Mario Kart 7 is a lot more Mario Kart Wii and a whole lot less Mario Kart DS then I was hoping. The game has been watered down again to ensure that there is almost no challenge what-so-ever in winning ever single race in the game. The worst (best?) example of which is the fact that the game now plays 'clean-up,' removing banana peels left on the track after a single lap, removing the the age-old 'problem' of hitting your own traps.
+The addition of kart building means having a truly unique kart
-The game is incredibly dumbed-down
-There is virtually no challenge to Mario Kart
-Tons of shoehorned features like 'The Lucky 7' and 'motion controlled first-person mode'
Nintendo has been on a roll with their Holiday line-up. Mario 3D Land was an awesome iteration of the series on the Nintendo 3DS that brought together all the best parts of the series into one game. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the first true successor to the lofty throne of Ocarina of Time, and one of the best of the series long and tenured history. That’s why when Mario Kart 7 came across my desk I, as a major competitive fan of the series, got incredibly excited. It’s unfortunate however, that the game is as lazy as its title.
Mario Kart 7, instead of taking cues from the other games in Nintendo’s Holiday line-up, picks up habits from the worst games in the franchise history, adds on features with little-to-no benefit at all, and, worst of all, does the unforgiveable by trying to shoehorn features into the game that have no place “just ‘cause.”
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not that the game in unplayable or even really “bad” it’s just that it’s completely disappointing, especially when compared with the triumphant return of all of Nintendo’s other key franchises. Mario Kart is one of those series that I’ve always gotten very into (making a point to 3-star every challenge/race and be a dominant force in the multiplayer). And it’s definitely not the worse that the series has done, it’ll take a lot of doing to make anything worse that the horrible slot-machine racer that was Mario Kart Wii. It’s a game that I will continue to play on the way to work, and it’s something that I will continue to destroy friends who might be foolish enough to challenge me on… but it’s not really a great leap forward for the series, more a step backwards that makes me pine for the days of Mario Kart DS.
The mechanics of Mario Kart 7 are fine. It’s hard to mess up something that was established back in the days of the N64. The only complaint that I could offer to the way the game plays is the needless attachment of the ‘motion controls’. Motion controls for a driving game are pretty much never a good idea, and apply even less logically to a kart racer. Nintendo has, unfortunately, tacked on this feature along with another, first-person view, in order to try and take advantage of the new 3DS hardware… and beyond maybe once snapping into it to try it out, it’s a feature that will never again be used by me in my time with the game. It is a horrible idea and feels like something that should have been left on the game’s cutting room floor.
I mentioned that the game takes cues from some of the worst ideas of the series past, and when I say “the worst of the series past” I’m actually just pointing to one game in particular: Mario Kart Wii. The problem that I have with Mario Kart on the Wii is a simple one: They tried to dumb the game down. Kart racing is already a simplified version of a racer, there’s no reason what-so-ever to try and make things any simpler. Mario Kart Wii ramped up the ‘rubber-band AI’ mechanic to a level of sheer lunacy, and allowed a ridiculous amount of blue shells into the game to the point where being in first (if you play like I do, by half a lap) was an instant death sentence that meant getting hit up to three times in a row with blue shells (because the AI would compensate for the lead and just start dishing out blue shells like a grandmother doling hard candy from a purse). Mario Kart 7 makes all the same mistakes, plus a couple of new ones.
The most notable complaint for me was the fact that bananas now disappear after a single lap. Really Nintendo? We cannot be trusted to avoid our own bananas? Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve cursed as I went for a spin on my own damn banana peel in past Kart games… but I knew it was my own fault and a stupid move and it motivated me to not be stupid. Mario Kart 7 gives you a condescending pat on the head and vaporizes the fruit peel as you come around to it after completing a lap. Literally, the thing vanishes in front of your eyes as you come ‘round to it again. It’s a move that makes me feel like the game is not-so-subtly saying I can’t be trusted to complete a lap without nuking myself.
