The other notable new single-player addition is a first-person perspective that allows you to steer with the gyroscope as well as the circle pad. However, it's little more than a brief novelty: it's eminently controllable, and demonstrates a more obvious visual depth, but most will revert to the standard behind-kart view after half a lap.
Plenty for the solo player to chew on, then, but the most substantial improvements are reserved for the game's online component. You can compete against random players across the world, or choose a race to join from those on your friends list, as well as a handful of recent opponents listed underneath. The new Community feature is the biggest change, allowing you to create up to eight different setups, each with a name and icon, and a series of settings to suit a group's particular tastes. Whether you fancy a Balloon Battle with Bob-ombs as the sole power-up or a sedate 50cc race sans items, there's an option to suit (almost) everyone. This might not be the most revolutionary idea ever, but for Nintendo it's a bolder step into online waters, even if it then shoots itself in the foot somewhat by giving you a 14-digit code to share with friends by way of an invite – leaving you to decide the method of delivery.
It can take a while to find players to race against, though this should be less of an issue when the game goes on retail release. Once you've found a suitable match - based on a rating that aims to pair you with similarly-skilled players, and which fluctuates depending on your online performances - you may have to wait a short time for a race to be finished before you can start. The wait is usually worth it: races are smooth and lag-free from turbo start to frantic finish.
Local play, meanwhile, allows one cart to support up to eight players, with the option to add newcomers to your friends list by simply tapping an icon, an unusually progressive move for Nintendo. Those who don't own the game are forced to race as Shy Guy, though downloading the data to compete doesn't take too long. Indeed, the small multiplayer game is more fun than it's been for a long time, perhaps since Mario Kart 64. Of the new arenas for the two Battle modes, Honeybee House is the weak link, its honeycomb of interlinked rooms proving a little too restrictive. Wuhu Town is an improvement, with a network of narrow streets surrounding a more open circular centre. Sherbet Rink is easily the pick of the bunch, a slippery sheet of ice with rubbery bumpers that makes for a welcome dose of chaotic karting slapstick, while the three older tracks – Super Circuit's Battle Course, MK64's Big Donut, and Palm Shore DS – provide reliable backup. Find a regularly available group of pals (either online or off) and these modes could potentially keep you going for months. And if they're busy, the time trials – with ghosts available via Streetpass and Spotpass – are more than adequate compensation.
Mark Rein suggests Super Mario 3D Land has a case for being 3DS's killer-app, but as brilliant as EAD Tokyo's platformer is, Mario Kart 7 is a more comprehensive realisation of the capabilities of Nintendo's much-maligned handheld. It's not brave, it's not innovative, but neither should it be casually dismissed as 'more of the same'. That winning formula has been prodded and poked and buffed until it gleams, leaving us with a game that is, at the very least, the finest Mario Kart since the original. For some, it might be even more than that.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- Immaculate handling, tremendous new tracks
- Technically dazzling, bright and beautiful
- The most comprehensive MK multiplayer ever
- Forgettable soundtrack, Community code awkwardness