Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mario Kart 7

I'm a bit late to this party, as I am to any 3DS-related party really, but regardless...  I just got Mario Kart 7, and here's my thoughts.

Well, in a moment.  There's background, and I'm a crotchety old man that wants to tell stories when he's not busy yelling at kids to get off his lawn or whatever.  The first Mario Kart game I owned, and the only one I owned up until this point, was Mario Kart Double Dash!!.  I've played Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart Super Circuit, and Mario Kart Wii either through friends or through emulators.  I feel like I generally know what I'm doing when I'm playing Mario Kart.

So, right away, when I fired up Mario Kart 7, I was greeted with what any other game in the series has: a simple menu that's straight to the point.  It basically asks you "ya wanna play singleplayer, with a few people nearby, or on the internet?"  Notably absent is an options menu.  The StreetPass/SpotPass portion of the game has a few options, but I was really hoping for the controls to be at least slightly configurable.

As far as a Mario Kart game is concerned, Mario Kart 7 earns its place in the series quite easily.  In fact, other racing game series could maybe learn a thing or two.  In Mario Kart 7, there are 32 tracks, split into 16 new tracks and 16 tracks taken from older Mario Kart games and given a facelift and a new bit here and there.  The range of powerups includes the majority of the staple powerups as well as a few new ones, and while the initially available cast is rather limited, you can expand it as you play the game and unlock more characters.  Unlike previous games in the series, the character you pick doesn't seem to be tied to your kart's stats.  Rather, you have options for setting up your kart that determine your kart's stats, and your choice of character is more or less cosmetic.

As sad as I was that the controls weren't configurable, I don't really remember a Mario Kart game ever having configurable controls.  It doesn't really matter, I just wanted to be able to swap accelerate and brake so it'd be the same as in Ridge Racer 3D and I wouldn't have to remember a different "go faster" button.  Overall, the controls seem to work well.  Coming from Double Dash!!, though, which didn't use the "hop" mechanic of starting drifts, I noticed that this game has the "hop" mechanic and immediately tried to do Super Mario Kart-style hop-cornering, which just doesn't work here.  It's got a weird merger between Double Dash!!'s drifting and Super Mario Kart's hop-cornering, where you hop once to start drifting, and then rather than having to push left and right a few times to go yellow-red-blue sparks and let go for miniturbo, you just hold the button and it does the sparks on its own after a little while, going from blue to red, and then let go for your miniturbo.  It feels dumbed down, to be honest.

Another thing that feels uncomfortably different: getting the boost at the beginning of a race.  Normally you just punch the accelerator exactly when the word "Go!" appears and you've got your boost, but here the timing is weirdly placed around the point that the "2" is about to disappear.  It just doesn't make sense, and it kind of feels like they changed it just to mess with gamers who were used to what the series had established up until this point.

Progression through the cups is as you could expect.  Beat the first cup, the second unlocks, and so forth.  However, there's two separate series of four cups in each difficulty, one for the new tracks and one for the classic tracks.  You can make progress through either of them, as they're independent of one another, but the credits don't roll until you've beaten all eight on a given difficulty.

This game also has the "collect coins to spin out less when you get hit by something" mechanic, which to be honest, I've never really enjoyed.  In Super Mario Kart, I didn't really enjoy it because so very few of the coins were close enough to the racing line to be feasible to pick up during a race, and their hitboxes were incredibly finnicky.  Mario Kart Super Circuit basically is Super Mario Kart, more or less, and suffers from the same issues.  However, here, the coins seem to be either on the racing line or close enough that it doesn't matter, and have a wider range from which they can be collected, which makes the whole thing better.

What's kind of weird is the way you unlock almost everything.  It's not accomplishment-based, essentially.  You don't unlock kart parts after beating one or another cup.  Rather, they're milestone rewards based on the cumulative number of coins you pick up during races.  And by "pick up during races", I really mean "finish a race with".  Also, your coins cap out at 10, meaning with each cup being four races long, you can get a maximum of 40 coins per cup, and some things take several THOUSAND coins to unlock.  Seriously, Nintendo?  At least it's cumulative, so you just keep playing the game and eventually you'll get everything, but there's no in-game checklist that might tell you the amount of coins you need, so you get to look that information up on GameFAQs or something.

Now, the online multiplayer.  I tried out a few races, and it works pretty well.  The game doesn't muck about with having to join a lobby and start racing from there, you can't get kicked from the group, and nobody can send messages to anyone else.  You just hop in and go racing.  When you've had enough, go ahead and exit at the end of a race.  It's that simple to play online with random people.  Of course, for more organized play, there are "communities", and you can set up a community.  Each community can have different gameplay rules, such as restricting powerups to one specific type or whatever.  You can also join a friend to play online.

There's also local multiplayer, complete with download play.  Being that I have two 3DSes, I tried it out, and it works about as well as you might expect it to.  Hopefully I can get a few friends to start up Download Play next time we hang out for a while.

The game's StreetPass component confuses me, because my 3DS says I've got a Mario Kart 7 streetpass, but when I go into the Mario Kart Channel and select StreetPass List, it just directs me to the Friends/Opponents list.  That's in the online multiplayer menu, and it gets me nowhere.  Despite my 3DSes having StreetPassed each other twice since I got the game, I've gotten nothing out of it, and my profile in the Mario Kart Channel still says I've got zero StreetPass tags.  I've done time attack on both of my systems, how can I race against each system's ghost?  I'm thinking the game just fails at the whole "2 systems 1 cartridge" thing.

Overall, if you're a fan of Mario Kart and have a 3DS, it's a good game that you'll get a lot of enjoyment out of.  If you're new to the franchise, there's a bit of a learning curve since you'll need to figure out the powerups and all 32 tracks, but the game's pretty accessible so that shouldn't be too much of an issue.  Definitely worth picking up if you want some portable powerup racing action.

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