Giant Bomb Review

231 Comments

Mario Kart 7 Review

3
  • 3DS

Confident execution of a familiar formula makes for a fun multiplayer experience, when the circumstances are right.

Mario! In a go-kart!

I’m a pretty staunch subscriber to the Unified Mario Kart Alpha Theory. For the non-scholars out there, this theory dictates that, within a certain margin of error, a person’s first Mario Kart game will always be their favorite, and any subsequent Mario Kart experiences are spent trying to recapture that initial, and fairly specific, buzz of camaraderie, trash-talk, and impossible, shamelessly computer-assisted comebacks. It’s a theory that, due to constant and intensive iteration, actually applies quite effortlessly to a lot of games.

But Mario Kart serves as such a sterling example of this “first bite” phenomenon because we’re now all the way up to Mario Kart 7--though this is the first in the series to explicitly rub the number of times we’ve fallen for the exact same trick in our collective faces--and Mario Kart expectations are intensely, almost dogmatically codified, and have been for years. In a way, it makes the already subjective process of writing a game review that much more nebulous. What is one even reviewing, exactly? The variations from one Mario Kart to the next can be extremely subtle, and whether a specific modulation is good or bad rests almost entirely in the hindsight of the player. That there has never been more than one Mario Kart on any given Nintendo platform further complicates things, and comparisons to other racing games--hell, other kart racing games, not that there have been any of particular merit in quite some time--are a moot point entirely.

As someone who, in the face of the above-mentioned theory, doesn’t really have a favorite Mario Kart game, what can I tell you about Mario Kart 7 for the 3DS? Well, it’s about as good as it is familiar. Yes, it introduces brief aerial and underwater sequences to break things up, further kart customization, additional power-ups, and as many brand-new courses as courses it recycles from Mario Karts of yore. Even if it’s all incredibly safe stuff, which it most definitely is, these modifications and additions seem good, or at least, do not contribute negatively to the previously established Mario Kart formula. To put it another way, if you like red sparks and hate blue shells, Mario Kart 7 is probably for you. To put it a third way, if this is your first Mario Kart, it seems like a pretty good one to kick things off with.

First-person mode is a short-lived novelty.

The fundamental action of hop-drifting around corners, trying to capitalize on boost pads and risky shortcuts, and deciding on the perfect moment to deploy your power-up remain the still-beating heart of Mario Kart. Of course, you’ll regularly have strong performances up-ended, and weak performances propped up, by the game’s unapologetically weighted power-up system, but if you didn’t, that wouldn’t really be Mario Kart, right?

You can run single races on one of the game’s 32 tracks, or compete in four-track grand prix cups. There are battle modes alongside the pure race events, but the open arena, proto-car-combat model feels more and more vestigial with each iteration. The single-player experience feels as anemic as always, with no structure beyond those grand prix cups, and no motivation beyond the promise of unlockable drivers and kart parts to keep playing. Online play seems snappy, even with a full load of eight players, though again, similar to the single-player experience, if the person you’re racing isn’t in the same room, online victories feel hollow, and there’s no one to punch when you lose at the last possible second. Well, no one that deserves it.

Local multiplayer remains the gold standard for Mario Kart 7. Eight players, each with their own copy of the game, would be ideal. Single-cart download support--which limits who and what you race, but not which tracks you can race on--seems generous, though load times are pronounced. It’s still quite fun with less than eight, but let me be clear that I cannot in good conscience recommend this game if you don’t have anyone to play with locally.

The new tracks are pretty consistently terrific.

As is de rigueur for Mario Kart, 7 incorporates some of its platform’s native trickery in some conspicuous manner. Now you can opt to play Mario Kart by “turning” your 3DS as though it were a steering wheel, which is precisely as awful as it sounds. Worse, actually, because moving the 3DS around all but cancels out the game’s stereoscopic 3D effects, which I found more transfixing than I have in most 3DS games I’ve played. It’s the only 3DS game where, over time, I’ve found myself turning the 3D slider up, rather than the other way around.

