The lights are on
The shell hell karting experience comes to the 3DS with enough small updates to make Mario Kart 7 one of the genre's best.
This latest handheld entry plays a lot like a portable version of Mario Kart Wii; the visuals, handling physics, tricks and power ups are all quite similar, but the few changes ultimately make MK7 the superior game. Coin collecting returns to the races for the first time since Super Circuit on the GBA. If you're not familiar with the concept, coins are scattered throughout the tracks and each coin you collect (up to 10) will increase your kart's top speed. This doesn't change the gameplay drastically, but does add just the slightest bit of strategy and decision making. For the most part the coins are off the desired racing line in corners so racers must decide when to take the longer, slower line to collect the coins. And of course, getting hit with a shell or running over a bannana will make you lose some coins. While this can make taking a cheap shot even more infuriating it does also keep the coin collecting strategy going throughout the races.
The glider and submarine gameplay that has been showcased leading up to release actually has very little impact on the racing experience. Basically the submarine propeller comes out when your kart is underwater, but the driving and sliding around corners feels the same as on land. When using the glider after a big jump you can controll the up/down direction of flight a little bit to access alternate higher or lower paths on some circuits, but, again, this doesn't have any major impact.
The roster of unlockable characters isn't as large as the last console entries, but extra karts, wheels and gliders are unlockable. These new kart customization options not only encourage players to experiment with different combinations, but seem to help balance the small, medium and large characters performance as well. Mercifully, the obtuse star ranking system from MK Wii returns in a slightly simpler form and isn't really important in unlocking any content.
Long-time Mario Kart fans will probably be happy to see a few iconic courses from the past recreated, most natably Koopa Beach and Kalimari Desert from Mario Kart 64. Both get an impressive visual overhaul while parts of the Beach are significantly altered, even the famous cave shortcut, to use the new glider and submarine. The tube-frame karts from MK64 are also unlockable, so players can finally see how they look as a 3d model.
This game probably won't change anyone's mind about the franchise; the rubberbanding and general chaos is as fun and/or infuriating as it has been in the last two console entries, but I have to say the changes that have been made were all for the better.
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