Support Sid, click to buy via us...
Mario Kart 7 leaves the random battling behind and delivers a real kart racing experience. Multiplayer modes lead a fleet of features to keep core fans just as happy as casual players.
We all know the basics of Mario Kart. In this seventh outing on the 3DS things begin as usual. You select a character from the Mushroom Kingdom favourites before racing round a variety of circuits in an effort to win enough points to unlock more tracks and characters. New characters are added to the initial selection of eight (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and the others) as are the different tracks in each of the difficulty levels (50cc, 100cc and 150cc). Rinse, repeat.
I thought this would be another rehash of the same old tricks, but as I played it I found that this 3DS Mario Kart actually had a lot more racing going on than the Wii or Gamecube Mario Kart games. Whereas they often descended into more of a battle than a race, Mario Kart 7 keeps the focus firmly on the driving.
This starts with the racing feel itself which is not as slippy as in recent versions. In fact it continues Mario Kart DS's good work in returning us to the driving style of Mario Kart 64. This is then continued in a noticeable absence of rubber banding -- that bad habit of casual racing games that like to help slow-coaches catch up with the leaders. It makes it worth while building up a lead corner by corner, because it won't be immediately eradicated with a blue shell.
That's not to say that there aren't shells, banana skins and the like, it's just that they don't play such a critical part. In fact alongside the usual Mario Kart weapons are some new comers. A Fire Flower enables you to shoot fireballs at opponents while a Tanooki Suit lets you whip them with your tail.
The biggest departure from the past is the ability to take flight when you hit a big jump. Wings sprout from your kart and let you glide your way along the course. You can also whip out a propeller when you go underwater (which is no longer fatal).
These may sound a little frivolous but again, it adds to the real sense of competitive racing. Being able to take to the air or sea opens up new tactics and routes around the course -- a little like Motorstorm. This is underlined by a kart customisation feature that lets you equip yourself for mud, tarmac or grass. Some will disparage the Motorstorm comparison, but with Mario Kart 7's new racing features and Motorstorm's four player split screen mode the similarity is undeniable -- although of course they look very different.
Where this competitive racing really comes together is in the eight player local and online multiplayer modes. Firstly this does away with the computer drivers (although in actual fact they are much better than in previous Mario Kart outings). More than this though it connects you instantly with other Mario Kart 7 players all around the world.
This really reminded me of the simplicity of Halo's match making. Once you have exchanged your 3DS system code just spot a friend in your home screen, tap Join Game and Mario Kart 7 automatically starts up with you in an online match. You can also setup passworded groups which not only function as a quick way to play with friends but also do a nice job of tracking stats.
Locally you can use the 3DS download feature to play with other players in the same room - even if they don't have the game themselves. There's also a StreetPass feature that exchanges stats and ratings with other players while you are out and about. This will even download ghost data from them so you can compete against them when you get back home.
While some may complain at a lack of innovation, there is considerable value in this evolutionary approach. By tweaking what has gone before Mario Kart 7 creates a perfect multiplayer experience backed up with a solid single player campaign and visuals that easily look on par with the Wii.
Its best is seen in the campaign where you use the weapons wisely.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: