Mario Kart 7 and the Return of the Blue Shell.

Finally. After so long without a roster of games that you could call stellar, the 3DS has had two arrive at once, one of them being Mario Kart 7. Can it hold up to previous entrants in the series as well as provide an entry point for newcomers? You bet, and you can also be sure that the arrival of this game will give the hardware a much deserved boost in the sales.

Mario Kart 7 isn’t that much of a deviation from what you’ve experienced before, but it is such an addictive and compelling game that none of that is detrimental to the overall feel of the game. Just like Mario Kart DS, the game has 32 tracks to race on; 16 are completely new levels whilst the other half are returnees from previous games, made to look better and play better with the new game. Old classics such as Mario Circuit 2 (from SNES), Kalimari Desert (N64) and Luigi Raceway (N64) feel much better and improved with the 3D graphics and they also incorporate the new diving and flying gameplay mechanics, both of which are effortless and fantastic. Some of the new tracks, such as Melody Motorway (in which you race over giant pianos and dodge huge bouncing musical notes), Rainbow Road (it wouldn’t be Mario Kart without one of these) and Shy Guy Bazaar are sure to become classics in the near future, and for good reason as the designs of them are fantastic. The track selection is robust and even though you’re sure to play on each track numerous times, you’re not going to get bored for a long time.

Meanwhile, the core gameplay mechanics of Mario Kart 7 remain the same as they have always been; you race around a track using items to slow down your opponents or otherwise gain an advantage. It has worked well before and it works well again. The easy, simple nature of the game is what makes the Mario Kart franchise so attractive to anyone of any age. It doesn’t matter what age you are or whether you win or lose – you still have a great time doing so. If Nintendo had changed the formula too much, it would have lost the charm it has always had so it’s good that they haven’t.

Little has changed in regards to what items are available during a race. You have your typical green shells, red shells, bananas, mushrooms etc. and alongside those are three new ones that take the forms of the fire flower, super leaf (tanooki) and the lucky 7 (7 simultaneous items). You even have the return of the dreaded blue shell, which is still very much as annoying and dastardly as it has always been. The three new items don’t add a great amount to the experience, nor do the coins that now populate each track. If you collect the coins, you gain a small speed boost and the more you collect, the more pieces of kart you will unlock to use in future races.

Making a return to the series are customizable karts. As you collect coins and unlock more parts, you can change your vehicle before each race to have the stats you like or if you just want to make things look good as you drive around. Doing this is always fun and it adds a great deal to the entire experience, and it is most certainly a very welcome addition to the game. It’s a pity that the emblem creator from Mario Kart DS did not make a return as it would’ve been a nice feature to go alongside the customizable karts.

Also making a return for this game is the online mode. You need not race against the computer anymore, as you can face off against seven other players from anywhere in the world. Mario Kart 7 feels like an amalgam of the best parts of MK DS and MK Wii, and this online mode feels a lot like the Wii version. You can exchange ghost data with other players, as well as join communities, which are ‘groups’ made of a select type of player. For example, you would join the beginners community if you were new to the game and not very good, and you could then race against people of the same group instead of the diehard fans that will obliterate you. Communities sounds like a great feature, but the fact you need the code to join a group makes the entire feature seem awkward and not worth bothering with. Quite why Nintendo are so obsessed with having codes in their games and hardware is still something of a mystery.

The online portion of Mario Kart 7 offers a lot to satisfy any fan of the game, but unsurprisingly, the game seems to be plagued with disconnections and ‘communication error’ screens. It could be just me, but I have been disconnected from many games, seemingly at random. Also, you’ll find yourself being put into games that have already started, forcing you to sit and watch until they finish. Combine this with the disconnections and you are served with a frustrating online experience that leaves you wanting to put the game through the shredder. When it works, it works well above average, but Nintendo always seems to struggle with getting the online experience refined and simple, and Mario Kart 7 is no different.

In all, Mario Kart 7 is a fantastic game not only in the franchise, but as a whole. The wealth of fun and games to be had is going to keep you playing for months, and the game is perfectly designed for short sessions when you have nothing better to do. It suffers from a frustrating set of problems online, but without those, the inclusion of an online multiplayer adds a whole other layer to what is already there. If you have a 3DS, you need to add this game to your collection. You won’t regret it.

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