This week’s topic – Mario Kart 7!
First of all, I hear you saying “Hey Matthew, if this blog is about fun and originality, then why did you pick a game containing the most universally recognized and over-used video game character of all time?”. The reason is this: I’ll look for new and unique elements in any enjoyable game, and while they may be easier to find in offbeat indie games, it doesn’t mean that mainstream games lack creativity. This week we’re looking at MK7, and the franchise as a whole, and I’ll show you what gaming has gained (and lost) from this series.
MK7 came out at the end of last year, and I received it for Christmas from my brother. It is the first and only 3DS game I own, but my opinions on the 3DS’s pool of titles are not the point here. What I want to talk about is the inclusion of the 3DS’s effect on this Mario Kart game in particular. Now, I’m going to assume that everyone reading this has at some point played a Mario Kart game, or at least knows enough about them to understand that they are racing games that are focused on messing with the other racers and having fun on quirky tracks with familiar characters. Every game in this series follows the basic formula of drive around, shoot items at each other, and then hopefully eke out a victory through skill or luck.
The 3DS offers you the ability to drive in this game by tilting it, giving you a “steering wheel” feel, but you can play it as if you’re holding a regular controller as well, which is good because I don’t think the motion controls work well at all. Also, you can play this game in 3D, like every often 3DS game, which is, of course, the point. 3D in games is fun if it works for you, but I often find that the 3DS’s eponymous feature is sort of a crapshoot for me. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with my brain or the system, but it messes with my eyes in a way that makes me dizzy. This is sad, but I was able to use it enough that note that while it IS fun to have 3DS effect in a game where you are constantly moving, it really doesn’t make a difference from a gameplay perspective, and I’m fine with that. The 3D adds a little more visual pleasure/pain depending on who you are, but you don’t need it to enjoy the game.
So, a few things are new, and I want to talk about those. As you can see from the above picture, characters can glide in certain parts of tracks. Usually this is to cross small expanses, but it’s neat and offers lots of chances to take shortcuts while flying over obstacles, or trip up your opponents and send them hurtling into nothingness. This is satisfying and probably more enjoyable to me than actually winning. Also, coins are back, as a way of increasing your top speed as the race goes on. The placement of coins is usually thicker on the normal track than on shortcuts, forcing the player to decide on the advantages of short-term vs. long-term in a bit of strategy that I thought was lacking from most of the other Mario Karts, in which the strategy to win is always take all the shortcuts every time and nothing else will work (I’m only exaggerating a little).
The final bit of “new” that MK7 brings to the series, though, is control, and through control, fun. I’ve played all the last few Mario Karts, and they all felt too competitive, too serious, even for their Mario Kart setting, because to win against other players you had to use a very specific character/kart combo. MK7 attempts to let the player customize their kart and allow any player to use whatever build they want. This results in many varied builds in online play, and I have enjoyed seeing other players beat me or just barely lose to me with wildly different configurations of parts and characters. As I played through the game’s Grand Prix modes, I saw my preferences in characters and karts evolving to suit my needs for speed, acceleration, handling, and so on. I don’t know if this was the same for anyone else, but I though it added depth to what is normally a pretty shallow game series.
On Wednesday I want to compare MK7 to the first in the series, Super Mario Kart. We’ll talk about how different/similar things are and what changed over time. On Friday, I’m going to compare MK7 to the Mario Kart just before it, Mario Kart Wii, and see what is new or the same there too.