With the next release of one of the most popular game franchises of all time just on the horizon, gamers such as myself have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to test out the new gameplay features of Mario Kart 7. As a gamer at the age of 22, I’ve grown up playing Mario Kart my whole life, and each successive version has always aimed to improve upon the last. With the latest instalment of this racing genre phenomenon being released for the 3DS very soon, naturally I jumped on the opportunity to have a hands on demo with Nintendo during one of their open media events in Sydney.
After meeting up with other members of the Capsule Computers Crew, being greeted at the door and offered food and beverages, Claire, Josh and myself all made a beeline straight for a small table outfitted with 4 3DS consoles, and what appeared to be a full version of Mario Kart 7 ready to jump straight into. Multiplayer was restricted until after the formal presentation, so we each got started on a single player campaign in Grand Prix mode.
While beginning the game, I noticed that the menu, level and option selection were all highly reminiscent of Mario Kart DS, the previous handheld instalment. After selecting Luigi as my primary racer, I was introduced to the Kart selection screen. This is where things began to get innovative. Rather than just plonk the player down with a kart selection screen, as has been done since Mario Kart Double Dash, the newly developed kart selection screen offers a degree of customisation to suit the player’s racing style. After choosing a kart, each with different stats that might favour top speed, acceleration or handling, the player may also make a choice of the type of tyre the wish to race with, as well as the type of hang-glider for the aerial sections. This feature is great for players who want to fine tune their racing style for their chosen character. Who said Bowser can’t have good acceleration?
Like Mario Kart DS, the game features eight 4-track Grand Prix circuits. That makes 32 tacks altogether. 16 brand new for Mario Kart 7, and 16 recreated tracks from the 6 older games. However when starting out, only 2 are available: The Mushroom Cup and the Shell Cup. Selecting the Shell Cup to begin with on 100cc, I was eager to see what kind of other innovations were in store. To start off with, I moved my left hand down to the D-Pad to control the steering. When I pressed up on D-pad Left however, I discovered something very interesting. The camera switched to first person mode. Not only that, but I also discovered that, like in Starfox 64 3DS, the Gyro controls were also active. I was literally steering Luigi’s kart with the 3DS. And it actually worked pretty well! The disappointment in Starfox was the gyro controls really didn’t help augment the gameplay experience, but with Mario Kart 7, it really works well. Again, I found myself reminiscing, this time about motion control and its use in Mario Kart Wii. I could already see that the development team was clearing trying to take the successful innovation of previous titles and bring them together here.
In our time playing, we were also introduced to new items, including the almighty fire flower, which, as you may have guessed already, allows the player to fire a multitude of fireballs. We were also surprised to see the Leaf, which gave the player’s kart racoon tail and ears, allowing them to swipe at other karts, as well as obstacles, knocking them away. The inclusion of the Racoon powers was explained to have tied in with the resurrection of the Tanooki suit in Super Mario Land 3DS. Both, functionally, give the player the same abilities (though there is no jumping power associated in Mario Kart 7). We also saw the return of several keystone items, such as the lightning bolt, the mushrooms, the star and that EVER irritating blue shell. However, none of us were yet lucky enough to obtain the ‘Lucky 7’ item. This was explained to us in the presentation that this item would only be found very rarely during a race. Essentially it provides the racer with 7 different items all at once, spinning around them in a similar fashion to the triple green/red shells. In the lucky 7 bundle, the racer receives a green shell, red shell, mushroom, banana, blooper, bob-omb and star to be used in the order the player chooses. Whichever item is in front of the player during the cycle is the one that is used.
We also had the opportunity to engage in some multiplayer once the presentation was over. Like Mario Kart DS, it features a local wifi connection that allows players to connect and play with other 3DS players, regardless of whether or not they own the game. However, Mario Kart 7 also implemented an online race feature, which allows players, who are in range of a wifi access point, to take their racing campaign online against players around the world! This has been the first handheld version of the game to allow online connectivity. (The first ever being Mario Kart Wii). Naturally, the multiplayer functionality offers a much greater challenge than single player, but the game still feels all the richer for it. It is still a great game in both multiplayer and single player facets.
Mario Kart 7 is currently scheduled for release over the span of 4 days:
December 1st: Japan
December 2nd: Europe
December 3rd: Australia and New Zealand
December 4th: The US and Canada