7 also introduces a couple of new items into the mix of traditional kart-weapons: a tanooki leaf (allowing you to swat away people and objects in your immediate vicinity), the fireflower (allowing you to shoot out a swarm of fireballs, short range, for a time) and the worst shoehorn of them all the ‘lucky 7’ (which gives you 7 random items that spin around your kart as a shield and can be fired off whenever). While the first two are almost logical adds, considering that 3DS brought back the Tanooki suit, and it makes sense to try and tie the two new Mario incarnation on the 3DS together, and the FireFlower feels like it has the right balance of power/range ratio to be a fair use item the Lucky 7 is a ridiculous add-in that someone probably made up last minute and feels as lazy as the title of the game itself. The scary part is that this isn’t even a last place item. I kept hanging back in the last place position for race after race just hoping to get this thing so I could talk about it during the review, but eventually gave up and randomly got it while making my way up from fourth place. Fourth place, seven weapons? Really? That’s just ridiculous.
That in a nutshell is the problem with this game: Everything feels lazy, shoehorned and dumbed down. The game, which has always been one of my favorite racing titles, has been brought down to the level of safety scissors. There’s no challenge remaining in a game that would remove the option to slip on banana peels if you missed it the first time ‘round and would hand out something like the Lucky 7 to someone in fourth place. There was some talk, surrounding Mario 3D Land, about how the Mario was becoming a bit condescending because of the inclusion of the God-Mode golden Tanooki suit that you achieved by dying three times in a row, and I’d say Mario Kart 7’s desire to clear the path and boost you into first place is even worse. There is a greater challenge in trying to stay in 8th place then there is to make it to 1st. To lose in Mario Kart 7 requires giving the AI a massive head-start and then alternating taps of the gas and break (I’m not even joking, the AI in 6th/7th place were so slow that just letting off the gas wasn’t enough to keep me in 8th, I would often coast past them and had to continuously tap on the break to stay behind them). It’s like everything in the game is coaxing you on “Oooh… You can do it buddy! You can pass me! C’mon… I’m right there, you can do it!” and it’s become a little obscene, even for a “kids’ game.”
Considering that Nintendo is making such a big deal out of the other additions of a hang-glider and propeller for under-water karting, I would suppose it is something that should be discussed. Both are features that, again, feel tacked on. The glider is the only thing that actually ‘improves’ the strategy of karting, allowing you an option to cut corners and speed up over those on the ground, but is generally used in the same fashion as the ‘cannons’ from the previous Mario Karts that would launch you over gaps (like DK Mountain and Wario’s Casino for example). The propeller for underwater actually slows you WAY down and if is ever an option (several tracks will of course force you to use it) it’s pretty much always a better idea to avoid the water as though it supplied insta-death like the original games (even though the AI is still going to hit the brakes on shore to allow you time to catch-up anyway).
The other major push from Nintendo is the kart customization, which, if it actually mattered, is kind of a cool addition. The ability to mix and match acquired parts for the chassis, wheels, and hang-glider is a good way to really make the kart your own and hammer down the feel of the vehicle that you prefer beyond the traditional pick a character and maybe a kart-type that the series has leaned on in the past. Again, it’s really all for not though, considering there doesn’t really seem to be a “wrong” choice where you’ll put yourself at a disadvantage.
Multiplayer is going to be the only real challenge, and maybe that’s fine. Playing with a group of friends has always been the best part of Mario Kart anyways, and to that end Nintendo has been kind enough to provide download play for Mario Kart 7 as well as a couple extra play modes like Balloon Battle, and Coin Battle. Both have been in the previous games, so if you’re not already familiar with the concept the short version is: collect coins or balloons while knocking opponents with weapons to rid them of their stockpile until the time runs out. Simple diversions from the race-mode of course, but at this point required staples of the franchise none the less.
So, overall where does Mario Kart 7 rank for the series? While nothing will ever be as broken as Mario Kari Wii (hopefully) this is probably the second-to-worst game in the franchise’s history. The dumbing down of the series is getting worse and worse, and has become a legitimate issue with gaming in general and Nintendo in specific. It’s important for developers to remember that even kids can handle a bit of a challenge. Not to end on a “back in my day” rant here… but if our generation could tackle Battletoads when we were still in grade-school, then I think the current generation can handle avoiding their own damn banana peels on lap two of Mario Kart.
This review is based on a Retail Copy for 3DS supplied by the Publisher.