Mario Kart 7 is a massive reinvention of the series, combining open-world racing across the Mushroom Kingdom with a realistic simulation of Kart racing, built using a new tyre physics engine designed in conjunction with Michelin. A comprehensive suite of upgrade options enables you to tailor every aspect of your Kart and racer, from the exhaust through to the suspension, while new online racing modes see players competing in weekly tournaments with rivals from across the globe.
Only joking. Mario 7 is Mario Kart as you know and love it; a game where Mario and his mates from the Mushroom Kingdom (plus accompanying worlds and galaxies) drive speedy Karts through heavily themed tracks, firing off turtle shells and lightning bolts at each other in a bid to steal a podium position. In fact, the series’ 3DS debut is arguably the most conservative Mario Kart in years. It doesn’t have the wide, Wii Wheel-friendly tracks, boosting tricks and motorbikes of Mario Kart Wii, or the odd dual-characters mechanic of Mario Kart: Double Dash on Wii. “Don’t fuss with the formula” (or something similar) appears to be the guiding maxim, and when the formula works so well, it’s oddly hard to disagree.
Where there are big changes, they’re carefully controlled. Each Kart now has a glider which opens only on specific jumps, allowing Mario, Yoshi and their chums to glide gracefully down to earth, gathering a few coins and maybe stealing a position on the way. Collectible coins have been reintroduced, and as your tally rises through the various cups and competitions, new vehicle upgrades are automatically unlocked, allowing you to choose from a growing number of combinations of chassis, tyre and glider and so compensate for the weaknesses of your current character or tailor your ride for a certain cup. It’s hardly Gran Turismo, but it’s an interesting addition. Finally, there’s the option of a first-person-view with tilt-controlled steering. It makes the game feel even faster, and it’s surprisingly easy to get used to.
The stars remain tied into four basic classes, ranging from the light, weak, fast accelerators (the ever infuriating Toad and Princess Peach) to tbe big, strong bruisers who accelerate with all the pace of a 1970s Peugeot Estate packed for a camping holiday (Bowser and Donkey Kong). Disappointingly, the initial line-up is restricted to just eight characters, with no Wario or Bowser Jnr to be seen, but while not all our personal favourites return, other stars can be unlocked by beating cups on the more difficult 150cc level (which might take some time).
There are eight cups in total, four featuring sixteen new circuits, or at least new variants on old themes, and four featuring another sixteen old classics extending all the way back from Mario Kart WII to the original Super Mario Kart on the 16-bit SNES. All have been tweaked to some extent, mostly to make use of the gliders, but it’s a pleasure to see the N64’s Luigi Raceway or the Gamecube’s Dino Dino Jungle one more time, with the much-improved visuals helping stall some of the sense of deja-vu.