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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
GENRE: Driving
PLAYERS:   1 - 8
December 04, 2011
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Super Mario Kart

Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart DS

More in this Series
 Written by Brian Lelas  on January 05, 2012

Reviews: Mario Kart 7 review for Nintendo 3DS by Land, Sea and Air

Of all the multifarious franchises in Nintendo's Mario catalogue, it should come as no surprise that Mario Kart is the most universally loved. Mario is best known for his Goomba pounding, Fire Flower grabbing antics, but if you ask any seasoned gamer what their favourite Mario game is, the chances are pretty strong that they'll choose one of the Mario Kart games. Mario Kart 7 has come along at a key time for the 3DS and is the first example of a quick-fire handheld title that is truly worth paying the price of the hardware.

Super Mario Kart on the SNES essentially invented the most precious of game design commodities: shooting while racing. This innovation has been copied (sometimes blatantly) ever since but never bettered, except by some of the subsequent sequels over the last decade and a half. Mario Kart DS has been the benchmark for many years now, so what have Nintendo brought to the table to entice fans to shell out for yet another trio of laps around Rainbow Road?

Cosmetically, the visuals have been given a definite polish, with the 3D effects arguably the best yet seen in gaming. Using a speed-boosting Mushroom to escape an oncoming Green Shell looks spectacular when the depth perception is more obvious to the player. The audio hasn't changed much from the Nintendo staple. If you like the well-known springy sound effects and safe soundtracks of other Mario games, you'll be pleased. Anyone expecting anything different will be disappointed.

The gameplay retains that ever important just-one-more-go grab with a searing addictive level I haven't experienced since, well, Mario Kart DS. The inclusion of underwater motors and air-based glider attachments adds small variety, which can be fun to exploit to find shortcuts and jumps. Other than those, Mario Kart 7 is a pure Mario Kart game with all the laughs and spills you can expect. There are new special power-ups, the Leaf which gives your character a raccoon tail (to tie in with the release of Super Mario 3D Land) to hit oncoming targets, the Fire Flower which allows you to fire a few fireballs before wearing off and the unusual 7 item, which gives the player seven of the in-game weapons at once to fire in any order they wish. Like the Bullet Bill or Golden Mushroom, this item is rare and generally limited to racers stuck at the back of the field who need a catch-up boost.

The character roster answers the demand for new and different Mario universe characters, although I must admit that I was a little unhappy with some of the choices made by Nintendo this time around. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong, Koopa Troopa, Bowser and Yoshi return as the staple starting crew, but the rather eccentric choices made for the unlockables is alarming. Excluded are Diddy Kong and Waluigi (who has a track of his own in the game) in favour of Metal Mario, Shy Guy, Daisy, Rosalina, Lakitu and bizarrely, Honey Queen and Wiggler.

Something else that Mario Kart 7 brings back from the older titles is the inclusion of coins which are dotted around the track. Picking one up increases your speed slightly and can be collected to unlock Kart upgrades, like different chassis, wheels and gliders. There is also a Coin Attack multiplayer addition which is diverting but ultimately nowhere near as fun as Balloon Battle or Grand Prix.

The track roster, however, is superb. The sixteen new tracks make use of the 3D and air/water mechanics very well, with a learning curve that is delicately balanced to perfection. The sixteen returning older tracks have largely been re-fitted with some given huge graphical overhauls and additional shortcuts. DK Pass is spectacularly covered in snow and Waluigi Pinball is even more perilous in 3D with the pinballs feeling like oncoming boulders of the Indiana Jones variety. I'm crying out for the absent Yoshi Circuit, but it seems that we can't have everything at once. The controls are tailor-made to accommodate multiple play styles with both Y and A accelerating as default. Jumping and drifting returns, but no longer has the ludicrous bonus evident in Mario Kart DS where players could drift continuously on straights. Initiating a drift takes longer, can only be done on corners and provides a smaller kick than before. This is far better and makes for a more pure racing experience that the drift-spamming online matches of before.

Multiplayer plays splendidly online with games easy to find and entirely lag-free. Competition is fierce though, so be sure to complete the entire single-player game in regular and mirror modes before even attempting it. Local download play is a delight too, with all tracks available. The compromise is that downloading players are restricted to using only Shy Guy. All in all, the multiplayer component of Mario Kart 7 is solid, addictive and fun.

Bottom Line
The 3DS has needed something of great quality that people can play in short bursts and up until Mario Kart 7, there was no such title. Killer titles like Ocarina of Time 3D and Super Mario Land 3D didn't offer that handheld necessity of pick-up-put-down play ideal for short journeys or waits. Mario Kart 7 on the other hand can be played for five minutes or five hours and is guaranteed to be a delight every single time you play. There are some minor game breakers still in there, like the Blue Shell, which can steal your perfect race through no fault of your own, or the infuriating Coconut Mall obstacles that can hit you multiple times in a row. Despite these rare moments of frustration that occur, the joy that can be had from stealing a win with a well timed Star or Mushroom, a last-ditch Red Shell or a daring glider jump outweighs anything negative that could be said about this most wonderful of games. Without question, the best of the series and an example of how to design an outstanding video game.

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