 3DS game to date, still falls well short of what is expected. It is simple enough to get latched onto a game but speaking to those players, even with simple messages, is impossible, and at times you are not able to quit the constantly repeating process of racing, track selection and racing unless you turn off the game completely. You can communicate with your friends or members of your racing community in limited form, however, and these competitive fraternities are the stand out in terms of potential within an otherwise weak online system. It’s hard not to feel that a greater level of openness and options would improve this mode greatly. To be able to turn off or adjust the frequency of specific weapons, as in Goldeneye or Super Smash Bros. Brawl would add a dynamic to much of the online gameplay, which can get a tad repetitive.

StreetPass and SpotPass functionality is also included in the Mario Kart 7 package. Being able to add Miis and download ghost data whilst nipping out for your lunch is another example of why 3DS should be a fine home for a title that has its spirit set in rivalry and the action that follows. To come home and find that a stranger on the street has beaten you time trial record could lead to hours slipping by without any notice.

Screenshot for Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Anyone who has grown up with Mario Kart knows that straight lines are boring and all the fun is had in the corners. What is the same in the gameplay is also the same for the series. Fans of the games don’t want an overhaul or drastic innovation but just an understanding that Mario Kart needs to shift forward with bolder moves rather than tentative baby steps. Nintendo need to be braver in their thinking and stop considering the franchise along straight lines. At times in Mario Kart 7 you get the feeling that Nintendo are scared stiff to create any corners for fear of what might lurk around them.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (19 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop


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