Mario Kart 7 is, in a very obvious way, a direct followup to Mario Kart Wii. It borrows the art style, the track aesthetic, the jump tricks and the Mario Kart Channel, and doesn’t do much to stand out from it. It’s so obvious that I feel a bit silly even articulating to you what this game is.
What makes Mario Kart 7 different, though, falls well beyond the obvious.
Two well-publicized changes are actually the least significant. Let’s start with the air and water additions. The gliding function will feel very familiar to those who have played the GameCube’s Kirby Air Ride, as it plays off the same “height or speed” mechanic and controls almost identically. In practice, though, it just compensates for MK7‘s less-ridiculous jumping (relative to MK Wii), and takes the place of previous sequences when you’d just be ferried through a tube of some sort to the next track segment. The water is just floaty, if you wanted areas with less precision and different dynamics for item aiming and avoidance, and otherwise it’s just a cool visual effect. (Though you did just buy a system designed for showing you cool visual effects, so you may need to get used to this kind of thing.)
The other big selling point was the kart customization. Rather than just picking a kart and a racer, you now put together a chassis, wheels and a glider of some sort, each contributing to the vehicle’s final attributes. It’s a nice addition, as it gives you another opportunity for personalization, but the end result isn’t a more refined racing experience. Rather, the system is a great opportunity to try out different configurations for the fun of it. In previous games, you’d go with the one supercar or baby buggy, as it had the stats you wanted, and that’d be it. Now, if you like Koopa Troopa in a muscle car with big honkin’ offroad wheels, you can get the same controls out of Bowser in a lightweight speeder with a parasol. (Or, if you’re less adventurous, Koopa Troopa in a muscle car with big honkin’ offroad wheels that just happen to be red.)
What makes the game truly great, though, are two things. The first: MK7 didn’t have to be playable by your grandparents. There’s a little more game here than in MK Wii, like the revival of coin collecting, more interesting and competitive alternative modes and the aforementioned statistics fiddling. It’s still not that hard to get into, but the extra layer of depth is appreciated. The online multiplayer is more fleshed-out, with special challenge groups (only bananas, for example) and “communities,” which allow you to compete just with friends or Internet buddies and keep group-specific standings.
The second? The track list. The original ones include special long tracks that are broken up into sections instead of laps, breaking up the repetition of a standard cup. There’s also a cool one made up of music instruments, one designed like 8-bit Mario levels and one with goats. (Goats!) While there are a few obvious retro cup choices that made the most sense to add water or gliding sections to, they’re surrounded by some real favorites, like Waluigi Pinball, Koopa Cape and SNES Rainbow Road.
A few additions weren’t so great, though. The new items? Disappointing. The Tanooki Tail isn’t useful very often at fending off enemy attacks, and getting seven different items at once? Not manageable, especially for those far enough back in the pack to get them. But if you wanted Mario Kart, don’t let that stop you: MK7 is easily one of the better games in the series, and it’s fine being just that. If you didn’t want another Mario Kart game, I’m sorry to report that this Mario Kart game is indeed a Mario Kart game. I know, disappointing.
Pros: Great track selection/design, fleshed-out online
Cons: Bad new items, and we still miss All Cup Tour