Regardless of your appreciation for 3D effects, this is a crisp, colorful game, and maybe it’s just a matter of scale, but it might just be the best-looking Mario Kart yet. The track designs are impressive as well, and their scale, thematic ingenuity, use of 3D space, and smart but measured incorporation of underwater and aerial segments seem that much more impressive when compared directly to the classic tracks included.

Despite the game's slavish adherence to the Mario Kart formula, Mario Kart 7 has moments where it shines simply by executing that formula really well. Still, other than your personal history with Mario Kart, your enjoyment of Mario Kart 7 will likely hinge on your continued appreciation of that formula, and friends to enjoy it with, more than anything else.

231 Comments
Posted by digitaldiatribe

Nice review, figured it'd be a 3 at best.

Posted by NoK

Wow part 7? I didn't know we were up that far.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

I agree with the Unified Mario Kart Alpha Theory. It's the reason why Diddy Kong Racing is my favorite Mario Kart game.

Moderator
Edited by ghostNPC

Reviewing a Mario Kart game must have been kind of tough given how little they change from game to game. Great job Ryan.

Posted by DirtyEagles

video games?

Posted by WJist

The worst thing they added to Mario Kart in portable versions was snaking. Eff that noise.

Posted by Physic

I guess I'm in the margin of error. DOUBLE DASH 4 LYFE!

Posted by MagusMaleficus

Those last few sentences tell me this will be a 5-star experience for my circle of friends. Fuck yeah.

Posted by golguin

I first played the Mario Kart on the SNES, but Mario Kart DS is easily the best. Yoshi and Dry Bomber all the way.

Posted by Kevin_Cogneto

I guess I must be an exception to the rule, Mario Kart 64 is my favorite even though I played the original first. I think it might be because all that Mode 7 stuff really hurts my eyes. That, and the SNES Mario Kart's crippling Wario deficiency...

Posted by Video_Game_King

Kind of an odd quote for the front page blurb. "It's sort of an OK game, maybe." :P

Posted by BasketSnake

What you're saying is that it's like ham in a sandwich - somewhere in the middle.

Posted by suicidepacmen

Incoming butthurt Nintendo fans.

Posted by SkipT

Very well said. Thanks Ryan.

Posted by Kevin_Cogneto

@suicidepacmen said:

Incoming butthurt Nintendo fans.

Wow, that was uncanny.

Posted by Lionheart377

Very well-written review. Glad you gave it an honest score! I still think I'll be grabbing a Vita before a 3DS, but if Nintendo does manage to seduce me, this will be one of my first purchases.

Posted by DrMcKittrick

I think somebody is losing their touch when reviewing video games? WTF did you expect Mario Kart 7 to be?

Posted by fox01313

Good review Ryan, with this being #7 in a series without a ton of innovation, it'll be great for those new to the series but others more familiar with the series might not be playing it too long with all the other games out there. Seems like Nintendo has a few franchise titles like this that now come out on just about every Nintendo platforms so at this point it's rather familiar series to many many people.

Posted by DrMcKittrick

I think the game should have been reviewed by somebody who had a real hold on the series. Is there anyone @ Giant Bomb who does?

Posted by MolluskLingers

no u guys dun understand i paid REAL MONEY for this site because they usually give ever game a fair look but this fuckin INTERN who prob does nothing but get the coffees for jeff gerstmann reviews this game that is the definiing racing game of OUR GENERATION. seriously what the hell. did the 3d switch not work on their console or something? how did they not feel inovled in this MASTERFULL world of gaming? did this plummer not get tingles of NOSTALGIA that people like nintendo deliver on a concurrent basis to its great fans?

what a joke. giant bomb get real. what did nintendo do to u

Posted by delorean99947

@Methodis: Good impersonation of a 8 year old, I applaud you.

Posted by MormonWarrior

I disagree entirely with your theory, Ryan. My first was the SNES original and I don't love it. I hate the N64 game too. My favorites are Double Dash and the DS game. If Double Dash had more levels and better single-player modes, it would easily be my favorite, but it's a bit short of content.

Mario Kart DS is still one of my favorite DS games too. This one looks pretty darn good too. Looks way better than that horrible, shoddy Wii game.

Posted by Lucidlife

Yeah!

