Mario Kart hangs over the precipice of chaos. With weapons that can change positioning in a heartbeat, racing in this enduring franchise often takes a backseat to the item-flinging festivities. It's a tenuous position, and each iteration has dealt with how to balance these two disparate components--the skill of driving and the randomness of items--in different ways. In Mario Kart 7, defensive items are as useful as their offensive counterparts, and because of this tweak, your skill behind the wheel is the most important factor in determining a winner. Knowing that deft steering is the key to winning makes this latest edition engrossing. Although the total package feels lacking compared to more robust previous entries, the racing is as good as it has ever been, and that's what pushes you to take one more lap around the mushroom kingdom.
6346807Wait a second, is Luigi left handed? Or is just because everything is mirrored?None
The structure in Mario Kart 7 has remained unchanged from its many predecessors. Grand Prix races in 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc difficulties are available from the beginning, and you unlock mirror variants if you prove your worth in the initial offering. There are 32 tracks split evenly between new creations and returning favorites, with the retro versions revised to incorporate the new features introduced in this latest iteration. If you found yourself breezing through the single-player activities in previous games, then you should be glad to find a ramped-up difficulty in Mario Kart 7. Computer drivers are merciless in both their item usage and driving tactics, smartly taking tricky shortcuts or blocking your attempts to land shells on their noggins, which forces you to up your own skill if you're going to come out on top. The rubber banding that previously snatched victory from you at the last second has been drastically toned down in Mario Kart 7, so you finally feel as if you're in control of your own destiny. There is still one strange quirk, though: Your time is no longer recorded so you won't know just how narrowly you won (or lost).
A handful of new additions help separate Mario Kart 7 from its forebears. Kart customization gives you an opportunity to tinker with parts before each race. Whichever chassis, tires, and hang glider you choose affects your attributes, and it takes a bit of experimentation and inventiveness to decide which combination is best for you. You gain access to new gear by collecting coins sprinkled liberally around each track, though the coins have more than one purpose. In a call back to Super Mario Kart, the more coins you're carrying, the faster your driver's top speed, which adds more strategy in how you handle turns. Do you go slightly out of your way for a couple of extra coins? Do you risk falling in a pit? It's a smart addition that makes you keep your eyes peeled for flashes of golden yellow, giving you even more to think about while you're navigating hairpin turns and avoiding deadly shells.
Although some of those those elements have appeared in previous games in some form or another, the hang glider is new. When you leap off a blue launchpad, your kart automatically sprouts magnificent wings until you touch back down. At first, this seems like a shallow gimmick, but after you experiment with what you're capable of once airborne, you realize just how much potential this new ability grants you. Once again, quick decision making is important. You can avoid the chaos happening below you if you stay safely in the clouds, and there are coins to collect as well. In some courses, tricky shortcuts are even available for those who have a daredevil's mentality. But other times, you may want to land as quickly as possible. Maybe there are item boxes below or boost pads, so hanging in the air is ultimately hurting your chance at victory.
Lakitu is nonplussed by his ghostly doppelganger.
Choice is a huge factor in why Mario Kart 7 is so exciting. Not only does every moment have you striving to hit the best line possible, but you have to decide the best possible route as well. It's an enticing system that makes every lap around the track feel unique. This feeling is further cemented by another new element: underwater driving. Just like some sections may force you to fly above the clouds, others thrust you into the briny deep. Once submerged, your kart moves more slowly, and exaggerated physics prop you on two wheels around turns. As with the gliding segments, sometimes you want to be underwater, where coins, item boxes, and shortcuts are hidden, whereas other times you want to circumvent this detour. You have to be quick and precise with your movements, and staying aboveground often requires you to tackle tricky turns, so there's a strong risk/reward element to contend with.
Excellent track design ensures that each of these elements is integrated in interesting ways. Shortcuts are present on almost every track, and figuring out not only where they're located but how to reach them requires you to thoroughly case the surroundings. But even when you realize what you have to do, getting there is hardly a piece of cake. Courses are littered with tight turns and deadly traps, continually pushing you to stay pointed the right way. Opponents can nudge you into the cavernous deep by either pelting you with items or slamming you with their karts, and the constant need to fight your foes along with the track creates a frenetic atmosphere that is exciting and rewarding. The retro tracks stand proudly next to the new so that no matter which you're on, you're engulfed in the experience. Seeing almost 20 years of tracks on display is a testament to how outstanding design stands the test of time. It doesn't matter if you're cruising down the newest iteration of Rainbow Road or the original from Super Mario Kart: the racing is fast, frantic, and always fun.