This coming Sunday, the company will see if it can go three for three, releasing Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS handheld. Most of us already love Mario Kart, but is Mario Kart 7 one of the good ones, or is it an off-year for the franchise? Time to check our guts.
Kirk Hamilton, who still has flashbacks to his Mario Kart 64 addiction and will be reviewing Mario Kart 7 for Kotaku: Mario Kart 7 is a strong continuation of the groundwork Nintendo laid with the deep and multiplayer-friendly Mario Kart DS. It looks terrific, and it plays even better—driving and handling are bouncy and punchy in equal measure, and new elements like underwater racing and hang-gliding, while not revolutionary individually, combine to give the gameplay a personality distinct from its predecessors. Time trials are as addictive as hell and incorporate the 3DS' passive system-to-system streetpass connections in a cool way. The battle modes are goofy and chaotic and offer a nice break from the racing.
But that racing is still where most people will spend their time, and fortunately the racing in Mario Kart 7 is a blast. Online multiplayer is integrated and easy to use, the new maps are crazy and tightly designed, and while I haven't quite gotten a sense of the game's balance, the lineup and duration of each race feels perfect for on-the-go competition. A given race takes about 2-3 minutes, during which time anything could happen—first place can become last place in a heartbeat, and no one's ever out of the running for good.
So: Mario Kart 7 is well-made, great-looking, and mega fun. It brings some low-key new wrinkles to the tradition without losing a drop of what made Mario Kart so enjoyable in the first place. Is it worth picking up? Yes.
After a somnambulant beginning with the 3DS that plainly panicked the company, Nintendo seems to be hitting its stride with the games it's now releasing for the device. Mario Kart 7 strikes me as a kind of no-lose formula, a proven crowd-pleaser that oozes replay value—the baseline expectation of any decent racer. Some may be nonplussed by features such as hang-gliding, but I have a feeling they were brought in to showcase the 3DS' visual capabilities, as Nintendo did so well in Super Mario 3D Land.
Nintendo knew what to remake, knew what to tinker and knew what not to touch in that game, and for that, it's earned the benefit of the doubt with a franchise that means just as much to the company and its loyal fans.
Stephen Totilo, who never picks Bowser or Donkey Kong: To my pleasant surprise, Mario Kart 7 does not feel lazy and doesn't feel like Nintendo is taking Kart fans for granted. It feels like a good improvement for many of the obvious back-of-the-box features like first-person racing and smart, networked multiplayer options. But what impresses me most is how this game takes a series that can sometimes feel anti-skill/pro-chaos and gives players more control. Nintendo does that by giving players more interesting decisions to make in each race, mostly involving an expanded suite of available driving techniques, including power slides, speed-boost jumps, and speed-increasing coin-collecting. Those moves, gathered from earlier Mario Kart games, supplement the game's ballyhooed kart customization to give people more agency, more of a sense that their successes and failures in a race are due to things they did than to the whims of blue-shell chaos.
Plus, the course design is crazy. In a good way. I thought driving up a sheer face of a mountain was the highlight, but then I drove this game's wild Rainbow Road. This game is a good upgrade. It's a Yes.
Gut Check is an off-the-cuff impression of what we think of a game: what we'd tell a friend; how we'd respond on Twitter or Facebook or over a beer if someone asked us "Would you buy this game?" Our lead writer, who has played a lot of the game, decides. Other writers chime in for additional points of view.