The Long And Winding Road – Part IV

On the last part of this Mario Kart overview, Mario Kart 7 delivers the most solid and balanced game of the franchise, and we look ahead to see what Mario Kart 8 might bring.

ImageMario Kart 7

A greatly designed game, Mario Kart 7 set out to bring many of the features introduced by its predecessors to new heights. Differently from the DS and Wii games, whose internet matches were plagued by hackers and snaking – in the case of the former – and slightly unbalanced due to the overpowered bikes – in the case of the latter, the title’s online gameplay was fair and organically competitive. Hence, the result was a mode with even races that, so far, marks the series’ peak in terms of online competition, making the game highly replayable.

The only problem, to both online and offline gameplay, was that the dreaded Blue Shell was greatly buffed. It kept its devilish wings and its explosive power that was activated upon reaching the first-place player. Moreover, this time around, its flight path was much lower, meaning that it could possibly hit any players standing between the racer who released it and its final destination: the leader. Additionally, it now caused players to tumble sideways, making falling out of the track as a consequence of its hit much more likely.

ImageInstead of being able to simply choose which vehicles to use – a tradition that was born on the Gamecube’s Double Dash – players could now assemble a kart little by little through the combination of different chassis, wheels, and gliders. It created a large amount of possible rides, and the fact the parts were unlocked via the collection of coins was a smart choice that meant players could gain access to them by playing whichever of the game’s modes they preferred.

Speaking of coins, Mario Kart 7 was their return to the fray after being absent following Super Circuit. Once more, they served as a mean to increase a kart’s top speed during the race and, given that they were strategically scattered all over the courses, the golden goodies added layers of skill to the game, forcing players to occasionally change their trajectory to collect treasure.

ImageThe game extended course design options by allowing karts to race in the air and underwater. Gliders were added to the vehicles so that any considerable jumps would give players the opportunity to stay airborne for a while in order to try to gain an edge. Meanwhile, entering watery grounds – which were optional in some tracks and mandatory in orders – made small turbines appear on the back of the karts, therefore allowing races to take place in an environment with distinct physics. Besides making courses wackier, these additions added a nice deal of variety to the racing.

Mario Kart 7’s most intriguing new feature, though, was probably that – for the first time ever – it was possible to race using a first-person view. When switching to that perspective, in the vein of Mario Kart Wii, the kart was controlled through the tilting of the 3DS. Truth be told, although the controls worked perfectly, turning the system sideways also meant that the screen was turned the same way, which could be annoying to some.

Even if it did add to the game’s immersion, it did not work alongside the handheld’s 3D effects given that it requires precise positioning of the player in relation to the screen. Still, it was quite nice to see a Mario Kart race through the eyes of the character, and it is something that, hopefully, will be brought back in future installments.

ImageMario Kart 8

There is no better way to put it: right now, it looks like Mario Kart 8 might end up being the finest game in the franchise. Its graphics, alongside the uncanny smoothness with which they run, signal that Nintendo has worked hard to make it the Wii U’s most visually polished game. And that, in itself, is quite a landmark, for Mario Kart games have never been known for pushing the technical boundaries of Nintendo’s machines to new levels.

With over twenty-five characters confirmed, including the seven Koopalings, its roster will certainly be the biggest one yet. That avalanche of content also seems clear on the game’s tracks, since – as the released trailers have made it clear – the sixteen retro courses the game will present have received truly massive overhauls that have made them considerably different from their original versions.

In addition, with the gravity-based mechanics (not to mention the underwater and gliding segments that that the game inherited from its predecessor), not only are new tracks bound to be extremely creative and distinctive, old ones will most likely hold some quite astounding surprises even to players who have raced on them more than one hundred times.

ImageMario Kart 8 will also mark the first real test of the Wii U’s online system, and given that Nintendo seems to have greatly improved on that regard since the last generation – even if it somewhat still trails its competitors – it is more than natural to expect the game will deliver an endless amount of gameplay hours due to its grand online mode.

As history has shown over and over again, Nintendo knows quite well what it needs to do to maintain the Mario Kart franchise as the king of the genre it invented long ago. The series has, little by little, added new ingredients to the recipe, not allowing it grow stale and delivering renewed charm and gameplay that its competition seems to frequently lack.

Mario Kart 8 will be next brick laid down on that victorious road, and it might just be the brightest one yet.


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