The race has been going well. I blast through the competition, Koopa my character of choice. Each turn I maneuver around perfectly and my stock of green shells gives me a tidy defense. The last lap kicks in and I’m laughing. Then a dreaded blue shell explodes in my face, then with my defenses down a barrage of red shells slam into my rear. As I regain composure I slip on my own banana wand watch Toad race on by. It was the equivalent of being beaten up by a pack of gorillas then soiling myself.It wouldn’t be Mario Kart without this traumatising experience.
Number 7 stuck on the end of the title could mean good luck, but it is there to show just how long the series has been chugging along. I always thought games liked to ditch the number after 4, instead Mario Kart bucks the trend. It’s seven and proud of it, bringing the solid karting fun with the usual layout and the odd new features most people throw up at when they first hear about them. Seriously, I saw one guy chug up his pasta bake when he saw the inclusion of underwater racing and gliders. Mario Kart may have the now predictable selection of thirty-two tracks, sixteen new, sixteen old, and the same four cups. But the changes are what make each version a joy or a grimace to behold.
After the trick heavy Mario Kart Wii, which I’m personally not a fan of, I was a little concerned about this new direction. It is a relief to see this is the most solid iteration of the franchise yet. The karts move round the track as you’d hope. Not too slippy, not too sticky.The underwater sections slow down the pace a little, but they allow for extra precision under the deep-sea and gliding is a thrill. Riding over blue arrows sets them off and you can scope out items or shortcuts as you fly freely in the sky. Both don’t hasten the general flow, which is why they are welcome additions.
Coins make a return (last seen in Mario Kart Super Circuit on the Game Boy Advance) which bring some extra care to where you drive on the track, gathering them increases overall speed. The items also help make it one of the best multiplayer experiences, the losers get better items to have a chance at first while the leaders make do with crummy bananas and green shells. The balance means there is always a grasp at victory and while a good driver will probably win unless it starts raining the homing blue shell, less experienced players won’t be far behind. A mix of skill and luck maybe, but it means everyone will want to play. If you have no friends nearby with a 3DS, the excellent online is there to show your skills.
The courses are a great selection too. While there a few duffers, the snowy skiddy DK Pass and bland Shy Guy bazaar come to mind, the rest are some of the best in the series, retro or new. The 3D effects concentrate on depth over pop out effects and they make the roads look to be stretching out for miles. The mountain levels tend to be my favourite in the new set, not forgetting the incredible Rainbow Road which is the best in the series. Retro wise the SNES and DS selection provide the most thrilling racing. Except DK Pass of course. Screw that level.
Mario Kart 7 may be the best in the whole series. It has everything you’d want with multiplayer (single cart allows you all levels!), online, characters, vehicle customisation, StreetPass ghost date, SpotPass ghost data, first person gyro controls (confuses and scares me), new features which enhance rather than decay, and the most fun racing experience you can find. 7 is a lucky number indeed. Just watch out for any blue shells.