So I’ve done the basic run through of 150cc and played some online matches. I think I’m prepared to talk about Mario Kart 7. This isn’t a review because I hate reviews and any Mario Kart 7 review that doesn’t read: “it’s Mario Kart“, is a waste of time. I am going to file this under reviews though because, you know, convention. Instead this is an analysis of changes made to the Mario Kart formula in this, the seventh entry to the series. It’ll be posted here and over at Koopa Beach.
First up, I am really disappointed that the game doesn’t feature some of the more extensive time trial options that Mario Kart Wii included. By that I’m talking about being able to download regional and worldwide ghosts and examine the top ten rankings. This was a real source of motivation to improve in Mario Kart Wii and I’m proud to say I made the top ten in Australia for Cheep Cheep Beach and Vanilla Lake. That came from seeing that my times were close to the top times and having amazing ghosts to compete against in the form of wifi friends and housemates. The other great thing it did was tell stories. If you followed the world record times closely you’d see new shortcuts and techniques for tracks open up. It was incredible and I was hoping to dedicate a significant amount of words on Koopa Beach to just that aspect of the game as it went through early development stages. As it stands though, that commentary will now probably come from the elite players who I expect will be hanging around at the established time trial communities. That link I just made though is dead at time of writing. And any stories that do come will only be fragments strewn across message board posts. It looks like history may be lost.
Despite this initial disappointment, I can see why Nintendo did this and the positives it brings about. What we saw in Mario Kart Wii was an over-reliance on dominant time trial tactics across the game. It became some sort of Funky Kong/Bowser Bike show and the standout experiments that worked became the exception and not the norm. Now we can hope that mystery will return to Mario Kart, with individuals finding out the secrets and trying things out for themselves. Sharing of information will happen in trusted communities and discussion over shortcuts/character combinations will be much more lively without definitive ways to prove superiority. You’ll see glimpses of various tactics on SpotPass, but the game should remain more decentralised and give a greater aura of mystery to competition at both the upper echelon of time trial and competitive online races. Nintendo have harnessed the greatest benefits of online play and can recapture some of the mystique that gaming had ten or more years ago.
Moving onto the items and I’m largely indifferent here. The notorious blue shell is improved by bringing it back to ground level, where it was originally, but retaining it’s newer ability of exploding on the race leader. This balances it out, providing a danger to the field at large and not acting purely as a benefit to those in 2nd and 3rd. The new lucky 7 item is mostly a non-event, as is the tanooki tail. I don’t see either carrying onto the next iteration of the series. Blooper appears to be more effective and I approve of that as it was too irrelevant in earlier games. The fire flower is potentially devastating, especially with the ability to throw backwards. I’m not shedding any tears over the loss of the mega mushroom or the fake item box, however I was surprised and a little disappointed that Mario Kart Wii‘s POW block and thunder cloud, both of which provided unique dynamics to each race, especially compared to the new fire flower, were dropped.
I am really glad that coins are back in the mix. Coins affected your overall speed in the the original Super Mario Kart and again in Super Circuit. While Super Circuit‘s incarnation let you outrun red shells and other bullshit, they’ve found an ideal middle ground in Mario Kart 7. Now, I haven’t done any scientific tests yet, but I feel like they’re giving me that noticeable speed boost they used to of Super Mario Kart without going overboard. From Super Circuit, they’ve incorporated the final Grand Prix grading based on coin collection and they’ve introduced unlocking kart options with them too. My only concern is that they don’t regenerate fast enough, giving the leading players perhaps a little too much of an advantage, but I’ve seen incredible marches up the placings in the games I’ve been in so this balance is just right for now. Putting them in time trial is an especially interesting move because it adds more depth and sees us draw up new racing lines for the first and subsequent laps. It has added another level of complexity to your time trial on top of character/kart selection and alternate routes though courses.
Speaking of courses, this selection, from my initial impression, is the best yet. The new courses are uniformly excellent, providing a lot of variety and unique challenges. I especially like the three long courses and I just wish they included a fourth for the Mushroom Cup. I really hope these become a recurring feature for Mario Kart from here on out. The selection of retro courses are excellent too and it’s especially great to finally get to play Waluigi Pinball and Airship Fortress online, after being denied back on Mario Kart DS. I think it’s plain to see that they chose courses based on their own merit and didn’t play some sorta bullshit character favourites game with the inclusion of two beloved Koopa courses. A special mention has to be made for the inclusion of Mario Circuit 2 from the original Super Nintendo game. This course has always been a fan favourite and a course that has truly captured the essence of Mario Kart‘s risk vs reward gameplay. The subtle rewordings of these tracks to incorporate gliding and underwater racing are welcome too, nothing reminiscent of the disgusting, unwarranted sundering of Luigi Raceway in Mario Kart Wii, which completely destroyed the one unique and exciting feature of the track. It was like racing around a sick parody of a great track. I’m getting upset just thinking about it.
The additions of gliding and underwater racing are pretty minor really, despite being advertised as a defining feature of the game. I’m quite fond of the gliding; it opens up some interesting alternative routes and I think it helped get Mario Kart back into embracing alternate routes which were seemingly being phased out of the series. Underwater racing is pretty much a total waste of time and might was well not be there. It’s not adding anything to the tracks it’s included in except slightly sowing the pace of the game. Slowing the pace or a racer? I know right, what the fuck were they thinking. When they were thinking though was when they included kart customisation. I know Nintendo god Miyamoto was opposed to it but I think it let the kids play as their favourite racer but with the acceleration/weight/top speed setup that matches their skill level. There’s probably one setup that trumps everything and will prove to dominate time trials, but at least the inclusion of this option allows us to explore and experiment with the game without intimidating the player.
Finally, characters. I thought it was a really nice touch having the game initially star the original eight heroes of the original Super Mario Kart. Well, substituting Donkey Kong for Donkey Kong Jr., but there is a some canon-obsessing group of fans who will inform you that these characters are one and the same. Wario, Daisy, and Rosalina all return as secret characters, and Shy Guy gets a very welcome promotion from his limited appearance in Mario Kart DS into a full character. Of the new characters, I’m stoked to see Wiggler and Lakitu take the wheel even if it is a little jarring to see Lakitu race and officiate. I’m neutral on Honey Bee; Mario mini boss characters have appeared before but I just hope she can stick around longer than Petey Piranha. Metal Mario’s inclusion though is a joke, as insulting an inclusion as Funky Kong. It is of some comfort that Funky Kong himself wasn’t included along with other failure stricken characters Diddy Kong, Baby Daisy, and Dry Bowser. Overall, sixteen is a good number of characters, but I would’ve happily seen the return of Waluigi, King Boo, Birdo, or Toadette in Metal Mario’s place.
I think I’ve covered just about everything. The much celebrated battle mode has been modified a bit but I feel that as battle has become progressively less ruthless, it has become progressively a less relevant part of Mario Kart. There’s some changes to the online setup ofcourse, but I don’t feel it’s anything substantial other than the aforementioned changes to time trial ghosts.