Another terrible review and score from the team!

Posted by clank543

Mario Kart 64 RULES!!!!! Anyways, great review, Ryan. I still think they should make an ultimate Nintendo game having Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and Mario Party in one big party package. Have all the characters from SSB in all of the games and they have a winner for me. It's tough for me to go out and spend 40 bucks on a game that I basically already played a year ago on my DS.

Posted by YetiAntics

The troll is just filling the void for any of us used to seeing a 10 year old troll in the old Gamespot.

Posted by Blubba

I play with no items and on Luigi's Circuit, because I'm a hardcore purist.

Posted by iAmJohn

Ryan, I am an anomaly to your theory since my first was Mario Kart 64, but I rightfully think that Double Dash is the best one. Because it is.

Posted by hagridore

The best Mario Kart is Crash Team Racing.

Boom.

Posted by Lively

Any review that helps Nintendo realize how stale Mario Kart has gotten can only be a good thing. To all the haters, a 3-star score is average. This isn't the US public school grading system.

Edited by Nert

@Lucidlife said:

Yeah!

Another terrible review and score from the team!

Uh... what's terrible about the review?

Actually, I'll probably just bail out of here, because I'm bad at discerning sarcasm from sincerity on the internet : /

Edit: Hell yeah, iAmJohn. Double Dash is still an absolute joy to play; the character specific powers do a lot to make experimenting with different characters more fun.

Posted by TepidShark

Not that it would solve all the problems with Mario Kart but if the game had an adventure mode (with a structure to it) like Diddy Kong Racing or Crash Team Racing, then maybe Mario Kart would be a little more interesting.

Posted by Milkman

Mario Kart is dumb.

Online
Posted by Bob_Loblaw

I actually have a lot of time for mario kart wii. Although strictly played with a Gamecube control pad. None of your wii wheel shenannigans, no sir.

Posted by Jolt92

Your theory is not true to me since I like Mario Kart 64 and DS more than I like Super!

This review was well written and good. I love Mario Kart and the addition of flight really mixes things up and leaves for some strategy that seemed really interesting to me. Since Mario Kart DS is one of my favorite DS games I'm gonna give this one a go, I had a blast with it when I tried it out some weeks ago. GameTrailers review is pretty good also.

Posted by ItBeStefYo

This is probably gonna be the best review out there for this game

And I dont appreciate these sarcastic comments... not creative at all at this point, just nerds cheap thrills.

Posted by Cornman89

It almost doesn't need a review. What sort of critical analysis can a man make of Mario Kart at this point? It's fucking Mario Kart.

Posted by RoyCampbell

Gonna sell gangbusters, regardless of reviews.

Posted by TooWalrus

About as expected: I haven't really cared for Mario Kart since Double Dash (or maybe Mario Kart DS). I honestly don't want any kart customization awful-looking hang-gliding in my Mario Kart... Man, remember Super Circut for the GBA? That one was amazing, there were like 20 new courses, then once you finished those, you could unlock ALL of the Super Mario Kart courses too.

It wouldn't be difficult for them to treat Mario Kart as a cumulative thing- they should dump all of the courses from previous Mario Karts into their new game, then design new ones to go along with it- that'd probably get me playing again.

Posted by strangemodule

Ryan's shrug icon perfectly sums up how he feels.

The game does seem like an improvement to the series, although plays it too safe.

Posted by Toug

I have no envy for something that has to review a game like this. I mean, what can you really even say?

The review sounds much like how I felt about the Wii game in that, "it's an alright one of those games" type of thing.

Posted by SuperWristBands

The Unified Mario Kart Alpha Theory seems to apply to almost all of my friends who play Mario Kart except for myself. Not like, sitting on a high horse or anything, it just seems weird to me. I first played Mario Kart 64 and had a blast, then I played Mario Kart Double Dash and had even more fun, and completed pretty much everything in it and finally Mario Kart Wii came out and introduced Motorcycles (which it seems made most of my friends not care for that game, but this addition made it my favourite of the bunch) and I had some fun online with it.

