Old Man Nintendo has done it again. The dusty, gaming legend has produced yet another solid Mario Kart title. Again. Hilariously, though, it’s also really bad.
Confused? So was I. You’re going to need a quick history lesson first, get a cup of tea. Back in 1992, Nintendo, still one of the two kings of the world of gaming, the other being Sega, released a light-hearted racing title based on the Mario universe and its characters for its SNES console. This game was Mario Kart. It was brilliant.
Mario Kart was a subtle balance of skill and fun; from racing around colourful tracks, dropping silly, Mario-themed, race-altering weapons (great for crapping on the other players) to mastering the courses themselves. Made by gaming geniuses, the kind who knew how to innovate in their time, Mario Kart had the depth and replay value most games kill for. Indeed, it’s been ripped off countless times.
And so it began: for every new Nintendo console thereafter, a new Mario Kart title was produced. Mario Kart 64 for the Nintendo 64 (loved that one, many folks didn’t like it), Mario Kart Double Dash for the GameCube (again, not bad, but hated by many) and a remake of the original Mario Kart for the GameBoy Advance (brilliant stuff) and a couple of arcade versions. Each game would alter very little from its predecessor, including tracks from older incarnations, a couple of new weapons and maybe a new gimmick.
Then the DS came and so did the inevitable Mario Kart. Only, this time, it was perfect. With its stripped down gameplay, lack of Double Dash-like gimmicks, simple progression goals and with the quick multiplayer capabilities of the DS, Mario Kart DS was, still is, the greatest incarnation of the game to date.
Then the Wii version came out… Never played it. Moving on.
Which brings us back to the present, 2012, and Mario Kart 7. With three levels of racing difficulty, eight cups in each difficulty, each with four courses, 32 tracks in all, it’s a standard Mario Kart affair.
Thing is, 2012 is a time where, amongst other things, the way we digest our entertainment has changed quite a lot since 1992. Unfortunately, the little Italian plumber’s return to racing, in 3D no less, is bogged down in old-school gaming misery.
Don’t get me wrong; the racing in Mario Kart 7 is perfectly balanced and wonderfully challenging. It’s as good as the DS version, but this is the only quality Mario Kart 7 shares with its predecessor.
The star-rating makes a return from the DS version, but in a reduced, far more useless capacity. Earning star-ratings on Mario Kart 7 is a kudos thing and, while it worked well on the DS on Mario Kart 7 it stands out as a blunt attempt to inject modern replay value into a very tired format.
It jars with Old Man Nintendo’s retro approach to achievement and awards within a game. It’s also a completion thing; most gamers like to beat a game entirely, and why not.
Now, obtaining all three stars for every cup and every challenge on the DS was tricky, not frustrating, just challenging. On Mario Kart 7 it’s wall punching. The enemy intelligence has been ramped up to 11 making tactical racing and racing to beat the game counter-productive.
Worst of all you can’t restart a race. Only a cup. So, three races of perfect driving later and on the fourth you’re knocked about so much you get, say, two stars. Not bad, I guess. Bloody agonising, though, if you’ve already had two stars on this cup for the past 10 tries.
There are also no lap times on-screen to help you beat your best, not that it’s clear what the criteria are for three-star wins. That would be too useful.
Weirdly, the mini challenges are missing from the DS version. Not a crucial component, fair enough, but highly useful for training and getting used to the game’s AI (artificial intelligence). Without it, Mario Kart 7 feels a little light content-wise compared to other £35 games. The online play, though a huge improvement over the DS, is painfully slow to use with limited functionality, but the addition of racing communities is a nice touch.
Nintendo! What are you doing? It’s 2012, now. Games are made to be enjoyed not flung against a spike. Mario Kart 7 excels in its gameplay, making multiplayer a joy, as it was on the DS. And the new weapons included in this Mario Kart are a giggle too.
Still, to release a game this strict is arrogant. There was a time when a new Mario Kart title meant a joyous little trip back in time to when video games were less complicated and bogged down in choice. Today, though, as modern games find their balance and keep us wanton with more than just decent game-play, Mario Kart 7 feels old.
Entertainment has evolved, Old Man Nintendo. Do try to keep up.