In the summertime, when the weather is high, you can stretch right up and touch the sky! Or if you’re like me, you can retreat into your bedroom, clutch a games console and hiss at anything that vaguely resembles sunlight. I’m still working on twisting my head one-hundred-and-eighty degrees for the full effect. And on top of that, I play Mario Kart 7!
For those of you who’ve never played Mario Kart, I’ll explain what it is now (you’ve got enough problems, having never had an acceptable childhood). Mario Kart is a game where you play as an assortment of racers, from Mario to Baby Mario to Metal Mario to everyone in-between, and race in your go-karts around a series of tracks. There are items, like mushrooms to make you go faster (another sad reason Mario Kart will never be accepted into the Olympics), banana peels to toss on the tracks and shells to throw at the heads of people who look at you funny.
Sadly, my mainstay Dry Bones didn’t make it into the character roster this time round, so with a heavy sigh I shook my head and replaced him with his completely identical counterpart, Koopa. I know, right? Where’s my parade?! As I worked my way through the roster, he was eventually replaced by Lakitu, until I unlocked Miis and figured out how to change them. At that point, my main racers became Michael Jackson, Adolf Hitler and King Candy from Wreck-it Ralph.
And just like Hitler, I had a ball! It was a pleasant surprise to find that the online community was still twitching: I could always get a game, and the lowest number of people I ever raced against was six out of eight. Racers came from across the world – mostly from Europe, though I got a few from America and Japan. And what’s more, these were all random matches! All done well with a minimum of lag or waiting around at loading screens. It’s nice to know Nintendo’s learned how to do that, after the chunk of dead horse in my birthday cake that was the online multiplayer for Smash Bros. Brawl.
Eventually, I settled into my favourite racetracks. A generous 32 courses are available for selection, half of which are brand-new and half of which are old levels from previous games with a new coat of paint (which is perhaps a metaphor for the game as a whole, really). Of the new tracks, my favourite was probably Melody Motorway. It has a neat little twist in that you skid and bunny-hop along the track in time to the catchy background music, and you add to the symphony by sliding along piano keys or bouncing off cymbals.
From the older tracks, I’m still fond of Coconut Mall and Waluigi Pinball after their recent showings on Wii and DS, respectively. Bowser’s Castle 1, meanwhile, is one of the easier tracks to navigate in the game, but has hidden depths for an experienced player to exploit through drifting and bunny-hops.
Anything else to discuss? Well, every Mario Kart game has a few new elements sprinkled onto the base formula to keep the franchise fresh, and on the face of it Mario Kart 7 added a lot. Karts were now able to fly through the air for brief periods using a glider strapped to the back, or drive underwater. However, while a few tracks made good use of the underwater features (Wario’s Galleon springs to mind), they didn’t add anything to the game tactically.
You could also, for the first time, build your own kart! You could swap out the tyres, chassis or glider, changing your acceleration, weight, off-road capabilities and overall speed. Better parts could be unlocked by collecting coins during the races. I never really noticed a difference whenever I swapped my tyres or glider, but that’s probably for the best: it means you can use whatever parts you want without the worry of making an inherently bad kart.
Overall, Mario Kart 7 was a solid addition to the Mario Kart franchise. Both its online community and the high-speed thrills of playing it hold up today, and it’s worth picking up again if you don’t want to pay £250 for a Wii U and Mario Kart 8. After all, Mario Kart’s like a dodgy racecar: it’s tireless.