I just don't get when my friends want to play Mario Kart SNES and ONLY the SNES one. They are stoners, so maybe that is why. All I know is that I want to play some Mario Kart Wii but no one ever wants to.

As for the review, well, I have never had an interest in handheld Mario Kart games.

Posted by TeenageJesusSuperstar

My favorite Mario Kart is the one on the PlayStation with the bandicoot.

Posted by Jensonb

You're all wrong, the best Mario kart so far was Mario Kart Advance: Super Circuit. I'm a Mario Kart nerd, I've played them all extensively enough to say no other Mario Kart has executed on the formula as well as Super Circuit. I can't wait to see how 7 does though. By nerfing the Blue Shell back to MKDS levels, restoring MKDS handling (But with mini turbos nerfed to prevent snaking), restoring coins and adjusting the balance so that racing well is actually the best way to win, there's a strong chance the folks behind Seven have made a game which is a match for Super Circuit.

That out of the way, I have to address this review. Really, Ryan? REALLY? I saw your three stars, rolled my eyes as the "Giant Bomb: Home of the 3 Star Review" joke drifted across my mind & decided to take a look at your body text to see what the problem is. But there isn't one. The text of this review could just as easily have a 4 Star score slapped on it and it would work just as well.

Now here's the thing, I know Giant Bomb reviews are meant as personal opinions, not authoritative assessments like those pretentious dweebs at 1UP's reviews, but at this point I have to say the review system here has devolved into a circle jerk. Outside of the occasional outlier like an Alex Navarro penned review, the Giant Bomb editorial reviews are a monoculture. And this review typifies the biggest problem:

WOULD YOU PLEASE HIRE A REVIEWER WHO ACTUALLY LIKES NINTENDO GAMES?

I mean, seriously, WHAT is the value in a bunch of guys who sit around waxing lyrical about the Uncharted franchise or Gears of War 3 but whose reaction to pretty much everything Nintendo does "is lol it has bright colours and is for kiddies and it has Mario lol therefore it's dull and Nintendo have no innovation" reviewing Mario Kart? What is the point in that? What does it achieve? Outside of the occasional outlier like Jeff (almost begrudgingly) admitting he likes Super Mario 3D Land, it's like you guys don't even WANT people who like Nintendo games to come here.

This isn't some fanboy rant either, I'm platform neutral. I love me some damn Halo, Killzone 2 was a GOTY for me, my PS3 is my most used console and my Xbox 360 is a special edition. This is about the fact that I like Nintendo games - particularly Mario Kart - and I pay you guys money and all you seem to do is sit there and laugh "hahaha, why would someone like NINTENDO? That's for fags". It's like paying money to keep them producing fucking Sega Genesis ads. So for the love of all that is holy, could you please do us all a favour and find someone on staff who actually likes Nintendo games?

It shouldn't be this hard.

Posted by Vegetable_Side_Dish

Wait, Nintendo games don't get  a free pass anymore? Interesting. 

Posted by Enigma777

Moar like Mario Fart 7, amirite? 

Posted by Lively

@Jensonb: You can like Nintendo games and still think some of them are getting stale. Case it point, me.

Posted by LackLuster

This review could essentially be "It's mario kart"

Edited by xbob42

But Mario Kart serves as such a sterling example of this “first bite” phenomenon because we’re now all the way up to Mario Kart 7

I'm not really interested in this game as Mario Kart DS is fine for me, even still, but this quote in particular stood out to me.

I just think it's a little funny that Ryan says we're "all the way up" to Mario Kart 7 after 19 years, when we have had 7 Call of Duty games on the Xbox 360 this generation alone. (Although all 8 are available on it.)

No real point, I just thought that was kind of funny, since Jeff is just barely getting tired of Call of Duty. :p

EDIT: Whoops, for some reason thought Jeff had written this review. Silly me. My point stands on less firm foundation now, but still!

Posted by Shrat

"but let me be clear that I cannot in good conscience recommend this game if you don’t have anyone to play with locally."

This quote is a joke. I don't need anyone to play with locally to have fun with this game. It's got online right? Check. Time trials? Check. What else do you need? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Posted by ColonelT

Um, cat?

UMKAT.