October is one of my favorite months of the year. The leaves start turning colors, Halloween is just around the corner and the friendly Nintendo folks show up in their airstream trailer with a sampling of their upcoming releases. Second on the roster was Mario Kart 7.
While I’m a fan of the whole Mario Kart line I consider Mario Kart DS to be the greatest entry in Nintendo’s mascot racing series. I freely admit to working through a serious addiction to the title back in college and would’ve gladly mainlined that game through a 24/7 drip feed if that were possible. So I do admit to some bias, but Mario Kart DS was still the series’ high point—perfectly balanced gameplay, online modes, brilliant course design and just enough challenge to keep you satisfied. The upcoming Mario Kart 7 for 3DS has some big shoes to fill and after some time with it I can say that…well, maybe it has a chance?
Mario Kart 7 isn’t out to reinvent the wheel—it will be instantly familiar to fans and the changes are more subtle and evolutionary than revolutionary. The big new feature is the ability to upgrade your kart with custom parts, including a submarine propeller and a deployable hang glider. The underwater sections seem mostly for show and variety, while the aerial portions are more a test of skill: if you’re really good you can glide right over huge portions of the course, but it takes a lot of tricky maneuvering so thankfully the hang glider isn’t a game-breaking cheat.
The more subtle mods you can add to your cart include stiffer chassis and suspension for unpredictable courses or chunky monster truck wheels for rough terrain. Replaying the courses until you’ve perfected them has always been a hallmark of the Mario Kart series and this modding could potentially add a huge new layer to that; each mod won’t work for every track but they really aren’t supposed to. I can easily see myself sweating through the courses in a standard kart, then selecting different upgrades to tailor my ride to each individual course for better performance and faster time records.
My only real issue with Mario Kart 7 is the lack of motorcycles. While the customizable karts may yet make up for them, I really enjoyed the bikes in Mario Kart Wii and the different challenge it took to master them. They were much easier to knock around and didn’t have the horsepower of the karts, but I preferred their zippy acceleration and tight cornering. I also wasn’t able to perform the ramp stunts in Mario Kart 7 either, but I’m not sure if that’s because they aren’t in the game or I just couldn’t find out how to activate them.
So far Mario Kart 7 has me cautiously optimistic. It has apparently discarded some of the cooler elements that the Wii game introduced but I’m hoping the kart mods and new courses make Mario Kart 7 a distinct and worthy entry in its own right.