Mario Kart has finally arrived on Nintendo 3DS. Everything we love about it has been retained, and there are a number of nice additions as well. After only a couple of hours it's easy to conclude - this is a game that brings the best of two worlds.
There are 32 tracks, 16 old ones and 16 brand new. The old tracks we played on Super NES, Nintendo 64, Gameboy Advance, Gamecube, Wii and DS, have been faithfully restored with love and care, and optimised for stereoscopic 3D. But it's the new tracks that really impress. Beautiful graphics, nice little details such as cherry blossoms blowing in the wind, brilliant lighting effects, and clever track design. The tracks are wide at times, narrow at others, and vary from dark colour themes to bright paint explosions worthy of an acid trip. When we command Wario's old ship we even get to drive vertically with an awesome 3D effect. The graphics are really impressive for such a small device.
As far as gameplay goes the tracks offer up one or two surprises. Drive over a ramp and you can turn your kart into a hang glider. This turns Mario Kart 7 into a Pilot Wings of sorts, at least in part, and if you make a perfect landing and take full advantage of the wind it can turn the whole race around. You will even be driving under water, where your vehicle is powered by a small propeller.
Your kart can now be modified. You do this by collecting coins during the races, a fairly slow process as you can only collect a maximum of 10 coins per track. At 50 coins you can buy a new part for you kart. Choosing for these modifications is a challenge in itself, as they must pair up well with the track and your driving style. Big wheels, for instance, help you through muddy conditions but also affect acceleration and handling.
Mario Kart without power ups is simply not Mario Kart, and there are naturally both mushrooms to give you boost, and nasty blue shells that targets ambitious drivers. Among the new additions we find the Tanooki tail, that we enjoyed in Super Mario 3D Land, and here it's a perfect tool to deal with competitors who get a little bit too close for comfort. If you want a more ranged attack, the improved fire flower is an option, as it fires multiple shots. Finally, there is a ticking bomb that can be thrown between stressed out players.
The driving itself is great on the Nintendo 3DS. You're still drifting to boost, and trying your best to avoid that blue shell that always seems to turn things around at the end. Personally, I cannot stand that shell, as it penalises the player who has been doing well. It's not quite as bad as in Mario Kart Wii, but still annoying.
Even more annoying is the new cockpit view that makes use of the gyro. You control your kart by turning the 3DS, but unfortunately this renders the 3D mode almost unplayable. And the game is, simply put, not as entertaining without the 3D turned on.
The game modes are probably familiar. There are three Grand Prix classes (50cc, 100cc, 150cc). There is Time Trial, but it is a bit odd that this game mode doesn't take vehicle classes into consideration - as it is now you can only get a good time by building the perfect kart. You can also download ghost laps from other players as motivation. There is however no global leaderboard to be found. In addition to this there is Balloon Battle and Coin Battle, both of which are heaps of fun in multiplayer.
You can race with up to seven friends locally or online. The lobby system is very simple, and it is easy to find people to play against. Unfortunately, there is little motivation other than the enjoyment of the game, as there are no rankings, levels or rewards to earn, apart from those you can unlock offline.
One feature allows the option of creating races with special parameters. This is a feature with lots of potential, but it is still fairly limited, as you can only choose to allow all or deactivate all items, or pick a single one for use (bombs or shells) - and the same goes for all the karts and their special parts as well.
When you play online all competitors picks the track he or she wants to play, and the final decision is then randomly generated - a fair system. The host can also create a team so you can compete against computer controlled opponents, or against other teams. After four rounds the winner is proclaimed, and this is true for all game modes.
Mario Kart 7 is a fantastic game thanks to a perfectly balanced experience, and the wonderful attention to details Nintendo always seem to shower their most popular mascots with. The brilliant soundtrack with variations on classic tunes is an example of this. On one track your view affects the background music. Simply magical.
My experience continues on in the Mushroom Kingdom, race after race, and there is no stopping me with the exception of sleep and the occasional blue shell.