By James Sweeting
The Mario Kart 8 launch is upon us, it has been released in Japan, Mario Kart TV has just launched, and in the West many retailers have broken the street date. To contain my anticipation I played the most recent entry to the series Mario Kart 7 and during my time with it again I realised that this is a title that will not be going anywhere and for many will be the perfect accompaniment to Mario Kart 8.
What about the DS and Wii versions? Why didn’t I look back at those two highly successful titles? It was actually because of how successful they were. DS was a masterclass in what the DS handheld was capable off and its legacy was its excellent implementation of online play. The Wii also successfully included online play, but it was the motion controls that helped to draw in the masses whilst alienating many of the long term fans.
This was why MK7 was such a welcome relief. It continued in the vein of DS, offering excellent controls and well designed courses that challenge the player instead of providing wide open spaces to accommodate the wide turning required by the use of the Wii Wheel. Mario Kart has always relied on a certain amount of luck to win due to the presence of its items, but without some skill from the player victory was not assured.
MK7 requires the player to hone their skills, particularly mastery of drifting. In MK8 drifting is more essential here than in the previous titles (although DS was not far behind), as it is not just about getting round a corner in less time, but gaining the all important drift boost that is gained when prolonging a drift long enough. It is these drift boosts that can often be the difference between first and second. In addition to the drift boosts and a continuation from Wii is using the jump when going over gap to gain a boost upon landing, this radically alters the how one might approach a track especially with the addition of the Retro Tracks.
The Retro Tracks, the reimagining of previously used tracks, are amazing. MK7 manages to keep the original spirit of the track, but modifies them to also incorporate the new elements introduced. The new versions of these tracks are nearly always superior over the originals, this is especially the case with the Wii tracks, despite going through the least amount of change. But as mentioned in my complaint with Wii the tracks were originally designed to accommodate motion control, and now with this not being the default control method the tracks are tailored to the more precise control input afforded by the circle pad. I did race against someone online who opt to use the motion control on the handheld and, unsurprisingly, they were in last place.
MK7 introduced two major new elements to how the player navigates through the tracks, this being the inclusion of the gliders and the ability to drive underwater. The glider surprisingly felt immediately at home in the series, since in Double Dash was the inclusion of a cannon which propels the player to the other side of the track, but the ability to drive underwater very much felt unique but was utilised appropriately so that it added to game. Somehow Nintendo were also able to take both of these features and add them to some of the Retro Tracks without them being shoehorned in and instead feeling like they were meant to be there all along.
The other major introduction was the kart customisation. Mario Kart had the option to select karts since Double Dash but this was the first time you could choose which aspects you preferred allowing for more variation than was previously available. More parts were unlockable via the collection of coins during races, but the coins had the added functionality of adding a slight increase to your overall speed, a call back to their use back in Super Circuit, as well as contributing to your overall ranking at the end of a cup.
In my opinion MK7 has the weakest soundtrack in the series, although I admit that this down to personal preference. A lot of the tracks seem to be accompanied by distorted wailing guitars, and as this sound effect seems to have permeated across most of the new tracks it becomes grating. Although thankfully from what I’ve heard the soundtrack for MK8 is sounding excellent, staying in the spirit of Mario Kart yet also has its own distinct style.
Lastly, and this is something I can’t go without mentioning, is the use of 3D. This time I do mean the popping out of the screen type of 3D. I was a relatively early adopter of the 3DS and I never regretted my purchase, but MK7 was the first title to really impress me with its use of 3D. It was never gimmicky and instead it was used to effectively convey depth and also somehow make the game look even better, it just doesn’t seem as vibrant in 2D (sorry 2DS owners).
So there we have it, we have reached the end of my Mario Kart Retrospect. I hope you have enjoyed reading these and reminiscing as much as I have actually going back and playing these classics. Whilst I was writing this piece my copy of MK8 happened to arrive, so if you will excuse me whilst I indulge in this new entry in this excellent series.